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.)

  • Anonymous

    We need to emphasize why conservatives and libertarians need to get behind this. The government should not be telling developers how to build buildings. Parking requirements artificially raise rents and increase construction costs. The free market is much better suited to solving parking problems than are government regulations.

  • Anonymous

    Awesome awesome awesome!

  • This bill has the right spirit behind it but it goes too far. I would much rather see the state prohibit establishing any minimum off-street parking requirement for motor vehicles within say a quarter mile of any major transit station.

    Setting a maximum is an even more aggressive assertion of state authority over something that is traditionally a local matter. It goes beyond what Shoup calls for in The High Cost of Free Parking. In that book he argues that it’s best to leave parking decisions to developers and not set a minimum or maximum.

    Minimums are harmful to transit, but maximums could turn away developers who want to add badly needed job and housing density near transit stations.

  • Ryan

    @Chewie – Actually, the proposed law would prohibit cities from establishing a minimum above certain levels, and does not set a maximum for a developer. Here’s the language “This bill would also prohibit a city or county from requiring a minimum parking standard greater than one parking space per 1,000 square feet of nonresidential improvements and one parking space per unit of residential improvements for any new development project in transit intensive areas, as defined.”

    So it doesn’t go quite as far as you suggest it should.

  • Really? I was going based on what I read above: “would mandate that automobile parking in Transit Oriented Developments be limited to one car per residential unit or per 1,000 square feet of retail space” and “AB 710, if enacted, would establish parking maximums”.

  • Ryan

    Chewie – See lines 15-19 on page 2 and lines 15-21 on page 3 of the proposed bill. Here’s the link:

    http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/pub/11-12/bill/asm/ab_0701-0750/ab_710_bill_20110217_introduced.pdf

  • Ryan

    I meant lines 20-23 on page 2.

  • Ryan

    I meant lines 20-23 on page 2.

  • Bob L.

    Should we first get a transit system that the majority of stakeholders can use first?

  • Tom Rubin

    Be VERY careful in putting in parking restrictions because the end results can be far from what is intended. I suggest that, before proposing such, people take a tour of parking-restricted developments in Portland — NOT a “chamber of commerce” tour by Tri-Met or Metro, but by someone who isn’t forced to defend bad decisions and terrible outcomes.
    The example that is most on point for this particular legislation is a mid-rise condo complex near a Banfield line station a few miles from downtown Portland. The developer was given the project, in part, because it promised to limit parking and to NOT include the price of parking in the price of the unit. Unfortunately, this led to large number of occupants parking their cars on local residential streets, which has led to many community problems. When I visited this complex, the entire fire lane through it, although clearly marked as a fire lane, was filled with illegally parked cars.
    Another example is another mid-rise residential complex near a light rail station, this time on the Westside. There are a number of ground-floor retail shops — but no parking. No commercial developer would finance these, so the governments decided to so it themselves. These have proven to be such total commercial disasters that no real estate agency will even take the listing. Last time I was there, there was only one unit occupied, a beauty salon that caters to the residents of the complex.
    The Beaverton Round was another example — after $10 million of tax breaks, and a huge emphasis on planning around the light rail station, and the development winning multiple national design awards, it has gone bankrupt — at least twice. The attempts at making it commercially viable now include a major parking complex as a centerpiece.
    I am certainly not saying that there should never be restrictions on parking. I AM saying that restrictions on parking must be very carefully considered in light of each specific development, or the results can be disastous.
    State legislatures and city councils can vote to repeal the law of gravity, but that doesn’t mean that pigs will fly.

    Tom Rubin

  • Ryan

    Tom – The first two paragraphs of the article imply that AB710 would cap parking; however, that is not correct. The legislation simply sets limits on the minimum amount of parking that cities can require, and lets the market decide how much parking to build.

    In terms of spillover to residential areas, that can be handled through SFPark style dynamic parking meter pricing, so that ample parking is always available.

    See the video here for an explanation of how this would work:
    http://sfpark.org/about-the-project/

  • Less parking requirements makes housing more affordable, and make housing+transportation costs MUCH more affordable for most families.

    If this bill is merely reducing the MINIMUM requirement for parking, it isn’t going far enough. The minimum should be 0 off-street parking spaces in a true transit-friendly development. If developers want to build parking, let them, but don’t force people to buy a parking space when they don’t need it.

    Most of our nicest, walkable neighborhoods are full of buildings from the 1910’s thru 1940’s which were built without ANY off-street parking. They cost a couple hundred less a month to rent (in California) and look much nicer with the whole yard or whole first floor taken up by concrete for a parking lot. If people want to live with 0 or 1 car (parked on the street), they should have that option in new developments.

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