San Jose is considering scrapping a decades old policy meant to ensure there are enough places to park in the Bay Area’s largest city amid concerns about climate change and the high cost of housing.
For years, the city has required developers to set aside a minimum amount of on-site parking. But city officials say that’s driven up the cost of housing, increased suburban sprawl and made it more difficult for people to walk, bike or take public transportation to their destination.
It’s also led to an oversupply of parking throughout the city, with an estimated 2.68 spaces for each of the 720,000 registered vehicles in San Jose, according to a city memo.
“The issue with parking is it assumes that the only way to get to point A to B is by driving and that everybody is driving,” Michael Brilliot, deputy director of the city’s planning division, said at a recent planning commission meeting.
On Tuesday, the San Jose City Council is set to discuss whether to do away with the “mandatory parking minimums” for new housing and commercial developments entirely or scale back only in certain parts of the city.
The decision is not unique to San Jose as an increasing number of cities have been pulling back parking supply policies that cropped up in the 1960s. Over the last few years, San Francisco and San Diego eliminated their parking minimums. And in 2016, Oakland eliminated the requirement near transit hubs.
For Alex Shoor, the executive director of the community engagement nonprofit Catalyze SV, getting rid of parking minimums would give developers the flexibility to build more much-needed housing because of the high costs associated with including parking.
According to a 2020 report from the urban think tank SPUR, a parking garage can cost about $50,000 per space to build. That number balloons to $75,000 a space if the garage extends underground — money that the city could ask developers to devote to things like more green spaces alongside new developments or other community benefits, according to Shoor.
“You’re not going to be able to provide all those things if you have to spend all that money on unused, unnecessary parking spaces,” he added.
The change could also have implications for San Jose’s ambitious climate goals. Pollution from cars is currently the biggest roadblock in the city’s effort to reduce greenhouse gases, with a 2019 city report finding that vehicles account for 51 percent of all emissions in San Jose.
Building less parking, especially in areas with access to transit, could help put a dent in that number by prioritizing public transportation, argues Zoe Siegel, Greenbelt Alliance’s senior director of climate resilience.
“Until we really change the way that we think about driving, we’re not going to meet our climate goals,” she said.
Not everyone agrees that nixing the minimum citywide is a good idea for everyone.
At this week’s planning commission meeting, Chair Rolando Bonilla, who lives on the east side, said the “working-class economic perspective” was largely missing from the conversation. While some parts of the city are easily accessible by public transit, residents in East San Jose are largely dependent on their cars.
“Cars out here are not a luxury,” he said. “Cars out here are a necessity in order to allow for families to actually support themselves and others.”