On Tuesday, Berkeley City Council voted to remove minimum off-street parking requirements for new housing developments — a move that is anticipated to promote green transportation alternatives and help lower rent prices throughout the city.
Developers were previously required to build one off-street parking space for every new residential unit produced, which according to city staff, stifled opportunities to build more housing, raised rents and contradicted Berkeley’s climate and public safety goals. By eliminating the requirement, the council hopes to remove barriers in building new housing and cut down on the number of cars in the city.
“The parking changes approved this week address two major issues facing our city: climate change and housing costs,” said Mayor Jesse Arreguín in an email. “Requiring less parking in new projects decreases the cost of construction and also addresses the reality that people are opting to use other forms of transportation and moving away from a ‘car centered’ society.”
Developers are said to pass high construction costs onto renters, contributing to high housing costs in Berkeley. Recent city analyses, however, have shown that around half of all residential parking spaces in Berkeley go unused, suggesting that mandatory minimums have unnecessarily driven up housing costs by producing parking spaces that stay empty.
In addition to removing parking minimums in most areas of the city, Tuesday’s unanimous vote placed a maximum on the number of off-street parking units allowed for new projects in transit-rich areas. It also provides for a transportation demand management program, which includes off-street bicycle parking requirements and monthly transit passes for renters.
“This will ensure that private developers do not oversupply parking and encourage more private auto dependence at a time when we need to be designing our cities for major mode shifts away from cars, and onto bikes, transit, and walking,” said City Councilmember Terry Taplin in an email.
The council referred another element of the proposal — removing eligibility for preferred parking permits from residents of new developments — to the city manager for further consideration before they will conduct a second reading of these changes in February.
During the meeting, City Councilmember Susan Wengraf voiced her concern that reduced construction costs might not necessarily translate into lower rents for tenants and suggested that the city should study the effect of the new rules over time.
“If you reduce the cost of construction you will increase profits for developers, and those savings will not necessarily be passed down to tenants,” Wengraf said. “They’re not charities, they have no obligation to pass their savings onto the tenants.”
Wengraf added that her primary concern was ensuring that areas of the Berkeley Hills with high wildfire risks were exempted from the changes, citing past instances of congested street parking blocking evacuation routes and egress for first responders.
Ultimately, Wengraf said she was happy with the proposal, calling it a “great step forward” for the city of Berkeley.