San Jose approves plan to double electric charging stations

As greenhouse gas emissions hike up the earth’s temperature, San Jose leaders eagerly push for greener energy initiatives to combat the region’s increasingly warmer climate.

As a result, the City Council on Tuesday voted unanimously in favor of implementing the California Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Project (CALeVIP), a state-sponsored program that allows qualifying cities across California to build charging infrastructure for electric cars. Councilmember Sylvia Arenas was absent for the vote.

Nonprofit San José Clean Energy has partnered with the California Energy Commission to fund the project for the installation of an additional 1,500 new electric vehicle charging stations across the city — more than doubling the city’s current amount of 1,204 chargers. The state agency helps cities cover the costs of building the infrastructure through grants, providing San Jose with $10 million in funds.

In line with the city’s Climate Smart San Jose plan, the City Council on Tuesday approved San Jose Clean Energy’s match of $4 million toward building the infrastructure, resulting in a total of $14 million to be distributed over the next two to four years as the city strives for 61 percent of its vehicles to be electric by 2030.

The program includes two types of chargers — 1,400 new level 2 chargers and 100 direct current fast chargers by the end of 2022. Level 2 chargers require a 240-volt circuit, similar to an electric dryer or oven, providing 20 to 40 miles of charge per hour. The chargers can be installed in single family homes, multi-family dwellings or workplaces. Meanwhile, direct current fast chargers act as “superchargers,” requiring a 480-volt connection, and can be installed in shopping centers, rest stops and gas stations, which can charge a vehicle to 80 percent in about 30 minutes.

At a news conference earlier in the day, state leaders partnered with local lawmakers to endorse the project, applauding San Jose as a regional leader in the fight against climate change. Mayor Sam Liccardo was joined by Councilmembers Raul Peralez, Magdalena Carrasco, Johnny Khamis and Lan Diep as well as state Assemblymembers Ash Kalra, Kansen Chu and state Sen. Bob Wieckowski.

“We’re grateful to the California Energy Commission for their partnership, as we invest with them to double the number of electric car chargers available to San José residents,” said Liccardo. “It’s important to recognize, though, that we won’t win our battle against climate change by merely building a city for Teslas. That’s why we’re simultaneously exploring how we can use rebates, car-sharing platforms and other tools to make electric cars accessible to our least affluent families, so that everyone in San Jose can benefit from cleaner air.”

“San Jose Clean Energy and the mayor holding a press conference is always good news,” added Kalra. “It’s always a sign that San Jose is leading when it comes to combating not only our global climate crisis, but what we need to do at the local level to take important steps–because we can think about globally what we need to do, but it all starts locally.”

During the meeting Tuesday, the climate-driven initiative spurred some questions from Khamis, who expressed concern that newly-adopted environmental reach codes– which mandate that all new buildings become electric — will add to the cost of construction. In effect, Khamis called upon his colleagues to open CALeVIP grant funds to all new multi-family housing construction, rather than just affordable multi-family housing, to help bear the cost of new construction.

“I am a little concerned we’re putting hurdles in the way of new construction,” said Khamis. “We’re in a housing crisis. More and more we’re finding out that our fees and regulations are costing us. We need to apply this for all kinds of housing, so that our reach codes can be mitigated and we incentivize people rather than putting more hurdles in the way.”

The seasoned lawmaker advocated to open the program to all multi-family housing to help offset the costs of the new reach code ordinance, but also expressed worry that CALeVIP grant funds only applied to low-income multi-family units, as residents in low-income housing, such as newly-proposed homeless housing developments, might not need the ports if they can’t afford electric vehicles or don’t own cars.

But some councilmembers shot back, arguing that the infrastructure is highly needed in low-income neighborhoods so that those communities are not left without access.

“I realize the folks in District 7 might be later adopters, but to say that we’re going to put it for people who don’t need it is inaccurate,” said Councilmember Maya Esparza. “We really need to look at leveling the infrastructure, because if we don’t do it in districts that really need it, they’re never going to get it or have access to it.”

In line with his business-friendly views, Khamis also advocated the city conduct outreach to businesses that can financially benefit from implementing the charging stations — a move that was supported by fellow councilmembers Esparza and Carrasco, who said they’d like to see more opportunities for charging ports in their districts.

The city’s department of transportation hopes to install 5,409 charging ports by 2025, up from the estimated 2,462 ports that will be in place after the newly-approved project is completed.

California building standards code 

More and more, California residents brace for rattling, earth-shaking tremors and unavoidable climatic disruptions that create the perfect conditions for a massive blaze to wipe out large swaths of the state.

To ensure safety in the midst of a potential natural disaster, San Jose leaders on Tuesday voted unanimously to amend the city’s building standards code and adopt the 2019 California fire code as San Jose’s local climate, topography and proximity to the Hayward and San Andreas faults warrant additional building protections. Councilmembers Pam Foley and Sylvia Arenas did not vote.

To prevent the spread of a fire in the event of a quake, the new code enables strict regulations on fire safety, fire sprinkler, installation and structural design requirements, applying to all future construction seeking a building permit for any new buildings in the city starting Jan. 1, 2020.

Per the mayor’s request, the council also approved looking into removing a requirement where high-rise buildings 75 feet or taller have air systems that firefighters can use to replenish their air tanks during a fire, and instead install fire service access elevators as a safer alternative in the event of a blaze. In 2013, neighboring San Francisco voted to drop the Firefighter Breathing Air Replenishment System (FBAR) requirement in favor of the elevators, and now, Liccardo agrees it could be a safer, much-needed solution that would change San Jose’s current building code.

“In 2013, San Francisco Board of Supervisors dropped mandating FBAR’s in its building code for buildings with fire-rated elevators, finding that a fire service access elevator to be a superior substitute for safety,” Liccardo said in a memo. “With high rise construction already facing significant hurdles, the additional cost to install an FBAR system warrants additional investigation, especially as high rise construction improves its overall fire safety ratings.”

According to Fire Chief Robert Sapien Jr., staff will return to the City Council in three months to discuss the results and costs of potentially replacing the fire breathing air replenishment system with a fire service access elevator as a safer alternative for firefighters and bring forward any concerns union firefighters may have regarding the potential change.

Contact Nadia Lopez at [email protected] or follow @n_llopez on Twitter.

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