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Solimar Research

Unexpected Opposition Dooms Parking Reform Measure

Josh Stephens on
Jul 3, 2012

Following an intense battle among some of the leading institutions in California planning, Assemblymember Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) has rescinded Assembly Bill 904. AB 904 would have reduced parking minimums in high-transit areas statewide, taking a step towards what many planners and developers consider a crucial reconsideration of parking regulations.

AB 904 met with expected opposition from the League of California Cities and surprising opposition from the American Planning Association. The League contended that AB 904 would impose an untoward, uniform requirement on cities statewide. Dozens of cities opposed the bill, including many -- such as Turlock, Chowchilla, and Shasta Lake -- that do not even have high frequency transit, as it was defined in AB 904. 

California Infill Builders Federation (CIBF) president and affordable housing developer Meea Kang said in a statement, "We sponsored AB 904 to increase the opportunities for infill development in transit areas by relaxing excessive parking requirements near transit. AB 904 (was) a simple urban planning solution that encourages affordable housing construction, promotes transit, economic development, job growth, and reinforces California's competitiveness."

The California chapter of the APA opposed the bill on similar grounds. The APA officials insisted that the bill's opt-out provisions did not give cities enough freedom to account for unique conditions or to implement their own parking schemes. 

The bill was supported primarily by CIBF, with vocal cheerleading from the "Shoupista" community--planners and urbanists who ascribe to UCLA Prof. Don Shoup's recommendations that cities abandon what he considers arbitrary parking requirements. AB 904's supporters had expected to find an ally in the APA, in part because many professional planners have been leading the call for parking reform. The APA even published Shoup's landmark book, The High Cost of Free Parking.

Supporters contended that, rather than impose requirements on cities, AB 904 would have relaxed requirements and made it easier for local planners to adjust parking standards according to local needs. They noted that the cost and labor involved with opting out would have been minimal--requiring cities to meet one of four opt-out requirements--whereas current conditions often necessitate costly and intricate planning processes if cities want to reduce parking minimums. 

"There is near universal agreement that our parking minimums around transit need work. And we look forward to a healthy conversation about how best to fix them," said CIBF board member Mott Smith, in a statement. "We will work together to find solutions for California grow more affordably, sustainably and with respect for the character of our great communities."