Los Angeles EV Readiness Building Code Changes

LA is considering new building code changes to improve air quality by reducing barriers to zero emission vehicles. Here's a look at how we got here, at the proposed changes, and what other cities have done recently.

Existing EV readiness requirements

Electric cars are an important part of the AQMD's Air Quality Management Plan. The City of Los Angeles already requires 5% of new residential parking spaces to be ready to install EV chargers (aka EV Capable).

The city has for several years been requiring some projects that requested a zoning variance (e.g. this car dealership or this mixed-use building) to meet a higher standard: 20% EV Capable plus 5% EV Ready (i.e. charger already installed and functional). (The requirement is attached as a "Q"-condition during rezoning.) This demonstrates that builders have some experience with designing for the electrical load caused by fully 25% of all parking spots charging at full speed simultaneously. This is a significant achievement, and the City deserves kudos for working to gradually familiarize builders with EV readiness.

Existing Freeway Air Pollution Measures

Back in 2011, the City Council launched the "Clean Up Green Up" program to address pollution in neighborhoods located next to major pollution sources. As part of that program, in 2015 it required homes near freeways to be equipped with air filters.

Yet as the LA Times reported back in 2017, filters may not be up to the job of filtering out dangerous ultrafine particles, let alone gasses like ozone, both of which have significant health risks. Meanwhile, this past summer's record-breaking run of smoggy days in LA added a sense of urgency.

Proposed Freeway Air Pollution Measures

In August 2018, the City Council proposed reducing the source of the harmful emissions by making it easier for renters to switch to zero-emission vehicles, and the LA Department of Building and Safety is now putting together building code changes. The current proposal is to require 5% of new parking stalls have EV chargers, and 20% be capable of having them installed later... essentially taking the Q-condition mentioned above, and applying it to all new projects. This minimum is line with recent state recommendations.

How do the proposed requirements compare to other cities' building codes?

LA's proposed requirement of 25% EV ready + EV capable parking, while a significant step forward, appears less ambitious than those of Oakland, San Francisco, and West Hollywood, which all require 100% of parking spots in buildings with 20 or more units to be EV Capable; see Appendix D of CARB's Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure: Multifamily Building Standards for details.

Yet the difference between LA's proposal and the other cities is less stark than it at first seems, because Oakland and San Francisco only require electrical capacity to charge 20% of those cars simultaneously (either by use of an energy management system, or by limiting each space to 8 amps); see also Oakland's "Addendum to the Plug-In Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Cost Effectiveness Report: Scenario 4B" in the 2016 staff report. This reduces cost significantly.

In fact, LA's proposal may be slightly more ambitious than Oakland's in that respect, as it requires panel capacity to charge 25% rather than 20% of all spots at full rate simultanously.

What are the proper EV requirements for new parking?

Here are some factors that suggest a figure higher than 5%+20% might be appropriate:

1. EVs are getting cheaper and more popular

It may be hard to imagine, but electric vehicles have a good shot at taking over the market. Consider: Buildings and neighborhoods without good EV parking may be at a competitive disadvantage.

2. They can help fix our smog problem

Even with everything we're already doing, air is getting worse, not better. We had 87 straight days with ozone over the 70ppb limit this summer. Current AQMD plans don't foresee compliance until 2037, and even then, Chapter 8 of the Air Quality Management Plan says we'll need to cut NOx emissions by 62 percent over current plans. If we want clean air, we need a high degree of electrification, pronto.

2. Ask LADWP

In December 2017, LADWP's general manager David Wrigh said it's crucial "to make sure that all new construction is essentially wired so all you have to do is drive up and drop the charger there".

3. To ensure people who live in buildings with EV charging have access to it

I've seen buildings with a few EV Capable spots assigned to particular units; if you didn't live in those units, you were out of luck. That suggests that low targets are ineffective at ensuring access.

4. To reduce harm from global climate change

Recent climate research indicates that achieving net zero co2 emissions by 2050 is required to meet the Paris accord's goal of no more than 2 degrees C temperature rise. It's hard to see how we could achieve that without thorough electrification, including of passenger cars. The housing units we build today will still be around by 2050, so let's build them right.

5. To meet the Mayor's announced targets

The Mayor has issued increasingly ambitious targets for electric vehicles. Most recently, he signed on to the LA County Zero Emissions 2028 Roadmap, which proposes that between 20% and 45% of all light-duty private vehicles on the road should be electric by 2028. (It's based in part on SCE's Pathway to 2030, but scaled back to 2028 to see what we can do in time for the Olympics.) A back-of-the-envelope analysis suggests that meeting those goals would require more EV parking spots than the total number of parking spots in all the new housing we're planning to build.

Stakeholder comments

As a stakeholder myself, I'd like to note that many friends and relatives have wanted to buy an EV, but couldn't because they simply had no place to plug one in. Ensuring that anybody who wanted access to charging at home could have it would really help my social circle.

I'd also like to make the following suggestions:

Copyright 2018, Dan Kegel
Last Update: Oct 28, 2018
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