Aggressive new parking requirements in the Downtown Community Plan (DCP) cut the required number of parking spaces in new housing developments in half. In the coming years, newcomers moving into brand new apartments near the beach may not have a guaranteed parking space at their home.
Under proposed guidelines, developers will only construct a ratio of half a space for every studio and one bedroom apartment and one parking space for every apartment with two or more bedrooms. The buildings will have one guest space for every fifteen units.
“So you’re looking at 34 parking spaces for a 60 unit building which is impressive and I think really shows commitment to the investment in the transportation network and accessibility,” Santa Monica’s Strategic Planning and Transportation Manager Francie Stefan said at a recent Planning Commission meeting on the DCP.
Current requirements dictate one parking space for each studio and one bedroom apartment and 1.5 spaces for each apartment with two or more bedrooms, with a guest space for every five units. Under those standards, a 60 unit building would have at least 72 parking spaces.
On Wednesday, the Planning Commission will vote on the nearly 300 page document that outlines development standards, design guidelines and mobility goals in Downtown Santa Monica. The new standards will apply to all new construction between the I-10 Freeway and Wilshire Blvd and between Ocean Avenue and Lincoln Boulevard.
The plan’s principal author, Peter James, has described the plan as a housing document. New construction could nearly double the number of apartments downtown over the next twenty years. Right now, about 4,500 people live in 2,800 units and new construction could bring another 3,200, according to City estimates.
Longtime residents have questioned whether all those new Santa Monicans will worsen traffic gridlock downtown. Despite an aggressive mobility campaign by the City, many commuters stubbornly remain behind the wheel of their own cars. Big Blue Bus ridership is down twelve percent. In a letter to the City, Santa Monica Coalition for a Livable City said current congestion makes downtown inaccessible to residents.
To Stefan, curbing the accessibility of private parking spaces will help the City boost use of public transportation. The plan envisions future residents who need a car will be able to lease surplus parking spaces already available in nearby office buildings.
“I think parking pricing and management is still the number one way we can influence people to make rational choices about transportation because right now what we give away free and abundantly, is parking,” Stefan said.
The strict requirements leave no wiggle room for developers, who so far have mixed feelings on the decreased ratio. While building fewer spaces saves money on construction costs, land use attorney Dave Rand said lenders worry it makes new apartments less attractive to potential renters.
“It’s forward thinking for sure,” Rand said. “It’s no doubt where we’re going to be at some point but the question is: is it too much too soon and will it chill housing in the immediate term?”
Rand’s firm Armbruster, Goldsmith and Delvac, LLP lobbies for several prominent developers in Santa Monica, including NMS Properties, WNMS Communities and Century West Partners.
“I guarantee you, when the market is ready for reduced parking standards, they will do it voluntarily and they will not need to be pressured because it will save them money,” Rand said. “It is in their self interest to do it.”
At their last public meeting, Planning Commissioners appeared to support the new requirements. Commissioner Richard McKinnon says the reduced requirements put Santa Monica in step with other major cities as more places restrict parking to reduce gridlock.
“I think we’ve hit peak parking around the world and our job tonight is to try to manage this transition forward,” McKinnon said, adding the City should continue to monitor occupancy rates at public and private garages to gauge progress.
After the Planning Commission votes on the DCP, it moves to the City Council for final approval this summer.
Downtown parking by the numbers:
Public Garage Spaces: 6,300
Street Parking: 980
Private Spaces: 5,200
Private available to public: 3,800