City Hall's fleet of electric vehicles line the Civic Center charging station on Thursday. (photo by Daniel Archuleta)

CITY HALL — In October, Santa Monica hosted the world’s largest electric vehicle parade, featuring almost 200 cars running silently down Main Street from City Hall.

Finding a place for all of those cars to plug in, however, is the challenge now facing Dean Kubani, City Hall’s director of the Office of Sustainability and the Environment, and the Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Planning Group, a coalition of Santa Monica city departments that have a stake in the creation and implementation of policy aimed at anticipating an electric vehicle boom in Santa Monica.

Kubani presented a year of work to the City Council Tuesday, laying out the major challenges to electric vehicles presented by what some consider Santa Monica’s most distinctive characteristic — its population of renters.

All electric cars need power to get their show on the road, but providing a place to charge batteries near where people in multi-family dwellings actually park their cars represents a large investment for property owners that City Hall is not in the position to require.

Approximately 70 percent of Santa Monica residents live in apartment complexes or other multi-family situations. If those people jump on the electric vehicle bandwagon, they will want to charge their batteries when it’s the cheapest and easiest — at night, at their homes.

While City Hall can include EV charging stations for new construction, much of the existing housing stock is old, and the aging electrical systems would need a $10,000 upgrade to meet the demand of a car charger, Kubani said.

That’s not a cost many landlords are interested in taking on.

Furthermore, it’s difficult to parse out how much electricity each car actually consumes, creating issues between the person with the electric car and the landlord trying to charge for utilities.

“Because the electrical upgrade is probably prohibitive, and difficulties in billing for the electricity and use, we may not legally be able to compel property owners to install chargers,” Kubani said.

Public policy and business models have not yet caught up with the realities of electric car ownership, something that David Peterson and his team at the Luskin Center for Innovation at UCLA have begun to try and fill.

Peterson authored a paper released in June zeroing in on the challenges and opportunities for charging electric vehicles in apartment-like settings, which the Santa Monica group used for its presentation to council.

Peterson happened to be in the area, and stopped by.

“Every challenge is an opportunity to lead change, and I think Santa Monica with its high number of renters poses a unique problem that I think can be solved through collaboration with the city, Luskin Center and other stakeholders,” Peterson said.

The landlord-tenant dynamic is handled with a handshake. Tenants can approach landlords and request services and work out a way to pay for them, but there’s no formal structure.

Right now, a business team and a public policy planning team is working together to develop an understanding of the hold ups from a policy and cost perspective, Peterson said.

While private property holds hurdles, the city team has far fewer restrictions on public space.

Santa Monica already has 20 charging stations to help meet the need, with another 30 to come online when the rebuild of Parking Structure 6 is complete.

Running those costs City Hall between $50 and $85 per month, or $12,000 to $20,400 a year.

“Right now, anyone can pull into Civic Center and they don’t pay for the electricity,” Kubani said. “I would anticipate that we will be coming back to council with a recommendation, but the city’s probably going to switch to a pay model.”

City Hall is looking for private companies and grant funds to create more charging stations, and potentially public-private partnerships to help out renters who can’t get access to a charging station at their home, Kubani said.

“The council really wants us to keep looking for other alternatives,” Kubani said. “I think we will … Santa Monica is trying to get out in front on this issue.”

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