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Putting in a Plug for Laguna Beach

By Tom Osborne

I attended a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the completion of our city’s first two electric car plug-in stations last week.  I learned that Laguna Beach is the second city in Orange County (Anaheim being the first) to take such a step.  Kudos to our city for maintaining its credentials as an environmental leader among the county’s municipalities.

The ribbon was officially cut by Thurston Middle School student Noah Rosen, age 13, who is going into eighth grade.  About 40 people were on hand for the ceremony, including Mayor Toni Iseman, Councilwomen Jane Egly, as well as City Manager John Pietig and other top city officials.  Among others, Ryan A. Grady, president of Charge Harbor, a green company in Corona del Mar, spoke about the importance of the occasion.   A half dozen or so sleek, gleaming electric vehicles were on display at the ceremony, held in the city-owned parking lot at the corner of Broadway and Forest Avenue. 

            The plug-in installations and the two parking spaces adjacent to them were outgrowths of the city’s Climate Protection Action Plan (CPAP) drafted by the city’s Environmental Committee (EC) and a citizens’ workgroup.  Approved unanimously by the City Council on April 7, 2009, section 5.5.9 of that plan recommended both the plug-in stations and parking spaces.  Members of the EC and the workgroup were on hand to see the plan’s recommendations being implemented.  In fact Chris Prelitz, current chair of the EC and a co-author of the CPAP, put his electric vehicle on display at the ceremony.

Will Holoman, senior water quality analyst for the city, is the point person for this pilot program. I asked him about future plans. “The next steps for the charging stations are to collect usage data until the end of September, then present the data to the City Council in October with recommendations to let them decide rate structures for the future.  Once we have some usage data, we will likely explore future charging station installations in Laguna Beach,” he said.

            To get a better sense of the viability of this program several years into the future, I spoke at some length with Noah about electric vehicles. Regarding his family’s electric car, which is being leased for four years, he said that the fully electric, emission-free, Nissan Leaf cost his parents $4 to drive last month.  The vehicle requires recharging every 100 miles. Recharging, Noah said, took four hours at the family’s 220-volt recharging station.  So informed was he, there was scarcely a question the young man could not answer about the car.

            Naturally, it is easy to read too much into feel-good ribbon-cutting ceremonies. But somehow I sense that this one demonstrates a level of traction about the move of Laguna Beach toward a post-carbon future.  Why do I say this?  Because about four years ago environmental attorney and then Huntington Beach city councilwoman Debbie Cook spoke before a mere handful of people in our council chambers. She talked about “peak oil,” the notion that world petroleum reserves have peaked and their continued use warms our climate; hence, the need to develop alternative fuels.  From that moment until now our city has been paying attention to that message as amplified in the CPAP and has been incorporating the CPAP’s recommendations into the general plan and taking action. 

            I was not alone in thinking that the ribbon-cutting ceremony was significant.  Michael Jones, a representative of Coulomb Technologies, an international manufacturer of charging stations, remarked to the assembled celebrants: “We’re changing the world and using sustainable energy.”  Equally heartening was the eagerness of Noah Rosen, our middle school student, who expressed hope that when he attains driving age his parents will provide him with the cherished Leaf.  That’s a voice of Laguna’s future speaking to us.

Tom Osborne, author of two books with a third under contract, is a retired Santa Ana College history professor and a recent recipient of the city’s Environmental Award.

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