It’s no secret that California is very bad at building enough homes for its people. But California is great at building lots of homes…for cars.

This is because most cities require new homes, stores, and offices to provide on-site parking spaces. Typically, apartments must include one or two parking spots per home, and commercial properties must provide one space for every 100-200 square feet (which is why so many stores have more space for parking than for the store itself). These one-size-fits-all mandates are often imposed even in areas that are close to transit.

When governments mandate parking construction, we end up with an oversupply of parking spaces. Los Angeles County alone has nearly 19 million parking spaces — almost two for every resident, including children. Even Metro-accessible Downtown Los Angeles has far more parking spaces than it does residents and workers. With more workers slated to work from home post-pandemic, the gap between parking supply and actual need will likely grow further.

Building all this parking comes with a heavy cost. Parking mandates reinforce car dependence and discourage mass transit usage, increasing carbon emissions and worsening air quality. These requirements also worsen our housing shortage by raising the cost of housing production. A recent analysis found that it costs $55,000 to build a single parking space in an apartment building in Los Angeles, a cost that is passed on to households regardless of whether they own a car. On-site parking also takes up space that could otherwise be used for additional apartment units, making it impossible to build small-scale “missing middle” housing like fourplexes and bungalow courts. This prevents the development of walkable, transit-first neighborhoods that are safe for pedestrians, particularly children and our older neighbors.

Parking mandates harm everyone — and they are especially harmful to lower-income households and communities of color. Compared to white Californians and higher-income households, these communities are likelier to be exposed to high levels of air pollution from vehicles, even if they do not have a vehicle themselves. People with lower incomes are also disproportionately affected by high housing costs and are likelier to suffer injury or death in car crashes.

Reforming harmful parking mandates is a key component of our policy agenda, and is needed in order to address California’s climate, transportation, and housing challenges. That’s why Abundant Housing LA is co-sponsoring Assembly Bill 1401, our first-ever state bill.

AB 1401 would eliminate local parking requirements for residential and commercial development within a half-mile of transit. Going forward, property owners would be free to determine how much on-site parking their customers or residents need, instead of requiring them to comply with an inflexible, wasteful mandate. This bill would not prohibit the construction of on-site parking, and does not cost taxpayers one dime.

We’re proud to be teaming up with our local legislator, Assemblymember Laura Friedman, who authored AB 1401. We’re also joining forces with a strong statewide coalition of pro-housing advocates like California YIMBY, urban policy experts like SPUR, environmentalists like NRDC, homebuilders like the Council of Infill Builders, transit advocates like Circulate San Diego, and small business owners like the CalAsian Chamber of Commerce.

AB 1401 will help us fight back against climate change by encouraging walking, biking, and mass transit usage. It would create more housing near transit and reduce construction costs, helping to lower rents. This would also allow more lower-income households to live closer to work, reducing the length of their commutes. Small businesses, like restaurants and theaters, would continue to be able to use their parking lots for seating, a recent innovation that deserves to live on post-pandemic. This will help these businesses thrive, and make our neighborhoods more vibrant and enjoyable. New housing development would also create more property tax revenue, allowing our cities to better fund affordable housing and mass transit improvements.

Crucially, AB 1401 would expand the production of housing that is affordable to lower-income households. Today, housing opponents often use heavy parking requirements to drive up the cost of affordable housing production, to deliberately make it economically infeasible. While the state density bonus program already eliminates parking requirements for 100% affordable projects within a half-mile of transit stops (rail, ferry, and major bus stops), AB 1401 defines “public transit” more broadly to also include high-frequency bus corridors. Ultimately, this will mean that more affordable housing projects without parking can be built near transit without NIMBY interference.

Additionally, AB 1401 will make LA’s successful Transit-Oriented Communities program, which is creating thousands of affordable homes within mixed-income developments near Metro, work even better. While TOC totally eliminates parking requirements for 100% affordable projects and mixed-income projects near a handful of Metro stations, it still requires 0.5 parking spaces per bedroom in most cases. Fully eliminating this requirement would make more potential TOC projects pencil out, leading to even more affordable homes near transit.

Parking reform in California is hardly an untested idea. San Diego and Oakland have eliminated parking minimums near transit, Santa Monica does not require on-site parking in its downtown, and San Francisco has eliminated parking mandates citywide. Even here in Los Angeles, America’s capital of car culture, the 1999 Downtown Adaptive Reuse Ordinance eliminated parking requirements for renovations of older, historic buildings into housing. This helped spur Downtown’s revitalization, with thousands of housing units produced as outdated commercial buildings were renovated into modern, mixed-use properties. 

It’s high time for these worthwhile reforms to go statewide. If you’re ready to fix parking in California, here are three ways you can help: