How Much Parking Is Too Much?

Capital BuildingHow much parking is too much? For housing near transit stops, more than one per dwelling, according to the California Infill Builders Association.  They are sponsoring a bill in this year’s California Legislative Session, AB 710, authored by Assemblymember Nancy Skinner of Berkeley, that would prohibit cities and counties from requiring the builders provide more than one off-street parking space per dwelling unit, or more than one off-street parking space per 1,000 sq.ft. of floor area for nonresidential uses, in areas near transit.

Why is this a big deal? Well, off-street parking is expensive and adds a lot to the cost of development.  Builders can show that building off-street parking spaces can cost from $2,500 to $25,000 each, depending on whether the parking is part of surface lot, or in an underground or above-ground garage.  The costs vary a lot because land costs differ so much between different parts of California.  But there is no question that off-street parking is expensive and adds to the cost of developing housing and other buildings near transit.

So, it ought to be a no-brainer, right?  If cities and counties only demand one space for each dwelling (or one space for each 1,000 sq.ft. of store or office area) it will encourage residents, workers and customers to use transit, and it will reduce the price being charged for the housing and commercial space being developed near transit.  The lower prices will mean housing and store spaces will be cheaper, and that will mean residents will have more money to spend on other things, businesses will have more money to spend on workers’ wages, and customers will be able to afford to buy more goods and services.  Win-win-win.

But there are arguments on the other side of the question too, which is one of the reasons that AB 710, which seems at first blush like such a good idea, has about 30 organizations actively opposing it.  And these are not just neighborhood groups who are afraid that the residents who live in the transit oriented developments with low parking requirements will be parking extra cars in front of their homes.  The opponents include transit districts, cities and counties, affordable housing advocates, labor unions, economic equity advocates and legal aide groups.

The opponents have two major concerns.  For the cities and counties, the major argument against AB 710 is that a “one-size-fits-all” approach statewide just isn’t practical in a state as diverse as California, even when you take into account that the law would only apply within fairly small areas near public transit.  And, it is a usurpation of local land use planning control, potentially overriding the wishes of local voters. (Most cities require a lot more off-street parking for new homes and commercial development than AB 710 would allow.)

The affordable housing advocates and others are concerned that lowering the parking requirement will take away a tool that is currently being used to encourage and support development of housing stock affordable to lower income households.  Some years ago, the State adopted a law (SB 1818) that requires cities and counties to offer development incentives to builders who agree to lower the price on some of the dwellings being built to below-market levels.

The development incentives that have to be offered include increases in density, reductions in open space, allowing taller buildings, and reduced parking requirements.  And that last one, reduced parking requirements, is pretty popular, because it makes it possible to add more units to the same size lot, and it reduces costs so much, especially where the parking is in underground parking garages.

Both the supporters of AB 710 and the opponents think that having more development near transit is a good idea.  And everyone agrees that people who live and work near transit should have less need for personal vehicles.  But they disagree on whether this change should be “given away” free to all comers, or whether there should be some off-setting benefit to the city or county, the surrounding community and the public at large.

What do you think? Would AB 710 reduce costs for the builders?  If it did, would they pass the reduced costs on to residents and businesses in the form of lower rents and prices, or would they just keep the difference as larger profits?  Would people who live, work and shop at transit oriented developments actually use transit more, or would they continue to act the way they do now, expecting–demanding really–that there be enough parking for their cars, and going elsewhere if they cannot find a parking space?  Let us know what you think, and follow the discussion.

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  1. […] few weeks ago Tim O’Connell posted about AB 710 and the impact it could have on apartment developers, if the parking mandated by local codes is […]

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