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Santa Monica Officials to Curb Traffic with Less Parking

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark
By Jason Islas
Staff Writer

February 4, 2013 -- City officials told the Planning Commission Wednesday that they want to try to curb Santa Monica's traffic woes by reducing parking requirements for new developments throughout the bayside city.

The proposed changes to the zoning ordinance would require developers to build less parking in the City's “transit oriented districts,” which include major intersections along Lincoln, Wilshire and Santa Monica boulevards, as well as Montana Avenue.

“We need to really get people walking and biking and taking transit,” said Deputy Director of Special Projects Jory Phillips, referring to the goals stated in Santa Monica's Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE).

“The more you build (parking), essentially it encourages people to drive,” he said.

According to a report by Nelson/Nygaard Consulting Associates, “While an adequate supply of parking is critical to Santa Monica’s economy and quality of life, too much parking can be as bad as too little.”

The report also maintains that “the City’s congestion management efforts are futile if motorists are paid to drive through parking subsidies.”

Getting people out of their cars is a major component of Santa Monica's Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE), which was adopted in 2010 and serves as a blueprint for future development.

Wednesday's discussion centered on proposed updates to Santa Monica's zoning ordinance, which would set development standards throughout the 96 percent of the city not governed by the Downtown Specific Plan or the Bergamot Area Plan.

This plan didn't sit well with a number of residents who spoke at Wednesday's meeting, claiming that parking was already a scarce resource and more development would require more parking.

A study conducted by Gibson Transportation Consultants, Inc. in 2012 showed that on and off-street parking never exceeded 77 percent occupancy at peak hours.

Some speakers claimed that requiring developers to provide fewer parking spaces gave them too big a break, since parking can cost between $18,000 and $75,000 per space, according to some estimates.

Those costs, City staff said, get passed on to residents and customers.

Phillips said that if developers are spending less on parking, the money they save can be spent on building better buildings that can include bike facilities and subsidize bus passes for employees, among other measures meant to reduce car traffic.

Phillips also noted that the plan was not about stopping the development of parking but rather about better managing the resources that are currently available.

Some of the suggestions include more shared parking and unbundling parking from developments.

Still, the number of residents who spoke against the proposed changes showed Phillips that staff will have to do more outreach to make the message clearer.

He emphasized that Wednesday's discussion was preliminary and that the Planning Commission would hear the proposed updates again in May before the plan goes before the Council.

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