Back-Seat Driver

Back-seat Driver: Got a gas guzzler? Dump it for dollars

Tony Bizjak
Tony Bizjak

The Legislature has been on a push for years to clean California’s air and improve residents’ health. In the transportation realm, that’s meant policies that try to get more people onto public transit, and lately into electric vehicles, or at least into more fuel-efficient cars.

Those are admirable efforts, but what about the working poor, many of whom live in the state’s largely rural Central Valley and drive old clunkers that guzzle gas and belch emissions? Plenty of people can’t afford to run down to the dealer to buy the newest $29,999 electric Nissan Leaf. Nor are there transit systems can can take you 10 miles to your kids’ rural school, then another 20 to your job, with a swing by the grocery store on the way home.

That in mind, Next Generation, a nonprofit group, issued a report this week – “No Californian Left Behind” – that encourages state officials to keep low- and even moderate-income Californians in mind when they work on reducing the state’s reliance on gas.

One good solution, they say, lies in an existing state program that gives drivers cash for turning in old clunkers as well as cash to help them buy newer, more fuel-efficient cars. The state’s Enhanced Fleet Modernization Program has not been well-used, though. A state law passed last year, SB 459 by Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills, directs the state Air Resources Board to strengthen that program, including increased payments to lower-income people. Program funding comes from the state’s vehicle registration fee.

Pavley’s office points out that cleaner cars help improve family finances as well as community health: Upgrading to a 25 mpg car from a 15 mpg car saves a driver $1,600 a year.

Kate Gordon of Next Generation said state data show the oldest 15 percent of cars and trucks on the road are producing 50 percent of the vehicle pollution. Her group is pushing the ARB to require that all “replacement” vehicles in the program get at least 30 miles to the gallon.

Citrus Heights bike trail

So many people lined up to speak Wednesday night at the Citrus Heights Planning Commission meeting about a controversial paved bike and recreation path proposed along Arcade Creek that commissioners had to stop the testimony and set a second hearing date, March 12, to continue the discussion, city officials said.

City officials want to build the recreation trail to offer residents an alternate way to get through town. The path is controversial because it would require the city to purchase portions of some private properties and would run behind numerous backyards.

The Citrus Heights issue echoes another passionate bike and recreation trail debate in Sacramento, where officials want to extend a paved trail from downtown on the levee behind backyards in the Pocket area, and face opposition from some residents.