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City Councilmembers Question San Diego EV Charging Pact

In late April, the San Diego City Council will consider a contract that would commission public charging stations at an array of city facilities. Councilmembers wonder whether revenue generated will sufficiently cover reimbursement costs.

A green Mini is backed in to a parking space, and connected to a white-colored charging station.
An electric vehicle charges its battery at a public station in Kearny Mesa.
Rob Nikolewski/TNS
(TNS) — San Diego is taking key steps toward creating a regional network of reliable electric vehicle charging stations that will both make it easier for residents to own electric cars and help the city replace its 5,000-vehicle gas-powered fleet.

City officials have selected True Upside Consulting to quickly build the network using 400 parking lots located throughout the sprawling city at libraries, beaches, recreation centers, parks and other public facilities.

The proposed contract, which the City Council is scheduled to consider in late April, requires no upfront city investment and forces the contractor to pay for the use of city property.

But depending on the results of a complex revenue-sharing agreement that would run for 10 years, the city could owe as much as $60 million in reimbursement costs for the electrical infrastructure the contractor installs.

City officials estimate the revenue they get from the contract, which will be placed in a sort of lock-box account so it can't be spent, will cover 75 percent to 85 percent of what the city will owe.

They hope to cover the rest with state and federal grants for electric vehicle charging stations.

City Council members have expressed concern about that part of the deal. They have requested the city's independent budget analyst complete a comprehensive assessment of the proposal before the council hearing.

"This is a very big project," Councilmember Marni von Wilpert said during a March 14 meeting of the council's Environment Committee. "How do we get to $60 million in 10 years?"

Jordan More, an IBA analyst, said his preliminary review indicates the proposed contract is a good opportunity, but one that raises some questions.

He praised the plan to put the revenue in a lock box, meaning it can only be spent to cover staff efforts related to the contract. He said the primary concern would be some other technology replacing electric cars.

"The greatest risk I saw is just that over 10 years, are electric vehicles not the best option any more?" More said.

San Diego ran into such a problem several years ago when an exclusive deal for DecoBike to install and operate bike-sharing stations fell victim first to dockless bikes and then to electric scooters. All of DecoBike's corrals have since been removed.

The Environment Committee chose to forward the proposed contract to the full council without a recommendation. And they stipulated the item must be on the discussion agenda — not the consent calendar, where it could get approved with less scrutiny.

Alyssa Muto, director of the city's Sustainability and Mobility Department, said the proposed contract would solve many problems for the city. She said the deal is based on months of analysis, including meeting with other cities and other contractors.

True Upside would be contractually required to install chargers at every city library, beach and recreation center within two years, and then at every other city building within five years.

City officials say they've already completed photo analysis of many city lots to determine the best locations for chargers.

The contract would give San Diego the regional network of charging stations needed to make it easy for residents to own electric cars, particularly residents who live in apartments or other housing where charging at home is not an option.

San Diego's climate action plan, which was revised in 2022, commits the city to having 16 percent of miles driven be zero-emission by 2030 and to having a quarter of those miles be zero-emission by 2035.

The plan also calls for the city to have an all-electric fleet for light-duty vehicles by 2035 and to have 75 percent of its heavy-duty vehicles be electric by that time. Officials say the lack of a regional charging network is making those goals elusive.

Only 150 of the city's 3,300 light-duty vehicles are electric. The first heavy-duty electric vehicles, two street sweepers and a firetruck, are slated to arrive this year.

City officials also say the proposed contract would ensure charging stations are installed in low-income neighborhoods because every city neighborhood has either a library or a recreation center.

Officials said they chose to have the contract cover the entire city instead of putting up city lots for bid individually because they feared no contractors would bid on lots in low-income areas.

Kelly Lyndon, a member of the city's climate equity working group, said she would like the contract to be less flexible about how many chargers True Upside installs in each location.

"Could they put one at Malcolm X Library and 10 at the La Jolla library and call that done?" Lyndon asked the Environment Committee.

City officials said the contract would likely create a highly reliable network of chargers because it includes strong incentives for True Upside.

The company's profit would dip if some chargers are not working, and the proposed contract would allow the city to impose penalties if monthly usage reports show individual chargers are not operating. In addition, inoperable chargers would be added to the problems people can report using the city's Get It Done! tipster app for the contractor to correct.

True Upside would pay the city a flat fee per charger and a percentage of revenue earned every three months. The charging rate would start at 50 cents per kilowatt hour and couldn't rise without city approval.

True Upside could not operate any proprietary ports, meaning each charger would have to be open to all drivers.

The new contract would allow the city to remove mostly defunct Blink and OpConnect chargers located at 14 sites across the city.

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