Citing a desire to promote clean air and increase local business, officials of the City of San Fernando have embarked on a project with Tesla to construct electric vehicle charging stations in 14 downtown public parking spaces.

The charging stations, which will have proprietary technology that only owners of Tesla electric vehicles will be able to use, will bridge a gap in the company’s infrastructure in the Valley, Tesla officials said.

The project will include 12 “supercharger” stations that can fully charge a Tesla in 40 minutes and two “Level 2” stations that take 6 to 8 hours to fully charge a vehicle.

Although Tesla vehicles may not be a common car owned by residents in San Fernando and the Northeast Valley, with the most basic Tesla listing at more than $35,000 and the more expensive models selling for more than $200,000, city officials said they believe partnering with the well-known electric vehicle firm goes along with the City’s environmentally friendly strategies.

They also hope that Tesla drivers who stop in the City at the charging stations would spend some time checking out downtown shops and restaurants while their vehicle charges.

“There’s probably a good portion of folks who drive past San Fernando on the 5, the 118 or the 210 who have never stopped here and this may bring Tesla drivers into the downtown area for the first time ever,” said Timothy T. Hou, the City’s community development director and leader on the project for San Fernando.

He added that the local charging stations would literally put San Fernando “on the map” for Tesla drivers.

“There will be a little icon (on a screen in a Tesla) where San Fernando is and the supercharging stations, and all they have to do is press on it and the car will navigate you there,” Hou said.

Hou noted that 75-80 percent of all electric vehicles sold in the United States in 2019 were Tesla models.

“If we’re really trying to promote electric vehicles in San Fernando and the East San Fernando Valley, you can’t do that without incorporating something that addresses Tesla drivers,” he said.

The council voted unanimously in August to enter into the agreement with Tesla after negotiating for about two years.

“I’m glad this finally went through,” said Councilmember Robert C. Gonzales. Councilmember Sylvia Ballin said she was “very excited” about the project.

Christina Bernal, president of the Mall Merchants Association in downtown San Fernando, said she is being “optimistic” about the project but said the local downtown merchants will need to know how to market to the mostly out-of-town traffic coming to charge at the stations.

She said she worries about parking spaces being taken up to cater to only Tesla drivers, and stresses that the overall future of the downtown area still needs to be focused on by adding more restaurants and entertainment venues. She said she doesn’t want future downtown development not to come to pass because there aren’t enough parking spaces.

Hou said there are 777 public parking spaces in the City’s 12 public lots. Currently, there are five of the slower Level 2 electric vehicle charging stations in the city, which are open to all brands of electric vehicles.

The Tesla charging stations will be available 24-7 and will be in Lot No. 8 in the block bounded by Maclay Avenue, Celis Street, Pico Street and S. Brand Boulevard.

Tesla officials said their company would pay for all of the cost of the installation and maintenance at the facility. It will be hooked up to power from Southern California Edison, according to Justin Kwan, project developer-charging infrastructure at Tesla.

“Our real intention here is to enhance the fast-charging accessibility in the area,” Kwan said.

The only other Tesla supercharger stations in the area are in Santa Clarita and Burbank. Tesla drivers must pay for the charges they receive from the Tesla stations, according to Kwan.

The company chose the San Fernando site in part because of its location along major freeways and the lack of Level 3 fast-charging stations in the area, Kwan said.

The City’s contract with Tesla is for five years with a renewal option for an additional five years, and City officials must approve Tesla’s charging station plans. Hou said the stations should be up and running by next year.

Although Tesla is paying for installation and development of the stations, at this time plans do not call for the City to be receiving any money from the stations, according to City Manager Nick Kimball.

But at an August council meeting, Vice Mayor Hector Pacheco told Tesla representatives he hoped that this collaboration on the charging station project was a downpayment that the company might make in supporting the community.

Tesla’s Kwan said the company gets involved heavily in education and supporting students in automotive and so-called STEM careers, and that he would talk to the city more extensively about that.

As far as capturing business from the Tesla drivers who will spend 40 minutes in the City to charge their cars, Bernal believes that the best type of marketing may involve informing drivers on the digital screens in their cars as to what local businesses are located near the charging stations. She also suggested a directory be placed in the parking lot that guides drivers to the businesses.

“This is an opportunity that we can collaborate on,” Hou said about marketing to the Tesla drivers.

Tesla will be giving the City monthly data about how many charging sessions were logged in at the stations, Hou said.

Bernal said that merchants will need to talk to new customers they see in their businesses to find out how they heard about their stores leading hopefully to meeting the Tesla drivers.

“There still needs to be some work done with some of the (downtown) stores to convince them that this is something that is going to be good for them,” she said.

“They do feel apprehensive about selling to that type of customer. We need to show the bridal stores how to attract that kind of customer. They seem to think that why would a Tesla driver who is driving a $100,000 car come into our little town and see a bridal store — how will they benefit from that?”

Bernal said that she believes those customers can benefit. These stores cater to all types of special occasions, Bernal said.

“Let’s see what the City is going to do and what we can do to make it work for all of us,” Bernal said.

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