Eliminating parking minimums for new developments can lead to more affordable, accessible and inclusive housing.
By Todd Gloria, Special to CalMatters
Todd Gloria is the mayor of San Diego and previously represented the 78th Assembly District in the California Legislature.
The failure to build homes to accommodate our population in California is a true crisis. Now, the need for the state to extend renter protections to prevent a flood of evictions creates even greater urgency to find solutions to our housing shortage. One solution we’ve employed with early success in San Diego is prioritizing housing for people over outdated government regulations that force a minimum amount of parking to be built with homes, even when parking is unnecessary.
Eliminating parking minimums within our transit priority areas — places with convenient access to public transit — has been effective in driving the development of more affordable, accessible and inclusive housing and also supports changes that help address the climate crisis.
This year, California has a chance to apply these kinds of parking reforms statewide. Assembly Bill 2097, by Assemblymember Laura Friedman, a Democrat from Burbank, builds on the successful efforts of cities such as San Diego, Sacramento and San Francisco to create more affordable, transit-oriented housing by eliminating parking requirements in areas with access to good public transit.
Importantly, this legislation doesn’t prohibit parking spaces. Rather, the bill gives homebuilders the flexibility to build projects that meet the needs of each neighborhood, rather than limiting them to a one-size-fits-all approach to parking that increases both costs and, ultimately, pollution.
Most cities require that a minimum number of parking spots be included with new housing — regardless of how close these homes are to public transit stops, universities or walkable amenities. Over time, these requirements for developments across California have led to a situation in which many cities have excessive parking for cars and a dire shortage of homes for people.
The state is short more than 2 million homes, and we’ve seen the devastating impact of that shortage firsthand in San Diego, where families are struggling to afford rent, and purchasing a home has become the almost exclusive domain of those with very high incomes.
This mismatch of housing and parking has contributed to the high cost of living in California, forcing people to pay for parking they may not even use — all while creating incentives to drive that effectively undermine our climate goals.
Here’s the truth: Parking minimums drive up the cost of building housing, reduce the number of units built and pass added costs on to homebuyers and renters. Each parking stall can add anywhere from $30,000 to up to $90,000 to the cost of building a home. These are costs paid by families — even if they don’t drive or can’t afford to own a car. And homebuilders, who are forced to pay for land, materials and labor to create parking spots, then end up building less of the housing we desperately need.
Notably, San Diego’s reform has not eliminated parking; it has simply done away with the government mandates requiring it, allowing the market to decide based on resident preferences. Many San Diego housing developments are still providing parking, but at a ratio more representative of the actual needs of residents — and more homes are being created as a result.
Since removing parking requirements in transit priority areas, San Diego has had many projects with significantly lower parking ratios than we saw under the parking-dependent regulations. In each of these cases, more housing units were built or approved than otherwise would have been possible, increasing the density of homes available near transit and allowing them to be more affordably priced.
Our housing affordability crisis is hurting our regional economy and small businesses by driving younger generations from San Diego, constraining the ability of businesses to expand, forcing essential workers like teachers and first responders to commute from far away and, most critically, leaving families teetering on the brink of homelessness.
We know this small change can have a big impact on creating more housing, because we’ve already done it in San Diego. But a few large cities can’t fix our housing crisis alone. I’m proud to share that many of San Diego’s local pro-housing policies have inspired state laws, such as our expansion of the state density bonus law and Yes in God’s Backyard (YIGBY), which fast-tracks housing on church property.
Local governments should be pulling every lever we have to address the housing crisis, and Assembly Bill 2097 gives those across California one more lever to pull. It deserves the Legislature’s full support.