Friday, November 13, 2009

CityWatchLA - City Hall Red Tape Trumps Citizen’s Green Vision

CityWatch, Nov 13, 2009
Vol 7 Issue 93

A local merchant's idealistic efforts to implement an electric car-share program in densely populated Hollywood has hit speed bump after speed bump, leaving him low on funds, high on frustration and ready to pull the plug on his dreams.

Four months ago, Bechir Blagui rented a storefront office on Hollywood Boulevard, across the street from an auto body shop, another auto body shop, an empty lot and a liquor store. His goal was to host a car-share program for locals and tourists alike, providing electric "community" cars that could be rented by the hour or for the day. He intended to support this vision with an electric charging station right on Hollywood Boulevard that would allow his patrons as well as others in the community to pull right up, charge up and take off, leaving no emissions behind.

Bechir's idealistic journey to nowhere started with a visit to City Councilmember Tom LaBonge's office where he received referrals, several of them. He was referred to the local office of the LADOT and after a site visit, the local LADOT engineer referred him to another department within the LADOT. After all, parking spaces are one thing, parking meters are another! He filled out forms and offered a letter of support from his landlord and from the neighboring businesses on the block. His request was finalized and the long period of silence began, one that continues to this day.

LaBonge's Department of Referrals also sent Bechir across Hollywood Boulevard to City Council President Eric Garcetti's office. After all, Garcetti had just introduced a motion to City Council saying "the City should take action to help accelerate the adoption of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV), battery electric vehicles (BEV), and other zero emissions vehicles in Los Angeles..." Bechir spoke to Garcetti's Deputy who referred him to the Transportation Deputy and another long period of silence began, one that continues to this day.

Hollywood Rent-a-Car is located in LaBonge's district but apparently the commitment to making LA the Greenest Big City is a commitment that belongs to Mayor Villaraigosa and so when push came to shove, LaBonge's staff suggested that Bechir would be better served taking his vision of sustainable transportation to the Mayor's office if he wanted help getting a loading zone and a charging station, all in support of a locally owned and operated business that provides a congestion relief solution to the community. After all, an economic solution, an environmental solution, a congestion solution, a transportation solution, all rolled into one business on Hollywood Boulevard is not the kind of thing a Councilman would waste time on.

Bechir's business plan is based on a simple car-share concept that has proven successful in several different formats, most impressively in the Bay Area where members of CityCarShare pay a membership fee, which allows them to enjoy access to a car without having to own, maintain, register, insure, and store a vehicle. Since most vehicles spend 95% of their life parked, waiting to be driven, the most immediate benefit of a car-share program is to the local community because the need for abundant parking is reduced significantly. This was the benefit that drove Bechir's commitment to include a car-share element to his business. After all, it's Hollywood, long on dreams, short on parking!

There are many car-share programs operating around the world, from ZipCar to Connect to WeCar to FlexCar and Bechir set out to add an element of environmental sustainability by featuring electric cars and a charging station that would also be available to the public. Good for the community, good for the neighbors, good for the customers, good for business. Or so he thought.

Somehow, LA's high-altitude approach to becoming the "Greenest Big City" has failed to reach street level and Bechir found himself standing alone on Hollywood Boulevard, wondering what it was going to take to bring an electric car-share program to Hollywood Boulevard. He wasn't alone for long.

Dave Kaufmann of EnVironmental Motors joined Bechir and is ready to put electric community cars to work in Hollywood saying "The future of EV cars is here and they are now competitive in speed, distance, price and safety."

Enid Joffe of Clean Fuel Connection also joined Bechir and is ready to install a charging station on Hollywood Boulevard saying "Hollywood is the center of the world and this is where people demonstrate the art of the possible. There's a tide coming and Hollywood Boulevard is the perfect place for LA's first electric car-share program."

Missing from this Green Vision is the City of Los Angeles.

One would think that the Mayor's vision for a sustainable future would result in our City's leadership embracing the individuals who choose to be a part of the solution.

One would think that instead of waiting for pie-in-the-sky solutions that will take decades to arrive, Los Angeles would embrace the small steps of individuals that add up to the large leaps of progress for a Great City.

But most of all, one would think that in this time of economic crisis, the City of LA would get out of the "anywhere-but-here" referral business and would embrace the future of "let's-make-it-happen" as the first steps of a long journey to establish Los Angeles as a Great City. Perhaps even a Great Green City!

(Stephen Box is a transportation and cyclist advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at ) ◘


EM said...

Thanks, Stephen, for writing this one up. As a ten-year+ electric car driver who has worked closely with the electric car movement, this one has been very exciting for me. We actually got the state to change its laws for car-share programs and this allows the LA City Departments to put dedicated spaces for shared cars on the street and in public garages. We have built out the best electric car infrastructure in America in Los Angeles, and we continue to add to it. I want DWP to do the next round as the charging standards have changed. Both my environmental deputy and transportation deputies are working on this. Chargers on the street will probably require another fix in the state code, but we are doing this and can't wait to help get this launched. There hasn't been complete silence on this, but rather a lot of behind-the-scenes work and I personally appreciate you giving them a shout out as green entrepreneurs! We will get this done, just as we have in over 300 charging locations throughout LA. Keep pressure on DWP to help fund this, too, as it makes a lot of sense for them to be ahead of the curve! Marcel from my office will write a more detailed update...

Bechir said...

Mr Garcetti im a big fan of your work and that was the only reason i knoked on your door wich happen to be a cross the street from mine, although my vision for electric cars is as grand as yours i am very realistic and i know all ideas visions and dreams start with one small first step i as an entrepeneur with that vision in mind have already done most of the work and i just need some red tape removed from the DOT and the DWP to get the very first charging station on the most famous boulevard on the world, your Boulevard: Hollywood blvd. help me get this small community revolution started across the street from you. yours truly Bechir

Melissa said...

Having a Carshare program in the city would be a great idea! As a former employee of Flexcar, I will be launching my own Carshare program, LAXCarshare, in a couple of months.

I look forward to working together in bringing awareness and increased support to carsharing as a whole.