Palo Alto Weekly

News - July 4, 2014

Palo Alto speeds ahead with new electric-vehicle requirements

City to require all new multi-family complexes, hotels and commercial buildings to accommodate car-charging equipment

by Gennady Sheyner

Faster than a speeding Tesla, Palo Alto has dramatically expanded its requirements for electric-vehicle chargers, which thanks to a recently passed law must now be present at every new apartment complex, hotel and commercial building.

After the briefest of discussions and without a word of opposition, the City Council adopted on June 16 a new ordinance that requires all new multi-family developments, office buildings and hotels to provide the needed circuitry for easy installation of car-charging equipment. The requirement follows the city's action last year, when it passed a law mandating that every new single-family home be wired for electric chargers.

The new ordinance, which the council approved by an 8-0 vote (Greg Schmid was absent), sets different requirements for various types of new developments, though in each case it calls for a large proportion of parking spots to either include charging equipment or provide the circuity that would make it easy to install such equipment. The ordinance was drafted by a specially appointed Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment Task Force and endorsed unanimously by the council's Policy and Services Committee before earning the approval of the full council.

The law requires new multi-family residential developments to include one charging outlet or one actual charger for each housing unit. In addition, they will have to install either outlets, chargers or circuitry to enable future outlet installation for at least 25 percent of guest parking spots.

New hotels will also be required to accommodate electric vehicles at 30 percent of their parking spaces. They will have the option of doing so by supplying a conduit, an outlet or charging equipment. In addition, they will be required to include charging equipment at 10 percent of their spaces.

Similar rules will apply to other new commercial developments, though the ordinance requires 25 percent of their parking spaces rather than 30 percent to accommodate electric vehicles. They will also have to include charging equipment at 5 percent of their parking spaces.

City officials estimate that the new law will raise the cost of constructing a new development by less than 1 percent. Peter Pirnejad, the city's director of development services, estimated that a developer building a 30,000-square-foot commercial building would have to spend about $7.5 million in construction costs. Installing the electric equipment is expected to cost about $64,170, he said.

For a 30-unit residential complex, complying with the ordinance would add about $81,000 to a construction bill of about $9 million, he said.

In adopting the ordinance, Palo Alto's officials and electric-vehicle enthusiasts stressed the environmental benefits of promoting the switch from gas to electric. Last year, the city hit a big milestone in its green efforts when it adopted a carbon-neutral electricity portfolio. Now, officials want to spread this clean electricity to cars, which are responsible for an estimated 40 percent of the state's greenhouse gas emissions, according to a report from the city's Planning and Community Environment Department.

Craig Lewis, executive director of the local nonprofit Clean Coalition, called the new ordinance a "tremendous opportunity" because it allows the city to link its transportation and electricity efforts.

"Now, we have a chance to take that 'carbon-free' and extend it to the transportation sector," Lewis told the council.

The report from city planners cites a 2012 study by the California Center for Sustainable Energy and the Air Resources Board, which found that about 1,000 new plug-in vehicles are sold in the state every month. At that time, Californians owned more than 12,000 plug-in electric vehicles — roughly 35 percent of the nation's total. The rate is particularly high in Palo Alto, where Tesla Motors is based. Michael Thompson, an early convert to electric vehicles who now serves on the citizens task force, estimated that close to 5 percent of the drivers in Palo Alto use electric vehicles.

Jim Barbera, who also drives an electric vehicle, lauded the new ordinance and stressed the significance of cars as emitters of greenhouse gases. Other eco-friendly measures such as switching to LED lights or weather-proofing your house help, he said, but by focusing on those "we're basically ignoring the elephant in the garage."

"This is a long way toward moving us in the right direction," Barbera said.

The council agreed, with councilmen Pat Burt and Greg Scharff both lauding the new ordinance for furthering the city's status as a leader in the emerging electric-vehicle field. Scharff, a Tesla driver, noted that many people who live in apartments want to buy electric vehicles but find it challenging when their buildings don't have charging equipment. In many cases, apartment owners aren't willing to install the equipment, he said.

"Hopefully, this will move the process forward to make it easy and effective for anyone who wants to own an electric vehicle to be able to do so," Scharff said.

Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be e-mailed at


Posted by Laurie, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jul 3, 2014 at 11:10 am

This will set a good example for other communities in the Bay area!

Posted by HowFarToGo, a resident of Palo Verde
on Jul 3, 2014 at 11:32 am

Although I favor electric vehicles and solar power, how far should our or any city council go with such mandates? New residences (and remodels?) are required to have dedicated circuits for electric charging stations, but the family may not own an electric vehicle. Why not require all new construction to have a roof designed for solar panel installation and equipped with the necessary rack mounts so re-roofing is not an obstacle? While we are at it, why not require solar panels to be installed and be done with it? Why not require families to own an electric vehicle? OK, I went a little far on that one, but how far should (city) government regulation go?

Posted by solarfirst, a resident of Menlo Park
on Jul 3, 2014 at 11:43 am

In terms of requirements, solar energy should precede the charging circuitry or outlets. After all what is the point if the electricity is being drawn from the grid? This is neither truly energy efficient, nor economically better. I think not. Perhaps the cliche of putting the cart before the horse applies here.

Posted by jerry99, a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 3, 2014 at 12:43 pm

More left wing lunacy. Requiring a few charging stations at strip mall stores is fine, but requiring charging units in 5% of all parking places will add more cost to the buyers and cost to the 99% of people that will not have electric vehicles. Who made the City Council God to decide what kinds of cars people should buy or drive.
The City Council should do its proper work, Council and stop the new building so there will be parking in downtown PaloAlto, hire more police to decrease the exploding crime rate in Downtown PA and burglaries in the neighborhoods. That's what the residents of Palo Alto want. Council, stop reading all the green newspanpers and get a grip on reality.

Posted by dougout, a resident of Palo Verde
on Jul 3, 2014 at 12:54 pm

jerry99, it's not lunacy, it's preparing for the future (which always feels like lunacy to lots of people). PA was the beneficiary of forward thinking over 100 years ago when it created PA Utilities, just a year ago when we became a generator of net-zero greenhouse gases from electricity production, and just now, as we adapt to the reality that electric cars have become mainstream.

In addition to being cleaner and cheaper, electric cars are more more fun to drive then gas cars.

Posted by Sparty, a resident of another community
on Jul 3, 2014 at 1:17 pm

Sparty is a registered user.

>In addition to being cleaner and cheaper, electric cars are more more fun to drive then gas cars


Posted by Anonymous, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jul 3, 2014 at 1:56 pm

Does this ordinance also cover who is to pay for the electrical charging stations? Is this electrical usage to be added to the utility bill for the entire complex (everyone pays, even if they don't utilize)? Or, would this also require the installation of meters which have to be administered and maintained (adding more cost to the owner and hence tenants)? Or, are the charging stations for permitted reserved parking spots only (joy, I can't wait for an electrical vehicle charging on my dime, in my permitted parking spot)? Sounds like since there was a brief discussion, with no arguments, this was simply passed as a vaunted green measure, 8-nil. Great.

Posted by Rose, a resident of Mayfield
on Jul 3, 2014 at 2:34 pm

Good idea to require all new buildings to have solar panels, too.

Posted by Rose, a resident of Mayfield
on Jul 3, 2014 at 2:34 pm

Good idea to require all new buildings to have solar panels, too.

Posted by Long-time Palo Altan, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 3, 2014 at 3:30 pm

In 20 years, when we're driving hydrogen- or supercapacitor-powered cars, we'll see these stupid government-mandated charging stations to be the terrible waste that they are. This bureaucrat-ordered spending only delays and obstructs our search for a superior replacement for gasoline-powered internal combustion engines. Cars with a range of 200 miles and a multi-hour recharge period are not the answer - they work only as the second or third car in a wealthy family. Let the free market and risk-taking investors find a better solution.

Posted by HowFarToGo, a resident of Palo Verde
on Jul 3, 2014 at 7:28 pm

I agree with Long-time Palo Altan
I'd prefer to see the requirements for solar generation, rather than electrical consumption.

Posted by resident, a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 3, 2014 at 7:55 pm

The elephant is still in the garage so long it is still eating the power produced by petrol or coal.

Posted by Alfa Romeo, a resident of Southgate
on Jul 3, 2014 at 10:28 pm

@Resident: You hit the nail on the head!!

Posted by Hans Boehm, a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 3, 2014 at 11:00 pm

That elephant appears to have left or be leaving, depending on how you do your accounting. Palo Alto will no longer be buying electricity generated from fossil fuels. See

Web Link

Posted by David Pepperdine, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 4, 2014 at 3:49 am

"PA was the beneficiary of forward thinking over 100 years ago when it created PA Utilities..."

Hilarious! I find it off the charts when a corrupt, monopolistic organization like CPAU is considered to benefit this city. When you add in all he inefficiency, retirement perks and the $20M+ payment to a bankrupt Enron, CPAU is an unmitigated disaster.

Posted by Midlander, a resident of Midtown
on Jul 4, 2014 at 6:28 am

HowFarToGo: I initially had very similar reactions to yours.

The thing that convinces me on the house chargers is that running a 220 volt power line to the garage when a house is being built should be very cheap, but retrofitting it into an existing structure can be a real pain.

However I wish they had stopped at merely requiring a convenient 220 volt outlet in the garage. It wouldn't surprise me if the charger station technology evolves over the next ten years, so it may be better to let people add the actual charger when they get their electric car.

Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jul 4, 2014 at 8:39 am

> "PA was the beneficiary of forward thinking over 100 years ago
> when it created PA Utilities...

Private companies were providing gas and electricity to Palo Alto before the City pushed these companies out of town--taking over the business for itself.

The people promoting City owned Utilities at the time seemed to almost hate large corporations, and we by-and-large, swept up in the so-called "Progressive" movement of the time--which was calling for the government ownership of just about everything.

One particularly funny incident occurred around 1905 when the City wanted all of the utility poles to be square, and the electricity company servicing the city at the time was installing round poles. This lead to a confrontation which was one of the reasons the City started generating its own electricity, which it sold for a slightly lower price than the private sector.

It's really hard to see much in the way of "forward thinking" on the part of those who pushed the private sector out of town—it was all about the money.

Posted by Midtown, a resident of Midtown
on Jul 4, 2014 at 3:22 pm

What about fast chargers at all the gas stations??? No fast chargers, no sell gas. Slow chargers at public locations are basically free parking places for electric cars.

Posted by Moo's Mommy, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 4, 2014 at 9:35 pm

My 260 mile range electric car isn't my "2nd or 3rd" car in a wealthy's my first. Since when did an SUV become mandatory in every family as the "primary vehicle?" And yes, solar panels are a good idea. But right now, they're a contentious topic, as all the well established Solar Companies use panels imported from China which themselves require a lot of fossil fuel (and other chemicals) to produce. It's estimated (per the NYTimes) that some solar panels in China would require a 30% increased lifespan to offset the harmful byproducts of production. This is in comparison to those panels produced in Europe and the US.

Also, since we're discussing what pollutes and what doesn't, just want to mention that GAS powered leaf blowers are illegal in PA in residential properties. Many a neighbor of mine have had their gardner reprimanded for using gas-powered blowers. It might seem trivial, but since everyone has a gardner using these things every week, it's also a good place to begin. The emissions on those are higher than a car, and there is a simple (but slightly more cumbersome) solution...electric powered.

Finally, in response to the poster who said "what's the difference" between a tank of gas and a charge on a battery...there's a big difference! The electric equivalent of 25mpg is not the same as gasoline! The gasoline required to drive your car 25 miles is not the same as the gasoline (or in CA...natural gas) l required to provide enough electricity to drive your car 25 miles. Most estimates say electricity is 4-5x more efficient....

Posted by Illuminato, a resident of another community
on Jul 4, 2014 at 10:16 pm

Moo's Mommy: "GAS powered leaf blowers are illegal in PA in residential properties." Can you point me to the ordinance for that?

Posted by iconoclast, a resident of University South
on Jul 4, 2014 at 11:46 pm

May I ask why our city gov is pushing these ultra-high-emissions vehicles, which are powered by a mix of coal, nuclear, bird-killing windmills, and river-killing hydro dams?

Gasoline and diesel cars are environmentally far friendlier; hybrids even more so.

Posted by curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 5, 2014 at 12:38 am

"Private companies were providing gas and electricity to Palo Alto before the City pushed these companies out of town--taking over the business for itself."

Wrong, sir. PA generated its own juice from the beginning, while it fought off Pride Greed and Envy's attempts to sabotage its socialistic enterprise as it sold its customers energy at rates way below the "free market" price.

"the so-called "Progressive" movement of the time--which was calling for the government ownership of just about everything."

Like the communist/socialist Chinese who are totally eating our economic lunch, right?

"It's really hard to see much in the way of "forward thinking" on the part of those who pushed the private sector out of town—it was all about the money."

My my my. All about the money. Socialist Palo Alto out-moneyed the capitalist money boys. Them old time capitalists musta been total wimps.

But let's be fair and give capitalism its due. It is a superb mechanism for concentrating wealth in fewer and fewer hands while progressively depressing the local/regional/national economy by killing the spending ability of the masses that fuels the economy.

But, hey, no sweat. The government will always bail capitalism out.

Posted by village fool, a resident of another community
on Jul 5, 2014 at 2:15 am

@curmudgeon -
"Who Killed the Electric Car"?
I plan to watch this documentary again. I saw it more than five years ago.
Like a good book, it's worth 'rereading'. Sometimes time passing adds another perspective, possibly one which wasn't obvious, even to the writer. In this case the movie is about a mid 1990's General motors car.

Posted by Steve, a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 5, 2014 at 4:25 pm

wish this affected existing condo developments. We've been asking our HOA for permission for two years now to install a car charger in our garage.

Posted by Illuminato, a resident of another community
on Jul 5, 2014 at 6:13 pm

Now that the City Council has decided to take control of the weather and climate of planet Earth, I hope they don't screw it up and make things worse. It's a huge responsibility. If things go wrong, I know who to blame.

Posted by Rakesh, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jul 8, 2014 at 11:14 pm

very Nice readable Article, Absolutely Car buyers can purchase fully electric cars, but there hasn't been a huge take-up of these electric vehicles. I would personally love to buy an electric car. people want to more information about electric cars also visit here
Web Link

Posted by jennifer55, a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Aug 30, 2014 at 2:52 am

jennifer55 is a registered user.

After giving a tough competition to Tesla, Palo Alto has planned to create platforms for electric cars. The company has decided to focus on those cars to make charging stations in commercial building, Apartment complex & Hotels for recharge the batteries of those cars. Electric cars require electricity for recharging the batteries to run the engine. So an ordinance has been passed in city council regarding this matter. The cars need service for good engine back up.
Web Link

Posted by DrewBarrymore, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Sep 2, 2014 at 4:10 am

DrewBarrymore is a registered user.

Very nice article. Electric cars are very useful for all and it has so many positive impacts on the environment. By using electric cars we can keep our environment safe and pollution free.But for the existence of electric cars charge stations are hugely required and Palo Alto has taken the risk of charge stations. I think it is a very good job. If there will be no scarcity of charge stations then all car users must think to buy electric cars and they will be able to avoid costly fuel by using electric cars.
Web Link

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