Updated 5/26/22 – AB 2097 has been amended to exclude some transit stops to only include major transit stops, but not high-quality corridors. The map has not been updated. The bill has passed out of the Assembly.
Abundant Housing LA is serious about making homes easier to build, and one of the biggest obstacles standing in the way of that effort is minimum off-street parking requirements. That’s why we’re so excited to co-sponsor AB 2097, by Assemblymember Laura Friedman. In our support letter to the state, we outlined the major arguments against parking requirements, developed in large part by scholars like UCLA Professor Donald Shoup. For example, parking requirements raise construction costs, which get passed down as higher rents or home purchase prices, and they reduce the number of homes developers propose to build, contributing to housing scarcity.
No parking is really “free,” even when drivers don’t have to pay for it at the point of use. In the Los Angeles region, each parking space in an apartment building costs about $55,000 to build. The costs of parking get hidden in the prices of the homes we inhabit, the goods we buy, and the externalities that are borne by society: accelerating climate change, air pollution, traffic congestion, and traffic collisions. If you shop in a store with a “free” parking lot, you pay for that parking lot whether you drove there or not. If you live in a building with parking included in the rent, you pay for that parking whether you use it or not. These are major subsidies to driving as a mode of transportation.
AB 2097 doesn’t prohibit off-street parking from being built, if a homebuilder or a business thinks it makes sense, it just prevents local governments from imposing their own minimum parking requirements near the best transit. Local parking requirements are often excessive, based on problematic parking utilization surveys in engineering manuals or copied mindlessly from other cities’ zoning codes. In LA County, for example, there are over 19 million parking spaces, almost two per resident, including children. Not only is excessive parking mandate taking up precious urban land, but it also makes it infeasible to build “missing middle” housing, such as bungalow courts or small apartments.
AB 2097 would move us towards a more sensible parking policy by prohibiting local minimum parking requirements within a half-mile of “major transit stops” and “high-quality transit corridors.” These terms have specific definitions in state law. A major transit stop is defined as a passenger rail or bus rapid transit station, a ferry terminal with connecting transit service, or the intersection of at least two bus lines with 15 minute or better service frequency during AM and PM peak commute periods. A high-quality transit corridor is defined as a corridor with fixed-route bus service with 15 minute or better service frequency during AM and PM peak commute periods. By removing parking requirements in these areas, AB 2097 helps free up more land available for housing development, lower housing construction costs, and create safe, walkable, and transit-first neighborhoods.
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The map above is built from a GIS layer of 2016 High-Quality Transit Areas developed by the Southern California Association of Governments (thank you SCAG!). The SCAG layer roughly corresponds to the areas in the SCAG region where parking requirements would be preempted under AB 2097. As you would expect, this layer just covers SCAG counties (unlike the bill, which would apply statewide): Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, Imperial, and Ventura. Because the layer can be downloaded as a Shapefile, we also have the ability to import it into GIS software and show where these areas intersect with city or legislative district boundaries, as we advocate for this bill to specific legislators. One of the interesting implementation issues if the bill does get signed into law, will be the fact that these areas are not fixed. If a bus schedule changes, the eligible areas for relief from parking requirements can change as well. That’s not an insurmountable problem, but unfortunately, cities that aren’t a fan of having their parking requirements preempted might try to put the burden of proof for transit proximity on applicants as they come in for specific projects.
It’s important to note that making meaningful housing policy changes in Sacramento isn’t easy. AB 2097 is a revival of AB 1401, which was introduced in 2021, cleared the Assembly, but stalled out in the “suspense file” of the Senate Appropriations Committee, despite the fact that this bill would cost the state basically nothing to implement. How can we ensure that AB 2097 doesn’t meet a similar fate this year? That’ll be up to all of us, raising our voices to our elected officials in support of this great reform to make housing more affordable, while promoting more sustainable transportation patterns. California can’t claim progressive values like care for the poor or the environment while imposing costly, wasteful, and anti-transit minimum parking for housing developments. There’s a contradiction there, and AB 2097 is a great start towards resolving it.