Parking Reform Mandates for Santa Cruz County


Our state is focused and acting on providing more housing for our citizens. There are a lot of mandates and laws that are currently prompting a significant increase in housing development in the county. 

I wrote about the Regional Housing Need Determination in February that requires 12,979 additional housing units in Santa Cruz County from 2023 – 2030. That’s 4.4 additional housing units / day for 8 years as mandated by the state. There are over 30 significant projects (over 25 units) proposed and/or in development in Santa Cruz County. 

You might wonder how are we going build 12,979 additional housing units in our county? It’s a good question. There are several bottlenecks to increased housing density, including zoning restrictions as likely one of the most significant ones. And within zoning, parking reform is a hot topic across the country. So, the state has addressed this with AB2097. 

This is a Game Changer: The elimination of Minimum Parking Requirements could be the single most impactful zoning regulatory reform of the 21st century. There is a lot of momentum and research supporting and establishing the belief that repealing costly parking mandates is critical to building sustainable cities with abundant and affordable housing.  California is moving toward reducing car dependency, and the removal of required parking requirements is proof. Costly parking mandates over the last century have contributed to urban sprawl, lack of abundant and affordable housing, car dependency, and climate change. Though parking reform in cities across the country is gaining momentum and as you might expect, California is leading the way. And it’s likely going to affect your neighborhood and maybe even your property values. 

On September 22, 2022,  Governor Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill (AB) 2097, which added Government Code Section (§) 65863.2. AB 2097 prohibits a public agency from imposing or enforcing any minimum automobile parking requirement on any residential, commercial, or other development project that is within one-half mile of a Major Transit Stop, with minor exceptions. A development project, for purposes of this bill, includes any project requiring a discretionary entitlement or building permit to allow the construction, reconstruction, alteration, addition, or change of use of a structure or land.

The scope of reform is transit oriented: Reform based on transit stations and bus lines. The affected land use is residential, commercial or any other development project. 

Does this type of deregulation work? What does history of parking deregulation teach us? Let’s look at Buffalo, NY in 2017.  Buffalo ended parking requirements. What did developers do next?  Here are key insights from the mixed-use development response:

  1. Builders shared parking rather than build parking. They relied on shared parking networks, which enabled them to provide parking access without dedicating excess space to vehicle storage
  2. Even new parking became shared parking: The projects entered into shared parking arrangements with nearby mixed-use projects. 
  3. Transit-oriented development got a boost: several mixed-use projects along the main street transit corridor created hundreds of units of student housing that were not possible during the period with parking regulations. 
  4. Adaptive reuse projects became more viable. Rehabilitation of older structures into new mixed-use complexes was now possible with the removal of the parking requirements. 
  5. Simply put, by removing parking requirements, Buffalo unlocked the creation of more than 1,000 new homes and a vibrant array of transit-accessible businesses and restaurants — many of which might never have existed given the high cost of creating new parking.
  6. In summary: In the absence of [minimum parking requirements], off-street parking lots can transform into parks, shops, workplaces, and residences. Conversion of excess off-street parking spaces to such “higher uses” benefits not only municipalities such as Buffalo looking to introduce a denser (and more walkable) urban form but also highly urbanized areas where developable land is limited.

Our focus is helping you to understand the dynamics of the market and how they affect your property value and the quality of your life in Santa Cruz. If this inspires you, let’s talk. 

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