The San Francisco Board of Supervisors has amended the city’s planning code to make installing new electric vehicle charging stations easier.

The ordinance, sponsored by Mayor London Breed and six supervisors, was passed unanimously at the Sept. 6 board meeting in efforts to expedite the expansion of public EV charging stations.

A 2020 study from the International Council on Clean Transportation reveals that San Francisco needs to significantly up its charging capacity to meet its growing demand — specifically six times more charging stations than in 2019.

But as EV charging stations are not explicitly mentioned in the city’s planning code, the Planning Department and EV service providers were using policies meant for gas stations and auto service centers to approve charging stations on a case-by-case basis. The San Francisco Planning Department considered these categories as an “imperfect fit.”

“They impose limitations more appropriate for the facilities they were intended to address — conventional fueling facilities — rather than less-impactful EV charging stations, creating lengthy approval processes and bureaucratic delays that should be avoided for EV charging projects,” the department’s executive summary of the amendment to the planning code says.

“This is a practical yet exciting step towards making it easier to transition to electric energy as we transition away from dirty carbon producing fuel,” Supervisor Myrna Melgar said in a statement. “I am grateful to Mayor Breed for prioritizing our Climate Action Plan goals, and moving on actionable, implementable tools to get our city to meet them.”

On pace to phase out fossil fuels

Creating a pathway for an EV charging network closely follows Breed’s plan to phase out gas-fueled vehicles in the city, mirroring recent policy seen on a state and federal level. An estimated 47 percent of San Francisco’s greenhouse gas emissions come from transportation, with private vehicles making up a vast majority of that number, according to the city’s latest greenhouse gas emission inventory.

“San Francisco continues to be a national leader on environmental policies as well as finding innovative solutions to address the climate crisis,” Breed said in a statement when she released the legislation in January. “Getting the city on a path to a healthier, cleaner, and more equitable future will require significant investments in reducing our reliance on fossil fuels.”

Pledging to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2040, Breed released an electric vehicle roadmap in 2019 to advance the number of electric vehicles in the city. According to the plan, electric vehicles make up 11 percent of new light-duty car registrations in the city, and the goal is to increase this rate to at least 25 percent by 2030.

“Getting the city on a path to a healthier, cleaner, and more equitable future will require significant investments in reducing our reliance on fossil fuels.”

Mayor London Breed

But the cost, the range of EVs and the lack of charging stations are major barriers for drivers in switching to electric. The report refers to “range anxiety” — the fear EV vehicle owners face in not being able to find a charging station in time.

The ordinance mentioned building “fast-charging plazas” in the city to meet demand, which would “mimic the gas station experience” that most drivers are familiar with. It suggests a correlation between more public charging stations and higher EV adoption rates.

With EV charging locations now listed under the “automotive retail” land-use category, gas stations and parking lots can now be converted into charging plazas. It does not change the pre-existing pathway for setting up EV charging stations as an accessory in a grocery store parking lot or gas station, for example.

“This ordinance will expedite expansion of critical EV charging services, creating new public charging options for San Francisco residents and visitors, thus encouraging the adoption of EVs by a greater share of the population,” the ordinance reads.

Paired with the code amendment, city officials also plan to incentivize the public and companies in delivery services, ride-hailing services and construction to switch to electric.