Disclosure, I own shares of TSLA.

Santa Monica is experiencing several significant problems simultaneously.

In addition to the pandemic, we have a housing shortage, and then there is climate change, the big, existential problem that affects every person on Earth. Our city leaders have been proactive on all fronts, but a recent shortsighted council decision has put a major crimp in the city’s ability to fight climate change.

After a thorough search, Tesla, the world’s leading electric vehicle manufacturer, found a location for their new Superchargers, which can charge a car in only 30 minutes, at 14th Street and Santa Monica Boulevard. Most of Tesla’s Superchargers are located between major cities near freeways to allow interstate travel.

This particular site, however, is geared toward folks who live in apartments and condos who want to switch to an EV, but have no access to a charger at home. Having a 62-stall Supercharger site, where drivers can always get a charge, would enable as many as a couple of thousand Santa Monica residents to dump the pump. This facility will be the first of its kind in the world and is a new service Tesla plans to offer in communities where there is a lot of multi-family housing. Think of it as a “gas station” for EVs, but it uses clean solar energy instead of filthy gasoline thanks to solar panels on site. Santa Monica has over a dozen gas stations, every one a hazardous waste site, but it has no equivalent Supercharger sites. With over 70% of Santa Monica residents living in multi-family housing, robust public charging facilities are a necessity if EVs are to succeed.

On November 14, 2017, the Santa Monica City Council adopted the Electric Vehicle Action Plan, which was meant to triple the number of public charging stations in Santa Monica within three years. The plan was to focus on “expanding charging opportunities for residents who live in multi-unit residential buildings and neighborhoods, where charging infrastructure is more challenging to install.”

The city had planned to expand its public charging ports from 89 to over 300 within three years, including curbside charging, streetlight charging and fast charging stations.

“Implementation of this plan will help facilitate the rapid transition to more sustainable forms of transportation and keep Santa Monica on the leading edge of this technological transformation,” said Public Works Assistant Director Dean Kubani.

This plan came at a time when electric vehicles are becoming more available to the mass market and are expected to increase significantly in the coming years. The state of California aims to have 1.5 million zero-emission vehicles on the road by 2025. Transitioning vehicles to electric is essential for Santa Monica to reach its carbon reduction goals as vehicles account for 64% of total greenhouse gas emissions.

Because of the pandemic and budget concerns, most of the work on this charging infrastructure has been postponed, with only about 200 chargers installed to date, and almost all of them the slower “Level 2” chargers that take hours to fill a battery. The number of Superchargers Tesla wants to install represents about 15 times the combined charging speed of all the currently-installed public chargers in Santa Monica. This is a big deal! Tesla is increasing the charging capacity of the entire city by more than an order of magnitude with one facility.

The effect this facility will have on the public’s belief that they will be able to charge their EV, even if they don’t have a charger at home, will be enormous. It is estimated that up to 2,000 people could use this facility and many will be new EV owners, having switched from emitting greenhouse gasses to “driving on sunshine.” And the city doesn’t have to spend a dime. Tesla will pay for everything.

Tesla has been working with planning staff for many months to get approval from the city’s Planning Commission, which it granted March 3. Tesla’s plans were to have the facility running by the end of summer. However, at the March 9th City Council meeting, this project was included in a moratorium on all new commercial development while an inventory of potential housing sites was conducted. After a representative of one of the car dealerships asked the council to exempt all of the car dealerships on Santa Monica Blvd. from the moratorium, the request was granted. Several other projects already in the planning stages were also exempted, but the council specifically targeted the Tesla facility to keep it from being built.

Councilor Kevin McKeown derisively described the facility as a “parking lot with plugs.” In contrast to the city’s claim that it wants residents to switch to EVs, the council allows all the gas car dealerships exemptions from the moratorium, but the most important EV project in the city’s history is denied. It should be noted that McKeown drives a gas-burning car. It should also be noted that there seemed to be a decidedly anti-Tesla attitude among several councilors as they kept asking if Tesla was not included in the exemptions, seemingly wanting to make sure the Supercharger facility was axed. Finally, while public testimony was allowed in the Planning Commission meeting, there was no opportunity for the public to comment on this maneuver as the agenda did not signal this action.

Tesla has single-handedly dragged the entire auto industry into the EV world. To deny this company the right to build its facility while allowing its competitors to build whatever they like is discriminatory. I recognize the need for more housing, but there are dozens of sites that can accommodate housing, but only one that works for Tesla’s Supercharger site. Let’s prove that Santa Monica can work on both problems at once by allowing the Tesla facility to go forward while repurposing many of the empty office buildings around town for housing.

Paul Scott, Santa Monica