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The Problem with Parking: A Case Study from Los Angeles

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By Justin Horner

In previous posts, I’ve talked about the environmental importance of better parking policy and recent efforts at reform (including SB 728, sponsored by NRDC, to encourage parking cash-out).

Now, when most people think of parking, they think of parking on the street.  An aspect of parking that just doesn’t get enough attention is off-street parking. Nearly all local governments require developers and property owners to provide parking spaces on the site of their projects.  Initially designed to cut congestion, off-street parking requirements have instead generated a variety of perverse effects.  Instead of developing land to be productive for people, we instead require set-asides for cars.  Less building and more parking spaces mean less efficient development, pushing up building costs.  Vast parking lots also push buildings farther apart, making it difficult to walk and bike around and encouraging driving.  Studies have shown that off-street parking requirements drive up the cost of housing.

A recent op-ed in the Los Angeles Business Times provides a great detailed case study on this phenomenon. Josef Bray-Ali’s story of developing a 7000 square foot infill lot in Eagle Rock is worth quoting at length:

[7000 square feet] is not a lot of room to work with. The zoning code allowed for multifamily residential and commercial uses on the same property.

We thought we could do something really nice: ground-floor offices topped by four two-story apartments. Our plans fit in perfectly with the gentrifying neighborhood (area-specific plans called for light commercial that was walkable). Our plans also fit nicely with the mixed-use zoning code ... until it came to parking.

Car parking requirements forced us to shrink everything – the ground-floor commercial was squeezed into a 400-square-foot space; the building had to have an extra story just so we could stuff a bunch of cars underneath. The cost on paper shot up, meaning that our four one-bedroom apartments turned into four studio condominiums – and once you subdivide a property into condos, you have to go through a whole bunch of planning hoops, bumping up costs even more.

This easy $200,000 construction project turned into a super-risky $1.2 million, four-story fiasco.

To make a profit, we’d have to sell 800-square-foot studio units for nearly $400,000 apiece! Even at the height of the boom, that was insane. So, after months of meetings, research and design sessions, the tiny project was scrapped.

In sum: “The car parking requirements killed our project.”

We need to encourage cities to take a new look at how they regulate parking.  Last year, Senator Alan Lowenthal put forward SB 518, a sensible, entirely voluntary effort to incentivize localities to be progressive on parking.  Let’s hope we see similar efforts from Sacramento and California cities in the near future.

Original post on NRDC Switchboard


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