Sebastopol, California is a small, mostly agricultural community nestled alongside Laguna de Santa Rosa and amongst the rolling landscape of West Sonoma, population 7,800. For the most part, Sebastopol is best known for its liberal politics, apples, wine, and art. Just two blocks walk from its charming downtown center, folk artist Patrick Amiot has turned Florence Street into a showcase for his sculptures. Made from recycled cans, vacuum hoses, old mail boxes, or whatever Amiot can scrape up from the local scrap metal yards, he turns otherwise junk into whimsical outdoor art pieces that have been recognized worldwide. http://www.patrickamiot-brigittelaurent.com/aboutus.html
I have lived in Sebastopol for over 5 years and love the town’s down-to-earth feel. It is one of those little communities that seems to have something for everyone. Besides all the amazing fruits and vegetables grown locally and offered at the farmers markets, there are fine restaurants, an eight theater movie complex, old and new bookstores, a crazy fun nightlife, and a number of vintage and new clothing boutiques that sell pretty much everything I need.
Additionally, up until this year, we had two small auto dealerships, Ford and Chevrolet. Since I own a Ford, it was convenient to have all my warranted service and repair work done at the dealership. I never had to leave town.
Unfortunately, Sebastopol, like other small towns across the nation, has been hit by the downturn in the economy. Our auto dealers seem to have been hit the hardest. In less than a year, two of the largest retail businesses in town closed. Detroit’s woos publicly effected Sebastopol. In the papers and on the T.V. we have seen thousands of family owned auto dealerships across the country go out of business. It seemed like an extra blow to us having both our dealerships close so abruptly.
Recently, I saw a small sign go up at the old Ford dealer. The sign simple read, e Motors. I looked them up online and found a site which announced it was under construction. Each day, as I passed the old Ford building, I began to think about the changes. I became curious to learn more about e Motors.
Over the last couple years, I’ve seen more and more old Mercedes Benz and V.W. diesel engines convert to bio-diesel. Around here, the Toyota Prius rules the roads, however the home converted bio-diesels run a close second. Even the Sebastopol Tractor Company began selling electric ATV’s and golf carts. Occasionally, you can find supped-up golf carts with legal California license plates driving down Main Street.
I watched as the parking lot was resurfaced and potted plants placed at the ends of the parking spaces at the old Ford building. Electric bicycles and scooters begin to fill the showroom. Then a cherry apple red Porsche Speedster was placed near the front of the building with the words stenciled across the door,
With the doors open, I drove into the lot. The old Ford logo is still painted on the floor at the entrance of the service dock. In the showroom I met Hassan. He is a tall, twenty-something looking guy with long hair pulled back into a ponytail, wearing a Guatemalan tunic, sneakers, and an old pair of blue jeans. I liked him immediately. He is a very knowledgeable young man.
Hassan explained the building was being leased by six separate businesses. E Motors, owned by Ross Randrup, was using the showroom to sell electric vehicles. Peter Oliver, of Make Mine Electric, LLC, is converting kit sports cars like the Porsche Speedster and Spider into electric cars that can get as much as 100 miles per charge. Prices ranging from $35,000 to $50,000 plus. There are several automotive technician specialists independently operating. Hassan’s father, Brian Hall, owns ThunderStruck Motors, www.ThunderStruck-EV.com . Collectively, they have renamed the building the Blue Sky Center.
ThunderStruck Motors has been modifying lightweight bike frames into electric drag bikes. One such bike clocked 11.1 seconds in the ¼ mile. Hassan showed me the machine shop the group built to fabricate parts such as motor mounts, then a sports car they were modifying for the Refuel – Alternative Vehicle Demonstration at the Mazda Laguna Seca Raceway in Monterey, California, coming up July 19, 2009, http://www.refuelraces.com/
I have to admit, even though I’m not really a car buff, I was still very impressed. Alongside all the eye catching electric sports cars and racing bikes there were a couple of small coups which the technicians had pulled out the old gas engines and were about to convert to electric vehicles for their clients. They were assembling blocks of 50 or more newly advanced lithium-ion batteries to install under the hoods.
There is an old saying, As goes California, so goes the nation. In some ways, Sebastopol is a microcosm of California. For decades now, the town has embraced the local organic California cuisine movement which features only fresh, in season ingredients from local farms and gardens. Many of the restaurants and bakeries in the area have their own vegetable and herb gardens. The California cuisine movement is now practiced by chefs in fine restaurants nationally.
In many ways, what is going on at the Blue Sky Center is reminiscent of the early years of the California cuisine movement. The center is the result of a grassroots movement toward a clean and green auto industry. Hassan tells me his father started ThunderStruck Motors ten years ago, mostly as a hobby. Over the years he continued to tinker around with electric vehicle technology, designing faster and faster bikes. Eventually, Brian Hall turned his hobby into a small business.
If the Blue Sky Center turns out to be a precursor to the changes we might see across the country, then I’d have to say as a nation we can collectively look forward to a future filled with new and exciting green jobs and blue skies.