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The San Diego City Council voted 8-1 Monday to remove minimum parking requirements for new housing developments in an effort to alleviate the city’s dearth of affordable housing and cut down on vehicular carbon emissions.

Current city law mandates a minimum of at least one parking space per housing unit or bedroom. That minimum increases concurrently with the number of bedrooms in a unit.

The mandate can increase development costs by as much as $90,000 per parking space, which gets passed down to residents and keeps people with less means from finding housing, according to city officials.

The new parking requirements — if approved on second reading — will apply to developments in “transit priority areas,” which the San Diego Association of Governments defines as sitting within one half-mile of a current or planned transit stop. The city defines a planned transit stop as one funded and scheduled to be completed within five years.

Developers are now cleared to build housing developments in transit priority areas within and outside of downtown with zero parking spaces. For downtown housing developments, accompanying parking spaces will be capped at one per unit.

“I’m a big fan of letting the market decide,” said City Councilman Scott Sherman. “If a developer thinks they can build something with zero parking spaces and sell it to a certain clientele, then let them take that risk.”

Mayor Kevin Faulconer proposed the changes in November, one of a number of development reforms like getting rid of building height maximums in certain areas that are designed to spur affordable housing growth and higher density.

Faulconer and other city officials have cited other cities with little or no parking mandates near transit like Portland, Oregon, and Seattle, Washington, as evidence that it can work in a city of San Diego’s size.

“These parking reforms set the city on the right path for the future of mobility technologies that are emerging and for younger generations who increasingly want new cost-saving options,” Faulconer said.

The city will also mandate that developers include certain transit resources and amenities for new housing developments in transit priority areas. Tenants in the new developments will have access to things like bike storage areas, discounted and subsidized regional transit passes and on-site daycare facilities.

“Not every project going forward is going to have zero parking, it’ll just have a reduced number that will meet the (needs of) renters or the respective owners that (developers) wish to serve,” said City Councilman Chris Ward. “If they don’t, then that project is going to fail and I don’t think they’re in the business of failing.”

Opponents argued that eliminating parking spaces will actually lead to increased vehicle emissions due to residents circling an area looking for a place to park. The city’s public transit options are also not plentiful enough yet to justify getting rid of the requirements wholesale, they said.

“Not having parking will neither provide mass transit nor will it directly provide more housing,” said City Councilwoman Jennifer Campbell, who cast the lone dissenting vote against the proposal. “The removal of parking requirements should be one of the last steps in moving our city away from car-centric transit instead of one of the first. Our communities first require the investment in infrastructure that will help this transition.”

Several council members also expressed hesitation to vote in favor of the proposal due to concerns that new developments would include parking amenities compatible with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

New developments with at least one parking space would be required to include ADA-compatible parking options, but new developments with no parking spaces would not. City Attorney Mara Elliott’s office is expected to further analyze the issue prior to the ordinance’s second reading.

— City News Service