Thursday, October 6, 2016

Oakland council approves sweeping reductions to parking for new developments

Oakland council approves sweeping reductions to parking for new developments

PUBLISHED: September 20, 2016 at 11:22 pm | UPDATED: September 21, 2016 at 4:16 pm

OAKLAND — For the first time in over half a century, the City Council approved sharp reductions to its parking requirements, which advocates say will make it less expensive to develop housing, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve the quality of life for residents.

Oakland’s parking regulations were drafted in 1965, when cars were king, highways were slicing through neighborhoods and the city was widening streets at the expense of sidewalks and safety, said Livable City Executive Director Tom Radulovich, who also serves as a BART board director. In many ways, he said, the new parking regulations approved by the council Tuesday are a return to a time when cities were built for pedestrians and trolleys, not cars.
A car exits the underground parking of one of the Uptown Apartment buildings in downtown Oakland, Calif., on Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2016. (Dan Honda/Bay Area News Group)

“Even when Oakland was retrofitted for automobiles, it didn’t fundamentally change the city’s form, and that form is really pedestrian-oriented,” he said. “It’s all wired for walkability.”

Walkability is just one of the positive outcomes that the city is hoping to achieve with the new parking regulations, said Matt Nichols, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf’s director of transportation policy.

The changes reduce the amount of parking required for residential and commercial buildings throughout the city, with the largest reductions concentrated in areas closest to major transit hubs, such as downtown Oakland or at BART stations. In those areas, the new regulations reduce the required parking to zero and instead set a cap on the maximum amount of parking allowed.

The regulations provide incentives — and in some cases, requirements — for developers to offer car sharing spaces or AC Transit bus passes. The new rules also require property owners to charge tenants separately for parking, rather than including it with the rent, unless those tenants live in affordable housing.

The council approved amendments to the proposal that requires a review of the new regulations in two years and creates a method for the city to ensure that car sharing spaces or transit passes are maintained even when a new building changes owners.

Nichols said the changes do not mean developers won’t be building any new parking, but that they will instead be more thoughtful about how much parking is actually needed, rather than being bound to provide a certain amount of spaces mandated by the city. By separating the cost of parking from rent, Nichols said residents who don’t drive will no longer be forced to subsidize their neighbors who do.

At The Uptown, a 665-unit apartment complex in the heart of downtown Oakland, residents Brittany and Lawrence Smith said they ditched their car when they moved to San Francisco and haven’t looked back. At the time, their landlord in the city was asking for $300 per month for a parking space. It’s around $100 per month at The Uptown, they said, but at nearly $3,000 per month for rent, they said the extra fee wasn’t worth the added convenience of a car.

“We just walk everywhere,” Brittany Smith said. “Everything is so centrally located.”Lawrence and Brittany Fritz, walk from their apartment in the Uptown Apartments in downtown Oakland, Calif., on Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2016. The Fritz’s do not own a car and use other means to get around including BART and Lyft. (Dan Honda/Bay Area News Group)

That’s fine for the downtown areas, said Darlene Allegro, who lives in East Oakland, but not her neighborhood. Getting downtown can take hours without a car, because she doesn’t live near a BART station and taking the bus requires several transfers, she said.

Jennifer West, a program manager for TransForm, a transportation and housing advocacy nonprofit, said some older developments included parking spaces that aren’t always needed. TransForm in 2014 released the GreenTrip parking database, which, for the first time, created a report showing there was a 30 percent vacancy rate in parking lots at 80 apartment buildings across the Bay Area, representing $198 million in built parking that was going unused.

The added cost of parking, which the city estimates to be up to $80,000 per space, hits low-income residents the hardest, since they are less likely to own a car and more likely to take transit than other residents, West said.

Jeff Levin, the policy director for the East Bay Housing Organizations, said Oakland’s new parking regulations, while a step in the right direction, don’t go far enough to ensure that developers pass on the reduced costs of building fewer parking spaces to new residents.

“The price of housing is being generated by the demand side,” Levin said. “If (developers) are able to build it more cheaply, it doesn’t necessarily mean they will transfer that to the consumer. It may just benefit their bottom line.”Darlene Allegro, of Oakland, finds a metered parking space in downtown Oakland, Calif., on Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2016. (Dan Honda/Bay Area News Group)

Rather than give developers a “gift” in the form of reduced parking requirements, Levin said the city should require developers to use the savings to build some portion of moderate income housing, or housing for residents who make too much to qualify for federally subsidized housing, but not enough to actually afford market-rate rents.

Although city officials hinted that developers could use those cost savings to build more affordable or moderate-income housing, the new regulations do not require it.

“The city seems to be concerned that development is not feasible enough in Oakland, and they still need to bend over backwards to accommodate developers,” Levin said. “But we all know Oakland is a hot market.”

Oakland had the fourth-highest rental costs for available one-bedroom apartments in the nation as of April, according to the real estate website, which regularly compiles rental market reports.

City officials say Oakland’s affordable housing strategy is a multi-pronged approach that does not rely solely on parking reductions to induce affordable housing development. The City Council in April approved an affordable housing impact fee, which charges developers a one-time fee to build market-rate housing. Developers can build affordable or moderate-income housing in lieu of the fee, said Erica Derryck, a spokeswoman for Schaaf. The council also placed Measure KK on the ballot, which would allot $100 million to preserve affordable housing throughout the city.

Requiring moderate income housing in an amount equivalent to the reduced cost of building fewer parking spaces won’t help bring the cost of building housing down, Nichols said, and Derryck said the city would like to see housing built for all income levels.

“There’s not one silver bullet,” she said. “We have to employ a number of different strategies.”

Although not the most radical of changes, Radulovich said the relaxed parking requirements raise the bar for other cities to rethink their own auto-oriented policies. San Francisco and Berkeley have already passed similar reforms, he said, and other cities may be following suit soon.

“San Jose has aspirations to be more like San Francisco or Oakland,” Radulovich said. “Hopefully this will inspire them and smaller cities, as well.”

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