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San Diego Mulls Eliminating Commercial Parking Requirements Near Mass Transit

Measure Seeks to Aid Retail Businesses, Reduce Reliance on Polluting Vehicles

By Lou Hirsh CoStar News June 7, 2021 | 11:40 A.M.

The Planning Commission in San Diego approved a measure that would do away with commercial requirements to provide parking in certain locations near mass transit stops, aimed at letting landlords and tenants use that space for outdoor dining, retail or much-needed affordable housing.

Planners voted 4-3 in favor of the concept, which it deemed crucial for dealing with climate issues created by vehicle traffic and for addressing other business needs that have intensified since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. The decision is subject to review by the San Diego City Council next month.

“It’s needed for the health of our planet and for the health of San Diego,” said planning commission member Doug Austin during the panel’s June 3 meeting.

Similar to laws passed previously in cities such as Denver, Minneapolis, Seattle and Portland, Oregon, the San Diego measure would eliminate existing parking requirements for businesses that are located near public transit or in small plazas serving dense residential areas where large numbers of customers can access the properties by walking, biking or using mass transit.

Planners supporting the policy said it would help the nation's eighth-most populous city meet state mandates for reducing polluting emissions and also bring down the cost of developing new commercial and residential projects in infill areas, while encouraging more use of mass transit, walking and bicycling. The policy is also supported by environmental advocates and some regional business organizations.

“Parking is not only expensive to build but also expensive to maintain,” said Angeli Calinog, policy adviser for the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, during the commission meeting. Surface parking spots account for $25,000 per space within the overall cost to build a project in San Diego, according to city data.

Opponents, including some residents and planners, argued such a policy should not be enacted until most neighborhoods have reached a critical mass of residents actually using public transportation, with access now limited in many local communities that also are still not walk- or bike-friendly.

Some small-business operators said the policy could also worsen existing parking scarcity created in some neighborhoods by prior city changes, including eliminating street parking to create bike lanes.

In addition to affecting future proposed projects, the new San Diego policy, if approved, would immediately allow business tenants and landlords to convert existing parking spaces into other uses, such as outdoor dining and retail.

The ability to use outdoor space for daily business needs became crucial for many tenants, especially restaurants, during the pandemic as indoor operations were prohibited for most of the past year. San Diego joined other cities over the past few weeks in expanding the streamlining of permits for outdoor operations for at least another year, as California gets set to fully reopen its economy in mid-June.

The new San Diego measure is primarily aimed at aiding retail tenants and their landlords in certain neighborhoods with current access to mass transit, but it could also have impacts on future mixed-use projects with residential elements since space would not have to be devoted to parking.

San Diego in 2019 eliminated parking requirements for multifamily housing developments proposed near mass transit stations in some parts of the city, and two subsidized housing projects with no parking have so far been approved.

San Diego’s latest proposal is under review as another measure is before the California Legislature that also targets parking requirements. Assembly Bill 1401, authored by Los Angeles Democrat Laura Friedman, would require cities to relax commercial and residential parking requirements under certain situations, as part of larger efforts by lawmakers to boost the state’s stock of affordable housing units.

The bill was passed last week by the state Assembly and is expected next to be reviewed by the Senate.

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