The surrealistic movie “Brazil” has a scene where the main character, Sam Lowry, is looking for a piece of information. He is sent to an office and when he asks his question, the condescending and slightly exasperated government official looks at him and states, “Oh, you want Information RETRIEVAL, this is Information SERVICES.”
That type of bureaucratic double-non-speak, which is the source of so much confusion in the world of anyone who is attempting to navigate a maze of rules, regulations, and protocols, is the latest procedural cul-de-sac that has ensnared Paul Pearson, the embattled electric car conversion enthusiast who is currently a focus of the Santa Monica City Attorney’s Office power. Mr. Pearson is the Santa Monica native who is being charged with the Illegal manufacturing of electric vehicles and operating a business in the city without a license.
The specifics of the alleged car manufacturing are beyond this column, but Mr. Pearson’s latest foray into the dark arts of governmental rules is a story for the ages. The City Attorney’s Office of Santa Monica wants Mr. Pearson to apply for a business license, pay the licensing fees, and maintain a valid license so long as he does business in the city. All quite fair and reasonable requests.
Until that is, he actually went down to apply for the license. Upon filing his application, it appears that the city has no category within which to put Mr. Pearson’s business. They took his $547 for the application fee, but they couldn’t tell him whether or not they would be issuing the license, because they don’t know what an “Electric Car Converter” does.
Which is actually quite logical, since the concept of electric car conversion is really quite new. This is in many ways a new frontier in business and in legislation, neither of which has caught up to the reality of the current needs. The market is moving in fits and starts, based mostly on gas price fluctuations, and the legislature has made only the most rudimentary of rules, dealing primarily with Neighborhood Electric Vehicle exemptions so that modified golf carts can be used around town.
The Department of Motor Vehicles has almost no experience with regulating manufacturers of electric vehicles, and even less when it comes to converters. Mostly because up until a few years ago, no one did it as a business. It was a hobby, much like Mr. Pearson’s.
And this is how we get into the frustrating situation that Mr. Pearson and the City Attorney are in. They want him to be regulated, licensed and supervised, only there are no regulations that directly deal with converting gasoline powered cars to electric. The license that the City Attorney wants Mr. Pearson to get, appears to not even exist in the current Municipal Code.
If this is starting to remind you of that other fictional tale, “Catch-22,” that’s because the resemblance is strong. Mr. Pearson is being told to acquire a license, even if that license doesn’t exist, which it appears, it doesn’t.
But in true government fashion, they took his money, because they can’t proceed with the application, without the fee, even if they decide to not issue the license.
What this really demonstrates, beyond being fodder for great mockery, is that electric cars are a cutting edge topic. Electric vehicles, conversions, and the role of the various government agencies involved, are all in such new territory that there really are no clear-cut answers to any of this.
Which is why I believe that it would be much better for the City Attorney to be working with Mr. Pearson in a collaborative effort to develop comprehensive legislation and protocols, in conjunction with the Department of Motor Vehicles, the City Council, and all the other agencies that have their sticky little fingers in this new arena; rather than the pointless and costly prosecution of a case where no one was defrauded, hurt, damaged and no losses were suffered. The city has now had Mr. Pearson make five appearances on this matter, and spent an unknown amount of money in prosecuting this case.
The point is, for a city that wants to be proactive, and progressive, we need to be thinking about the bigger picture, which is more important than the prosecution of one man, who is trying to make the world a cleaner, greener place.
David Pisarra is a family law attorney focusing on father’s rights and men’s Issues in the Santa Monica firm of Pisarra & Grist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (310) 664-9969.