In what could be the first of a series of legal actions, the California Restaurant Association (CRA) has filed a lawsuit against the city of Berkeley’s ban on natural gas in new buildings, arguing it is illegal and hurts business in the San Francisco area college town.

"The ban, which violates both state and federal law, will impact both residential and commercial construction, and will have uniquely negative impacts on restaurants," CRA officials said on the organization's website.

CRA's lead attorney, Courtland Reichman, managing partner of Reichman Jorgensen LLP, said the ban is "unlawful and, beyond the direct harm to restaurants, it is likely to affect energy prices in the years to come. Thus, we believe the city should rethink its action and rescind the ordinance." 

In its lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, CRA alleged that the ban would have widespread impacts on the restaurant industry. Temperature control needed for most cooking requires visual determinations based on the size of the cooking flame to aid manipulating the intensity of the heat and being able to scale the temperature up or down in a split second, according to CRA. "Simply put, a ban on natural gas is not something to which restaurants can adapt.

"Thus, Berkeley's ban will reduce the types of cuisine available to Berkeley residents. It will also make meaningless much of the culinary training that some of the finest chefs have received."

"Perhaps most worrisome is the question of how this ban will exacerbate the already damaging impact of ongoing, planned electricity blackouts meant to prevent wildfires -- blackouts that affect the restaurant industry along with everyone else," CRA said. "With California’s energy grid often under tremendous strain, a ban on gas appliances is not responsible, and its impact won’t be limited only to restaurants. "

Berkeley's ordinance conflicts with both federal and state law, is contrary to the public interest, and harms CRA and its members, according to Reichman.

Attorneys for the environmental group EarthJustice urged Berkeley to stand firm, calling the CRA lawsuit "baseless." Staff attorney Matt Vespa argued that the city completed "months of research" before adopting the gas ban, and said the measure has "enthusiastic community support." Vespa added that the ban is "well within the city's authority."