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Letters for February 17

Readers sound off on electric cars, women in metal, and Alameda's Measure B.


"The Trouble with Electric Cars," Feature, 2/3

Car Owners Should Pay

I do not understand why it should be the cities' responsibility to provide accommodation for electricity for cars parked on the street. Cars parked on the street are already a liability to cities, as they are the most susceptible to theft and burglary, the two most common crimes in the country. The cost of their liability may be the largest expense that cities and counties incur, yet their owners do not pay property taxes on the land that they are using, unlike those who park on their own property. If we allow these people to put electrical outlets on the street, will we incur additional liability if they suddenly decide that they "own" that parking space and harass anyone else who wants to park there? Who is going to make sure that they will be responsible if there is a problem.

In cities where there are people without homes, we should not be giving tax-free land for automobiles at all. We should be looking at ways to make car owners pay for themselves, not subsidizing them even more.

Bruce De Benedictis, Oakland

Ditch Electric, Go With Biodiesel

If Mary Goulart has such a "bug up [her] butt about [her] carbon footprint," she might consider a different solution than a plug-in hybrid car. I can't believe Robert Gammon's article never once mentions the fact that until electricity generation becomes more dependent on renewable sources, such as wind, solar, et al, electric cars will do next to nothing to decrease carbon emissions. The craze over hybrids, as well as the sure-to-follow craze over plug-ins, manages to ignore this. Once upon a time, this inconvenient truth was at least given a smidgen of media coverage, especially around the time that Gov. Schwarzenegger announced his absurd commitment to hydrogen- powered vehicles, but it seems to be left out of the discussion in the mad consumerist rush for feel-good cars.

For a fraction of the cost of a hybrid, a Bay Area driver can get just about any diesel vehicle and run it on 99 percent recycled biodiesel, made from discarded vegetable oil, and full-synthetic motor oil. Few modern diesels require any modification whatsoever, and those that do simply need a few hoses and gaskets. Compare that cost with a $7,000 "plug-in kit" as described in the article. Biodiesel vehicles emit far fewer pollutants than traditional hybrids, and often average superior MPG, to boot. Right now, there is only one biodiesel station in Berkeley, but it is extremely convenient to get to from just about anywhere (and it's a worker-owned cooperative; would you rather watch your electricity bill soar as you line PG&E's pockets?), and there are several in San Francisco, as well.

I shed a petrol-free tear for Ms. Goulart as I ponder the total costs of her investment(s), as well as the cost to the environment by a potentially huge spike in electricity demand in the coming decade, due to green-wannabes who don't see the big picture when they plunk down $30,000+ on a car dependent on coal fired and nuclear-generated electricity.

Peter Conheim, Richmond

Get Real Already

The "Trouble with Electric Cars" is not that we don't have the proper electric infrastructure but that they help build a disastrous urban infrastructure.

Berkeley, home of supposed radical thinkers (radical from the root in Latin "radix" meaning "root") should get to the root of this problem, but so far almost no one there seems to get it. The problem with any "better" car is that it produces the far worse city.

This is a point for whole-systems thinking that eludes almost everyone but is crucial to solving our problems at this time in history, even evolution, since the impacts of the built environment are enormous, direct, powerful, and extraordinarily destructive of climate, nature, and agriculture. The low-density development/car/paving/cheap energy infrastructure is a whole system of integrally related parts, not an aggregate of unrelated parts, and we'd better realize that the whole thing is pathologically dysfunctional and chuck it fast for what in some circles is called the "ecocity."

We fixed the car once before, and I was living there at the time:

Los Angeles in the 1960s, in the age of throat-searing, eye-burning, thousands-of-"excess-deaths"-a-year, darkness-at-the-crack-of-noon smog.

City of Lost Angeles ­lost angels because they couldn't see where they were flying. We all wanted to get some good end point indicators established, such as clean air and healthy bodies so we could get back to our surfing in actual sunshine, drive to the beach in our woodies. So we fixed the car with the smog device. It really worked, too, knocking out about 95 percent of the smog.

So LA solved its local air pollution problem — and forty years later it gave us climate change. Remember? It was the leader, the city of high mobility, city of the future and the world followed. A month ago China passed the US in number of cars purchased. They are still following on the success of the better car, which is a victorious war that destroys its own spoils ­— a doubly bad and dumb deal.

Time to get real. The car is incorrigible. There is no such thing as a better car. A better machine gun just kills better. A better car just makes for more destruction. So it's time to face that the house/car/paving/cheap energy system can't work. The simple apartment near what you need and assisted by bicycles, transit, and good mixed-use design is the answer. Stop worrying about the car and think.

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