Ever walked around downtown San Diego and come across a massive crater being dug in the ground? Not the downtown surface parking craters on Streetsblog, but literal parking craters, several stories deep at a cost of millions of dollars – beneath nearly every new housing project downtown:
This recent Union Tribune article points out that downtown San Diego, with its policy of requiring parking for all new housing, is now an outlier among large cities – and asks if residents are ready to allow exceptions to this rule. The answer from many downtown is “no”, of course:
Pat Stark, chairman of the Downtown Community Planning Council, said softening the requirements could also create a backlash from many of the 40,000 residents already living downtown.
“We’re very friendly toward density, but then there’s also great pushback on the impacts of that density, specifically when it comes to parking,”
Gary Smith, president of the Downtown San Diego Residents Group, said by phone on Friday that San Diego is not ready to abandon parking requirements downtown.
This isn’t the first time Gary Smith has implied that he speaks for all of downtown, and I’m not sure why he thinks he determines what San Diego is or isn’t ready for – but he’s definitely not concerned about housing affordability. This Voice of San Diego article points out how the $60-90K cost of each underground parking space is simply passed on to tenants, making renting/ownership more unaffordable.
And of course there’s going to be pushbacks and backlashes from established downtown residents – they’re acting out of self-interest. But since catering to these folks is a major contributor to how we got into a housing crisis, why are they setting our parking policy? (Short answer: because older residents vote at a much higher rate in local elections.) Perhaps simply looking at community planning group housing approval rates glosses over how harmful these groups have been toward affordable housing efforts.
Fortunately the U-T article has some sensible comments in support of removing the minimums, and even Gary acknowledges, “In the long term, you will probably end up going that way because people living in a dense civic core like downtown tend to find they don’t need a car as much”. But things get weird again when downtown’s population forecast of 100,000 is compared to other cities as a justification to continue building expensive parking:
Manhattan has 1.7 million residents and San Francisco has nearly 1 million.
Let’s compare the geographic sizes of these downtowns:
- Manhattan (1.7M people) is 23 square miles
- “Downtown” San Francisco (850K people) is 47 square miles
- Downtown San Diego (100K forecast) is just 2.3 square miles
I’m not sure if this is just lazy reporting or a literal small-town mindset from Mr. Smith, but regardless, it isn’t a valid argument. Plus, many downtowns were once the population size of San Diego, yet were allowed to grow without requiring subterranean parking spaces at $75K a pop. But that was before car culture reduced us to making absurd arguments like these, or the “downtown has a relative lack of mass transit” whopper – when nearly every bus and trolley line in San Diego make their way there.
Meanwhile it’s encouraging to see the survival of the weekend night no-parking zone on 5th Avenue downtown to facilitate drop-offs, despite doom-and-gloom stories from local news outlets that receive millions annually in car commercial revenue. Given the high number of ride share vehicles dropping off passengers throughout San Diego, why haven’t we converted more business district curb space from parking to drop-off zones? Instead, drivers are stopping in red zones to drop off and pick up people, which reduces visibility at intersections, or worse, blocks buses.
Over at San Diego State, it’s remarkable to see the College Area Community Planning group actually *supporting* a new student housing project, after years of exacerbating the area’s mini-dorm problem. Yet “city staff” (translation: Mayor Faulconer) oppose the badly-needed affordable housing project because it doesn’t meet the city’s parking minimums. Days later the Planning Commission refuted the Mayor’s out-of-touch position:
“We need to build more housing, period,” said Commissioner Susan Peerson. “We need to be creative and look at these hybrid solutions that don’t fit every checkbox in our code.”
As the first link above points out, how many City documents have to spell out that this is precisely the type of development needed until City policies actually reflect those goals? Or, how much worse does our housing crisis have to get before our electeds exhibit common-sense leadership?
While it may make sense to reconsider our parking vs housing balance, it won’t change the minds of many who think abundant parking is simply a basic right. Channeling fellow Union Tribune sportswriter Nick Canepa, Kirk Kenney ranted about his daughter being unable to find parking on the second day of fall semester at SDSU last week:
Kenney goes on to say “When you charge a student $271 per semester for a (overnight-included) parking permit there’s a reasonable expectation of being able to find a parking spot.” Meanwhile these tweets from SDSU Parking Services indicate that there actually was plenty of student parking available on the east side of campus that day – even during this peak-demand first week:
In those 39 years since Mr. Kenney parked and biked (God forbid) to SDSU, there’s been a $506M extension of the Green Line to SDSU, and the addition $44M Mid-City Rapid bus to SDSU. As a result, parking demand at SDSU has been largely flat. To many, that would be “addressing the issue”, but not to the parking-entitled. Unfortunately, these folks often have a loud voice in our planning future.
When it comes to public curb space, what if we ignored them and just priced and used it economically, given all the alternatives to private car storage on public streets? Convert some to safe bike/scooter infrastructure, convert some more for express bus lanes, and price the rest based on demand. That’s the best way to use this public space now, and even more so in the future given current trends.
A friend said to me recently, “Little Italy is so cool but you know what sucks about it? There’s nowhere to park.” He said this despite nearly every inch of curb space there being devoted to private parking (save for some red curbs), and a new $640M parking garage. (Since it costs $10 to park in the garage, that’s not even considered.) The reason there’s “nowhere (free) to park” is because Little Italy is extraordinarily popular, not because we haven’t allocated an enormous amount of public space to it. This reminded me that we’re never gong to satisfy folks whose spectrum of transportation options is limited to their own steering wheel. Let’s stop trying to appease them, and start considering some smart parking policies.