By Phillip H. Babich and Sara M. Eddy

Less parking and more housing, or just less parking?

Figuring out parking configurations for development projects in California will get a little easier for developers starting January 1, 2023. The state legislature has adopted Assembly Bill 2097 (AB 2097), and Governor Gavin Newsom (D) signed it into law on September 22, 2022.

AB 2097 prohibits public agencies from imposing or enforcing minimum automobile parking requirements for residential, commercial, or other development projects if the project is one-half mile walking distance of a “high-quality transit corridor” or a “major transit stop.” A high-quality transit corridor is a corridor with fixed-route bus service with service intervals no longer than 15 minutes during peak commute hours. A major transit stop is a site containing an existing rail or bus rapid transit station, a ferry terminal served by bus or rail, or the intersection of two or more major bus routes with a frequency of 15 minutes or less during peak commute periods.

That means a developer with a qualifying project can devote more real estate to floor space and units, and less to parking spaces. AB 2097 may help reduce housing costs and greenhouse gas emissions while increasing the number of available housing units, according to the bill’s legislative findings.  

There are a number of exceptions to the rule. For example, a public agency may require minimum parking for a project, if doing so is necessary to avoid a substantial negative impact on the city or county’s ability to meet regional housing needs for the low-income, disabled or elderly, or on existing parking within one-half mile of the proposed project.

In addition, AB 2097 does not apply if it would conflict with a public agency’s contract executed before January 1, 2023, provided that any commercial parking required under that contract is shared with the public. The bill also excludes projects where any portion is designated for use as a hotel, motel, bed and breakfast inn, or other transient lodging. However, projects with a portion designated for use as a residential hotel containing six or more guestrooms used as a primary residence mostly by transient guests do fall under AB 2097.

Other exemptions include housing projects that dedicate a minimum of 20 percent of their housing units to low- or moderate-income households or students, the elderly, or persons with disabilities, and projects containing fewer than 20 units or those subject to parking reductions based on other laws are also exempt.

Public agencies can still enforce existing requirements for new multifamily residential or nonresidential developments within one-half mile of public transit to provide parking spaces with electric vehicle supply equipment or parking spaces that are accessible to persons with disabilities.

According to the California Daily News, some of the bill’s opponents say that AB 2097 could weaken local efforts already underway to increase affordable housing production near transit centers. One possible scenario is that a local agency may offer reductions in parking requirements if the developer adds affordable housing units to its project. With AB 2097, the developer does not need the local incentives; it can rely on AB 2097 for parking reductions and not add affordable units. The state, according to the governor’s signing message, will be watching for “earnestly unintended consequences.” The Department of Housing and Community Development will closely monitor the effects of AB 2097, which, according to the Daily News, is the first bill of its kind in the United States.