San Jose councilmembers want to cut parking requirements

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San Jose officials are green lighting a plan to reduce parking in new developments, but some are concerned about how it’ll impact residents.

San Jose councilmembers voted unanimously Tuesday to create a policy to eliminate the city’s minimum parking requirements for new developments. The policy would incentivize alternative modes of transportation, like biking and public transit. The City Council will consider approving the changes before the end of the year.

Councilmembers lauded the proposed policy as a useful step toward meeting San Jose’s goal of becoming a carbon-neutral city by 2030. But several expressed uncertainty about how the policy will be executed and what kind of effect eliminating parking requirements will have on a car-centric city like San Jose.

“I’m supporting eliminating the minimums, but there’s concern from residents that I talked to… there’s some skepticism on changing behavior through (traffic demand management),” Vice Mayor Chappie Jones said, referring to a city program that reduces reliance on driving, such as subsidizing public transit or making streets safer for biking.

The city has been exploring the idea of eliminating a decades-old minimum parking requirement, which mandates developers include a certain number of parking spaces for vehicles on new projects. San Jose requires 1.7 parking spaces for every two-bedroom home in multi-dwelling residential buildings, and retail stores often must provide one parking space per 200 square feet dedicated to sales. According to city memos, constructing a single parking space in San Jose costs between $30,000 to $100,000 depending on location.

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Councilmember and mayoral candidate Matt Mahan said he’s worried about neighborhoods already impacted by parking shortages that force residents to park several blocks from their homes. He’s concerned this policy could exacerbate the problem. He appeared skeptical about people abandoning cars for other forms of transportation.

“I just think we all need to acknowledge there’s a lot of uncertainty here,” Mahan said. He suggested an expansion of the city’s residential parking permit program. “Maybe (these solutions) aren’t fun or easy to implement, but they may be important for protecting the quality of life for folks who frankly are kind of living on the edge in our city.”

Councilmember David Cohen said he’s been frustrated with developers who aren’t being more creative with how they use and share existing parking spaces. He asked whether the city would provide more residential parking permits in neighborhoods that saw parking shortages following the construction of new buildings.

“We’re quite loathe to expand the (parking permit) program,” said Ramses Madou, division manager of planning, policy and sustainability in San Jose’s Department of Transportation. “It is an expensive program that is well under-resourced and not shown to be very successful at managing parking, and it creates some real equity issues within neighborhoods.”

Mayor Sam Liccardo said the concept of the policy is on the right track, but city officials need to be upfront about the transportation solutions they present to developers. He said this is especially important in parts of the city like District 1 where heavy development is occurring adjacent to single-family neighborhoods, leaving some residents anxious about the impact to their community.

“I just want us to be as real as we can be with these options so when we’re standing in front of the 200 angry residents, we can say something that is credible to all of us,” he said.

Numerous residents and housing and climate advocates spoke in favor of the proposed policy.

“We see this as a common-sense response to a whole range of challenges we’re facing,” said Mathew Reed, director of policy at SV@Home, noting the construction costs for building new homes is a major problem in San Jose, which this policy would help address.

District 1 resident Roma Dawson said it’s a daily challenge to find parking in her neighborhood—but urged councilmembers to adopt the policy and invest in alternative transportation options.

“We all have to do everything we can to save the planet,” she said.

A resident who only identified herself as Ruth asked councilmembers to not cut parking requirements.

“The objective now is to eliminate the standards in single-family neighborhoods to increase density, congestion and discomfort for a lifestyle that no longer fits the agenda of the city administration and staff,” she said.

Contact Eli Wolfe at [email protected] or @EliWolfe4 on Twitter.

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