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Planning Commissioners Give Thumbs Up To Urban Parking Reforms

A crane stands at a housing construction site in downtown San Diego in this u...

Photo by KPBS

Above: A crane stands at a housing construction site in downtown San Diego in this undated photo.

The San Diego Planning Commission Thursday gave a unanimous thumbs up to overhauling the city's minimum parking standards for dense, urban housing, saying the measure could alleviate the city's housing shortage while helping transition residents away from car dependence.

The plan, announced by Mayor Kevin Faulconer in November, would allow developers to construct new apartment or condo buildings with no off-street parking if the project is within a half-mile of a major public transit stop. Those "transit priority areas" are where the city's General Plan and Climate Action Plan say most new housing growth should occur.

The City Council is scheduled to take up the proposal in late February.

Planning commissioners largely praised the proposal as a means to increase the housing supply, which experts say is key to addressing the region's affordability crisis, and also encourage residents to forgo car ownership in favor of biking, walking and riding public transit.

"Obviously there's a lot of work we have to do," said Commissioner Bill Hoffman. "However if we don't go forward with these measures now step-by-step, then we are we going to? Should we just surrender to the existing status quo, to the automobile?"

RELATED: Mayor Faulconer Proposes Ambitious Housing Plan For 2019

City staff said parking requirements can cost developers between $35,000 and $90,000 per space, depending on whether the parking has to go underground, and that those costs are ultimately passed on to renters and home buyers. The proposal also requires developers and landlords to offer incentives for alternative transportation, such as public transit subsidies, bike repair stations or cars that can be shared by residents.

When developers voluntarily include parking spaces in their projects near transit, residents in most cases would have to rent or purchase their parking space separately from their home. That policy, called "unbundled parking," is meant to decouple the hidden costs of otherwise free parking and allow residents to save money if they choose not to own a car.

New developments downtown would also have a maximum of one parking space per unit, meant to put downward pressure on the cost of new downtown housing development, most of which has been in the luxury market.

Representatives from the city's 42 volunteer community planning groups had asked the city to only commit to a five-year pilot program on the parking reforms. Commissioners praised the group's willingness to give the reforms a chance, but said five years was likely too little time to evaluate the plan's impact on housing affordability or car usage.

Land-use consultant Marcela Escobar-Eck told commissioners that the package of reforms was a big improvement on the existing rules.

"We have got to start shifting our perspective on parking," she said. "We have to stop housing cars. We have to start housing people."

The San Diego Planning Commission gave a unanimous thumbs up to an overhaul of the city's minimum parking standards for dense, urban housing. The reforms are meant to stimulate home building while helping residents transition away from car dependence.

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