It shouldn’t be illegal to build homes without parking – Redlands Daily Facts
Should local governments be able to force developers to build parking lots near public transport? It would seem like an absurd question, if it weren’t for the law of the land: Across California, almost all proposals for construction near a bus stop or train station must come with acres of parking lots or huge parking lots. But a new bill winding through the California State Legislature may soon change all that.
Sponsored by Assembly Member Laura Friedman, Assembly Bill 1401 would ban cities from imposing minimum parking requirements within a half-mile radius of public transit, where residents, buyers and employees are the least likely to drive. If the state wants to bring rising housing costs and worsening congestion under control, let’s hope it passes.
Through a set of anachronistic rules known as minimum parking requirements, cities across the state can force new development to include parking. Written decades ago on the basis of little evidence, these rules vary slightly from city to city, but the outlines are broadly the same: No new home, office or store can be built without parking.
Consider Orange County: In Anaheim, a two-bedroom apartment must include 2.25 parking spaces. Meanwhile, in Santa Ana, offices must reserve three parking spaces for every 1,000 square feet of floor space. These rules quickly get weird: In Irvine, a bowling alley must provide five spaces for each lane, plus two for each pool table. In Fullerton, it’s illegal to open a bar without a space per 100 square feet of floor space – both to end drinking and driving.
At first glance, these rules may seem reasonable – notwithstanding mandatory parking for bars. Shouldn’t every new development offer enough parking spaces for its users?
The reality is that developers already have an incentive to build enough parking spaces – if they don’t, they won’t be able to sell or lease the space. All the minimum parking requirements are guessing which ones have skin in the game, forcing the construction of a parking lot that residents, buyers, or employees might not need. This is especially true for projects near public transport, where many can arrive by bus or train.
Wobbly as the minimum parking requirements may seem, they are one of the main culprits in the housing affordability crisis that continues to worsen in our state. As UCLA town planning professor Donald Shoup points out, “free parking” isn’t free – it’s just included in more expensive housing and higher prices for goods and services.
According to one estimate, forcing developers to build a parking lot can add $ 30,000 to $ 75,000 to the price of a new condo or apartment. As UC Berkeley’s Terner Center for Housing Innovation notes, these price increases hit the smaller, more affordable units designed for low-income households the hardest. For many Californians, the cost of these demands could be the difference between affording a decent home or being forced out of state, as many have.
At the same time, these rules enshrine car addiction into law, deepening our state’s ongoing struggles against traffic jams and air pollution. As UCLA’s Miriam Pinski and Michael Manville observe, the provision of off-street parking is associated with a 27% increase in vehicle kilometers traveled and a significant increase in emissions. If the government wants to force you to have a parking space, why not buy a car and use it?
As the state spends billions to improve transit infrastructure, local minimum parking requirements are doing everything in their power to ensure that no one actually uses it.
Of course, ending the minimum parking requirements near public transportation wouldn’t mean the end of parking – just the end of excessive and unnecessary parking. The Buffalo case is instructive here: Since the elimination of these requirements, about half of all major developments have built less parking than was previously needed. But the other half continued to build it.
Indeed, California state lawmakers do not much reform in the dark. San Francisco voted to end city-wide minimum parking requirements in 2018 and San Diego removed them for projects close to transit in 2019, as AB 1401 proposes to do. The sky did not exactly fall in either city. Where parking is really needed, developers keep building it. Where parking is not needed, they don’t build it, passing the savings on to the consumer.
If the minimum parking requirements weren’t there and someone came up with them today, they would rightly be considered crazy. And yet, outside of these pockets of careful planning, parking is still mandatory next to every bus stop and train station in California. With a bit of luck, AB 1401 will bring the Golden State back to its senses.
Mr. Nolan Gray is a professional urban planner and housing researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles.