A modest proposal for that fuel station in Sacramento’s Curtis Park

A San Diego shopper plugs in her Nissan Leaf electric vehicle at a mall in San Diego. What if refueling looked like this in the new development in Curtis Park?
A San Diego shopper plugs in her Nissan Leaf electric vehicle at a mall in San Diego. What if refueling looked like this in the new development in Curtis Park? Associated Press file

It’s the “bah, humbug” story of Sacramento’s holiday season – the developer of Curtis Park Village vs. the locals who don’t want his Safeway gas station in their neighborhood.

Paul Petrovich has been working for years to conjure the second-largest infill development in Sacramento out of a 72-acre patch of land between two charming, affluent, urban enclaves. Last month, he lost a battle to include a fuel center that Safeway required if he wanted the grocery as an anchor tenant.

Developers can be hard-nosed, but the fight this year cemented Petrovich’s reputation: He’s now Scrooge bullying the pure-hearted town folk, who just want a nice, green, upscale shopping district. Having been rejected by the City Council, he has claimed no choice but to junk up the place with cruddy joints that cater to riffraff, and at one point on Friday seemed poised withdraw the whole commercial piece of the project. No doubt some posturing is afoot, but I feel for both sides. I wouldn’t want to wake to the smell of petroleum. And poor Petrovich seems to get scant love for spending mass quantities of his own time and money breathing new life into what was, not to put too fine a point on it, a toxic railyard.

But I can’t help wondering why all involved haven’t seized the obvious chance to flip this into a different story. Why such sound and fury over an outlet for a fuel that California and the world vowed a week ago in Paris to essentially stop using?

Bear with me here, but I think it’s worth asking: What if Curtis Park Village had a fuel center that sold fuel that was cleaner than gas?

This state faces a massive challenge. Between a third and a half of California’s greenhouse gas pollution is generated by gasoline- and diesel-fueled cars.

The policies set in recent years, and about to be set in the new one, will radically alter traffic on California freeways. Senate Bill 350, the big environmental bill passed last session, included a raft of incentives for utilities to start building out infrastructure for electric vehicles and plug-ins in the next few years.

Gov. Jerry Brown has set a goal of putting 1.5 million zero-emission vehicles on the road during the next decade, and of transitioning the state’s transportation sector away from oil over the next generation. A lot of influential people and businesses are with him.

So we don’t need gas stations; we need charging stations. And the clean slate of this project is the perfect chance to prepare for the consumers of the future. In a few years, Safeway shoppers will need maybe one or two gas pumps and a bunch of fast-charge EV outlets. Or a parking lot full of metered kiosks so people can recharge while they’re shopping.

With an amenity like that, Curtis Park Village would maintain its green status and neighbors wouldn’t feel as if they were living next to a truck stop. And Paul “Ebenezer” Petrovich would look like a public relations genius.

Curious, I called the Sacramento Municipal Utility District and a couple of planners, who told me that it doesn’t cost much to install basic charging stations. Apparently, there was even talk of adding a couple to the gas station Petrovich wanted, though the suggestion was dismissed as a token gesture.

But maybe rethinking this fuel thing could reboot the conversation. After all, this is the holiday season. And as the owner of a Chevy Volt, I for one have a special place in my heart this time of year for shopping areas with charging stations.

There aren’t enough, but God bless them, every one.

Shawn Hubler: 916-321-1646, @ShawnHubler