The future looks electric: City of Santa Cruz committed to more updated EV charging stations, with county set to follow

An electric vehicle charges outside the downtown Santa Cruz Trader Joe's
An electric vehicle charges outside the downtown Santa Cruz Trader Joe’s.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

With California aiming to ban the sale of new gas-powered vehicles by 2035, the race is on to build the infrastructure Santa Cruz County needs to keep up with the burgeoning fleet of electric options.

The city of Santa Cruz is looking toward the future in many ways, from the San Lorenzo Riverwalk revitalization to the various mixed-use developments under loud construction that will help bring more housing to the area.

But there is another, less conspicuous, facet, and it’s geared toward a greener future: the addition of electric vehicle charging stations. By city officials’ estimates, Santa Cruz hopes to have no fewer than 1,250 EV chargers by 2030 — even though there are details left to evaluate, plans to be finalized and funding to get.

Tiffany Wise-West, the city’s sustainability climate action manager, told Lookout those numbers are just part of Santa Cruz’s larger vision for its climate action plan, which is still being formed by community input on what the city should aim to achieve within the next eight years.

By focusing on a future that includes more fully electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles, the city can better incorporate those stations and work with business owners and community members to have more accessible parking options for a lower-emissions future.

“It’s going to be working with all the stakeholders in our community, the Downtown Association and other community advocates to put together the plans of where to site this infrastructure,” Wise-West said.

Map of public charging stations
National nonprofit Plug In America offers drivers a searchable map with public charging stations nationwide. In downtown Santa Cruz, there are many options for electric vehicle owners — and more on the way.
(Via PlugShare and Plug In America)

More stations on the way

At this point, it’s full steam ahead to get more accessible and visible EV charging stations, but one major question is how many chargers there currently are in the city and the county.

Wise-West says there are hundreds throughout the city of Santa Cruz, with 14 city-owned stations.

The situation with Santa Cruz County is murkier. County spokesperson Jason Hoppin pinpointed nine chargers at county-owned buildings and county-operated locations, but said the county doesn’t keep actual data on chargers so he was unsure of an exact number.

Because most chargers across the county are privately owned — either by single homeowners or small businesses — Wise-West pointed to national nonprofit Plug In America for the most up-to-date information. By a Lookout rough estimate from the site’s data, there are at least 92 charging locations countywide.

That missing data shouldn’t dissuade those considering their next car from going electric, Wise-West says. Just last month, the city received an $80,000 grant from the California Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Project, to update 12 of the city’s 14 electric vehicle charging stations to newer models with faster charging speeds. The new models are compatible with all plug-in hybrid and fully electric vehicles, and will allow the city to gather data on how frequently the chargers are used.

Santa Cruz resident Gaby Fernandez unplugs her electric vehicle from the charging station outside the downtown Trader Joe's.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

The electric trend is for real

Piet Canin, strategic development director for local nonprofit Ecology Action, says his team is working with the city of Santa Cruz, the Association of Monterey Bay Area Governments and Central Coast Community Energy to raise funds and install EV chargers countywide.

Santa Cruz’s climate action background

The city of Santa Cruz first adopted its climate action plan in 2012, aiming to hit specified milestones by 2020. By the end of the plan’s time frame, the city:

  • Ensured the rail corridor supported bike and pedestrian use, while further supporting future rail service establishment.
  • Increased bike ridership to 12% of local commutes.
  • Switched 20% of cars to low-carbon fuels.
  • Reduced single-occupant vehicle commutes by 10%.

Santa Cruz most recently updated its climate adaptation plan in October 2018, focusing on the city’s vulnerability in relation to climate hazard projections and rising sea levels.

Under California law, time is of the essence. By 2024, the state will ban the sale of new gas-powered small engines for things like lawn mowers; by 2035, the state aims to end sales of new gas-powered vehicles.

Canin says that although the teams want to hit their goals faster, their successes are nevertheless “advancing pretty well,” with the state of California looking to have 8 million electric vehicles on the road by 2030.

“The folks who were installing some of the first EV charging stations 10 years ago were taking chances, but those chargers have endured and there has been a really good progression,” he said.

For Santa Cruzans wanting to learn more about their electric vehicle options, Canin recommends visiting EVs for Everyone, where they can also find more about all the incentives: “It’s surprising how many are available … it is a great investment, especially in terms of current gas prices.”

Even with all of the upcoming changes, Wise-West said Santa Cruz is on the right track. According to a 2019 study from the International Council on Clean Transportation, San Jose had the highest electric vehicle market share nationwide, at 21%. Santa Cruz and San Francisco were both at about half of that number, but still among the highest in the nation.

“Transportation accounts for 69% of Santa Cruz’s emissions — vehicle electrification is another piece of the transportation puzzle,” Wise-West said. “We hope to enable our residents to be able to electrify their ride and take part in these other things where we are going to need to accelerate progress.”

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