Cities in California are eliminating parking minimum requirements and beginning to implement parking maximums for new construction projects. The hope is that these changes will promote low carbon modes of transportation, such as public transit, biking, and walking and increase affordable housing.
Parking minimums are deeply rooted in planning regulations and city codes. Proponents of eliminating these requirements emphasize that parking minimums can contribute to an overreliance on automobiles, which stunts progress toward more walkable and public transit-oriented development and planning. There is also concern that parking minimums contribute to urban sprawl because the physical space required for parking forces new developments farther from city centers, and that parking minimums encourage less dense development. These concerns have prompted numerous cities throughout the state to revisit their parking policies.
For example, in January 2021, the Sacramento City Council voted to approve citywide zoning reforms in its General Plan, including abolishing parking minimums. Sacramento also pledged to begin studies on parking maximums. These changes will still need to be codified in the city’s zoning code, which will likely be voted on later this year. The city’s shift is designed to reduce car trips, allow more efficient use of land, and provide the density and ridership necessary to support more transit services, which will reduce vehicle miles travelled (VMT) and GHG emissions. Sacramento also hopes that reducing parking in the city will create more space for pedestrian, bicycle, and transit infrastructure, which will help incentivize those modes of travel over single-occupancy vehicles. Public comments at the City Council meeting included some criticism of increasing density, but most comments were supportive of the city’s decision.
Also in January 2021, City of Berkeley officials voted to eliminate off-street parking requirements for new developments. The city determined that parking minimum requirements often thwart the construction of new housing. The city’s changes include exceptions for neighborhoods at risk for fire danger and streets that are narrower than 26 feet. The city also implemented parking maximums in transit-rich areas. Off-street residential parking cannot be offered at a rate of more than 0.5 spaces per unit for projects located within 0.25 miles of a high-quality transit corridor.
In 2018, San Francisco passed an ordinance that eliminated parking minimums citywide, for all uses. Parking is no longer required for any new developments anywhere in San Francisco. Most use types are also prohibited from providing more than 0.5–1.5 spaces, depending on the zoning of the district.
Critics of the elimination of parking minimums are concerned about areas that lack public transit options. This concern is one of the reasons that some cities have not eliminated minimums. In Los Angeles, for example, the public transit system lacks service in many areas and provides much longer travel times than single-occupancy vehicles. Parking minimums in the city require most apartments to provide one or two parking spots per unit and commercial properties are required to have one space for every 100 to 200 square feet, which often amounts to more space for parking than the business itself. Los Angeles’ lack of public transit and sprawling landscape, however, make it more difficult for the city to implement city-wide changes to its parking requirements.
The current housing crisis is another reason some cities are revisiting their parking policies. The elimination of parking minimums for new developments can promote construction of affordable housing. Parking minimums are costly for developers and limit design options. Parking also takes up a substantial amount of space, which reduces the number of housing units that can be built for a given project. Fewer parking spaces could mean more units built per project, with more of those units being designated as affordable. Urban landscapes in California may become more affordable and less polluted as these trends continue to unfold throughout the state.