California has long been associated with the automobile. For example, LA has been one of the most car-centric cities in the USA. This love of cars has led to well-known problems such as smog, congestion, and urban sprawl. Bill AB No. 2097 addresses problem that is connected to car-centric city design: housing costs. As Brian Hanlon, CEO of the housing advocacy group YMBY, said: “California has a severe housing shortage, not a parking shortage.” The bill aims to tip the land use scale toward housing rather than parking spaces.
Laura Friedman, who authored the bill, pointed out that the bill “does not prohibit property owners from building on-site parking.” The opposite is the case. It prohibits local authorities from mandating property owners to actively build a minimum number of parking spaces, at least when those property owners are within a half-mile of good public transit. The idea, she goes on, is that “it would give them [the property owners] the flexibility to decide on their own how much on-site parking to provide”. By minimizing the use of expensive land for vehicles and instead build more housing, the aim is to address housing shortages and costs.
Not everyone is pleased, however. For example, Newport Beach commented: “We believe cities, not the State, are best suited to determine the parking needs of development projects in their jurisdiction.”
There are many contributing factors to housing shortages and high housing costs, and limited space due to transport infrastructure is one. For a state built on the automobile like California it is no surprise that significant resources, both in material and land, has gone to infrastructure for vehicles. Because of the long-term nature of infrastructure, changing it is slow. That also means that the impact of this law is likely to take many years.
It seems to me that the spirit of the law is in the right direction. The bill seeks to deemphasize infrastructure planning for vehicles and prioritize housing instead. That is a good thing! Despite these good intentions I wonder how much this bill, at least all on its own, can affect housing costs and supply in California. The area covered by the bill is within a half-mile radius around a ‘major transit stop’. This refers to “a major transit stop as defined in Section 21155 of the Public Resources Code”, which in turn points to Section 21064.3 where it is defined as a site with the following features:
The bill prohibits local authorities requiring properties within half a mile of such a location from requiring a minimum number of parking spaces. How many locations are there like this and what would impact be if housing within those areas was, say, doubled? California’s population is just shy of 40 million. Would the change in restriction affect the housing costs and supply at a scale that would impact the majority of people? Time will tell, and hopefully this is just the first step.
Written by Joshua Bronson,
RISE Mobility & Systems