City of Berkeley may no longer require parking in new buildings

Brandon Yung/Staff

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The City of Berkeley may soon forgo requiring parking spaces in new residential construction, pivoting residents away from driving in favor of more sustainable forms of transit.

On Wednesday, the city’s Planning Commission moved to direct city staff to draft ordinance language that would remove off-street minimum parking space requirements essentially any parking not on the curb. Under the change, a new building would not need to include any new parking. The directive was also accompanied by an initiative that would require developers to provide amenities for alternative modes of transportation.

The directive, which aims to reduce excess parking, is seen as part of the city’s larger efforts to encourage alternative transportation and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Availability of parking, commissioners said, is a major factor in whether or not people decide to drive.

“Parking requirements are one of the few things the city dictates to a developer,” said Nathan Landau, a transportation planner for AC Transit. “As your analysis dictated, you end up with a lot of parking space.”

The nascent proposal will also be coupled with a set of mandates for new, large buildings to require AC Transit passes and bicycle storage, which is known as transportation demand management, or TDM. In addition, any car parking would be “unbundled” from the building’s units. In other words, a parking space would not be included in the rent.

The Planning Commission’s vision was more ambitious than what city staff initially requested. While all discussion during Wednesday’s meeting initially only concerned buildings with 10 or more units, every commissioner agreed to remove minimum parking requirements across the city. Yet to be studied, the Planning Commission will formulate maximum caps on parking instead.

“We are making a statement about the city’s values and priorities,” said Commissioner Matthew Lewis. “As far as what the city’s goal should be, we should be aiming to drive up parking utilization much higher.”

Still months away from reaching City Council, such policy proposals will return to the Planning Commission during its Feb. 5 public input meeting.

The October survey conducted by the city found that available off-street spots were on average 54% occupied and that “there still remains sufficient on-street parking to meet residents’ current needs.” The survey of 20 large buildings across the city also found that Berkeley has much lower rates of parking utilization than cities that have conducted similar studies, like Washington D.C. and Chicago. The average parking space-to-unit ratio was found to be 0.82.

At a baseline, policy coming out of the Planning Commission could reduce available parking to better meet actual rates of use. On the other end, such a policy may weigh potential behavioral change. Mayor Jesse Arreguín, whose Citywide Green Development Requirements referral partially catalyzed the Planning Commission’s current work, sees future policy coming out of the Planning Commission as accomplishing both.

Arreguín said such future policy would resemble parking and transportation requirements already in place Downtown, which already has a TDM program.

“We want to encourage biking and walking and discourage vehicle usage. So that was also folded into their work,” Arreguín said. “We have parking standards which are outdated, and moreover, it’s about changing behavior. It’s about getting people to get out of their cars. If you pair that with TDM we’re encouraging (alternative modes of) transit.”

While removing parking minimums has now become common practice in “progressive” cities, according to Arreguín, a potentially contentious point could be the maximums for parking spaces in the city. The city staff report presented two possible scenarios for maximums: either set them at the current minimums or at 0.5 parking spaces per unit, which would be in line with the average rates of Department of Motor Vehicles registrations found by the study.

Discussion for parking maximums was set for an unspecified future date.

Reducing required parking may lower the cost of construction for new buildings, which can cost tens of thousands of dollars translated into increased costs for renters, according to Councilmember Lori Droste, whose 2015 Green Affordable Housing Package referral also spurred the Planning Commission’s work.

“Parking has a huge impact on affordability and we’re designing buildings for the future and we know (the) automobile is not the transportation choice in the future,” Droste said. “Another thing that people misunderstand is that by getting rid of parking requirements it’s not necessarily slashing parking. We aren’t just going to have these outdated requirements.”

Brandon Yung is the lead city government reporter. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @brandonyung1.