A car powers up at a bank of electric vehicle charging stations located at Virginia Avenue Park. (Daniel Archuleta daniela@www.smdp.com)


After six years of preparation and research, the Office of Sustainability and Environment presented their first draft of a plan to incentivize the use of Electric Vehicles to the Planning Commission on Wednesday night.

Garrett Wong, Senior Sustainability Analyst of Climate & Energy, presented the plan which illustrated how Santa Monica could gradually increase the amount of charging stations for electric vehicles (EVs).

According to the staff report, the plan’s overarching goals are that of the state: to increase EV sales to 15% of all vehicle sales by 2025. Doing so would decrease greenhouse gas emissions and carbon intensity of vehicle fuels, which in turn improves air quality, a major determinant of general physical health.

Right now, EVs and hybrid-electric vehicles account for less than five percent of vehicles owned in Santa Monica, according to the report. However, that number is going to quadruple in under 10 years. To accommodate this growth, a proposed five-year plan would expand the amount of charging ports from the current 75 to 296, costing an estimated $1,871,880.

The chargers would be distributed across curbs, parking lots, retail lots, streetlight stations and multi-family unit dwellings (MUDs). MUDs are the most challenging, and yet the most convenient, place to install chargers, according to Wong. Someone living in an apartment cannot always plug into their living room or garage’s outlet, because it is probably too far from where their car is parked. The plan aims to develop “a pilot rebate program for multifamily charging to help property owners and residents install charging stations.”

The plan also emphasized creating a system to meter and time the charging ports which would cover operations and maintenance costs while still making EV ownership cheaper than owning a gasoline vehicle. Wong also said the city would like to make purchasing EVs and charging outlets more accessible via an EV Program Coordinator, online resources and outreach programs.

Five public speakers were mostly in favor of the plan but some wanted it to go even further.

“You would have to be an idiot to do what I do,” said Kelly Richard Olsen, former City councilman (1990-1994), Planning Commissioner (1999-2003) and an owner of an electric vehicle.

He described how he used to charge his EV overnight at Virginia Avenue Park, by arriving at around 11 p.m. and waking up at three or four in the morning to unplug it. But two years ago new parking restrictions were put in place that stopped people from charging late at night. Now, Olsen must drive to downtown Santa Monica to charge his car. The other speakers all essentially had the same gripe: it’s inconvenient to own an EV in Santa Monica.

Olsen came with Paul Scott, co-founder of Plug in America, an advocacy group for plug in vehicles and their owners. Both believed the plan presented was not aggressive enough, asking for 400 charging ports now and 1,000 in five years.

Garrett Wong believes the Electric Vehicle Action Plan (EVAP) is realistic, factoring bureaucracy.

“We would love to go faster,” he said. “But we realize that there is a process for all of these things. The city is a bureaucracy and the utility is a bureaucracy, and we have to work together to get these projects done.”

Among the cities that are ahead of Santa Monica with incentivizing EVs are San Francisco, San Jose and Seattle. In March, San Francisco made it a part of City Code to incentivize EVs by requiring all new buildings to be ‘100% electric vehicle ready,’ a press release stated.

“This 100 percent EV Ready ordinance requires all new residential and commercial buildings to configure 10 percent of parking spaces to be ‘turnkey ready’ for EV charger installation, and an additional 10 percent to be ‘EV flexible’ for potential charging and upgrades, said the release. “The remaining 80 percent of parking spaces will be ‘EV capable,’ by ensuring conduit is run in the hardest to reach areas of a parking garage to avoid future cost barriers.”

Wong said he only expects new buildings to be 15% EV ready since “we’re not getting to 15% of all cars being electric until 2025,” he said.

“(The plan) recommends increasing the requirement of EV-ready spaces to 15% of all commercial parking, and require one EV-ready space per dedicated set of residential unit parking in new buildings and major alterations,” the Staff Report stated.

During the meeting, Commissioner Richard McKinnon seemed to be in favor of placing charging stations in retail lots all around the city, particularly in grocery store lots. Since people have to go to the market, and an hour of charging for a 120V EV provides 25 miles worth of charge, markets seem like an ideal place to start placing charging ports.

After the meeting, Paul Scott and Olsen said that Santa Monica has a history and a habit of “deferring to the business community” by concentrating putting chargers in areas frequented by visitors and tourists. They said more chargers need to be placed where residents live such as multi-family neighborhoods where they are needed the most, to truly incentivize the purchase of EVs.

Wong said he is focused on placing charging ports in newly constructed and existing MUDs.

“I prefer to provide charging for where people live, where they go and work is secondary,” he said. “We want to provide people the ease and comfort of charging relatively close to where they live. I don’t want the focus to be just on the commercial centers because there is already a lot of activity.”

The plan will circulate among city boards and commissions in the coming weeks with staff hoping to have a final version before the Council in October.