A charging station at a city-owned parking garage in Downtown San Jose. Photo by Jana Kadah.
September 29, 2022

San Jose Spotlight: Following San Jose, state tosses parking requirements


San Jose and California are in a race to leave the 1960s in the past, at least when it comes to redevelopment and parking.

Silicon Valley housing advocates and experts are lauding the approval of a new state law that will do away with minimum parking requirements for new developments within a half-mile of major public transit lines. Gov. Gavin Newsom signed AB 2097 into law last week that will make it cheaper to build new housing projects. The law, effective in January, will also align with the city’s future growth plans.

The San Jose City Council voted unanimously in June to craft a policy to eliminate parking minimums for new development citywide. The council is expected to vote on the plan by late November or early December.

“Parking is a well-known constraint on new housing, it makes housing more expensive and sometimes outright impossible to build,” Cory Wolbach, a community engagement specialist with affordable housing advocacy organization Silicon Valley at Home, told San José Spotlight. “We think this will make it much easier to create new homes, including affordable homes, throughout Silicon Valley and that’s an important piece of the puzzle in solving the housing crisis.”

City officials said depending on the type of parking, each space can cost developers about $35,000 to nearly $100,000 to build, contributing to the skyrocketing cost of construction in the Bay Area.

Ed Schreiner, a supervising planner with San Jose, said the state bill will likely apply to much of the city, since many areas are served by frequently running bus lines during commute hours. Outlying suburban areas, such as Evergreen and Almaden Valley, wouldn’t be covered under the bill, but will be under the city’s broader plans.

Schreiner said the city’s current parking requirements for development haven’t changed much since 1965, when San Jose was still dominated by suburban car culture.

According to a February report by the Mineta Transportation Institute at San Jose State University, there are about 15 million parking spaces in the nine-county Bay Area—nearly two spaces per person and enough spaces to encircle the globe more than twice.

“We’re just removing this kind of artificial barrier set by the government that may or may not really have any grounding in reality, and basically let market forces determine how much parking is needed,” Schreiner told San José Spotlight.

Schreiner and other experts said the city likely won’t see a dramatic shift in the diversity or amount of development being built as a result of these rule changes, but it will offer much greater flexibility to builders and buyers or renters.

Kelly Snider, a professor of practice in urban and regional planning at San Jose State, said not everyone has a car, and it’s unfair to force them to pay the added cost for housing that has parking built into it.

“If you are looking for a home in San Jose, you will now have a market where you can decide whether or not you want to pay for parking, and we haven’t had that,” Snider told San José Spotlight.

Some critics of the bill have raised concerns the change could ultimately reduce affordable housing production by eliminating one of the key carrots of the state’s density bonus program. Some cities use that state law to allow developers to build more densely and reduce parking spaces, among other concessions, in exchange for a higher percentage of affordable homes.

In San Diego, where the city eliminated parking requirements near transit in 2019, a study showed the city set a record for homes built using the density bonus laws, increasing the overall numbers of affordable homes. Newsom said the state will be watching closely for any “unintended” impacts to affordable housing after the state law takes effect.

Wolbach said big cities like San Diego changing its local parking minimum laws and San Jose planning to take its policies a step further likely bolstered the case for the bill at the state level.

“We think from an affordability and from a sustainability and safety standpoint, shifting our urban design away from excess parking and car-centrism is important. This bill helps nudge us further in that direction,” he said.

Snider said the bill adds to a growing stack of state laws passed over the last six years that aim at making it easier and cheaper to get housing produced. This is key for people who want to live in walkable urban communities.

“We’re just finally loosening up the shoelaces a little bit more every year,” she said. “We’ve been under the tyranny of these rich, wealthy, suburban strictures for two generations now.”

Contact Joseph Geha at joseph@sanjosespotlight.com or @josephgeha16 on Twitter.