Streamlined permitting for electric vehicle charging is a must for California cities

To accelerate the transition to electric vehicles, California's cities must commit to becoming "Go EV Cities."

James Rivas | Used by permission
Environment California's Steven King standing in front of an electric vehicle charger at LAPD's Motor Transport Division in Los Angeles.
Daniel Mora

Go EV City Campaign Coordinator, Environment California

California has been at the forefront in the transition to renewable energy, particularly in switching from fossil fuel-powered cars to more sustainable electric vehicles (EVs). Over the past decade, California has led the nation in electric vehicle sales and the number of electric vehicle charging ports, according to Environment California Research & Policy Center’s 2022 Renewables on the Rise dashboard. The push to transition to sustainable electric vehicles is driven by the fact that the transportation sector contributes the most to global warming pollution in the state, with dangerous implications for our air quality and climate. 50% of such emissions in the state come from the transportation sector, which highlights the urgency of phasing out gasoline-powered cars.  Consequently, over 38 million Californians – about 98% of the state’s population – experienced over 30 days of unhealthy air quality in 2020. Therefore, making the transition to renewable energy in the transportation sector is imperative. Governor Newsom has already set the ambitious goal of having all new vehicle purchases by 2035 be EVs. However, California’s infrastructure cannot currently support this massive transition. Having an adequate number of charging stations is a major concern for residents looking to make the transition to electric vehicles. Therefore, a major first step is creating infrastructure that will boost the confidence of California consumers to purchase EVs. Responding to this need, the governor has set the goal to reach 250,000 electric vehicle charging stations in the state by 2025. While this is an important start; we want to see California have 1.2 million charging stations by 2035. To achieve this goal we must make it as straightforward and effortless as possible to put charging stations throughout the state.

Luckily, existing legislation including AB 1236 and AB 970 helps streamline the process for electric vehicle charging station permitting, which is a vital first step in establishing needed electric vehicle infrastructure. Specifically, AB 1236 which was required to be adopted by September 30, 2017 “requires all California cities and counties to develop an expedited, streamlined permitting process for electric vehicle stations (EVCS)” in the form of a streamlining ordinance and checklist. AB 970 works in tandem with AB 1236 by setting specific binding timelines to the review period based on the size of the project and clarifying parking requirements. The new timelines in AB 970 state that permitting for projects with less than 25 charging stations at a single site will be “deemed complete if after 5 business days the city or county has not either (1) found that application to be incomplete or (2) issued a written deficiency notice.” If the project has 26 or more charging stations at a single site, then the “EVCS application will be deemed complete after 10 business days and will be deemed approved 40 business days after deemed complete.” In short, this law ensures that cities make a decision on EVCS permitting within a reasonable timeframe based on the size of the project in question. All cities and counties are required to comply with AB 1236 and AB 970. AB 970 became operative on January 1, 2022 for every city or county with a population exceeding 200,000 residents, while cities or counties with less than 200,000 residents have until January 1, 2023, to adopt a checklist and ordinance. To become a “Go EV City,” cities and counties must adopt both an ordinance and checklist in accordance with AB 1236 and AB 970. 

Ensuring that as many cities as possible become Go EV Cities is a vital first step for California to create an infrastructure that can support a transition to electric vehicles. The state’s GoBiz website, however, indicates that more than half of the counties or cities in California have either not fully adopted an ordinance and checklist or have not taken the first steps to begin the process. Our work on the GoEV campaign has shown that many cities and counties are not compliant with AB 1236 and AB 970; this legislation has fallen through the cracks in too many cases. EVs are a major tool to help California’s transportation sector drastically reduce its impacts on the environment and our health, and there are many policies cities can adopt to make it easier to buy and own EVs. However, for California to reach its ambitious goal of all vehicle purchases being electric by 2035, cities must take the needed steps for compliance with AB 1236 and AB 970 to accelerate the state’s transition to electric vehicles.

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Authors

Daniel Mora

Go EV City Campaign Coordinator, Environment California

Steven King

Clean Energy Advocate, Environment California

Steven leads Environment California’s campaigns to increase clean, renewable energy throughout the Golden State, spearheading efforts to transition away from dangerous fossil fuels and address climate change. Steven lives in Los Angeles where he enjoys spending time outdoors, watching his favorite L.A. sports teams, and playing the trombone.

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