To build more housing downtown, LA wants to kill the car

Planning Commission wants to increase downtown housing, partly by eliminating parking

Eric Garcetti’s administration wants to encourage downtown development by axing parking requirements.
Eric Garcetti’s administration wants to encourage downtown development by axing parking requirements.

Los Angeles is synonymous with cars, but the city’s Planning Commission wants to get rid of required parking spaces for new downtown housing.

It could be a boon to developers.

“Planning is recommending the elimination of parking requirements for new development,” reads an amended city of Los Angeles downtown development plan, adding the idea is “part of a package of new policies” to “accelerate housing construction and reduce the number of cars on the road.”

The document, unveiled Thursday, also proposes to “expand by nearly twofold” the amount of downtown space in which new housing construction is permitted.

According to a planning commission report from July, at most 30 percent of the downtown is eligible for residential development, and there are currently 34,000 existing housing units in the city’s downtown.

The planning commission document is, again, just a proposal. The City Council would not consider the measure until next year.

Still, it is a perhaps historic policy shift for L.A., which has had residential parking requirements on the books since 1934. These laws include requiring two onsite parking spaces for each one-family unit dwelling, and at least two onsite spaces in apartments with three or more bedrooms.

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L.A. is emulating other West Coast cities like San Francisco and Portland that have begun to ease strictures on downtown parking requirements, said Michael Manville, an urban planning professor at UCLA.

Manville said that wiping out parking requirements could improve developers’ business – eventually.

“If you are a lender you look around LA, and all the residentials builds have a lot of parking,” Manville said. “As a conservative lender – and most institutional lenders are conservative – you might not loan on something that’s not the market standard.”

The key, Manville said, would be a well-capitalized developer with non-institutional funding who builds housing units without parking, and has success, spurring other such developments.

Long-term, though, eliminating parking requirements could significantly help lower the cost of development. “Parking is a money pit,” Manville said, because developers are not “selling the parking, their selling for unit” but must pay to construct both.

City policy that incentivizes residential development in the downtown makes a lot of sense, according to JLL’s Carl Muhlstein. “Downtown is a great location for residential because it has most price ranges and the infrastructure and amenities,” he said.

However, the veteran broker said that state — and not city — regulations are the biggest hindrance to development. “It’s the CEQA [California Environmental Quality Act] that drags projects,” Muhlstein said.