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Almanac

News - September 5, 2018

Menlo Park council plugs into ordinance to boost EV charging stations

by Kate Bradshaw

With a goal of decreasing greenhouse gas emissions by promoting local use of electric vehicles, the Menlo Park City Council voted 4-0, with Catherine Carlton absent, on Aug. 28 to give its first round of approval to an ordinance that would standardize the type, quality and quantity of electric vehicle charging infrastructure that must be installed in future commercial and residential projects.

In the past, the city has had slightly different electric vehicle charging infrastructure requirements for different zones in Menlo Park. The new ordinance standardizes those requirements by building type and creates more stringent requirements than are in the state's 2016 green building standards, which the city adopted in 2017, according to a staff report.

The ordinance proposal was discussed in public meetings — both by the Planning Commission and by a council subcommittee made up of members Carlton and Rich Cline — over the past year.

The new requirements set standards for both how many parking spaces must be pre-wired to allow a charging station and how many charging stations must be built, according to Assistant Planner Ori Paz.

At new commercial buildings: 15 percent of the total number of required parking spaces must be "pre-wired" EV spaces, with all the wiring and equipment needed to have a charging station installed in the future; 10 percent of the total number of parking spaces would have to install charging stations.

At expanded or altered commercial buildings: For projects affecting between 10,000 and 25,000 square feet, eventually 5 percent of parking spaces required for the affected area would need to have a conduit that wires could be pulled through in the future, and at least one space would need charging equipment installed.

For projects affecting more than 25,000 square feet, eventually 10 percent of parking spaces required for the affected area must have a conduit that wires could be pulled through in the future. One space plus 1 percent of the total number of required parking stalls for the affected area would need to have the wiring and equipment installed. The requirements would be phased in over three years.

At new residential buildings that have at least three units: There would need to be a conduit and wiring to allow the future installation of a charging station for each unit, and 15 percent of the spaces would need to have the charging equipment installed.

At expanded or altered residential buildings: Adding infrastructure for electrical vehicle charging would be voluntary.

Council member Kirsten Keith requested that developers provide charging stations that offer a 50 amp plug, enabling more powerful electric motors to charge faster.

Janelle London, a member of the city's Environmental Quality Commission, cited a report by the International Council on Clean Transportation that states the number of electric vehicles in Menlo Park rose 8 percent in 2017 over the previous year.

She and city staff contacted city of Palo Alto staff for suggestions and insights on its electric vehicle charging infrastructure requirements.

Former Palo Alto Director of Development Services Peter Pirnejad wrote in an email in February, "It is my opinion that Palo Alto's 2014 EV charging requirements have been a success."

The program has not received pushback on its residential requirements, and "limited pushback" about its commercial requirements, he said.

The charging infrastructure increases construction costs by less than half a percent, Pirnejad said, noting, "I know from experience that it is considerably more expensive (10-100 times more) to add charging infrastructure post construction than pre-construction."

He noted that while Palo Alto and Menlo Park have some of the highest purchasing rates of electric vehicles, one barrier to more people getting them is a lack of charging infrastructure for people living in multi-family housing.

The Tesla question

The council agreed to allow sites with surplus parking to install proprietary charging station, like those for Teslas. In places where parking is tight, the person seeking to install the proprietary charging station would have to prove that the parking plan at the site would still be functional, Paz explained.

Industry experts also insisted that a provision that would require the charging stations to work for any type of electric vehicle without an adapter wouldn't be feasible. Francesca Wahl of Tesla told the council that 43 percent of the electric vehicles in Menlo Park are Teslas; she favors electrical infrastructure that could meet the needs of those drivers.

Affordable housing exemption?

One question raised by Nesreen Kawar, a senior project manager at MidPen Housing, which develops affordable housing, was whether the requirements should apply to affordable housing developments.

The requirements could add $1 million in costs for MidPen's planned redevelopment of the 1300 block of Willow Road.

"This policy as proposed creates an additional hurdle for affordable housing," she said.

The few electric vehicle charging stations that were created when MidPen Housing redeveloped the 1200 block of Willow Road for senior affordable housing are not used, she said. That's partly because electric vehicles are costly, and most of the tenants who live there are considered to fall in the extremely or very low-income brackets, she noted.

The council agreed to send the matter to the Environmental Quality Commission for further discussion before taking a final vote on the ordinance, but favored some provision to not burden affordable housing developments that can demonstrate it would be a hardship to meet the requirement.

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