By M. Nolan Gray
Over the holiday break, while many of us were nestled up by the fire reading The High Cost of Free Parking, the Los Angeles Department of City Planning (DCP) circulated an interdepartmental memo explaining how certain provisions of AB 2097 should be interpreted by applicants and city agencies.
Passed last year, AB 2097 eliminated onerous minimum parking requirements within a half-mile of public transit. While the intent of the law is clear, there remains some risk that certain provisions may be misused or misinterpreted to undermine it.
The good news is that the LA DCP has set out a model for implementing and interpreting key provisions of AB 2097. First, the memo addresses the issue of findings needed to reimpose minimum parking requirements: AB 2097 allows jurisdictions to do so if they assemble a preponderance of evidence showing that eliminating parking requirements would have a substantive negative impact on affordable housing programs or local parking conditions.1
LA DCP proposes a prudent approach to this “opt-out” provision: To ensure no negative impact on affordable housing programs—in this case, the Transit-Oriented Communities (TOC) program—the department will monitor the situation and collect data for the first year.
What is TOC? It’s an LA program that provides additional density, relief from parking mandates, and streamlined permitting to residential developments near transit that incorporate deed-restricted affordable housing. While monitoring is appropriate, don’t count on there being evidence that removing minimum parking requirements undermines this program. When San Diego eliminated minimum parking requirements near public transit, they found that it was overwhelmingly to the benefit of 100 percent deed-restricted affordable housing projects.2
To ensure no negative impact on local parking conditions, the department will also create a framework whereby interested parties can conduct and submit parking studies, which must be conducted to LADOT standards and stamped by a licensed traffic engineer. This approach rightfully shifts the evidentiary burden to those who would seek to block parking-free (or parking-lite) development and is unlikely to result in parking requirements being reimposed on all but the largest projects.
Second, the memo addresses the question of EV and disabled parking: AB 2097 establishes that jurisdictions may continue to require that some share of parking must be reserved for EV or disabled parking.3 The clear intent of the law is that such mandates shall apply to any parking voluntarily provided—not that jurisdictions may subvert the law by turning all of their parking requirements into EV or disabled parking spaces.
Once again, LA DCP takes a wise approach: Wherever parking is voluntarily included in new developments near public transit, it shall continue to be subject to the city’s well-established EV and disabled parking requirements. But in cases where projects opt to go without any parking, they won’t necessarily be forced to still build EV and disabled parking spaces.
Why does all of this matter? From a housing perspective, there is now strong evidence finding that minimum parking requirements block the construction of new infill housing and raise housing costs. To the extent that minimum parking requirements write auto-dependence into law, they also undermine our state’s climate action goals and investments in public transit.
By ending these mandates, AB 2097 was a huge step toward building an affordable, sustainable California. But realizing those benefits requires the partnership of local governments—in this, Los Angeles provides a welcome model.
1. See § 65863.2(b).
2. And in recent research I co-authored, we found that streamlined permitting was a key reason why developers participate in TOC—an incentive wholly unaffected by AB 2097.
3. See § 65863.2(f).