When I was a planner working for a local city, I would always get really excited when someone would propose multifamily housing. Being able to check those plans was kind of like finding a four-leafed clover, since there was so much single-family zoning, this type of project didn’t come around very often. However, that excitement was also mixed with dread. The apprehension came from the fact that I knew the project was likely to be a drama and go through multiple rounds of review before the designer figured out how to make the project comply with the numerous and burdensome development standards. Development standards are rules in a zoning code that govern things like how big or tall a building can be, where it can be located on a lot, and what kinds of bells and whistles it has to have. The two standards that always caused me the most heartburn were parking requirements and open space requirements, so when I got a job with Abundant Housing LA, I decided to research them.

This post is about the first paper I wrote based on that research: Los Angeles County Multifamily Residential Parking Requirements: Prospects for Reform, which only deals with parking requirements. I collected data for all 89 local government jurisdictions in LA County (88 cities plus the county), trying to answer the question of how much parking they are requiring for multifamily housing based on the number of bedrooms in a unit. In order to keep the project from being overwhelming, I limited it to base zoning districts, so no overlay zones or specific plans were considered, just the humdrum standard multifamily zones, that in some cities are the only game in town if you want to build apartments or townhomes.

Abundant Housing LA has some great ideas about parking reform, which are influenced by a line of scholarship pioneered by UCLA Professor Donald Shoup. In our policy agenda you’ll see, for example, a call to eliminate on-site (also known as “off-street”) parking requirements. In addition to that, Shoup calls for charging market prices for curb parking adequate to keep a few spaces open on each block and sending that money back to the neighborhoods that generate it for public improvement projects. This results in more affordable housing, less driving, air pollution and climate change. When the cost of parking is made explicit instead of getting hidden in other prices we must pay whether we drive or not, our cities and our society are strengthened. That’s a very brief summary of what Shoup wrote about in The High Cost of Free Parking. And yet, as Shoup himself acknowledges in the book, planning practice is very far away from living up to these ideals.

This is certainly the case in Los Angeles County, where I found that local governments required an average of 2.04 parking spaces per multifamily unit in their base zones. There was a wide range of requirements. The lowest parking requirement was 0.50 space per unit for studio units in Culver City. At the other end of the spectrum, Azusa, Bellflower, Huntington Park, La Mirada, Malibu, Norwalk, San Dimas and Signal Hill all require 4 spaces for each 4-bedroom unit.

Requiring guest parking is also a common practice, and the average requirement was 0.35 spaces per unit in the study (about one space per three units). The table below summarizes my findings.

By breaking out the data for each jurisdiction, we can see which cities are ahead of the curve in moving towards a future where homebuilders can decide for themselves how much, if any, parking is needed for their projects (see Figure 1 below). Keep in mind that requiring an average of less than 2 parking spaces per home is still far from the end goal. That being said, by highlighting what’s working in the cities with below average parking requirements, and pointing out that the world has not ended within the boundaries of these jurisdictions, we hope to encourage other cities to follow suit and get their parking requirements down to a less burdensome level, en route to zero.

My paper also discusses state laws that limit local parking requirements and ways to expand on that progress. The density bonus law, ADU law and SB 35 (2017) are all notable sources of existing parking relief. In the case of the density bonus law, parking and other zoning relief is in exchange for affordable housing. In ADU law, parking relief is very strong, but ADUs are somewhat limited in size and density on a particular property. In SB 35, parking relief and ministerial review are in exchange for affordable housing and labor provisions and sites must meet environmental and anti-displacement criteria. All of these reforms stop short of relieving all housing of the burden of providing parking.

As currently proposed, AB 2097 (Friedman), which Abundant Housing LA is co-sponsoring this year, is one of the strongest parking reliefs yet. AB 2097 would prohibit minimum parking requirements within a half-mile of a major transit stop or high-quality transit corridor, with some exceptions for accessible and electric vehicle spaces. We see this as an important step forward on the path to pro-housing parking policy, where housing is more affordable and our urban form better supports the three “E”s of sustainability: environment, economy, and equity.

For every homebuilder struggling to get badly-needed infill housing going in LA County, for every well-meaning planner grappling in obscurity with nonsensical zoning codes, and for every local government stubbornly refusing to change, the core message of this paper is “we see you.” Abundant housing is possible and urgently needed. Getting parking requirements out of the way is an important piece of the puzzle.

Read the full report here: Los Angeles County Multifamily Residential Parking Requirements: Prospects for Reform