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Paving the way for a clean drive

April 24, 2004

Jackson Bell

To the average Burbank resident, five hybrid cars the city is getting

should appear to be nothing out of the ordinary.

But underneath the hood lies the possible future of vehicle power.

Burbank officials are accelerating toward fuel alternatives by

joining a pilot program that will add converted cars running on

hydrogen and electricity to the city's vehicle fleet as soon as next

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spring.

The program, spearheaded by the South Coast Air Quality Management

District, bridges the gap between oil-fueled autos and ones that

operate on hydrogen, said Marisa Garcia, an administrative analyst

for the city's Department of Public Works.

"We're trying to make the transition to fuel cells easier," Garcia

said. "So this is more of a transitional step in the ultimate

development of fuel-cell vehicles."

The city will spend $125,000 to purchase five Toyota Prius hybrid

cars, which will go to such "high usage" city employees as building

inspectors.

The AQMD will contribute more than $2 million to convert the

city's autos, along with five cars each from the cities of Ontario,

Riverside, Santa Ana and Santa Monica, said Chung Liu, the executive

officer heading the organization's technology advancement office. The

Department of Defense is also expected to give $500,000 to the

program.

The end result of the program is to pave the way for cleaner

transportation in Southern California, Liu said.

"Fuel-cell vehicles don't use a combustible process, they use a

chemical process [that emits no exhaust]," he said. "Although there

is some air pollution when creating hydrogen fuel, the car's

electricity comes from a green source and is basically

pollution-free."

The AQMD will also build a hydrogen fueling station in each city,

including a site at 810 N. Lake St. The plan is to make the stations

available for public use once hydrogen-cell cars are on the market.

The program's ultimate goal is to help the four-county region meet

federal standards for the ground-level ozone air quality deadline in

six years, said Councilman Todd Campbell, who is also the policy

director for the nonprofit organization Coalition for Clean Air.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is expected sometime this spring to

unveil a plan that would create about 200 refueling stations for

hydrogen-powered cars along state highways and interstates, Campbell

said.

"By doing this, we're not only helping out the basin, we're also

supporting the governor and his efforts to ensure the state reaches

its goal by 2010," he said.

Burbank has 12 electric and 31 natural-gas vehicles, Garcia said,

adding that the city expects to have 15 natural gas refuse trucks in

its fleet by June.

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