Reduction Idea Falls Flat
By Anita Varghese
September 7 -- An idea by
Planning Commissioner Terry O’Day
to reduce parking requirements and
decouple parking from rental rates
in Santa Monica’s transit districts,
particularly Downtown, drew the ire
of other commissioners and residents
O’Day wanted the commission to send a possible
recommendation to the City Council, but commissioners
instead asked staff to examine how parking is
used Downtown – its availability and distribution
– when Land Use and Circulation Element
(LUCE) discussions are held.
Decoupling allows housing developers to build
fewer parking spaces than required by ordinance
in exchange for lowering the rent of residents
who forego a parking space.
The idea also includes allowing businesses and
retailers to operate with fewer parking spaces
than required for customers and employees.
“We are looking at parking as a key feature
of the city, one that affects the design and function
of the neighborhoods, in particular the cost of
housing and services,” said O’Day,
who is the commission’s vice chair.
“Anyone who has been in the city for any
period of time knows there has been a considerable
amount of new construction of housing and parking
in the Downtown area and the transit corridors.”
He said public benefits such as already built
but little-used parking structures and mass transit
are lost when business owners or housing developers
are required to establish a certain number of
parking spaces for their own buildings, which
adds to the cost of consumer goods or housing
“I was thinking about what the cost of
parking is and what it means when we build communities
for cars rather than for people,” O’Day
Chair Gwynne Pugh said the Commission needs more
information and solid data to fully understand
the wide-ranging scope of the issue.
People may not need lots of parking options if
they live in or near Downtown, but residents north
of Montana Avenue would obviously be driving to
their destinations and need parking spaces, Pugh
Commissioner Julia Lopez Dad reminded her colleagues
they would need to have a thorough discussion
with the Rent Control Board because, under a City
Charter amendment, parking spaces and other amenities
found in a housing complex affect rent control.
Commissioner Gleam Davis said she has never seen
reliable data to support O’Day’s claim
that more people would use mass transit if fewer
parking spaces are available.
Drivers would just go around the blocks several
times looking for an elusive parking space.
She said East Coast cities such as New York,
Boston and Washington, D.C. are able to limit
the availability of parking because they have
elaborate transportation networks that combine
subways, elevated trains and trolleys.
In Santa Monica, Davis said residents will still
own cars to go places such as Hollywood or Downtown
Los Angeles because they don’t want to spend
hours on a bus to get there.
Residents who spoke at the commission meeting
Wednesday believe most people will not want to
give up their parking spaces even if they don’t
use a car every day, because they would still
need a space to park their cars when not in use.
Speakers also agreed that mass transit in Santa
Monica is not adequately routed around major job
centers, and many residents prefer driving short
distances to retail and service locations, especially
women out on errands after dark.
“This is not only a bad idea, but a terrible
idea,” said Jeanne Dodson, chair of the
Wilshire Montana Neighborhood Coalition.
“The concept that renters don’t deserve
a place to park their cars is really upsetting
and insulting. Who on this Commission is willing
to give up their parking spaces?”
Dodson knows environmentalists who frequently
ride their bicycles or the Big Blue Bus, but they
still own cars because of the expansive layout
of Santa Monica and Southern California.
“We could likely get ourselves into a worse
parking situation than what we have now if we
don’t allow enough parking in residential
buildings,” warned Lopez Dad.
“There will often be shared living arrangements
among adults given the high rents in Santa Monica
for multi-bedroom units, with each adult possibly
having his or her own car.”
O’Day said his intention is not to take
away necessary residential parking
spaces, but an attempt to capitalize
on potential mass transit opportunities
near specific Downtown sites.