March 31, 2007

Tax dollars to be spent "subsidizing" govt employees private cars??

I had to read this story twice. Sounds really great that Google (a company supported by STOCKHOLDERS NOT TAXPAYERS) makes all sorts of subsidies for workers including free lunches and cash incentives to buy private cars that get better mileage. So now the County wants to do this? Did they forget that those are my tax dollars? Why don't they give the money to me? I drive a car in LA county and I can green up the environment just as well as a government employee. Have they lost their minds. Sure if the county employee wants to go out and get a car with good mileage then give them better parking. But cash subsidies are going too far.

I have an Idea. Why doesn't the County Board of Supervisors just worry about fixing the traffic problem they have created by allowing silly over development. Fixing just a few traffic logjams in the county would save lots of gas. Or how about reducing road closures due to needless police action? Another time AND gas saver. Remember a Prius and a Hummer get about the same mileage when going 2 mph.,1,888714.story
Employers offer green-car incentives
By Ashley Surdin
Times Staff Writer

March 31, 2007

Los Angeles County government, Southern California's largest employer, may soon join a burgeoning trend that entices workers to give up their gas-guzzling cars for more environmentally friendly ones.

Earlier this month, the Board of Supervisors asked its staff to come up with ways to encourage the county's 90,000 commuting employees — about 90% of the workforce — to buy and drive so-called green cars, such as hybrids partly fueled by electricity or other high mileage, low emission vehicles. Some hybrids get up to 50 miles per gallon.

The idea, suggested by Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, is part of a larger county push to reduce its environmental footprint. It also addresses the state's 2006 Global Warming Solutions Act, which requires California to reduce its greenhouse gas production.

With federal tax breaks for hybrid buyers waning and the state out of permits granting them access to carpool lanes, Burke said, the county needs to up the incentive ante.

"It's good government," Burke said. "We all have such a responsibility to try and cut down on energy use."

So, what would it take to make the supervisors themselves trade in the Cadillacs, Chryslers and Buicks they now use to commute to work?

"Not very much," said Burke, who drives a six-cylinder Chrysler 300. "I really like the way the Prius looks, and if I could make sure that I have access to electricity or to the fuel source, I'd be fine."

(In fact, the Prius, made by Toyota, automatically recharges its battery and runs on regular gasoline.)

Employee transportation incentives are not new, but green-car-related incentives are, according to Kellie McElhaney, adjunct professor of corporate responsibility at UC Berkeley's Haas School of Business.

In the last year, young cause-minded workers and a growing awareness of global warming have prompted some companies to offer such perks. Now, green-car incentives — from purchasing programs to parking discounts — have sprouted up among private companies, nonprofits, universities and governments.

"We think of branding as something a company does for customers, but they also do it for their employees," said McElhaney. "This is great branding for L.A. County — it dovetails with California's stance on trying to be a state focused on global warming.

"I'm not aware of any other county doing this," she added.

Neither is Glen Brand, director of the Sierra Club's National Cool Cities Campaign, which aims to help cities and counties reduce energy costs and global warming pollution through clean-energy solutions. But one Southern California city is already way ahead.

By May, the city of Riverside's 2,500 full-time employees will be eligible for $2,000 reimbursements if they buy new hybrids and $1,000 if they buy used ones, said Mayor Ron Loveridge. To qualify, they must buy the cars from Riverside dealers.

"This country, this state and this city need to support hybrid technology," Loveridge said. "And this is one way we're doing it in Riverside."

The city has set aside $20,000 in state money to begin the program.

Though Los Angeles County's potential employee perks are undetermined, they could include cash subsidies, preferential parking or discount parking.

In the meantime, private companies are leading the trend of environmentally friendly incentives, offering their employees some of the most generous benefits.

Charlotte, N.C.-based Bank of America, for example, offers its employees a $3,000 online, direct deposit reimbursement toward a green-car purchase. Up to $5,000 in forgivable loans are available to employees of Berkeley energy-food maker Clif Bar & Co. At Internet search giant Google Inc., employees are eligible for a matching amount in a taxable lump sum payment if they buy certain hybrids, or $2,500 if they lease.

Bank of America launched its incentive program for green-car purchases nine months ago in three pilot cities: Los Angeles, Boston and Charlotte.

Within the first six months, 64 employees in the Los Angeles area — including some in the Inland Empire, Orange County and High Desert — participated.

Among them was project manager Grisel Wallace, 45, of Stevenson Ranch, who commutes from the Santa Clarita Valley to downtown Los Angeles. In October, she traded in her Saturn for a Prius. Her and her husband's gas bill, once soaring past $500 a month, is now under $100.

"We were looking at them, but the offer from Bank of America actually got us to make that final step and go into the dealership," she said.

The program's success, said West Coast spokeswoman Colleen Haggerty, persuaded the company to expand it recently to all of its 185,000 U.S.-based employees.

"Doing something like this for employees certainly builds company loyalty, and it's a good retention tool," Haggerty said.

Universities have launched green-car incentives too, if only to reduce traffic in and out of campuses.

At UCLA, students and employees who already earn parking permit discounts for carpooling will soon earn a better bang for their buck if they throw in a low-emission vehicle.

Come July, the university will offer an additional discount to carpools that include an ultra-clean low emission car. A three-person carpool that includes such a car will be charged only $30 a month to park — about half of what a single driver of a conventional car pays. Parking tickets and fees will fund this discount and others. In essence, those who pay the most to park will compensate for green drivers paying the least.

"Our philosophy is: If you're driving, then you should be helping to support the solution," said Renée Fortier, director of UCLA transportation, noting that the school's alternative transportation programs cut down on 1.7 million car trips to and from the Westwood campus each year.

A $1,500 to $2,500 discount offered to employees of the Washington-based American Jewish Committee proved to be the clincher that persuaded Saundra Mandel, director of the nonprofit organization's Los Angeles chapter, to sell her 7-year-old champagne Mercedes for a "banker's gray" Prius.

Offering such incentives can be risky, Berkeley business professor McElhaney said, because they raise employee expectations that their company is socially responsible. Employees will "often wonder what else the company is doing beyond just this type of program," she said. "It's risky if the company isn't committed to doing other programs as well."

Otherwise, she added, "It's a great loyalty-building and employee identification strategy to reduce turnover and improve job satisfaction and company loyalty."

Does a new Prius make Mandel more loyal to her employer?

"I wasn't planning to leave, and it isn't going to keep me here," she said, "but it increases the pride in the organization that I work for."

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