Palo Alto Concedes To Chef José Andrés Over Gas Line Restrictions In His New Restaurant At Stanford center

Palo Alto Concedes To Chef José Andrés Over Gas Line Restrictions In His New Restaurant At Stanford center
Source: Building EE at the Stanford Shopping Center, rendering by GH+A Design Studios
By Tony Ng - Published on May 17, 2023.

World-famous chef José Andrés, best known for the World Central Kitchen and his countless global restaurants, made a big announcement in April 2023, revealing plans to open a new restaurant at the Stanford Shopping Center in Palo Alto. While many eagerly awaited experiencing the acclaimed chef's culinary delights, an unexpected obstacle emerged in the form of Palo Alto's all-electric policy for new construction, per Mercury News.

The restaurant, Zaytinya, was to be housed in one of the three new buildings planned at the former Macy's Men's store site by mall operator, Simon Property Group (SPG). Back in November 2019, SPG filed an application to build these structures, receiving approvals from the city's Architectural Review Board and planning staff, which included installing a gas line. However, the city later amended the building code, effectively banning natural gas connections in all new buildings.

When the city informed SPG that the new restaurant's building would need to be all-electric, tensions rose, making the future of Andrés' restaurant uncertain. SPG disagreed with the city's determination, with their attorney sending a letter in April 2023 threatening legal action if Palo Alto insisted on enforcing the all-electric requirement, as Palo Alto Online reported at the time. They emphasized that the chef's Zaytinya relied on traditional cooking methods with gas appliances and that altering the restaurant's signature menu due to the ban was a compromise they were unwilling to make. Chef Andres said he was rethinking his restaurant altogether, per Palo Alto Online article.

While debates over the future of Andrés' establishment ensued, the gas ban issue also heated up throughout the Bay Area, as several cities considered phasing out gas appliances in favor of electric ones. In March 2023, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District adopted new rules, making the region the first to prohibit the sale and installation of new gas appliances. Many praised the potential for a more sustainable future, while concerns grew over the impact on consumers, particularly in terms of affordability and efficient supply of electric equipment.

Palo Alto City Council member Vicki Veenker expressed enthusiasm for the new rules, acknowledging potential concerns as elements to be taken into consideration when executing regulations effectively, rather than as reasons to avoid change. In contrast, San Mateo County Supervisor Ray Mueller held back, stressing the importance of recognizing the costs associated with switching to electric appliances and the currently insufficient market supply to meet potential future demands.

Earlier today, Mercury News reported that Palo Alto administrators changed course following the threat of a lawsuit, announcing that they would allow Zaytinya to use natural gas in the new building at Stanford Shopping Center. The city council discussed the dispute with the shopping center in a closed session on May 8, and a settlement was reached, permitting the gas service to proceed with the long-established project plans, per Palo Alto Online. The building at Stanford mall, which will also house Dumpling City, stands as a one-time exception, but no waiver will be granted for any other structures or parts of the redevelopment.

While this specific dispute may now be resolved, it highlights a pressing need to balance the desire for sustainable energy solutions with the immediate interests of businesses and consumers. The ongoing transition to electrification may have a transformative impact on the way communities live and work, but the ultimate outcome of the gas ban battle and its effect on further establishments are still unseen. Open dialogue and creative compromise, as exemplified in the case of José Andrés' Zaytinya restaurant, will be critical to sustainably developing the landscape of the Bay Area and beyond.