Finally, a 710 Worthy of Support: State Considers Restricting Parking in Transit Oriented Districts (Updated Below)

A.B. 710, the Infill Development and Sustainable Community Act of 2011 introduced by Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) would mandate that automobile parking minimums in Transit Oriented Developments would be capped to one car per residential unit or per 1,000 square feet of retail space.  The Assembly Housing & Community Development Committee is scheduled to hear this legislation at their next meeting on April 27.

Nancy Skinner.

The benefits of capping the total amount of car parking, or at least reducing the requirement to build parking as A.B. 710 does, in developments near plentiful mass transit is probably obvious to you if you’re reading this article.  Reduced car parking insures that the people living in the T.O.D. will be the one using transit and the new developments will actively reduce the number of car trips made in the area.  But there are other benefits as well.  By reducing parking mandates, the cost of new development construction goes down, meaning projects for lower-income and transit-dependent populations become more economically doable.  AB 710 also provides some flexibility to local jurisdictions that may require higher minimums if written findings are made based upon substantial evidence in the record including a parking utilization study.

Despite the dramatic changes this legislation could bring to development patterns throughout the state, the legislation hasn’t received a lot of attention.  An Internet search of the legislation brought up a few bill summaries, a resolution opposing the legislation by the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors, and a blog post by American Institute of Architects, Los Angeles Chapter’s, Will Wright supporting it.

Wright explains how A.B. 710 supports the state’s smart growth and emissions reduction goals approved by the legislature and Governor Schwarzenegger in recent years:

The state has shown interest in helping communities realize the goals of developing more sustainably.  California has taken steps over the last several years to establish programs and policies to help incentivize sustainable regional and local planning and development efforts; however, there is still much that can be done to remove barriers and incentivize new development with public transit and alternative transportation options.

The Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors note in their opposition that there are two areas that would be impacted in unincorporated Contra Costa County, and both of those areas would see their parking maximums reduced.  The Supervisors felt that, while supporting the concept of maximum parking requirements, A.B. 710 takes away too much autonomy from the County.

AB 710, if enacted, would establish parking maximums for all transit-oriented development projects, or projects located in “transit intensive areas.” While County staff agrees that strict parking requirements, in principal, are necessary for transit-rich areas and areas with high transit-oriented development investments, the discretion for establishing said requirements should remain with the local jurisdiction. This legislation would eliminate the County’s autonomy in establishing parking standards we deem appropriate for our transit-oriented development project areas.

As this legislation moves through the Assembly, it is bound to attract more attention.  Streetsblog will keep track of the bill’s legislative path and any news articles it generates in the coming weeks.

(UPDATE: Serena Lin, an attorney with Public Counsel’s Community Development Project, is circulating a letter explaining how the legislation could have uninteded consequences for affordable housing requirements.  Basically, the only way a developer can get breaks on parking requirements now is to have a 5% affordable housing set-aside.  If the state mandates lower parking thresholds, the incentive to provide affordable housing vanishes.  Lin, and co-author Shashi Hanuman goes in to a lot more detail in her letter which can be read here.)