A California city’s ban on natural gas stoves will not be applied to the restaurant renowned chef and restaurateur José Andrés is slated to open, officials revealed Tuesday, describing the situation as “unique” and a “one-off.”
In a statement on Tuesday, the City of Palo Alto said a settlement was reached with Simon Property Group (SPG)—the operator that owns the shopping mall where Andrés’s restaurant is anticipated to be located—after the group threatened legal action if the restaurant, dubbed Zaytinya, would be prohibited to use gas stove hook-ups.
“Due to the years-long planning effort which started in 2019, three years before the City adopted the all-electric requirement, the City and the Mall have agreed that this one project should be able to proceed with gas service consistent with the long-established project plans,” reads the statement.
“Except for this one-off situation, Palo Alto’s all-electric requirement is being implemented for all new projects and substantial remodels,” it added. “Building electrification is critical to reducing our greenhouse gas emissions.”
In a letter (pdf) to regulators last month, lawyers for SPG claimed the city’s recently revised building code is “legally defective and unconstitutional” and threatened to sue the district, arguing a permit for a gas line was already granted prior to officials issuing its new all-electric construction rule, which went into effect earlier this year.
Aside from legal obligations, attorneys for the world-famous chef also argued Zaytinya relies on traditional cooking methods that require gas appliances, noting Andrés would likely walk out on the project if he was forced to cook in an all-electric building, which would also force him to alter his signature five-star menu.
“Zaytinya will likely choose not to locate within the City,” the lawyers stated. “This would be an unfortunate loss for the residents of Palo Alto, as well as a compensable loss for which SPG would be forced to seek redress.”
The city has agreed to only allow the building where Zaytinya will be located—which is also set to house another popular Bay Area dim sum chain named Dumpling City—to use natural gas stoves. The other three buildings at the mall, called Stanford Shopping Center, that are still under construction would have to abide by the all-electric mandate.
Andrés is a 53-year-old Spanish-American who received his U.S. citizenship in 2013. He owns restaurants in several cities across the United States and is also the founder of World Central Kitchen, a non-profit devoted to providing meals in the wake of natural disasters.
In 2015, former President Barack Obama awarded Andrés the National Humanities Medal and called him “the quintessential American success story.” He has also been celebrated by multiple Democratic figures and appeared as a guest star on Michelle Obama’s food show on Netflix.
Andrés frequently advocates for climate change initiatives on his Twitter account and started a $1 billion Climate Disaster fund in 2021, teaming up with politicians to create other climate initiatives.
“Climate change is real! Food sources will drastically disappear,” Andrés said in a post on Twitter last year.
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Palo Alto restaurant owners have since spoken out after the California city granted Andrés an exception, agreeing with the celebrity chef that being unable to cook with natural gas stoves will altar the food and dynamic of how the eatery operates.
“He made a couple of good points,” Nick Kacha, co-owner of Rudford’s Restaurant, said during an appearance on “Fox & Friends First” Friday. “I totally agree … It changes the whole dynamic of the restaurant—how we cook, how fast we’re able to cook things.”
When asked to share their view on the government pushing green energy policies, Rudford’s Restaurant owner Jeff Kacha said that while he supports the idea, many policies in California seem like “freewheeling” efforts that haven’t been fully considered.
“I’m wondering about the electricity,” Jeff said. “Right now, it’s $0.48 a term. So what happens when it goes up to $0.80 and we’re trying to cook with electricity that’s a constant power on and instead of gas that you can turn on and off.”
“I wish that they would give us a break. I haven’t seen one yet. We’re a busy restaurant. We pay our taxes. I don’t know what the end result of this is,” he added.
The move by Palo Alto comes after the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals snuffed out a ban on new natural gas hookups in Berkeley last month, handing restaurant owners and cooks their first victory over the national climate-action movement.
In 2019, Berkeley became the first U.S. city to ban gas stove hook-ups. The ordinance took effect in January 2020. The move has inspired similar bans in Los Angeles, Seattle, New York, and other progressive cities.
Earlier this month, New York became the first state in the country to ban natural gas stoves following weeks of negotiations that led to the passage of the $229 billion state budget, which includes a ban on gas stoves, furnaces, and propane heating in favor of appliances such as heat pumps and electric stoves.