Friday, December 04, 2009

CityWatchLA - Mayor’s Electric Vehicle Dream Blows a Fuse!

CityWatch, Dec 4, 2009
Vol 7 Issue 99

Mayor Villaraigosa selected the LA Auto Show as the backdrop for the announcement of his "Plug-In Infrastructure" scheme that proposes to create a network of electric charging stations throughout Los Angeles, all in anticipation of the onslaught of electric vehicles that he is convinced will be the next expression of LA's love affair with the car.

"The car culture started here, and it’s here that the new generation of vehicles should also begin.” The Mayor bemoaned the fact that LA is typically #1 in traffic congestion and #1 in air pollution.

"We need to find new, cleaner ways to travel,” Villaraigosa intoned … with a sense of discovery.

Then he offered up the details of the latest strategy in his ongoing pursuit of the "Greenest Big City" title, this time banking on a partnership between Edison, the DWP, Nissan, GM, Ford and the neighboring communities of Burbank, Pasadena, Santa Ana and Santa Monica.

This "Plug-In" team would offer electric car owners incentives ranging from tax rebates for home chargers to high-occupancy-vehicle lane access to preferential or free parking.

This news failed to resonate in Hollywood where small business owner Bechir Blagui stands alone, on Hollywood Boulevard, electric community car-share business plan in one hand and electric plug in the other hand, waiting for help in establishing one simple, solitary charging station in front of his business so he can offer locals and tourists alike a sustainable car-share program … and contribute to Mayor V’s grand green plan.

Bechir has turned to the LADOT, the LADWP, Councilman Tom LaBonge and City Council President Eric Garcetti for help but his vision of a charging station on Hollywood Boulevard is still just a dream.

Meanwhile, Garcetti found time to stand as Villaraigosa's wingman for the "Plug-In" press conference where they committed to a network of 500 charging stations consisting of 400 refurbished stations and 100 new stations complemented by the subsidized installation of private charging stations at homes and businesses.

Villaraigosa said "It is crucial to prepare for the expected influx of thousands of electric vehicles."

Garcetti added, "This initiative will bring together regional stakeholders to coordinate efforts that will streamline charging station installations at homes, business, and multi-family residential buildings, explore and expand public charging options, and create incentives for EV drivers."

Critics point out that vehicles, regardless of power source, take up space and LA's new focused support of zero emission vehicles hardly qualifies as a congestion relief solution.

Max Utility explains that there are almost six million registered vehicles in LA County which, at 119 square feet of space each, occupy 25 square miles of space when parked. (For perspective, note that Manhattan Island is just 22 square miles!)

Max concludes by pointing out that the average vehicle spends 95% of its life parked, which leaves all vehicles equal environmental offenders and consumers of valuable real estate in LA, America's capital of congestion.

Somehow lost in the rush to "Plug-In" is the recent report issued by the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) which offers up "First Mile, Last Mile" solutions that would encourage people to get out of their cars and onto mass transit.

Recognizing that getting to and from a Transit Hub is an obstacle for many potential transit passengers, SCAG spent $125,000 to come up with solutions that would help people navigate the home-to-transit and transit-to-home journey.

LADOT's GM Rita Robinson and City Planning's GM Gail Goldberg gave a co-presentation at a special combined meeting of the Planning Commission and the Transportation Commission where they unveiled the SCAG report with great fanfare.

The $125,000 ideas included ... brace yourself ... Carpooling, Taxis, Short-Term Car Rental, Folding Bikes, Bike-Share, and Car-Share."

Less than three months ago Villaraigosa, again at a press conference, attacked congestion and air pollution and offered as the remedy a car-share program.

"Providing alternatives to car ownership will help improve the environment and the city's traffic congestion," he told the gathering. Then he cut the ribbon on a partnership between the City of LA and ZipCar, a large car-share company that made a small commitment to place less than two dozen shared vehicles in a city of four million people, all in return for an exclusive relationship and the use of dedicated parking spaces.

The "Car-Share" concept keeps coming up as a congestion relief solution and successful programs in other cities have demonstrated that a single shared car can replace ten privately-owned vehicles and that car-share participants end up driving less than when they owned a vehicle.

Participants enjoy the use of a vehicle when it's needed without the expense of owning, registering, insuring, storing and maintaining a vehicle that will spend most of its life parked and waiting to be driven.

A survey of the USC and UCLA ZipCar programs reveals that the cars are popular and that car-share participants enjoy easy access to a vehicle and reserved parking when they return, all for a simple membership fee and an hourly rate.

Villaraigosa has promoted the benefits of car-share programs. He has promoted the benefits of electric vehicles. He has committed to supporting both car-share programs and electric vehicles.

Meanwhile, citizen Bechir Blagui puts "car-share" and" electric vehicle" together and gets ... well … ignored.

How can the City of Los Angeles ignore the needs of a small business operator, one who simply needs assistance in the process of installing a charging station on Hollywood Blvd. at a parking space dedicated to the use of electric cars? After all, he's simply asking for the assistance that Villaraigosa promises in his press conferences when the microphones are on and the cameras are flashing.

At Tuesday's Auto Show press conference, Villaraigosa promised that city officials would streamline the permitting and inspection process for the new charging stations.

He promised that local building codes and standards would be revised and that the utilities would modify their customer service process to better accommodate the charging stations.

He even went so far as to claim that his "Plug-In" program would lure battery and charging stations to Los Angeles resulting in masses of green jobs while Angelenos reduced their reliance on foreign oil.

Unfortunately he didn't promise to answer the phone when citizen Bechir called for help.

Earlier this year President Barack Obama proclaimed "Small businesses are the lifeblood of cities and towns across the country. Over the last decade, small businesses created 70 percent of new jobs, and they are responsible for half of all jobs in the private sector. They also help enhance the lives of our citizens by improving our quality of life and creating personal wealth. Small businesses will lead the way to prosperity, particularly in today's challenging economic environment."

When Villaraigosa was first inaugurated as Mayor he referred to Los Angeles as the city that best embodies bold dreams. He asked the people of LA to join him in his dream for LA. He called on LA saying "Fellow Angelenos, let's make Los Angeles a city of Purpose! Let's dare to dream! Let's dare to dream together!"

If Villaraigosa is serious about "daring to dream together" it means supporting others in their dreams.

To do that, he'll need to step out of the limelight of the LA Auto Show and onto the streets of Hollywood where he'll meet people who have big dreams … and can help bring his Plug In program to fruition … who simply need the City to do its job.

If he really wants remove the hypocrisy from his promise … really wants to make a difference … he'll grab LaBonge and Garcetti and together they'll power up Bechir's dreams of LA's first electric car-share program on Hollywood Boulevard.

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

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