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Parking Woes Prod Planning Commission Inquiry:

Santa Monica’s Planning Commission took an in-depth look at how parking influences development and pedestrian-oriented uses as part of the City’s ongoing update of the Land Use and Circulation Elements of the General Plan.

The land use element delineates the distribution of different types of buildings (housing, business, industry, open space, etc.) while the circulation element sets out the location of existing and proposed roads, highways and other modes of transportation. The zoning ordinance translates the land use element’s goals and objectives into standards and procedures. They were last updated in 1984.

At the August 2 meeting Mott Smith from Civic Enterprise Associates stressed during his presentation, “Whatever else [a city’s] zoning code say, parking rules shape development.”

Smith also noted, “Nearly every city in North America has similar parking requirements such as the City of Houston where a restaurant has 10 spaces for every 1,000 square feet, a retail establishment has five spaces for 1,000 square feet and a clothing store has four spaces per 1,000 square feet [and this is] the most important reason why sprawl dominates across America…the way these parking requirements interact with the geometry of urban parcels.”

In Santa Monica, parking requirements mandate that for bars there is one space for every 50 feet of floor area. For general or service retail one space is required for 300 feet of floor area while for furniture or large appliance retail one space is required for 500 square feet of retail.

Smith also noted, “onsite-parking requirements, in particular, almost guarantee larger scale and/or auto-oriented buildings [and] make it impossible for small businesses to develop pedestrian-friendly uses.”

Some of the possible parking scenarios his firm has observed include a parking lot design that “displaces small businesses and local owners,” such as the mini-mall. Another approach is when “new regulations that support neighborhood-scale development are put into place.”

In the Old Pasadena parking district they have a parking credit system where for every space created in its parking garage credits are issued. This system “limits the development of the neighborhood to the parking capacity of the neighborhood.”

Smith commented that a progressive approach to parking would be cognizant of the fact, “The less parking is part of the DNA of development in general the less people will drive for short trips.” He encouraged detaching parking from a site’s use and encouraged viewing it “as like another leg of the transit system for the neighborhood.” He also emphasized, “As long as we force people to own their own parking, it creates territorial battles and vast inefficiencies of land use.”

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