California cities meet smart growth goals by reducing parking requirements

January 28, 2014

More than a quarter of California’s 540 cities and counties are using parking reductions to facilitate mixed-use projects. The urban planning tool can take different forms—prohibiting developers of new multifamily residences or other building types from constructing new, off-street parking lots, for example, or requiring them to locate new, off-street, surface parking lots to the side or rear of buildings—but is surprising because the state is famously known for its driving culture.

California state capital building

New California smart growth requirements are having the intended effect – reducing new parking supply in order to meet environmental benchmarks. .

The finding comes from California’s 2012 planning survey, which was released last fall. Published annually by the Office of Planning & Research and formerly titled the “Book of Lists,” the survey offers the most recent information on local planning activities and the status of jurisdictions’ general plans, while offering a snapshot of local perspectives on issues of statewide interest.

One noteworthy trend, for example, is the rising number of cities and counties that are adopting—or are in the process of adopting—climate-change policies. In 2008, 37 percent of survey respondents said they were taking steps to address climate change; four years later, that figure has almost doubled to 72 percent.

Many of those jurisdictions are focusing their efforts on reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) instead of preparing for the impacts of climate change, suggesting that more cities and counties are hearing the state’s message. It’s taken more than ten years and the passage of California’s Global Warming Solutions Act (AB 32), the Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act (SB 375), and lawsuits from the state’s attorney general’s office to communicate the importance of GHG, but local jurisdictions are finally listening.

They are also taking advantage of California’s density-bonus law, which aims to promote the construction of affordable housing. More than 50 percent of survey respondents cited the regulation as their most common tool for achieving higher densities.

Areas of tension were also identified, such as barriers to infill development. Lack of funding was the greatest barrier, respondents said, a contrast from their response in 2011, when infrastructure limitations were cited as the biggest roadblocks.

Jurisdictions are being proactive, though, when it comes to reducing energy costs. Almost 60 percent of respondents have programs for increasing energy efficiency in municipal buildings, while 25 percent have programs that encourage the use of plug-in electric vehicles in the municipal fleet.

Counting Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Diego, as well as smaller jurisdictions such as Walnut Creek and Ukiah, among its respondents, the survey captured 229 cities and 29 counties for a total of 258 participants or 48 percent of local governments.

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Category: Green Parking, Regulations