Parking Reform San Jose
Daniela Ades

Daniela Ades

San José Approves Parking And Mobility Ordinance

Updated on December 7, 2022. Originally published on June 15, 2022.

Last Tuesday (December 6), San José’s City Council unanimously approved their Parking and Transportation Demand Management Standards Ordinance, representing a huge win for more sustainable mobility, affordable housing, and GHG emissions reduction in our region!

Over three years in the making, this decision comes on the heels of the State passing AB2097 which will eliminate parking minimums along transit corridors in cities across California. However, this bill does not come with any Transportation Demand Management (TDM) strategies. Implementing parking minimums without accompanying TDM strategies would reduce cities’ leverage to get anything out of the development beyond parking.

In June, San José approved a memo to direct staff to draft this ordinance while recommending a few adjustments. The final ordinance removes the parking minimum from the parking chapter (20.90) of the Zoning Ordinance and adds a Transportation Demand Management section. This will allow a developer, business, or homeowner to determine the parking needs of their site based on their specific conditions, rather than based on an arbitrary minimum number of spaces determined by the City. With this ordinance approved, this has now become the law in San José.

We applaud Council members and staff who made this climate-smart decision.

This win was made possible by hundreds of advocates, who sent emails to San José’s Planning Commission and City Council, urging them to support this new policy. We also want to thank our coalition of partners who rallied around this initiative, including the Housing Action CoalitionFriends of CaltrainSPURTransForm CASave the Bay, Catalyze SVSV@Home, South Bay Yimby, NRDC​, and Urban Environmentalists.

Ordinance Revision

On June 14, 2022, the San José City Council approved a memo to direct staff to draft the ordinance while recommending adjustments, such as: 

  • Shared parking (Mahan) -The Council directed that the City consider expanding residents’ access to privately-owned parking, especially after-hours access to commercial parking spaces. As part of the proposed ordinance, the City incentivizes this type of shared parking, with TDM point credit provided for sharing parking among users in precisely this way. Tapping into existing private lots will require additional flexibility, creativity, and effort, in crafting and promoting agreements that enable specific shared-use parking arrangements. A project would receive as many as two TDM points by sharing parking between multiple uses of the project, sharing parking with an adjacent property, and/or sharing parking with the general public.
  • Modernized payment – The City Council requested modernized payment solutions for curbside parking, including technologies that enable variable demand-based pricing. City parking meters already allow payment by credit card, contactless payment, and/or coins, and you can easily add payment remotely. The City is also pursuing regional funding to upgrade parking technology further, precisely to enable variable, demand-based parking pricing.
  • Overcrowding – The City Council directed that staff to analyze how the proposed Parking and TDM ordinance update would impact currently overcrowded neighborhoods. In Summer 2022, City staff discussed this policy update with five neighborhoods with a high share of households in renter-occupied units living in crowded housing conditions—Santee, Seven Trees, Alma, Tropicana-Lanai, and West Evergreen neighborhoods.
    • The questions raised by these neighborhoods can be categorized into two:
      •  Since this policy update applies to only new development projects and not to existing neighborhoods, would this policy bring significant growth to their neighborhoods and exacerbate the current overcrowding and on-street parking problems? 
      • Would this policy update address spillover parking from projects near transit stations with low parking ratios? 

Overcrowding is a direct result of a lack of housing availability and affordability. While the Parking and TDM ordinance update is not intended to provide direct solutions for the issues related to overcrowding, the policy update aims to help address the issues with transportation solutions. The TDM menu includes a measure that incentivizes projects to increase the proportion of affordable housing units above and beyond the Inclusionary Housing Ordinance requirements. In addition, the TDM menu includes measures about improving the street conditions for pedestrians, cyclists, and transit riders in the neighborhood where the project would be located, as well as providing transit passes and bike-share subsidies to new tenants and/or low-income families in the neighborhood. This policy update would help address concerns of potential spillover parking by improving the viability, safety, and affordability of transportation options, especially for short-distance trips that can be made by transit, bike, or on foot

Why It’s Important

The policy that has been approved includes eliminating parking requirements in most areas of the city, as well as new transportation demand management (TDM) requirements for new development. This, of course, doesn’t mean eliminating parking. It means these changes have the potential to make San José:

  • More affordable: The requirement for building a minimum amount of parking spaces requires land, building materials, and equipment which increases the price of housing construction. The reduced development costs could make housing more affordable to residents.
  • More sustainable: By allowing the community to determine how much parking is appropriate, you can prevent the oversupply of parking and promote a better quality urban environment. This policy reform can reduce reliance on cars and mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and pollution, while also incentivizing more sustainable modes and options of mobility.
  • More equitable: Minimum parking requirements mean that even car-free households (which are overwhelmingly concentrated in the lower-income groups; about 9% of households do not own cars in San José) end up paying for parking they don’t use. The Transportation Demand Management (TDM) policies are a critical way to increase access to transportation and reduce reliance on cars, allowing people to have more affordable transportation options. When the TDM package includes a VTA SmartPass, it can save a two-person household nearly $2,000 per year while supporting VTA’s financial sustainability and ridership.

San José has taken the opportunity to re-envision how the region plans for and accommodates new development, basing it on market demand and not outdated parking requirements. Other cities implementing similar policies include Berkeley, Seattle, Sacramento, and more!

Greenbelt Alliance was proud to partner with and support the City of San José while updating their parking standards for new development—through community outreach, communications campaign, and advocacy. As part of this three-year policy update process (2019 – 2022), City staff and the project’s technical and engagement partners evaluated existing parking, equity, and development issues in San José; reviewed parking and TDM policies implemented in other cities, and engaged with residents and community stakeholders on this topic.

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