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Council Paves Way for Tesla "Supercharger" Station, Without Retro Cafe
By Jorge Casuso
April 5, 2021 -- The Santa Monica City Council last week paved the way for a Tesla supercharger station billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk hopes will be the nation's first to feature a retro diner and movie screen, although they are not included in the latest approved plan.
The 62-stall recharging facility that would flank the alley near 14th Street and Santa Monica Boulevard had been put on hold before the Council took steps last Tuesday to exempt it from a moratorium on commercial development.
On Friday, Musk followed the vote with a tweet to his 46 million followers thanking the City.
"Major new Supercharger station coming to Santa Monica soon!" Musk tweeted. "Hoping to have 50's diner & 100 best movie clips playing too. Thanks Santa Monica city!"
But the retro diner and movie screen may be wishful thinking on the part of Musk, who began envisioning them as part of the project more than three years ago.
The Conditional Use Permit (CUP) approved by the Planning Commission on a 5 to 2 vote March 3 includes solar canopies, restrooms and support equipment split between the two sites.
But there is no mention in the staff report of the diner and movie screen Musk first teased in a tweet in January 2018 ("Santa Monica Could Be Testing Ground for Tesla's First Supercharger Restaurant," March 13, 2018).
"That wasn't part of what was approved," said City spokeswoman Constance Farrell. "A much earlier version included a cafe that was taken out as part of the application."
That approval was briefly put on hold when the City Council on March 9 approved a moratorium on commercial development on potential housing sites ("Council Poised to Halt Development on Possible Housing Sites," March 3, 2021).
Last Tuesday, Council member Kevin McKeown paved the way for the new station with a successful motion to direct staff to remove a number of pipeline projects from the Iterim Zoning Ordinance (IZO) hold list.
The motion, which which will return to the Council for approval April 13, came after "staff informed me that state rules wouldn’t let us consider them in the Suitable Sites Inventory for the Housing Element."
Council members had hoped the City -- which must plan to build more than 6,000 new affordable housing units in eight years -- could include housing on the supercharger site on either side of the alley at 1401 and 1421-1425 Santa Monica Boulevard.
"The hoped-for combination of a charging facility with much-needed housing in a prime location at the intersection of two major bus routes now appears off the table," McKeown told the Lookout.
For the past century, McKeown said, land use decisions have been driven by a planning philosophy "that prioritize cars over people."
"Our city is chock-a-block with surface parking lots, and gas stations make hugely inefficient use of parcels that could be used for infill development to reduce traffic overall," McKeown said.
"Unlike a fossil fuel gas station, an EV charging facility could have co-existed comfortably with housing," he said.
The Tesla Supercharger equipment allows a Tesla vehicle to charge in 30 to 45 minutes, according to planning staff.
The idea of turning the Santa Monica charging station into a retro diner was first reported in 2018 by Elektrek, a news website dedicated to electric transportation.
The site quoted Musk as saying he planned to open an “old-school drive-in, roller skates & rock restaurant at one of the new Tesla Supercharger locations in Los Angeles.”
The supercharger station could offer "an outdoor screen that plays a highlight reel of the best scenes in movie history" and a menu that pops up on the dashboard "as soon as you put the car into park,” Musk tweeted in January 2018.
Even without the diner, the Santa Monica supercharger station "would become one of the biggest Supercharger stations in the world," Elektrek wrote last week.
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