Will California’s push on electric vehicles reduce inequality — or deepen it?
How can California make sure the electric vehicle revolution isn’t just for the wealthy few?
That was the big question in a CalMatters panel discussion Tuesday. While bringing down the cost of EVs is crucial, so is the availability of chargers. And that is something of a chicken-and-egg proposition.
Some on the panel — moderated by CalMatters’ climate reporter Alejandro Lazo — called for building out the charging infrastructure in disadvantaged communities in advance, especially residential chargers.
- Steve Douglas, vice president of energy and environment for the Alliance for Automotive Innovation: “You can’t ask low-income residents to spend an hour, three hours, six hours away from their families, every week, just to charge their car, while affluent people pull in, plug in and wake up to a full car.”
But others said without enough EV owners in a neighborhood, it’s a recipe for vandalism and disuse.
- Ted Lamm, senior research fellow in the climate program at UC Berkeley’s Center for Law, Energy, & the Environment: “When charging is installed in an area where there is no demand for the vehicles and no local desire to use them, it’s this sort of dead infrastructure. It has no use to the local population and local community, and so it is more likely to be subjected to vandalism, or just disuse and disrepair.”
Meanwhile, others noted that private car ownership created social inequities in the first place, and that state and local officials must focus on other zero emissions transportation options.
- Orville Thomas, CALSTART’s state policy director: “We have to reduce the amount of cars on the road — that’s transit, that’s micro mobility, that’s clean mobility options, that’s e-bikes. We need to plan better if we’re talking about the economic divide.”
Other key points:
- To transition to electric vehicles by 2035, the state is shifting EV purchase incentives to focus on low-income consumers and those in communities impacted by air pollution, said Lisa Macumber, chief of the Equitable Mobility Incentives Branch at the California Air Resources Board.
- Though private chargers can have high upfront costs, it can cost three to five times more to plug into public chargers, Douglas said.
- In another example of the “it’s expensive to be poor” phenomenon, Thomas said EVs with longer ranges are pricier, yet many lower-income people typically have longer commutes.
- Thomas also said there would be more money for all kinds of EV programs if voters last November had approved Proposition 30, which would have imposed a 1.75% income tax increase on Californians making more than $2 million a year, but was opposed by Gov. Gavin Newsom.
If you missed the session, you can watch it here.
The back-story: In March, as part of a series on California’s electric vehicle transformation, a CalMatters analysis found that most electric vehicles in California are owned by white and Asian, college-educated and high-income residents. Very few are registered in communities with the largest percentages of Latino and Black residents. The main hurdles: Vehicle costs, lack of chargers for renting tenants and not enough public charging stations.
- The average cost of an electric car as of July was $53,469 — about $5,000 more than the average car. Lower-end fully electric cars start around $27,500.
- Atherton, located in Mateo County, has the state’s highest percentage of electric cars (about one in every seven) and the average household income exceeds $500,000.
- In the 20 ZIP codes where Latinos make up more than 95% of the population, 1% or less cars are electric. In 17 of the 20 communities with the highest percentage of Black residents, less than 3% are electric.
CalMatters events: Here’s our coverage of the prior panel discussions in Sacramento, in May on homeownership and in June on police shootings. The next event is scheduled for Sept. 19, on Gov. Newsom’s push for rehabilitation over incarceration. Register here.
CalMatters is hiring: We have several new newsroom opportunities, including for an economy reporter, a tech reporter, a politics and campaign reporter and a state Capitol reporter (in partnership with Voice of San Diego, and updated to no longer require applicants to live in Sacramento). See all our openings and apply here.
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Other Stories You Should Know
1 Gun violence, by the numbers
Two big numbers stuck out in the first report from the California Attorney General’s new Office of Gun Violence Prevention, released Tuesday.
- 140,000: The projection of how many fewer gun-related deaths there would have been nationwide if the U.S. firearm mortality rate had matched California’s between 2013 and 2022. While California’s rate was once 50% higher than the national average, it’s now 33% lower and ranks seventh lowest. And if its rate had been as high as the rest of the nation during that decade, nearly 19,000 more Californians would have been killed by guns.
- 50%: How much California’s youth gun homicide rate dropped between 2006 and 2022, despite increases during the COVID-19 pandemic. Over the same period, the rate rose by 48% in Texas and by 23% in Florida.
Attorney General Rob Bonta argues that the numbers show California’s success in reducing gun violence.
- Bonta, in the report: “Gun violence is America’s disease — a sickness that is traumatizing our communities and tearing our families apart….While California is not immune to this disease, thanks to our nation-leading, commonsense gun laws and prevention policies, we’ve made substantial progress.”
But the report also highlights some problems, including the scourge of gun violence in disadvantaged communities, its role in hate crimes and illegal guns coming into the state.
Gun violence prevention groups praised the detailed, 38-page report, filled with charts.
- Kris Brown, president of Brady, in a statement. “Solving a problem as complex as gun violence requires nuanced solutions, and our approaches only stand to benefit from more data.”
By the way, there’s an interesting history to the gun violence office: Democratic Assemblymember Mia Bonta of Oakland, the attorney general’s partner, carried a bill to create it, but it failed. So last September, they jointly announced its formation, though there was only enough money for one employee, the director.
And if you want to know more about the office and its report, the attorney general is hosting a public webinar at 10 a.m. today. Register here.
Gun laws explainer: CalMatters just updated our popular gun explainer with the joint resolution introduced this week in service of Gov. Newsom’s push for a U.S. constitutional amendment on gun control.
2 More life for natural gas plants
For environmentalists and some residents on the Southern California coast, Tuesday’s decision from the State Water Resources Control Board to keep three natural gas plants open was a major letdown, reports CalMatters’ Rachel Becker.
To bolster the state’s power grid and avoid rolling blackouts, the board voted to reserve the use of seawater-cooled units at three plants in Long Beach, Huntington Beach and Oxnard until 2026. A fourth plant in Playa Del Rey also received an extension through 2029.
The measure passed despite that state’s mandate to reach 100% renewable and zero-carbon electricity by 2045. The water board oversees the phase-out of natural gas plants. Natural gas accounts for about a third of all carbon emissions from U.S. energy production, emitting greenhouse gasses that warm the planet and pollutants that contribute to Southern California’s smog. Some also suck in seawater, killing fish and other marine life.
After the vote, residents yelled at the board members, saying they “failed” their community. During the five-hour session, those in the largely Latino community of Oxnard where many work in farm fields, cited the public health risks.
- Kyle De La Torre, Oxnard resident with the Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy: “Please don’t see us as just a number, or just a location on a map. We are humans just like you are. We deserve a safe and clear and clean environment just like you do.”
Climate diplomacy: Also Tuesday, Gov. Newsom joined Kevin Rudd, the former two-time Australian prime minister and now ambassador to the U.S., to announce a new partnership on climate action.
The five-year pact to increase clean energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions also focuses on resilience to wildfire, heat and drought — growing problems for both California and Australia.
- Newsom, in a statement: “California and Australia are on the front lines of the climate crisis. From extreme heat and historic drought to catastrophic wildfires and rising sea levels, the last few years have further crystallized the need for urgent action. It’s not enough for us to act alone.”
The agreement is the latest instance of California bypassing a divided Washington, D.C., on global climate policy, going back to the days of Govs. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jerry Brown. In April, Newsom renewed another memorandum of understanding with China’s Ministry of Ecology and Environment on policy and academic exchanges.
As Politico reports, the Golden State is using its political consensus on climate and its economic power to become a “de facto shadow government on climate diplomacy.”
3 Storm aid lost in translation?
After scenes of squalor from the horrendous winter floods increased public pressure, the Newsom administration set aside $95 million in relief for undocumented residents, who can’t get federal aid or jobless benefits.
More than two months later, the money is slowly trickling out. Over 20 nonprofits have contracts with the state Department of Social Services and they have begun handing out nearly $18 million to about 12,000 residents — but it’s at an uneven pace across the state, reports Nicole Foy of CalMatters’ California Divide team.
One issue could be that despite launching in June, some of the information on the state’s program website, including key documents, still hasn’t been translated into Spanish. Efrén Pérez, a political science professor at UCLA, wonders why the state isn’t doing more aggressive outreach, especially in Spanish.
- Pérez: “I think the most important question is why can’t we make this relatively easier? What are the barriers that make this the best that we can do?”
Scott Murray, a spokesperson for the Department of Social Services, said that it’s up to the nonprofits to do outreach and that they have been provided a Spanish version of a “Frequently Asked Questions.”
- Murray, in an email: “It’s important to remember that the undocumented community can be fearful of accessing benefits and assistance through Government entities.”
Eligible families in disaster areas can receive as much as $4,500 in assistance. Read Nicole’s story for more on how the aid distribution is going.
CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: A 2024 ballot measure and a court ruling revive California’s 45-year-long war over tax restrictions.
CalMatters commentary has a new California Voices page with previous op-eds and columns, plus picks by editor Yousef Baig. Give it a look.
Other things worth your time
California keeps electing progressive DAs — then pushing to recall them // Politico
California conservatives seek political power via school boards // Los Angeles Times
Newsom takes on California conservatives over parental rights // San Francisco Chronicle
Sen. Feinstein lawsuit alleges financial abuse in estate feud // San Francisco Chronicle
Can teachers be legally liable if district policy requires they break the law? // EdSource
50,000 to lose coverage as two home insurers exit California // The San Francisco Standard
Bay Area, California hotel sales implode as investors flee sector // The Mercury News
Feds say hospitals that redistribute Medicaid money violate law // California Healthline
Federal officials plan to announce 2024 cuts along the Colorado River // AP News
One of SF’s only big building projects suspends construction // San Francisco Chronicle
San Jose avoids major strike, approves pay bumps for city workers // The Mercury News
Fired police chief blasts Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao // San Francisco Chronicle
Firearms report: Alec Baldwin pulled trigger in deadly ‘Rust’ shooting // Los Angeles Times