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Small Solutions: West Hollywood Devises Parking Credits Plan

When Axl Rose first stepped off the bus from Indiana, took the stage at the Whisky, and screeched out the opening lines of "Welcome to the Jungle," he probably wasn't thinking about parking. But he might as well have been. 

West Hollywood's Sunset Strip—home to music clubs, restaurants, and rock star mayhem—offers a chaotic array of parking options along its winding, two-mile stretch of Sunset Bl. Nighttime prices often top $20. Similar conditions prevail a half-mile south along Santa Monica Boulevard, where gay nightlife, boutiques, and restaurants attract visitors from all over the Los Angeles area. 

Finding places for all of those visitors to park is the goal of an innovative parking scheme that the city adopted last month. While it is not a comprehensive reform, a new "parking credits" program represents an incremental effort to aid both drivers and local businesses—particularly those that are seeking to change their uses—by cataloging available parking spaces and allocating them collectively among businesses that occupy 10,000 or fewer square feet. 

This means that the city will keep track of the number of available spaces in the area and will issue credits rather than force businesses to identify specific spaces, either onsite or off-site, to fulfill their parking requirements. 

The program is a response to a perceived stagnation among local businesses. 

"(The city) realized that Sunset Boulevard, the rock n' roll capital of the world, was filling up with vacancies, and so were the avenues of art and design," said Mott Smith, whose firm Civic Enterprises consulted with West Hollywood. "People couldn't satisfy their parking requirements."

The program will start by allocating only public spaces, but West Hollywood Public Works Director Oscar Delgado said the city intends to include private spaces as well. The first area of the city where the program will go into effect is a triangle encompassing the western end of Santa Monica Boulevard and Melrose Boulevard. Delgado said that the Sunset Strip is the next likely participant. 

 

In total, the city has identified 12 potential districts, ranging from roughly four blocks to ten blocks long, that it intends to institute in the coming years. They will cover roughly 25% of the 1.9-square-mile city. 

 

City officials contend that many parcels had been effectively locked into their uses because of parking requirements. Retail spaces that wanted to convert to restaurants had to find more parking. Meanwhile, landlords of restaurants often felt locked in, because to de-intensify would mean either giving up scarce spaces or hanging on to, and paying for, spaces that they didn't need. 

"We're not having everybody be responsible for providing their own parking, especially when we have surplus parking," said Delgado. 

Many businesses in the city have gotten used to paying what consultant Mott Smith described as "extortion" prices from places like office garages and car washes that leased surplus spaces so that businesses could fulfill their city-mandated requirements. Scholars such as UCLA's Don Shoup have noted that these requirements are often arbitrary and too crude to create finely detailed places. Currently in West Hollywood, retail requires 3.5 spaces per 1,000 square feet while, at the upper end, nightclubs require 14 spaces per 1,000 square feet. 

"People wring their hands about what should the right parking requirements be for particular uses— ‘I think mortuaries should be 3.2 spaces per coffin' and so on and so on," said Smith. "And you never get to the right number."

Moreover, in West Hollywood at least, many businesses' patrons never even used the spaces that businesses have been paying for. 

"They're paying often $100 per month for fake spaces that nobody ever parks in," said Smith. (That monthly fee is, of course, on top of the rate that patrons pay to park.)

By creating a flexible system that pays attention to the actual number of available spaces and to actual parking patterns, the program is ultimately intended as an economic development tool. City officials hope that it will allow properties to be put to their highest and best use rather than be constrained by the old parking requirements. 

The business community has so far welcomed the program. 

"We're very excited about it," said Genevieve Morrill, president of the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. "It's something that the city has been needing to do for a quite a long time. We're such a dense community, it just makes sense that people may park once." 

Delgado and Smith both said that the key to the program is the biannual parking counts that will determine how many spaces are being used at any given time. 

"With the parking credits, you're selling how much parking is available versus how many striped spaces there are," said Delgado.  

Delgado said that this program will, in the long run, promote a more vibrant, pedestrian-oriented commercial neighborhoods. 

"We're promoting park once and walk around," said Delgado. 

This program arises at a time when cities across the state have been forced to develop new strategies to promote development and economic development now that their redevelopment agencies have been shut down. 

Though not every city attracts rockers, gay club-goers, and art aficionados in quite such high numbers—much less spaces that cost $100 per month—any city with complex parking problems in dense commercial areas could stand to benefit from adopting a similar program. 

"Where it's ideal is cities that have a built-in mixed use," said Delgado. "Let's say they have a lot of office space during the day and at night they have vacancies. It allows them to intensify and change their uses during the evening." 

The hope, for the city, is that parking credits can make West Hollywood, and others, less like jungles and more like paradise cities. 

Contacts: 

Oscar Delgado, West Hollywood Public Works, 323.848.6375

Geneveive Morrill, West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, 323.650.2688

Mott Smith, Civic Enterprise Associates, 213.403.0170

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