Commentary: Transitioning to cleaner energy is the best way to reduce the impact of rising gas prices

The Mobile gas station on Pacific Coast Highway and Broadway in downtown Laguna Beach in early March.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Gas prices continue to soar for Orange County residents with no end in sight. This week, the average cost per gallon reached an unprecedented $5.97 here in Orange County. There are many reasons prices are going up at the pump — among them Putin’s war in Ukraine, disruptions in the supply chain due to the pandemic, corporate greed by those raising prices and gouging consumers and California’s 51-cent gas tax.

This is why I requested that my colleagues at the Orange Board of Supervisors join me to ask Gov. Gavin Newsom and the state Legislature to provide taxpayers with a rebate or suspend the gas tax for one year, so long as that lost revenue is backfilled by the state budget surplus so we can continue to fund much needed infrastructure. We ultimately agreed on some issues, but some of my colleagues disagreed with the notion of a tax rebate, citing concerns about those not directly paying the tax should not get a break. Some also disagreed that we should suspend the gas tax for one year, stating that six months was more than enough.

I strongly disagreed, and so do many Republicans and Democrats in the state capitol who are advocating for a tax rebate. When the price of gas goes up, the cost of goods and services go up for all of us. The cost to do business goes up. The cost of public transportation goes up. The cost of groceries increases, and we are all impacted. The more we can do to give the taxpayers back their money in times like this, the better.

While suspending the gas tax or offering an equivalent rebate will not completely solve the scourge of ever-increasing gas prices, it’s vital that we provide respite for Orange County families struggling to pay for gas during this challenging time.

To truly reduce the burden of increasing prices at the pump and protect our way of life that was threatened by the recent oil spill off our coast, we need long-term planning to wean ourselves from oil and transition toward cheaper, clean energy resources.

In Orange County, we must work with the private sector and energy providers to add new electric, solar-powered vehicle charging stations, which will make electric vehicle ownership more accessible and save families money on gas. Charging an electric vehicle can cost less than $10, compared to gas fill-ups that now cost up to $100 or more, but there is still a lack of access at the workplace, in public spaces and at home. The market is telling us that electric vehicles are becoming a better economic option. We must listen.

The average price of gas in Orange County has gone up every day since Feb. 20, rising to $5.757 as of Thursday, according to figures provided by the American Automobile Assn.

Every Orange County resident deserves the option to walk or bike to work or school, instead of driving. Many of our streets remain unsafe for cyclists and pedestrians. In 2020 alone, Orange County saw nearly 500 pedestrian injuries and 50 deaths. From 2016 to 2020, over 4,000 bicycle collisions occurred and 75 cyclists died in our county. That is an unacceptable record, and we must do better.

As a former City Council member and mayor of Costa Mesa, I initiated an Active Transportation Plan and, now, as a county supervisor and director on the Orange County Transportation Authority, I am working to add miles of new protected bike lanes and walking trails so residents can safely and easily get around. Our dirty, under-utilized flood channels remain an untapped resource for this effort, so long as we also invest the public safety resources to patrol these areas. Bike lanes and walking trails will make our streets safer and increase pedestrian traffic, which reduces crime and benefits small businesses. Providing residents with safe and reliable alternatives to driving will decrease oil dependence, gas expenses and traffic congestion.

Modernizing our public transportation system is essential as our county moves on from oil dependence and toward sustainable technology. At OCTA, we invested in 10 plug-in battery-electric buses and an equal number of hydrogen fuel-cell electric busses in our fleet, with the goal of 100% zero-emission technology by 2040.

These simple and widely popular solutions reduce the impact of sky-high gas costs on Orange County residents — both during this crisis and in the future — and improve the quality of life for our residents.

Former Costa Mesa Mayor Katrina Foley represents the Second District on the Orange County Board of Supervisors and is the director on the Orange County Transportation Authority.

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