California Assemblymember Laura Friedman recently introduced Assembly Bill 1401 (AB 1401), which would remove the minimum parking requirement for new housing development projects in areas of frequent transit. The minimum parking requirement has been a long-standing obstacle for California developers who want to construct more affordable housing units because it requires builders to provide at least one parking space per unit in a housing and commercial development.
The problematic aspect of the minimum parking requirement is that the parking requirement is based on the type of development, rather than the actual parking needs. There is also no assessment of how much parking is already available, leading to a surplus of parking spaces and a shortage of housing units.
Why is AB 1401 important?
According to a 2020 report released by Berkely’s Terner Center For Housing Innovation, a structured parking network can add up to $36,000 per unit. Often, residents end up paying for parking spaces even if they do not have a car. In addition to housing and financial considerations, environmentalists also note that surplus parking encourages driving over “greener” forms of transportation like biking and walking. While many cities have the çapabilities to improve transit and allow for shared parking, the enormous amount of parking lots means there’s no real incentive to take action.
Will removing the parking requirement really stimulate the housing supply?
The idea to eliminate minimum parking requirements is not new, with cities like Buffalo, Sacramento, San Francisco, and Berkely already taking similar action. In 2017, the Journal of American Planning Association published a study that tracked 14 mixed-use projects in Buffalo after minimum parking requirements were cut (under the Green Code).
The researchers, Daniel Baldwin Hess and Jeffrey Rehler, found that the response from Buffalo developers took several forms, including:
- Utilization of shared parking networks, which allowed developers to offer parking access without excess.
- Transformation of excess parking space into shared parking arrangement with adjacent mixed-use projects.
- Boost in transit-accessible developments, which suggested that the previous parking requirements had blocked new developments.
- Revitalization of existing structures as developers turned an old, existing structure into 10 new apartments along with a ground-level retail facility.
The removal of minimum parking requirements in other cities.
In January 2021, the city of Berkeley voted unanimously to remove parking requirements after discovering that nearly 50% of off-street parking spaces were vacant. Under the new law, in areas with numerous transit options, developers are limited in how many parking spaces they can create before needing special permission from Berkeley officials. In addition to the removal of the minimum parking requirements, Berkeley is also reforming their transit-related amenities like transit passes and off-street parking for bikes.
Oakland’s City Council sharply reduced its parking requirements in 2016, citing the need for improving and preserving the walkability of the city’s layout. Similarly, in 2018, San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors eliminated the city’s parking requirements.
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