Sunday Commentary: Just How Progressive Is Davis? Vol. 157

Photo by Vivint Solar on Unsplash

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Davis, CA – Community pushback forced the city to scrap a plan to require gas appliances be replaced by electric ones at the point of sale.  I’m troubled by not only the course of action that the staff chose as an alternative but also the pushback itself.

Davis prides itself not only on its progressive values but in its proactive response, specifically on issues of the environment.

I have often pointed out during the last 16 years that there is a gap between Davis’ self-image as a progressive bastion and reality.

Back in 2006, I referred to this as the “Dark Underbelly”—that if you scratch off the surface veneer of progressivism, you find a very reactionary core of voters.

While I was mostly referring to civil rights and social justice, as the latest over the CAAP has flared up, add the city’s core environmental identity to the list.

The flap arose over the city’s Climate Action and Adaptation Plan.  There was serious pushback from segments of the community over a requirement that gas appliances would have to be replaced at the point of sale with electric appliances.

After the pushback, the city staff changed the proposal to voluntary.

“When the Draft CAAP’s public comment period closed on October 10, it was clear that only voluntary implementation of electric appliances within households and businesses received widespread support,” the city said in a statement on Friday.

As any social scientist knows, voluntary guidelines are useless.  About as useful as voluntary taxation.  We have laws to overcome collective action problems and the notion of free riding.

A free rider problem is a notion from economics whereby the market allows some individuals to shirk their responsibilities because incentives favor them not paying for a public good—in this case the cost of electrification to support climate change policies.

The bottom line is this: we have a climate emergency.  That’s what our council and many activists have been pushing for several years.  And the climate data supports it.

We are going to have to at this point make very painful and probably expensive changes in order to head off catastrophic climate change.

But the community is only willing to do these things, it would appear, that don’t directly impact their lives or their pocketbook.  That’s not exactly progressive—is it?

Communities across the state are moving away from fossil fuels and toward electricity, which California is pushing quickly to make far more renewable than it already is.

There are legitimate concerns over cost here that have been raised—it could take tens of thousands of dollars to update people’s appliances.  Many communities and the state are looking into subsidy programs for assistance.

But there is another point that everyone appears to be missing—many people purchased their homes for relatively cheap and will get to sell them for far more.  In other words, people are looking to cash in on their home equity that will increase the value of their purchase price manyfold, but they are not willing to spend a small amount of that to help do their part to forestall climate catastrophe.

At a recent candidate forum hosted by the League of Women Voters, Davis City Council candidates uniformly did not back the mandate.

Adam Morrill noted the cost of remodeling would run in the tens of thousands.

He explained that “to do all this electrification would require people to upgrade their panels. And for most people, that’s cost prohibitive. People won’t then sell their homes, they’ll sit on them, they’ll rent them, and we’ll lose more housing stock that way.”

Bapu Vaitla explained, “With respect to individual costs, there’s been a lot of community concern around the electrification point of sale requirement. For me, what makes more sense is electrification at the end of useful life. So even from an environmental perspective, it doesn’t make sense to trash appliances that are in good working order and have them be in the landfill and impose those transition costs onto individuals.”

He added, “Even when we do this electrification at the end of useful life, low-income families, middle-income families should, be assisted in that transition with tax rebates and subsidies.”

Dan Carson would add that “there is this proposal for electrification at point of sale. I oppose it. I will not go along with the idea that we’re going to make people rip all their gas fired appliances out of their home at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars, potentially making it impossible for young families to buy homes. What I could see as being possible is that at the end of their useful life…”

Kelsey Fortune said, “This specific policy was pointed out by the public now and the NRC months ago as poor policy, as problematic. The council chose to keep it in there anyway. The fact that it made it this far is because of a lack of communication with the community during this process. This 2025 mandate is poor policy because it’s going to decrease the housing stock turnover in our market, which is already very low.”

Gloria Partida said, “I think that we have all heard loud and clear that electrification at point of sale is something that is not acceptable.”

That means on this issue, the city is likely going to follow the state of California.

The state of California has already dealt with one aspect of the issue going forward.  By 2026, new homes in California are required to have all electric appliances.

Moreover, for existing homes, the state requires 80 percent of new appliances to be electric by 2030—once the life cycle of a current appliance ends—with that increasing to 100 percent by 2035.

Already there are subsidy programs in place, and more coming.  In April the California Public Utilities Commission announced it was going to subsidize electric heat pump systems to shift away from natural gas.

They note, “Approximately 800,000 water heaters are replaced annually in California, and rapidly transforming the market to increase the use of heat pump technology is critical to the State’s goal of decarbonizing buildings.”

Moreover, the building sector “is responsible for 25 percent of the State’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.”

The release noted, “Half of the incentive funds are reserved for low-income utility customers. The incentive amount for single-family residential customers is capped at $4,885 for low-income customers and $3,800 for other customers. Incentives are also authorized if an electric panel upgrade is needed to install the HPWH.”

Modifying the requirements to match or exceed state law makes sense.  Looking into ways to subsidize for lower-income residents also makes sense.  But to me the furor over this requirement is emblematic of the approach of many residents—let’s address climate emergency but not on my dime or at my inconvenience.

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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36 Comments

        1. Keith Olson

          Well, obviously city staff also has the approval of many of your political persuasion too when it comes to this draconian electrification proposal.  The proposal was way too over the top that even Progressives saw it.  Thankfully sometimes common sense rules out over politics.  You’ll just have to deal with the fact that many of your fellow Progressives don’t see the world as you would like them to.

  1. PhillipColeman

    All points and counter-points noted. All have at least some level of merit and deserve consideration in what is still a draft proposal.

    And when we ask for community input, we need to refrain from condemning or demonizing input that is contrary to ours. It’s just possible you could be wrong no matter how sanctimoniously or compulsively you may feel.

    Maybe we can agree that the long-term goal of reducing our dependence on fossil fuels is a good thing. If we get a consensus on that point alone, that’s progress. Now, the real issue here–the process to be used is flawed.

    A significant number of people resent being continuously told by the government what to do with their lives and livelihoods. That’s even true in the self-proclaimed “progressive” Davis community. This proposal was done with little advanced notification to the community, unnecessary haste, and a lack of understanding by the creators of what the ripple effect would be.

    Try this as a do-over. Announce electrification of private home construction and retrofits as a future goal, say ten years. Get our community used to the idea conceptually before mandating it in the form of legislation or building code revisions.

    Meanwhile, persons owning a home in Davis and contemplating whether to choose gas or electric to power replacement appliances would voluntarily choose electric because that will be mandatory in a few years anyway.

    Retail suppliers of either option would have the time to order greater numbers of electrical appliances for the Davis community and Davis home builders. Electrical contractors would have the time to hire, train, and effectively deploy service personnel to an impending demand for their service in Davis.

     

     

     

     

     

    1. Darell Dickey

      >> retrofits as a future goal, say ten years. <<

      >> mandatory in a few years anyway. <<

      Anywhere from a few years ago to say ten years ago, I’d have been in full support of this idea!

      On a more serious note I think that attrition is the best way to handle any process like this, and NOT forcing premature replacement that ends up consuming more natural resources in order to produce more appliances before their life is up. The issue I have with waiting for attrition is that the process has to *begin* in a proactive way; sooner rather than later. And we just love to wait too long before even getting started on the many-years-long effort. Witness this moment, and the discussion we’re still having this late in the game.

      On a more personal note: It took me about five years to make the final push to be fully zero combustion and a net-negative energy consumer (in other words, a net producer). My particular migration began move than 20 years ago with a PV system and our first electric car. There are a LOT of needless, expensive, arbitrary regulatory hurdles that still need to be removed in order to bring this change about universally. This I know from direct, recent experience with the process. This is not just about writing a check and buying new appliances. I don’t hear anybody talking about what regulatory and systematic changes need to occur for any of this to practically and efficiently occur. Just telling everybody to do it at ANY point ain’t it, IMO. The first step is to make it inviting to everybody to begin on their own.

      1. Don Shor

        There are a LOT of needless, expensive, arbitrary regulatory hurdles that still need to be removed in order to bring this change about universally. This I know from direct, recent experience with the process. This is not just about writing a check and buying new appliances. I don’t hear anybody talking about what regulatory and systematic changes need to occur for any of this to practically and efficiently occur.

        That would be a really interesting article, if you were inclined to write it based on your own experiences.

  2. Walter Shwe

    It either is a real climate emergency or it isn’t. The evidence is apparent this is a real emergency requiring immediate drastic action. Community pushback proves that Davis isn’t nearly as progressive as it claims.

  3. Ron Glick

    Why pick out Progressives? Maybe because the one thing they consistently support through the policy choices they make is high home prices. Still I doubt that anyone would include me in the Davis Progressive camp and I thought the mandates were poorly thought out and opposed them.

  4. Don Shor

    But there is another point that everyone appears to be missing—many people purchased their homes for relatively cheap and will get to sell them for far more.  In other words, people are looking to cash in on their home equity that will increase the value of their purchase price manyfold, but they are not willing to spend a small amount of that to help do their part to forestall climate catastrophe.

    You’re saying they should pay money they won’t have until after the sale to remodel their houses before they sell.

    The bottom line is this: we have a climate emergency.  That’s what our council and many activists have been pushing for several years.  And the climate data supports it.

    Urgency is not an excuse for implementing policies that have unintended consequences, particularly if those consequences involve serious costs to only a few people. The proposal was going to cost thousands of dollars up-front.

    Many communities and the state are looking into subsidy programs for assistance.

    But the CAAP doesn’t include such programs, nor even address them. Get those in place and your policy prescriptions might have more traction.

    It’s never been clear to me who put this proposal into the CAAP or why. California is ‘progressive’ by almost any objective analysis, and the state is addressing this issue. Reliability of the grid and financing for retrofit proposals is going to happen at the state level, so that is where this kind of mandate belongs. The city can’t fund it (or many of the other proposals in the CAAP), so the city has no business mandating it.

    1. Don Shor

      Voicemail:
      “Hi David, this is your landlord. I’m going to be upgrading the appliances in the house to all-electric. So we’ll be coming in to remodel. It’s going to involve replacing the panel, and then we’ll be taking out the central heating/AC and the stove. Total cost is about $40K. So I’m sorry, but since I have to pay for this I’m raising your rent 20%. That’s effective immediately since I have to pay up-front for this work. Sorry for the short notice. Also, you’ll have to move out for a little bit for the remodel work. Should be only a couple of weeks, but you know how it goes with construction projects. I hear the city is considering some kind of subsidy program, so you might look into that to cover the cost of your hotel rooms.”

    2. Richard_McCann

      Don

      Your characterization of this CAAP provision is incorrect:

      You’re saying they should pay money they won’t have until after the sale to remodel their houses before they sell.

      This would handled exactly has other compliance with other building standard provisions are at point of sale–the sale agreement would require compliance AFTER the sale (just what we did when we bought our house in 2017 and put in a number of HVAC and energy efficiency changes), and the costs would a deduction from the house sale price. The current homeowner would likely NOT have to lay out any cash–they just wouldn’t realize as large a capital gain as they might have otherwise. As the natural gas lines are retired (which is part of PG&E’s plan adopted at the CPUC), homeowners will have to make this change.

      And the original action stated:
       Include specific provisions for low-income and vulnerable populations. Address financing/incentive options. 

      which means that it did include plans for subsidy programs to assist with this effort.

      The plan is an “all hands on deck” effort to address the climate emergency. As with Prop 30, we’re going to have to start asking the wealthy to contribute more to that effort. Houses on our street are now approaching $1M in value.

      1. Ron Oertel

         

        As the natural gas lines are retired (which is part of PG&E’s plan adopted at the CPUC), homeowners will have to make this change.

        Pretty scary stuff, which apparently few area aware of.  Is that statewide?  And, what is the timeframe?

        Perhaps similar to how gas stations will “disappear”.  Don’t buy a gas-powered Hummer right before 2035, I guess.  And by all means, don’t buy a gas-powered Toyota –  as it will last far longer than that.

        At what point would PG&E simply stop serving-up natural gas?

        The current homeowner would likely NOT have to lay out any cash–they just wouldn’t realize as large a capital gain as they might have otherwise.

        More likely that they simply won’t sell their house.  (Making quite a few real estate agents “unhappy”, as noted in the Enterprise article. David apparently refers to these folks as “progressives”.)

        That is, unless it’s a statewide (or nationwide) requirement, at which point the cost is simply included in the price of housing – everywhere. An unavoidable cost of housing, at that point.

        The cost of housing includes much more than the sales (or rental) price. Though the rental price can be “adjusted” in future years.

        1. David Greenwald

          “Pretty scary stuff, which apparently few area aware of. Is that statewide? And, what is the timeframe?”

          As noted in the article – the phase out for gas appliances is statewide and by 2035.

          ” (Making quite a few real estate agents “unhappy”, as noted in the Enterprise article. David apparently refers to these folks as “progressives”.)”

          No.

        2. Ron Oertel

          The phaseout of gas appliances would (of course) be a different date than the phaseout of gas lines.

          What is the projected phaseout date of gas lines that Richard noted?

          By the way, this will also impact the cost of insurance if a house needs to be “upgraded” (changed to all-electric power) if it’s damaged.  And remodeling, of course (if it’s required at that time).

          The reason that real estate agents are opposed to this is because people won’t sell their houses, if they have to incur significant costs to do so. Regardless of how you label these folks (politically), they are a primary reason that the city’s proposal failed – as noted in the Enterprise article I cited.

          These are housing costs. Of course, “actual” progressives (as you define them, at least) hope that “someone else” will pay for their housing costs, regardless.

        3. Ron Oertel

          Would like to know if anyone (e.g., at the state level) has considered what the impact will be if (say) half of the houses on a given street are all-electric, while half still use gas.

          Might either:

          1)  Natural gas prices rise to exorbitant amounts, since a lower percentage of households would actually be using gas?  (In other words, to cover the fixed costs of maintaining gas lines and delivering gas, but to a fewer number of households).

          2)  Maintenance/monitoring of those lines might be “deferred”, for the same reason as noted above?

          (Not that PG&E already has problems with their electric lines, or gas lines in places like San Bruno.)

          Seems to me that (ultimately), you either have to cut off the gas, or not.  (And I’m guessing it’s “not”.)

  5. Keith Y Echols

    Maybe the city of Davis has grown up and decided to make rational decisions.

    David, what it was decided that just your house had to use unleaded gasoline, had to install solar power, electrical appliances, grow and maintain your own kale garden….all increasing your cost of living significantly.  But hey, you get to look around at your neighbors who are paying $1000s of dollars less to live in their homes and feel good that you’re showing them how progressive you are.

    1. Ron Oertel

      grow and maintain your own kale garden….all increasing your cost of living significantly.

      Certainly true if you try to grow your own kale (or any other edible garden), given the cost (and availability of) water for places like Davis.

      Much cheaper to gather up those “rubber” tomatoes that spill out of trucks onto local roadways. By the way, are those the result of “research” at UCD? And if so, why not make them “square” as well – since they’d pack better? (Perhaps a future grant will address that.)

      Of course, your next-door neighbor’s new residential skyscraper will block out all of the sunlight needed to grow vegetables, anyway.

      Well, let’s just hope that nothing goes wrong with the supply chain or the cost of food.  🙂

      Bah, humbug.

  6. Bill Marshall

    “Progressive”?  Try ‘”ill-informed” or “stupid”…

    ‘All-electric’ was the buzzword ~ 50+ years ago… electricity providers hiked the rates…

    Depending on ‘fossil fuels’, is something that we should all realize (as Phil C pointed out) is something we should be ‘weaning’ ourselves from, as we’re not generating more ‘fossil fuels’… coming from carbon based creatures and plants that are long-gone… BTW, we are ‘carbon-based’ individuals…

    Plants used ‘solar power’ to grow… animals ate them… that’s where ‘fossil fuels’ (coal, natural gas, petroleum) came from… where we came from…

    To get “really real” about eliminating carbon, stop eating plants or animals… stop breathing… technically, eating and breathing are not “carbon-neutral”, except marginally…

    Creating solar panels to create electricity is not ‘carbon-neutral’ in the near term (and perhaps long term)… look at the ‘carbon’ used in the mining, manufacturing, installation, maintenance of all the components… TNSTAAFL.

    Climate change is real… has been for millions of years… focus on efficiency, science, and total impacts…

    And if Davis and CA went to total zero to minus CO2 impacts, it would be like taking a pee in the ocean…

    Social ‘scientists’, political ‘scientists’ would say differently… we need to go 100% electric… good theory, maybe… but not grounded in fact, or true biological, practical science… kinda’ like the ‘philosopher’s stone’ thingy about turning lead into gold…

    And add in the ‘bent’ that that all of the costs, inconveniences, sacrifices spare those of low income, or POC, or whatever… they should get all the benefit, “others” should bear all of the costs, inconveniences, sacrifices… very SocSci/PoliSci.

    1. Richard_McCann

      Bill

      If you’re rationale is that any contribution that we make is too minimal to have an impact, you can say that about anything that happens on an international or national scale. It takes our collective action to address these problems. Waiting around from someone else instead of showing them how to get it done is a recipe for taking no action.

      1. Bill Marshall

        Guess I wasn’t clear… incremental action is good… as I’ve posted before, fossil fuels are limited…

        But as someone who owns a manual transmission vehicle, I know that going from 4th or 5th gear, then shift into to reverse, is not a good plan of action.  Downshifting is reasonable…

        The original proposal was/is, as another commenter posted, “draconian”…

        If you have completely eliminated all sources of fossil fuel (including those that generate electricity), great… and good luck when the power grid is compromised/fails…

        Until then, please don’t try to mandate me to do the same… we minimize fossil fuel use, as reasonable… but unless and until the electrical grid is “perfect”, I reserve my prerogative to use NG (on high efficiency devices), or will stock up on Coleman fuel (no offence intended, Phil), propane, kerosene, etc., in the event of electrical power outages… those would actually be less efficient, more ‘polluting’ than how we currently live…

  7. Colin Walsh

    There is a process problem here. How can the staff announce that this is out of the CAAP when Dan Carson made a motion that specifically included building electrification mandates in the motion. It passed unanimously on 5/24/2022.
    Seems like the staff should not be making announcements that contradict council motions.
    Here is a link to the motion and the vote on May 24.
    https://youtu.be/ekoYHtXUdsk

    1. Ron Glick

      Do you know what the process is Colin? It could be that there is a process but you don’t know how it works. Let me take a guess. Without speaking with each other, so as to not violate the Brown Act, the City manager meets individually with CC members and listens to what they have to say without revealing what he has been told by other CC members. The CM then directs his staff to pursue the direction he believes the CC wants to go.

      I’m not a lawyer and I don’t really know how it works but as far as allocating staff time it would be more efficient than pursuing something that isn’t going to happen anyway.

      1. Colin Walsh

        What you just described is a secret vote with the results announced as City policy. That is anti-democratic and not appropriate. It may also be exactly what happened. As you can see from the link, the council voted. Until there is a new council vote, that must be city policy.

        1. Ron Glick

          Like I said I’m not a lawyer but if it isn’t going to happen do you really want staff to waste time on it? Or are you continuing your vendetta against anyone associated with Measure H?

    2. Richard_McCann

      Colin

      The Council has not yet adopted the Plan or the individual actions. The Council motion was one to adopt the list of actions for further study for potential inclusion in the final CAAP. The actual CAAP won’t be formally adopted until December at the earliest. And the Staff can only make recommendations and it has the ability to change those at it sees fit.

      1. Colin Walsh

        Richard, I don’t think you and I have a lot of disagreement about this. what I am pointing out is that the council voted as you can see here https://youtu.be/ekoYHtXUdsk and that motion specificly included building electrificaiton mandates. the Enterprise headline , “City removes building electrification requirement from draft climate plan,” or the statement, “the city has announced it will revise the draft 2020-2040 Climate Action and Adaptation Plan to remove a recommendation that building electrification occur at point of sale” also from the enterprise, shows staff over reach. The staff could propose to change the draft. The council can vote to change the draft. But the staff can not change what the council has passed as a resolution, only the council can do that.

  8. Todd Edelman

    What is the range of duration for electrical conversion? Can’t it be required for selling, BUT paid for the buyer directly or via some other mechanism once the sale has been agreed to? Very often when people purchase a house they replace lots of things BEFORE they move in, so can’t any electrical changes be completed during this period? Just ahead of or as part of listing their home, can’t many people get a loan for electrical installation, using their home as collateral?

    Also as a buyer I would be pleased to move into a house that would not need any further modifications and would also be solar-ready… or even better would already have panels installed by the owner or one of the rent-out-your-roof companies. It would be ready with facilities for charging electric vehicles, too. Move in, plug in….

    What percentage of homes in Davis already have a full electric kitchen and what percentage are already fully-electric?

    1. Richard_McCann

      Todd

      That was exactly was contemplated when the action was proposed, just as is done now with compliance with other building standards at time of sale.

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