Seeking to cement Palo Alto's position in the driver's seat of the electric-vehicle revolution, city officials on Monday adopted a policy mandating that every new house be wired to accommodate charging stations.
The unanimous vote was part of a broader package of proposals the City Council considered Monday as part of its effort to make Palo Alto one of the nation's leaders when it comes to electric vehicles. The discussion was prompted by a memo from Mayor Greg Scharff, Vice Mayor Nancy Shepherd and Councilwoman Gail Price and by urging from the city's electric-car enthusiasts, a small group of whom exchanged celebratory high fives at the end of the discussion.
Among them was Sven Thesen, an Evergreen Park resident who had installed a curbside station in front of his house, making Palo Alto "the first city in the nation to have a curbside residential EV 'filling station,'" according to the memo. His experiment in giving drivers free electric charges has been a success, he told the council Monday, prompting gratitude from drivers and a feeling that he is doing "wonderful things." He has even received three bottles of wine as gifts from Tesla drivers (estimated value: $90).
"I have lots of people come to the door and say, 'This is great,'" Thesen said.
While the council's action on Monday likely won't lead to a sudden proliferation of charging stations on residential blocks, it will ensure that newly constructed houses will have the necessary circuitry to accommodate installation of charging stations. The ordinance will be drafted by staff, with input from the council's Policy and Service Committee, in the coming months before the council officially adopts it.
The council also directed the committee to consider other ways to encourage electric vehicles, including requiring new hotels to install charging stations. Councilman Pat Burt suggested on Monday that this policy be also considered for large commercial projects, a policy the committee will also explore.
"We have electric-vehicle owners who aren't able to drive their vehicles to Palo Alto because they can't charge up when they get to work," Burt said.
Scharff framed the latest efforts to encourage electric vehicles as part of a broader drive to promote environmental sustainability. He called electric vehicles "the wave of the future" and lamented the fact that Palo Alto, despite having legions of electric vehicles, doesn't have too many charging stations. The ones that exist, he noted, are often occupied.
"It's incumbent for us to find out what are the obstacles to owning electric vehicles and to get rid of those obstacles," Scharff said.
Shepherd said she was encouraged by a phone call from Thesen and by his positive experiences with his residential charging station. The memo she co-signed also calls for staff to review and "streamline" the permitting process for electric vehicles. She called the Monday discussion a "proud moment for Palo Alto."
"I'm very impressed by the way our community is able to articulate not just where they are but where they want to be," Shepherd said.
The memo argues that Palo Alto is already "one of the greenest cities in America," partly because of its recent decision to adopt a "carbon neutral" electric portfolio. The new effort aims to extend the green efforts to transportation, the second of three pillars of greenhouse-gas emission (natural gas is the third).
"Because of the high concentration of electric vehicles in Palo Alto, the interest of our citizens in electric vehicles and supporting the environment and fighting climate change we believe that electric vehicles should be encouraged and supported," the memo states. "Palo Alto is one of the leading cities in environmental sustainability and it is time to review or processes, ordinances, requirements and incentives for installation of EV stations throughout Palo Alto to (e)nsure that we encourage and nurture the Electric Vehicle trend."