Two years after an African American man was brutalized by police while charging his electric vehicle in a city park after hours, Santa Monicans will be able to charge their vehicles overnight at the city’s public charging ports.
Though there are currently only four public ports in Santa Monica, all of which are located in Virginia Avenue Park, the City is planning to install at least 10 more in Clover, Gandara, Marine, Memorial, and Airport parks. Drivers would not have been able to charge their vehicles in the parks between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. under current law.
Justin Palmer was charging his vehicle in the evening of April 21 in Virginia Avenue Park when two officers told him the park had closed for the night and asked to see his identification, which he did not provide because the park was not closed and he felt he had done nothing illegal.
The officers then tackled, arrested, and pepper sprayed Palmer, which rendered him unconscious. He filed a federal lawsuit alleging police used excessive force, and he received $1.1 million after a jury found one of the officers did use excessive force during Palmer’s arrest.
“I’m glad to see the City has changed the law so electric vehicle drivers won’t be put in confusing positions if they interact with police officers,” said Justin Sanders, an attorney who represented Palmer during his lawsuit. “It also makes interactions with citizens in those situations less confusing for officers.”
Mayor Ted Winterer said he thinks the new law will help prevent another instance of police misconduct in the future, but added the primary goal of the ordinance is to fulfill the Electric Vehicle Action Plan, which council adopted in November 2017 with the goal of installing 300 public chargers by 2020. As part of the plan, council directed City staff to maximize the hours in which public chargers were available.
The new ordinance will allow people to enter closed parks to plug or unplug their electric vehicles. Charging stations notify drivers via text message when their battery is full or when they exceed a three-hour daytime time limit. For example, a driver who parks their car at 9 p.m. would need to leave the park by 8 a.m. City staff will return to council to recommend regulations for vehicles that exceed the time limits.
There are about 2,500 registered electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles in Santa Monica and 100 public chargers to serve them, the majority of which are downtown, City staff said. Because 70 percent of Santa Monicans live in multi-unit dwellings, many residents rely on public chargers as their only means of powering their vehicles.
“We hope public access to charging stations helps make the switch to electric vehicles logistically possible for the majority of Santa Monica residents who rent and live outside the Downtown area,” said Dean Kubani, Chief Sustainability Officer and Assistant Director of Public Works.
Winterer said the City aims for 15 percent of its single-occupant vehicles to be electric by 2025, and will continue to build more charging ports after it meets its goal of 300 in 2020.