San Jose planning officials are split on a proposal to eliminate minimum parking requirements for new building projects and what it could mean for the future of the city.
The San Jose Planning Commission voted 6-2-3 Wednesday to receive a report with several alternatives for reducing parking spaces. Commissioners Rolando Bonilla and Jorge Garcia voted against the plan. Commissioners George Casey, Mariel Caballero and Maribel Montañez were absent.
Staff wants to eliminate the city’s decades-old minimum parking requirement, which forces developers to include a certain number of parking spaces for cars on any new project.
San Jose currently requires 1.7 parking spaces for every two-bedroom housing unit in multi-dwelling residential buildings, while food, beverage or grocery stores must have one parking space per 200 square feet of area dedicated to retail sales.
According to a staff presentation, parking is expensive to build, costing $30,000 to $75,000 per space. The parking mandate also raises the cost of development, hinders the reduction of vehicle emissions, increases urban heat islands and removes the incentive to walk, bike or use public transit.
“Removing parking minimum requirements won’t stop a developer from building more parking if that person thought market conditions warranted it,” San Jose Department of Transportation Planning Manager Wilson Tam said. “But the developer wouldn’t be forced to build more parking than necessary.”
Interest in cutting down parking in San Jose has been growing in recent months as advocates debate the pros and cons of reducing the city’s historic reliance on cars. With a goal to make sure no more than 25% of commuter trips are made by solo drivers by 2040, San Jose officials want to improve public transit and build up infrastructure in the downtown core so people are more willing to walk or bike.
Maintain or reduce parking
City planners offered two alternatives to the recommendation: eliminating parking minimums everywhere except for single-family zoned neighborhoods or removing the mandate in neighborhoods designated for growth in the Envision San Jose 2040 General Plan, such as downtown and urban villages.
Several commissioners are enthusiastic about the proposal and want councilmembers to remove the parking requirement.
“I love the idea,” said Commissioner Charles Cantrell, noting his family recently cut back to one car, forcing them to walk more. “It changed my perspective on my community and keeps me closer to my neighborhoods, and also keeps my wallet closer to my neighborhood.”
Other commissioners said they’re interested in the concept, but are concerned about how it would impact families. Commissioner Deborah Torrens said she has four children and walking long distances to the grocery store or a community pool isn’t practical.
“For parents trying to raise children, I don’t want to put more barriers in the way of that,” Torrens said, adding she would prefer the City Council adopt the alternative of eliminating the minimum parking requirements in planned growth areas. “A gradual approach is a good approach.”
Other commissioners are staunchly opposed to the proposals. Bonilla, who voted with Garcia to oppose the report, told San José Spotlight he believes staff have ignored the essential role cars play for working class families, especially in East San Jose. Last year, Bonilla proposed a pilot parking permit program for east side residents, citing their frustration with lack of parking spaces.
“These are communities that aren’t driving as a luxury, but because they have to get to work,” Bonilla said. “The fact of the matter is this: you’re trying to create audacious goals when we haven’t even dealt with current issues in the east side.”
Commissioner Pierluigi Oliverio told San José Spotlight if parking requirements have to be eliminated somewhere, it would make the most sense to cut them in neighborhoods already scheduled to grow in the city’s general plan.
“I felt if they eliminated all parking requirements for single-family home neighborhoods you’d lose community support for other planning,” he said, adding he’d like to see staff reach out to neighborhood associations to get more feedback on these ideas.
Numerous housing advocates spoke in favor of cutting the parking requirement during the Wednesday meeting. Most echoed similar points about the need to cut vehicle emissions and make it easier for developers to build more homes.
Alex Shoor, executive director of the housing advocacy organization Catalyze SV, told San José Spotlight abolishing the parking requirement is long overdue, noting it’s been unchanged since 1965.
“We continually see projects that are constrained and hamstrung by these arbitrary outdated mandates on how much car parking must be in place, and meanwhile we know that the cars we drive aren’t always good for our environment or our wallets,” Shoor said.
Editor’s Note: Perla Rodriguez, spouse of Rolando Bonilla, sits on San José Spotlight’s board of directors.