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SF to do away with minimum parking requirements for developments

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A car drives up a narrow street lined with parked cars in the Bernal Heights neighborhood of San Francisco, Calif. Thursday, March 16, 2017. (James Chan/Special to S.F. Examiner)

San Francisco is poised to become the first big U.S. city to no longer require developers to include at least some parking in their housing developments.

Legislation introduced by Supervisor Jane Kim strips the planning code of a minimum parking requirement that is already largely circumvented in practice by providing other alternatives like bicycle parking. San Francisco’s minimum parking requirements date back to the 1950s.

“It would not prohibit parking in any redevelopment. It would merely remove the requirement that a developer would have to build a minimum number of parking spaces,” Kim said during Monday’s Land Use and Transportation Committee hearing.

Kim said the parking requirements don’t play a significant role in developments given various policies adopted by The City in recent years to reduce parking.

“This in many ways feels pro forma. But still is a very important policy step,” Kim said.

She noted that it would make San Francisco the second city in the United States after Hartford, Conn. to eliminate minimum parking requirements and the first big city to do so.

The proposal was seen as being beneficial to the environment, but it could also help reduce construction costs.

“There is no good reason for the city to force the private market to produce parking spaces for every housing unit built,” said Arielle Fleisher, a representative for public policy think tank SPUR. “Eliminating minimum parking requirements reduces the cost of producing new housing and enables us to use our land more efficiently by replacing spaces for cars with spaces for people.”

Tom Radulovich, executive director of Livable City, a group that advocates for alternatives to driving cars, backed the proposal.

Radulovich said Kim’s legislation “is an incremental step in what has been a journey that started actually in 1973 with the first oil shock and the opening of BART, where the city began to rollback the parking requirements that been imposed in the 1950s.”

The group said in a statement that “minimum parking requirements increase auto traffic in cities, and with it pollution and congestion.”

“Minimum parking requirements make cities less healthy and less sustainable. Private cars are now the largest source of greenhouse gases in California, and an increasing one,” the statement continued.

Paul Chasan, a city planner, said that all zoning districts have a maximum parking limit. “We are not changing the maximums.”

He said that the legislation acknowledges the policy shifts over the years, but he expected “developers will still build parking.”

“They operate under political constraints where the neighborhoods will probably pressure them to build parking,” he said.

The full board will vote next week on the legislation.

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