GGU Law Review Blog

San Jose Says No to Minimum Parking Requirements

Photo by John Matychuk on Unsplash

In December 2022, San Jose became the largest city in the United States to end the minimum parking space requirement for new developments. The City Council unanimously voted to remove the minimum parking requirement across most of the city. San Jose will no longer require developers to include parking spaces in their projects, but developers can add parking as they see fit.

History of the Parking Requirement

Parking Requirements have a century-long history in the United States. Columbus, Ohio, established the first minimum parking requirement in 1923. Between 1940 and 1970, cities started to add minimum parking requirements to municipal zoning codes. In 1949, San Jose adopted its first parking requirement: one space per residential requirement. The thought at the time was an oversupply of parking was better than an undersupply. The minimum parking requirements were designed to handle infrequent peak off-street parking demands. Guided by such rationale, minimum parking requirements have expanded since.

Under San Jose’s recently abolished minimum parking requirement, a new single-family home required two covered parking spots. Restaurants were required to create a spot for every 40 square feet, or 2.5 dining room seats, whichever was greater. Grocery stores were required to have one parking space per 200 square feet of area dedicated to retail sales. A typical Target store is about 130,000 square feet, meaning it must provide roughly 600 spaces under the former requirements.

Photo by Susan Q Yin on Unsplash

Problems with Minimum Parking Requirements

The decision to remove minimum parking requirements was not made overnight. San Jose has been reevaluating its parking requirements and Transportation Demand Management measures for over three years. The City believes eliminating minimum parking requirements will facilitate the goals of Climate Smart San Jose and the Envision San Jose 2040 General Plan, two sustainability and climate-forward plans it adopted in 2018 and 2011, respectively.

Climate Smart San Jose sets nine ambitious goals for energy, water, transportation, and local jobs to address climate change. For example, San Jose will create an additional 22 million square feet of commercial workspace located within a half mile of transit by 2030. The Envision San Jose 2040 General Plan centers on 12 major strategies to grow San Jose’s environmental and economic leadership role in the country.

San Jose’s Planning Commission pointed out that the minimum parking requirements failed to address the City’s actual parking needs. Very few factors were considered when minimum off-street parking requirements were calculated, such as commercial use square footage or the number of residential units in a development. However, actual parking needs are affected by many factors, such as the cost of parking, access to public transportation, the working schedule of residents, the nature of the nearby land use, and more.

The previous one-size-fits-all method for calculating minimum parking requirements created an oversupply for new developments. It is common to see Target or Walmart parking lots half-empty most of the time. For a city like San Jose, where the land surrounding commercial shopping areas is scarce and very desirable, other commercial or residential developments could be established on the space in and between empty parking lots.

More importantly, minimum parking requirements hindered the City’s commitment to protecting the climate, reducing development costs, and increasing tax revenues from under-utilized land. Fifty-one percent of San Jose’s carbon emissions can be attributed to vehicle travel. In 2021, the City pledged to be carbon-neutral by 2030. With a population of over one million, San Jose can significantly lower its emissions by reducing the residents’ dependency on cars, providing efficient public transportation, and promoting the use of bicycles.

Parking structures are expensive to build. In the Bay Area, a surface parking space can cost upwards of $30,000; while a single underground parking space can cost upwards of $75,000. Such high costs make housing projects less affordable or altogether infeasible. Without the minimum parking requirement, more affordable housing can be built for employees of Silicon Valley companies. San Jose can attract more talents to live and work in the city.

Minimum Parking Requirements in California and Other States

In recent years, a movement to abolish minimum parking requirements has grown stronger in cities across the United States. In September of last year, Governor Gavin Newson signed into law, making California the first state to abolish parking minimums for developments within a half mile of major public transit stops.

Under this law, California cities can no longer impose minimum parking requirements on new developments within a half mile of public transit stops starting in 2023. Developers can decide whether they will include parking spaces in their projects. Sacramento, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Berkeley, San Jose, and Oakland have even more broadly abolished the minimum parking requirements. Around twenty other cities outside of California, including Minneapolis, Boston, and New York, have made similar efforts to eliminate minimum parking requirements.

Photo by Ana Lanza on Unsplash

Possible Complications to Imply New Parking Rules

Like others living in large cities, San Jose residents highly depend on cars to go about everyday life. Although a more environmentally friendly lifestyle and transit pattern can be achieved through proper planning by the City, the transition may take work.

Many residents support San Jose’s decision. Acknowledging that they will have to overcome inconveniences and make daily adjustments, residents admit reducing car use is unavoidable and necessary to protect the environment. Residents of neighborhoods with already scarce parking worry they will need to compete with more visitors and new residents for parking after the minimum parking requirement is gone. 

Making It Work

Although many cities had abolished or reduced parking requirements before San Jose did, there is no universal guideline for the City to follow. Each community has unique needs regarding parking and transportation. Policies that work well in New York does not necessarily work well in San Jose.

Regardless of the minimum parking requirements, developers have every economic incentive to include an optimal number of parking spaces in their projects. An oversupply of parking increases costs and wastes potential space that might otherwise generate profit through commercial use. An undersupply of parking reduces the popularity and utility of a project.

Since developers can only evaluate parking needs for their projects, it is the City’s job to plan the bigger picture. San Jose has the resources, vision, and authority to assist developers figure out future parking needs by providing sufficient information. The City should also encourage developers to fully utilize public transportation and communicate with each other when joint efforts would be beneficial. Developers can also reduce the need to own a car by providing car sharing, bike storage, and shuttle buses.

Parking spaces are crucial to local businesses and residents.  San Jose must ensure traffic from new developments will not overwhelm the existing parking spaces. The City should carefully examine parking designs submitted by new developments to make sure a reasonable number of parking spaces are included.

The impact of abolishing minimum parking requirements will not be apparent right away since it takes years for new constructions to move from blueprints to streets. Meanwhile, the Citycan make public transportation more accessible and the road safer for bicyclists.

A comprehensive plan ensures the best chance for San Jose to make a smooth transaction from mandatory parking to no minimum parking requirements. The City is likely to carry out more policies this year to accomplish and facilitate the decision to reduce its car dependency.

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