In an effort to decrease the skyrocketing development costs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Assembly Bill 2097 (AB 2097) aims to eliminate a key obstacle for new developments: parking. More specifically, starting on January 1, 2023, this law prohibits public agencies from imposing minimum automobile parking requirements for residential, commercial and other development projects if the project is located within a 1/2-mile of a “High-Quality Transit Corridor”[1] or a “Major Transit Stop.”[2] 

Prior to the enactment of AB 2097, cities and counties retained the authority to impose a minimum number of parking spaces required for new developments. This condition is typically the result of a calculation found in the city or county’s zoning code, and is usually determined based on the use or type of project being developed, regardless of project specifics. Oftentimes, the use of a universal calculation results in excess parking. For example, a new restaurant may be required to provide 4 parking spaces for every 100 square feet of use even if the restaurant concept does not necessitate a large number of parking spaces or if the restaurant is in a pedestrian- or transit-friendly location. While California remains in the throes of a housing crisis, some areas within the state boast an oversupply of parking spaces. For example, Los Angeles County has 18.6 million parking spaces, which equates to almost 2 parking spaces for every 1 resident.[3] This statistic is similar in the Bay Area where there are 1.9 parking spaces for every 1 resident.[4]

Moreover, not only can a static calculation result in unnecessary parking (and blacktop), it can add untenable costs to new developments. For example, new residential developments are typically required to provide 1 to 2 parking spaces per unit. The requirement results in an additional cost of approximately $36,000 per unit.[5] As the cost to develop residential projects is at an all-time high,[6] builders are welcoming all efforts to reduce the cost and eliminate unnecessary development “standards.”

To avoid a complete free-for-all, under AB 2097, public agencies will still retain the ability to impose a minimum parking requirement, if, within 30 days of the receipt of a completed application, the public agency makes a written finding that not imposing a minimum automobile parking requirement would have a substantial negative impact. However, there are a number of exceptions to this caveat that wholly restrict public agencies from imposing a minimum parking condition. These exceptions include certain affordable housing projects or small residential housing projects. 

For parking spaces that are voluntarily included in proposed project designs, public agencies may still require: (i) spaces for car share vehicles; (ii) parking spaces to be shared with the public; or (iii) for the project to charge for parking. Nothing in AB 2097 shall reduce or eliminate the requirement that new developments provide for the installation of electric vehicle supply equipment (i.e., EV-charging stations) or to provide parking spaces accessible to persons with disabilities.

AB 2097 is intended to give developers more flexibility and lower the costs associated with development, which will – hopefully – result in an influx of housing and the redevelopment of vacant buildings where it may not have been previously feasible to provide parking in a quantity necessary to meet a jurisdiction’s minimum requirements. By reducing the oversupply of parking, there is the expectation that the use of mass transit will increase, thereby reducing traffic, greenhouse emissions and air pollution. 

Critics of AB 2097 are concerned that the elimination of parking requirements could actually weaken local efforts to provide more affordable housing as many public agencies offer reductions in parking requirements to incentivize developers to add on-site affordable housing units to the project.[7] There is also concern that, despite the decrease in availability, many residents will continue to own vehicles, which – ironically – will lead to increase parking demand and congestion.

Although there is a lot of speculation of AB 2097, many are hopeful that it is a step in the right direction when it comes to addressing California’s housing crisis. As Governor Gavin Newsom stated when he signed the bill: “Reducing housing costs for everyday Californians and eliminating emissions from cars: That’s what we call a win-win.”

FOOTNOTES

[1] “High-Quality Transit Corridor” means a corridor with a fixed-route bus service with service intervals no longer than fifteen minutes during peak commute hours.

[2] “Major Transit Stop” means a site containing an existing rail or bus rapid transit station, a ferry terminal served by bus or rail, or the intersection of two or more major bus routes with a frequency of fifteen minutes or less during peak commute periods.

[3] Aguiar-Curry, Cecilia. Assembly Committee on Local Government – AB 2097 (Friedman) – As Introduced February 14, 2022. (April 20, 2022. )

[4] Inventorying San Francisco Bay Area Parking Spaces: Technical Report Describing Objectives, Methods, and Results. Mineta Transportation Institute – San Jose State University. (February 2022.)

[5] Some estimates place the aveage cost of one residential unit at $1,000,000 in development costs. (The Costs of Affordable Housing Production: Insights from California’s 9% Low-Income Housing Tax Credit Program. Terner Center for Housing Innovation – UC Berkley. A Terner Center Report [March 2020].)

[6] Dillon, Liam and Posten, Ben. Affordable Housing in California Now Routinely Tops $1 Million per Apartment to Build. Los Angeles Times. (June 2, 2022.)

[7] California Daily News.