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'This is Not 1975': Here's Why LA And Other Cities Are Ditching Parking

Next year is going to be a big year for the city of Los Angeles.

The city’s planning commission recently unveiled a draft of the Downtown Community Plan, which gets rid of parking requirements for future multifamily developments, rezones several areas within Downtown Los Angeles and creates more transportation mobility and connectivity.

Downtown Los Angeles

The planning department for the past month has hosted workshops for the community to review the plan. Next year, the department will hold a few more, helping it to retool the plan before it heads to city officials.

“The plan will strive to support and sustain the ongoing revitalization of downtown, while thoughtfully accommodating this projected future growth,” according to the report. 

The proposed change comes as cities nationwide are eliminating parking requirements and placing more of an emphasis on creating an efficient public transportation system in their downtown core.

In 2017, Buffalo, New York, became the first major city to eliminate parking requirements for commercial and residential projects, according to CityLab. That same year, Santa Monica, a city about 15 miles west of Los Angeles, got rid of its minimum parking requirements on new development in its downtown

The following year, Cincinnati removed its parking requirements for new developments. In 2019, the city of Berkeley will discuss eliminating parking requirements on new residential construction, while Downtown Austin, Texas, is also looking to make changes to its parking requirements.

"It's pretty clear where we are heading," Rising Realty Partners CEO and co-founder Christopher Rising said.

"We have a downtown that is much more dense and it is a 24-hour city," he said. "The [proposed] changes to the zoning laws and the parking requirements is reflecting that it is not the Los Angeles of 1975."

But can car-centric Los Angeles, where residents and visitors are famously reliant on their vehicles, adapt?

"We're not getting rid of the cars. We're not getting rid of parking," Downtown Center Business Improvement District Executive Director Nick Griffin said. "It's going to be more comparable to New York. We just won't need as many cars on the street."

Rising Realty Partners CEO and co-founder Christopher Rising

A city planning spokesperson didn't reply to an email requesting comment as of press time.

Los Angeles' Community Plan, dubbed DTLA 2040, was unveiled on Oct. 31 and is part of an effort by the city to boost growth downtown and revitalize the area. 

By the year 2040, city planning officials believe downtown will add more than 70,000 new housing units, 125,000 new residents and 55,000 new jobs. Currently, there are about 80,000 people live in downtown, according to the Downtown Center BID.

Since 1999, more than 35,000 units have been built in downtown. In the third quarter of this year, downtown's apartment occupancy rate was at 90% with the average rent price at $2,600. 

Currently, there are more than 5,700 residential units under construction, 2.6M SF of office space, 1.3M SF of retail and more than 2,000 hotel rooms in active development, according to the downtown BID

The DTLA 40 plan would eliminate parking requirements for new residential projects, rezone certain historic areas, and add more public spaces, transit, bicycle lanes and wider sidewalks. 

Planning officials said removing parking requirements creates greater density and encourages residents and visitors to use other modes of travel. 

One example: The Arts District, which has seen a massive amount of development, is currently zoned as manufacturing and industrial. The new plan would rezone it as "hybrid industrial," a type of zoning that would allow for the development of residential live/work units and 20% fewer parking requirements.

Chinatown and Little Tokyo will see more improvements in zoning and streetscapes. Skid Row, where hundreds of homeless have set up tent encampments, will see more supportive and affordable housing. 

"The plan will promote a dynamic, healthy and sustainable Downtown core that is tightly connected to its surroundings and supports the City of Los Angeles and the region," according to the DTLA 40 report.

Downtown Center Business Improvement District Executive Director Nick Griffin

Griffin, the executive director of the Downtown Center BID, said he is supporting the DTLA 40 plan and encouraging others to do the same.

"It's absolutely a great move," Griffin said. "I think that downtown is growing dramatically and it is becoming much more of a classic urban center environment where the requirements for driving are not nearly as universal as they are in suburban parts of Los Angeles."

Griffin said eliminating parking requirements could lead to more housing units being built. Parking is expensive, Griffin said, and anything that could lessen the cost of parking in exchange for building new housing units is a worthwhile trade-off.  

Rising said the proposed plan has been a decade in the making. Los Angeles, he said, has poured billions of dollars into investments for improving the Metro light rail transportation system. All of that will hopefully lead to better mobility in and out of downtown Los Angeles. 

Rising said if the plan passes, there might be some short-term risk and uncertainty from an investment standpoint. Any time a zoning changes to eliminate parking, or changes other key policies, investors tend to pause.

"There is an adjustment period," Rising said. "There’s not an established track record."

But Rising said the new plan is part of an evolution similar to other places around the world that have already ditched automobiles. 

"The fact is, California and Los Angeles are growing," Rising said. "People are continuing to come here. This is not a unique phenomenon happening in Los Angeles. It is happening globally in London and Paris.

"Los Angeles is a very global city," he said. "It is a beacon. It makes a lot of sense." 

Rising said it is time for Los Angeles residents to ditch their cars. 

"I think what is remarkable about Los Angeles today is that there is still this romanticism of having an automobile and about how great it is to jump in your car and drive places and then there is the reality of having to do that," he said. 

"The reality is not what it was in the 1980s and '90s," he said. "There are a lot more people here and designing a society with a single occupant vehicle does not work. And more and more people are choosing not to do it that way."