PREPARING TO CHARGE ... By the year 2020, Palo Alto officials expect to see between 5,000 and 10,000 electric vehicles zipping up and down city streets. But while they agree that Palo Alto will be at the forefront of the trend, they are still trying to figure out the city's role in supporting the gasless fleets of the future. The city already has free charging stations for electric cars in garages at City Hall, Bryant Street and High Street. Five more chargers are scheduled to be installed soon, thanks to a series of grants. But the city's long-term plans for electric cars remain hazy. Though Palo Alto boasts two major electric-vehicle companies, Tesla and Better Place, and a bustling population of green engineers — factors that will undoubtedly make electric cars locally popular — city officials aren't ready to blanket the streets with electricity outlets just yet. Samir Tuma, chair of the city's Planning and Transportation Commission, said at a Wednesday night discussion of the topic that installing charging stations is an endeavor best left to private enterprise, though he advocated providing incentives to developers and companies interested in doing so. Tuma raised questions about the future of charging and envisioned a time, 10 to 15 years from now, when the city would have centralized locations (much like gas-station hubs) where people would flock to charge their cars. Commissioner Arthur Keller, who switched to electric cars a decade ago, was more supportive of rolling out parking spots with Level-2 chargers, saying he expects these chargers to remain the industry standard for a long period of time. But he was less certain about how many charging stations the city should unroll. "I'd expect that within 10 years, that 10 percent of commercial parking spaces will be used by electric vehicles," Keller said. "Whether that means 10 percent of the parking spaces need to be electric stations or not is an open question." In the coming months, the city plans to brush up on the topic by issuing a request for proposals to the private sector, according to a report from Jaime Rodriguez, the city's chief transportation planner.
UPROOTED ... Former Palo Alto Mayor Peter Drekmeier is well-known for advocating green issues such as water conservation, composting, farmers markets and the carbon tax. The latest foe on Drekmeier's environmental agenda is the Ailanthus — an Asian tree also known (ironically, from his perspective) as "tree of heaven." Drekmeier said the trees can be found near local creeks, along the Caltrain tracks and other spots that don't face regular maintenance. These trees tend to spread their seeds around and have an advantage over other species, he said. "It's a very tenacious, invasive tree and it's getting a foothold in the creek," Drekmeier said. "We're very concerned about it." Drekmeier told the City Council this week that he had recently started a habitat-restoration project that involves pulling out invasive species and replacing them with native ones. While he said removing the smaller Ailanthus trees is fairly easy, the large ones pose a problem. He proposed partnering with the city to apply for state grants that would fund the removal of these trees. He made his comments just before the council approved a grant application that would fund removal of invasive Spartina trees from the Baylands. "I think we can extend our good work from the Baylands out to the creek corridors and into the hills," Drekmeier said.