A movement to abolish parking mandates to encourage affordable housing development in cities across the nation has grown to include California as the first state to broadly eliminate the zoning requirements. Gov. Gavin Newsom signed legislation last week to eliminate the mandates for housing and commercial developments near public transportation as the number of cities taking such a step expands around the United States. Under the new law, scheduled to take effect Jan. 1, California cities no longer can impose minimum parking requirements on new developments within a half-mile of public transit, leaving developers to weigh the costs of adding parking to a project. Some 20 cities across the country have taken similar steps with abolishing parking mandates, and more could be coming. California's Struggles Deepen in Solving 'Missing Middle' in State's Housing Puzzle The law was introduced by Assembly Member Laura Friedman, a Democrat representing Glendale, Burbank and La Cañada Flintridge in Los Angeles County, with the objective of creating more opportunities for housing by lowering the cost of building parking spaces. Parking Reform Network, an online site for resources on parking mandates, has estimated the material cost per parking space can run from $10,000 to as much as $60,000, depending on the city, which adds up when building apartments or condominiums. "Eliminating parking restrictions is a really important step" in revisiting zoning regulations that create burdens on developing affordable housing, Paula Cino, the National Multifamily Housing Council's vice president for construction, development and land use policy, told CoStar News. Cino said "it's probably a good thing to see" with California, but noted the state can be polarizing in its efforts, with some cities and states seeing the good while others will take a completely opposite view with state involvement. Housing Prices SurgeHousing prices have skyrocketed across the country over the past two years as low mortgage rates helped drive demand. Apartment rents also climbed to record levels amid a projected need for 4.4 million new units by 2035, according to the National Apartment Association. Rising rents prompted cities to impose rent control or consider it. Voters in the Orlando, Florida, area, which has had the highest rent growth in the country, will decide in November whether to impose rent controls. The effort is being fought by apartment owners. California, expanding on rent control laws passed by such cities as Berkeley and Santa Monica, implemented statewide rent control at the beginning of 2020 before the pandemic struck. Eliminating parking mandates is part of an effort by California and other states to tackle high costs by building more housing. “We’re making it cheaper and easier to build new housing near daily destinations like jobs and grocery stores and schools,” Newsom said in a video message after signing the bill. “This means more housing at lower prices closer to walkable neighborhoods and public transit.” Developers, planners and housing advocates have cited parking requirements in cities as one of the impediments to building affordable housing. Such barriers have existed for years but took on more importance as housing prices and apartment rents rose amid a stubborn housing shortage. “It’s clear that we’re going to a see a renaissance across the country around this question of what the heart of the city is for — is it a place to drive, park our car and go somewhere else, or is it a place to live, work and interact?” said Matthew Lewis, spokesperson for California YIMBY, which stands for Yes in My Backyard, a nonprofit group working to end the state's housing shortage that has pushed for ending parking mandates. Nationwide TrendMinneapolis, Boston and New York are among the biggest cities outside California to eliminate minimum parking requirements. In California, San Diego, San Francisco, Berkeley and Sacramento have already abolished parking requirements. But smaller cities have headed, or are heading, in that direction. Aaron Lubeck, an urban builder in Durham, North Carolina, told CoStar News that his city’s parking mandate could be removed by the end of the year, following Raleigh, which abolished its mandate in March. Lubeck said that though the number of cities across the country ending parking requirements is small, the removal push is fast expanding and more states need to consider taking the same approach as California. Oregon got close in July when state lawmakers rolled back mandates in 48 cities and five counties. More cuts may come in the new year. "State efforts are helpful in overcoming [not in my backyard] at the local level," NHMC's Cino said. California's new law follows a measure that failed last year when lawmakers around Los Angeles and other parts of the state objected to local governments losing control of their zoning.
Those objections cropped up again this time. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti was one of the vocal opponents of the legislation, which was amended in a compromise to give cities and counties some leeway if they can prove within 30 days of a developer's application that parking requirements are needed.
That compromise, however, didn’t mollify such cities as Newport Beach, a wealthy enclave in Orange County, which continued to oppose the bill on the grounds that it removes local zoning control.
"We believe cities, not the state, are best suited to determine the parking needs of development projects in their jurisdiction,” Newport Beach officials said in a statement included in the state Senate analysis of the bill last month.
Similar debates have played out elsewhere in the country with proposed zoning legislation unrelated to parking requirements, which portends that proponents of ending parking mandates could have tough battles ahead.
North Carolina, for example, rejected a measure last year to end single-family zoning across the state, which Lubeck described as "potentially huge reform," because of opposition from city planners and the North Carolina League of Municipalities.
State Comes Full Circle
California city planners were among the first in the United States to impose minimum parking requirements back in the 1920s, an initiative that accelerated in the 1950s as the state's car culture evolved. City leaders and zoning officials feared insufficient parking for offices and apartments would cause traffic to spill over into surrounding residential neighborhoods.
But over the past decade, California lawmakers, housing advocates and environmental groups have tried to reverse the mandates, arguing they hinder efforts to fight climate change, increase California’s dependency on cars and cause developers to scrap projects because of the added cost.
California YIMBY and planning organizations such as the San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Research Association have said the mandates force developers to set aside land and construction dollars that would be better spent building properties to ease the state's housing shortage. Officials have said California’s housing deficit, which has been estimated at more than 3.5 million units, has caused prices to soar and contributed to increasing the state's homeless population, which accounts for as much as a quarter of all homeless people in the United States.
Housing advocates have had an unlikely ally in their efforts in California and elsewhere. Conservative Washington-based think tank American Enterprise Institute, which favors free-market solutions to affordable housing, has been a strong proponent of ending the parking mandates.
It’s also part of AEI’s “light-touch density” approach to helping solve the housing shortage problem. The organization defines light touch density as single-family homes with accessory dwelling units, small-lot single-family development, attached single-family units, and two- to four-unit dwellings.
Local zoning rules have prevented this type of development for decades and contributed to the housing shortage, according to the AEI Housing Center.
The organization supported California’s passage of a bill last year aimed at making it easier to increase density in urban areas that had previously been zoned for low density by removing zoning restrictions.