The SF Planning Commission moved forward in approving an armada of electric vehicle charging stations — a “public charging network” which could be coming to an auto body shop or gas station near you.
San Francisco already has a few electric vehicle chargers at commercial parking lots. There are electric vehicle (EV) chargers at a couple BART stations, and state law allows any parking spot to be converted to a charging station.
But electric vehicles are still a rich people’s game, with an average cost of $56,437. And here in California, homeowners are three times more likely to be EV owners than renters are, partially because of the cost, but also because renters who don't have a garage are unlikely to have a convenient place to charge their car.
Mayor Breed hoped to change that by introducing legislation for a “public charging network” for electric vehicles in January. That legislation was approved by the SF Planning Commission in a 4-2 vote on Thursday, albeit with a few modifications to ensure that Amazon delivery vans aren’t hogging up all the chargers all the time.
While the legislation calls for a “public charging network,” don’t hold your breath that they will be free of charge. The new rules allow for “sites with existing automotive uses such as gas stations or parking lots” to add these charging stations. It also allows for other standalone EV charging stations that “can also include other amenities like restrooms, self-serve vending machines, and limited retail amenities.”
But the concern here (and this was the second go-around for this legislation at the Planning Commission, who’d rejected it previously) was that this is a publicly funded handout to giant corporations like Amazon, who are already so flush with cash that their founders are building dick-shaped rockets to outer space. Granted, Amazon’s warehouse plans are on hold right now here in SF. But they do intend to power these facilities with a fleet of electric vans, and other delivery services like UPS could go all-electric someday soon.
So the Planning Commission created a distinction between charging stations for regular drivers, and those for “fleet” vehicles of a delivery service. Designated fleet charging stations would be for fleet vehicles only, these fleet vehicles would not be able to use the public charging stations. Planning department manager of legislative affairs Aaron Starr said the fleet-only stations would only be allowed in “downtown, eastern neighborhoods, and PDR districts,” (Production, Distribution, and Repair districts, like Potrero Hill and Hunters Point), and these would require an additional Conditional Use permit.
There was also a concern that EV charging stations would be automated, not staffed, and therefore these stations would have a net drag on the employment rate. Maybe so. But even electric vehicles are still going to need to be serviced sometimes, and the chargers themselves will still need licensed electricians to repair and maintain them. It’s unclear if a future of unstaffed electric charging stations would be a net employment loss compared to the current landscape of 7-11 and Chevron stations.
Electric vehicles may still be pricey toys largely for the millionaire set, but you figure there will inevitably be some sort of affordable Ford Model T that revolutionizes this. (California does offer some EV rebates, but rebates are only good if you already have the $56,437 laying around to buy that car.) Still, most of San Francisco’s greenhouse gas emissions are from private vehicles, so at some point, we should decarbonize this and start preparing more aggressively for a non-fossil fuel future.
The Planning Commission's approval Thursday was not the final step, this legislation will still go before the Board of Supervisors. But it already has five co-sponsors on the board (Sups. Mandelman, Stefani, Mar, Melgar, and Haney), so it only needs one more additional vote to guarantee passage.