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Chronicle SMa.rt: Parking, density and inequality

Car park. In buildings. In the street. How important can that be? Who does it impact? And after decades of discussion, why is it still a controversial topic?

This, like several other state land use planning and urban planning policies, has the main impact of increasing inequalities.

New buildings

A number of new affordable and inclusive housing projects allow a ratio of less than 1:1 units/parking. Reducing the ratio of parking spaces per unit (or eliminating parking altogether) and “unbundling” parking allowing tenants to choose not to park at all will become commonplace.

New state laws provide for, and planning staff have openly endorsed, the idea that parking requirements should be waived entirely in new developments to pack more units. In fact, a new state bill, AB 2097, has just been introduced that eliminates the ability of local governments to either impose any minimum parking requirements or to enforce a minimum parking requirement on residential or commercial developments if the parcel is located within half a mile of public transport (i.e. bus routes).

Who benefits from this approach and these state initiatives? Investors are likely to significantly increase the profitability of these projects because they can increase the number of units in a project, proportional to the amount of parking they can eliminate. Cities can increase the new Per-Project Housing Credit to apply against state housing mandates such as the 8,895 housing target set for Santa Monica by the Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) State.

What is entirely missing from this calculation, as usual, is (1) the impact on residents who would occupy insufficiently equipped parking units and (2) the overflow of cars onto the streets of the neighborhood where they are competing. space with existing residents.

Access to a better quality of life

Many discussions around this topic focus on designing an “ideal” city where cars can be optional but not required. As a legacy city centered on private transportation within a parallel legacy metropolis, Santa Monica’s design is fixed, concrete, asphalt, and steel. The usefulness of the transit network in this area is defined by private transportation. This is the only relevant scenario in the discussion of costs and benefits.

It turns out that in legacy cities like Santa Monica, the utility of the mobility afforded by parking is essential to accessing a fundamental quality of life, especially the opportunities to fully participate in career advancement and social mobility in areas like Greater Los Angeles.

According to demographer Wendell Cox, access to a car in Los Angeles provides 34 times more job opportunities than reliance on public transportation alone can provide. Access to job opportunities is fundamental to economic security. In Los Angeles County, and Santa Monica in particular, social interaction is citywide and countywide, and jobs aren’t just found along bus lanes.

Additionally, the transit utility value of private transportation is much higher for people in lower income brackets, as noted by the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies in its 2018 report prepared for the Southern California Association. of Governments (SCAG). In its conclusion, the report notes that “a car trip by a low-income household is more likely than a trip by a wealthy household to involve finding and keeping a job, accessing school or access to better health and child care options.

The UCLA report ended with the following observation:

“…some Southern Californians – the poorest among them – drive too little, and their lives and the region as a whole would be better off if they drove a little more. The low-income person who acquires a vehicle makes often less travel than a wealthy person (the car is expensive) and the trips they make are often essential, and have social benefits that outweigh their social costs A car trip by a low-income household is more likely than a trip by an affluent household to involve finding and keeping a job, getting to school, or accessing better health and childcare options.

Can public transportation replace private transportation in a legacy city like Santa Monica?

The answer seems to be a “No”. From 2010 to 2019 (before the pandemic), the total number of Big Blue Bus (BBB) ​​passenger rides decreased by 45%. The BBB suffered its biggest loss of ridership before the pandemic in 2016, when 2.1 million passenger trips were lost.

In an attempt to address the significant limitations of transit in providing a competitive and fully inclusive transit service (which includes the ability to carry goods like weekly groceries), the BBB has developed a new solution in 2017 called Mobility On-Demand Every Day Program (MODE). This program provides highly subsidized access to transportation network companies (i.e. private cars – currently Lyft) to Santa Monica residents age 65 or older or 18 with disabilities.

MODE customers enjoy a total of thirty (30) one-way rides per month, including shared Lyft and wheelchair van rides, limited to the Santa Monica city limits during specific hours of operation. Select shopping destinations on Lincoln Blvd. in Venice are included as well as some medical facilities. The program does not address the larger transportation needs of Santa Monica residents in Los Angeles County.

To replicate the fully inclusive utility of private transport would require a robust and integrated London-style multimodal transport system. Retrofitting such a system in a legacy city based on private vehicles such as Santa Monica is simply not feasible. The only Metro E (Expo) line rail extension in Santa Monica cost $100 million for each of its 15.1 miles.

What is the impact of the hypothesis of the interchangeability of public and private transport on the future of Santa Monica?

It turns out that about 45% (4,100 to 4,300) of the total 8,895 RHNA housing target assigned to Santa Monica assumes adjacency to so-called High Quality Transit Areas (HQTAs) . The bar to qualify as HQTA is very low. It is defined as areas within one-half mile of transit stations and corridors with a service interval of at least fifteen (15) minutes during peak hours for bus service.

Thus, nearly half of the RHNA allocation in Santa Monica is based on a utility assumption that is unachievable in the real world.

What about the upcoming electric vehicle charging requirements?

The lack of parking capacity ensures that these buildings will not have the capacity to eventually accept the necessary charging equipment. This couldn’t be more critical since the California Air Resources Board’s goal is to have at least 61% of new vehicle sales being electric vehicles by 2030, while 2035 is the year set for an outright ban. and simple of selling new gasoline cars in the state.

This will further deprive residents of buildings with restricted parking of the opportunity to fully participate in mainstream life and access the full range of economic opportunities.

What are the issues with using a land use planning policy for parking?

Since we are discussing parking in the context of land use planning policy, the unforced errors of this flawed parking restriction policy will also materialize, negatively impacting neighborhoods and the future of residents for decades to come. .

Real estate development in the iconic, world-branded coastal destination city of Santa Monica is inherently lucrative. Recent state land use and zoning laws have made it even more important. How then can the trade-off of improving project profitability, primarily at the expense of low- and middle-income residents and families, be a political priority?

An argument will likely be made that increased project profitability is needed to help subsidize additional affordable units. But, if the cost of these additional affordable units is increased and permanent inequality for potentially all residents of the building, then this is clearly an unacceptable trade-off.

The result of this land-use policy is such that it eliminates a well-known and valuable commodity – parking and the networked mobility options it enables – for a blatantly inadequate current alternative accompanied by a vague notion of a future improved transit structure that cannot be delivered.

Clearing up our priorities

We are heading down a path of growing inequality by adopting a housing policy that locks in discrimination against those who need highly flexible and efficient transportation options the most. We lock in the endless creation of street congestion from unbundled parking. Both are subsidies to investors at the expense of current and future residents.

Clearly, this is not a planning approach that prioritizes providing all residents with the maximum opportunity to access economic progress and engage in life.

It’s also a guaranteed route to the creation of very expensive substandard housing in a city that can no longer afford housing mistakes in its fixed 8.4 square miles. The damage done to the community by the substandard housing created by adequate parking will last for generations.

By Marc L. Verville for SMa.rt (Santa Monica Architects for a Responsible Tomorrow).

Thane Roberts, Architect, Robert H. Taylor AIA; Ron Goldman FAIA, architect; Dan Jansenson, Architect, Building, Fire and Life Safety Commission; Samuel Tolkin Architect; Mario Fonda-Bonardi, AIA, urban planning commissioner; Marc L. Verville MBA, CPA (inactive); Michel Jolly, AIRRE

Note: Marc lived in central London from 1992 to 2000.

The references:

Lower transit ridership: California and Southern California

A report prepared by the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies for the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) – January 2018
https://scag.ca.gov/sites/main/files/file-attachments/its_scag_transit_ridership.pdf

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