The number of Menlo Park residents driving electric vehicles is substantial and on the rise. So what should the city do to make sure those cars have somewhere to charge up during the day?
One way to get more charging spots for electric vehicles is to make it a requirement in certain new developments.
The city is in the process of working up a policy laying out how many spots and what electrical infrastructure should be required at new developments.
According to a May 2017 report by the International Council on Clean Transportation, the city ranks fourth across the entire state of California for its market share of electric vehicle owners, at 15 percent.
The group reports that the three California cities with a higher market share of electric vehicles than Menlo Park are Palo Alto (22 percent), Los Altos (21 percent) and Saratoga (20 percent).
When the city passed its "ConnectMenlo" general plan update last November, it created three new zones in the city's eastern side, and with those, requirements to accommodate electric vehicles.
The plan is now to extend those requirements to development in the rest of the city.
The concept has been discussed with the city's Environmental Quality Commission and went through a preliminary round of talks with the Menlo Park Planning Commission on Jan. 22. But commissioners ultimately agreed that the proposed policy isn't, in the words of Commissioner Katherine Strehl, "ready for prime time."
The proposed policy is that new nonresidential developments of less than 10,000 square feet would be required to have up to four charging spaces. Buildings 10,000 square feet or more would have to install the infrastructure for charging electric vehicles at 15 percent of the total number of parking spots required, and actual charging stations at two-thirds of those, with a minimum of one.
For renovated nonresidential developments between 10,000 and 25,000 square feet, a minimum of 5 percent of the total number of parking spots would have to have electric vehicle charging infrastructure, and at least 1 charging station.
Those of more than 25,000 square feet would have to install electric vehicle charging infrastructure for 10 percent of the total number of required parking stalls and a charging station at one spot plus 1 percent of the total number of required parking stalls.
For new residential developments, the requirement would be triggered only at developments of five or more multifamily units, with 10 percent of the total number of required parking spots requiring charging infrastructure and 3 percent of the total number of required parking spots with charging stations, with a minimum of one. For renovated or altered residential properties, the requirement would be waived.
John Tarlton of Tarlton Properties, which owns many of the buildings on O'Brien Drive that function as biotech offices and labs, suggested that the city phase in its 15 percent electric vehicle parking requirement. Currently, he said, about 9 percent of the parking spots at his properties are dedicated to electric vehicles.
He suggested that the city allow charging spots to be grouped near each other to lower costs, and recommended that phasing be done to match a rise in demand for electric vehicles.
Adding more stalls than there is demand for could trigger frustration in drivers over limited parking, leading them to snatch the electric vehicle spots for fossil-fuel cars. In his experience, he said, it costs about $6,000 to $8,000 per spot to install two or $4,000 per spot to install more in a cluster of charging stalls assuming the nearby building's electrical supply can handle the demand.
He also recommended that small companies be offered a chance to claim hardship, noting that tenant improvements also come with many extra costs and fees. "It's adding fuel to an already blazing fire, from the tenant's perspective," he said.
Some speakers asked about specific technical capabilities of the electrical panels and indicated that owners of smaller office buildings might have to pay extra because the buildings might not have the existing infrastructure.
The matter is expected to return to the Planning Commission at a later date.