An entrance to a parking garage beneath the Avalon Hayes Valley apartment complex in the Hickory Street alley on Monday, Dec. 4, 2018. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Minimum parking requirements on their way out in SF

San Francisco voted Tuesday to become the first major city in the country to eliminate minimum parking requirements for all kinds of development, a decision praised broadly by housing, environmental and pedestrian advocates.

In a 6-4 vote, the Board of Supervisors approved legislation introduced by Supervisor Jane Kim that eliminates city planning provisions dating back to the 1950s that require developers to provide at least some parking spaces as part of their projects. The amount depends on the size of the development.

If the law ultimately goes into effect, San Francisco would become the first major American city to ban such minimum parking requirements, although some smaller cities have already taken similar steps.

Most recently, Hartford, Conn. decided in December to do away with them, in what the Hartford Courant called “a dramatic move intended to make Hartford more ‘walkable’ and spur development.”

“This legislation in no way removes the option of the developer building parking,” Kim said. “We are just not requiring developers to build parking if they don’t want to.”

Kim’s legislation drew support from Supervisors Aaron Peskin, Vallie Brown, Rafael Mandelman, Hillary Ronen and Katy Tang.

But board president Malia Cohen voted against it, along with Supervisors Ahsha Safai, Norman Yee and Catherine Stefani, while Supervisor Sandra Fewer was excused from the meeting.

“I can’t say that this is good policy, certainly for the southeast,” Cohen said.

Cohen said Muni does not serve constituents in the Bayview-Hunters Point well, and her district is full of families and seniors who “rely on their vehicles as the safest, most convenient transportation option for them.”

Kim’s proposal drew praise from multiple urban planning groups, along with bicyclist and pedestrian advocates. The YIMBY Action group and ridehail company Lyft also sent a joint letter in support of the legislation Tuesday.

Stuart Cohen, executive director of TransForm, a Bay Area nonprofit that pushes for investments in transit and pedestrian safety projects, said in a letter to the board that urban design plays an important role in addressing some of the most pressing issues related to climate change and pedestrian fatalities.

“From skyrocketing housing costs to climate change to clogged, dangerous streets, there is no single solution to the confluence of crises we are facing,” Cohen wrote. “Yet there are some urban design factors that clearly contribute to all of these problems. One of the clearest and most egregious is the requirement for minimum parking, especially in housing developments.”

Janice Li, advocacy director of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition,said in a letter to the board that “as our city continues to grow, encouraging automobile use by requiring developers to build parking is antithetical to our city’s Transit-First Policy. Inducing demand for single-occupancy vehicle use furthers congestion on our streets and de-prioritizes biking, walking and public transit.”

While some advocates had called it a bold move, city officials said that San Francisco has for years moved in this policy direction and developers could already circumvent parking requirements to some extent by offering things like parking for bicycles.

City planners expect that “many small mid-block projects won’t build parking” while “large projects on corners” will continue to build parking.

Tom Radulovich, executive director of Livable Cities, a lead supporter of the proposal, had called minimum parking requirements one of San Francisco’s “monstrous contradictions in our transportation and housing policies.”

The board will take a second and final vote on the legislation next week. Mayor London Breed, who would then have 10 days to decide whether to veto, supports the legislation, according to her spokesperson.

“Mayor Breed supports allowing flexibility in determining how much parking is included when we are building new housing instead of setting an across the board mandate that doesn’t make sense for some projects,” Breed’s spokesperson Jeff Cretan said in a statement. “For example, in transit rich areas it might not be necessary to have a lot of parking in new developments, or any at all, while in other areas there might be a desire for more parking to be built on site. This policy allows that decision to be made on a project by project basis.”

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