Newsletter: Newsom’s plan to phase out gas-powered cars

An aerial photo of many lines of parked cars
Thousands of rental cars stored at Dodger Stadium in April.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Thursday, Sept. 24, and I’m writing from Los Angeles.

Since taking office, Gov. Gavin Newsom has loudly and urgently pointed to climate change when discussing California’s precarious future and ever-worsening fires, offering no shortage of dramatic soundbites on the matter.

But environmental activists have criticized the governor’s track record, calling out a disconnect between the governor’s rhetoric and his actual positions, particularly around oil and gas. (For a full explanation of what policies activists have taken issue with, see this edition of my colleague Sammy Roth’s excellent energy and environment newsletter Boiling Point.)

Standing in the ashes of the North Complex fire burn zone outside Oroville two weeks ago, Newsom acknowledged falling short and pledged to do far more, but he provided scant details of what his big plans might look like.

That bold action came Wednesday, when Newsom issued an executive order that could fundamentally alter the automotive industry in California and beyond. His executive order will restrict new car sales in the state to only zero-emission vehicles by 2035.

[Read the story: “Newsom orders 2035 phaseout of gas-powered vehicles, calls for fracking ban” in the Los Angeles Times]


The executive order calls the phaseout of new gasoline-powered cars by 2035 a “goal,” but it’s a goal that will grow teeth. The order requires the California Air Resources Board to immediately begin drafting regulations to achieve it by that year.

“We have to deliver more than platitudes,” Newsom said Wednesday, calling the move “the most impactful step our state can take to fight climate change.”

The governor threw his support behind a ban on the use of hydraulic fracturing by oil companies. As my colleagues Phil Willon and Tony Barboza note in their story, Newsom didn’t actually take executive action on fracking, he just called on the state Legislature to do so — setting up “what could be a contentious political fight when lawmakers reconvene in Sacramento next year.”

Why it matters

Cars, trucks and other vehicles are the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in California, and driving down transportation pollution remains the state’s biggest challenge in achieving its emissions goals.

The move will make California the first state in the nation to mandate 100% zero-emission vehicles. Californians will still be able to own gas-powered cars, and they’ll still be able to buy and sell them used. Starting in 2035, they just won’t be able to buy a new gas-powered car or light truck in the state. (For answers to more consumer questions, see this Q&A from Times automotive reporter Russ Mitchell.)

Newsom said that California’s action will help spur greater innovation for zero-emission vehicles and, by creating a huge market, will drive down the cost of those cars and trucks.

[See also: “Here is Newsom’s plan to allow only zero-emissions car sales in California by 2035" in the Los Angeles Times]

It’s a dramatic step, but it’s also in line with more than a half-century of California history. Yes, California has long been synonymous with car culture. But the state has also led the nation on automotive regulations, pioneering much of what we now take for granted.

The nation’s first tailpipe emissions standards and greenhouse gas emissions standards for cars originated in California. Catalytic converters became standard across the country after automakers began installing them to meet California’s emissions requirements. “Check engine” lights were also first mandated by CARB before being required by the EPA.

A waiver program that has been in place for more than five decades has granted California the unique ability to set emissions regulations that are more stringent than the federal standard. These rules, which have been adopted by 13 other states, are currently the subject of a fierce legal battle with the Trump administration.

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

Californians protested in numerous cities Wednesday night after a Kentucky grand jury’s decision to bring no charges against Louisville police in the killing of Breonna Taylor. Taylor, a 26-year-old emergency medical worker, was shot multiple times by officers who entered her home using a “no-knock” warrant during a narcotics investigation. Her name has become a national rallying cry in protests over racism and police violence. The only charges brought by the grand jury were three counts of wanton endangerment against fired Officer Brett Hankison for shooting into a home next to Taylor’s that had people in it. Los Angeles Times

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Attention, former Angelenos: Porto’s, that beloved Southern California bakery mini-empire, now ships nationwide. Los Angeles Magazine

Guava cheese strudel at the original Porto's Bakery in Glendale.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles hid a methane leak for a year. Activists want the power plant shut down. Los Angeles Times

Progress is being made on the Bobcat fire. But did beloved cabins survive? Los Angeles Times

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President Trump refused to commit to giving up power should he lose the November race, adding to concerns that a contested election could lead to a constitutional crisis and a unique challenge to the nation’s democracy. Los Angeles Times


The Bay Area and other parts of Northern California will experience high winds and critical fire danger this weekend. Strong gusts, hot temperatures and low humidity are expected Saturday through Monday morning. Los Angeles Times

A rare trio of black swans, native to Australia and rarely seen in Southern California, were spotted in the Newport Harbor. Black swans are sometimes kept by private breeders, aviaries and estates as ornamental birds, although it’s unclear where these came from. Orange County Register


Cal State gets its first chancellor of color: Trustees announced that Fresno State president Joseph I. Castro will be the next leader of the largest four-year system in the nation. Los Angeles Times

The “luxury air business” is booming — as many Californians struggle to breathe. Los Angeles Times

California’s wineries are tossed into chaos with backlogged tests for smoke taint. Wildfire smoke has the ability to imbue wine grapes with irrepressible, unpleasant smoky aromas and flavors. San Francisco Chronicle

A defiant Fresno indoor playground, complete with a bounce house and ball pit, has reopened to the public. People lined up to visit, even though the decision flies in the face of the state’s COVID-19 reopening guidelines that businesses must follow. ABC 30

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Los Angeles: sunny, 84. San Diego: sunny, 78. San Francisco: partly sunny, 71. San Jose: partly sunny, 78. Fresno: sunny, 89. Sacramento: partly sunny, 85. More weather is here.


Today’s California memory comes from Teresa Roberts:

Growing up in the ’70s, my family and I would spend Sundays visiting my immigrant Italian great-grandparents at their farm on Taylor Street just east of downtown San Jose. After our visit, we would drive south on what was then a two-lane 101 Freeway to the many fruit stands off the freeway, eating ripe cherries along the way. We would pass by a frontier-themed small amusement park called Frontier Village. And, if we had more time, we would stop by Casa de Fruta in Hollister. In addition to their fresh fruit, Casa de Fruta sold wine and deli food, which you could eat on site at their picnic tables.

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments, complaints, ideas and unrelated book recommendations to Julia Wick. Follow her on Twitter @Sherlyholmes.