Saturday, August 20, 2016

Review of the City of Los Angeles' Parking Requirements

City of Los Angeles Parking Requirements

I've recently had occasion to think about how the City of Los Angeles regulates off-street parking.  While I don't think that minimum off-street parking requirements are a good idea, generally speaking, it is interesting to see how different cities approach the issue.

First of all, this document summarizes LA's parking requirements for cars.  This ordinance contains LA's parking requirements for bikes (more on that below).

There are some things that I do appreciate in LA's approach to off-street parking.  For one thing, there is some sense of context.  While much of the City is under one set of parking requirements, Downtown LA, for example, has a different, much less burdensome set of requirements.  This makes sense, since Downtown LA is much denser and transit-filled than most other parts of the city.  Some of the regular parking requirements are lower than what I'm used to.  I'm used to one space per 250 square feet of floor area as a parking requirement for retail and non-medical office space.  In LA, the general retail requirement is also one per 250, but some types of retail and regular office space only require one space per 500 square feet.  The multifamily residential parking requirements are good in the sense that some types of units only require one or 1.5 spaces, instead of two spaces.  LA classifies multifamily housing on the number of habitable rooms, but essentially a typical studio only requires one space and a typical one-bedroom only requires 1.5 spaces.  Many codes require at least two spaces per unit, which can make it very difficult and expensive to build multifamily housing.  Two spaces per unit also ignores that fact that there are many one and zero-car households out there, particularly seniors and lower-income folks.

Los Angeles has a very innovative bicycle parking ordinance that requires short and long term bicycle parking and allows developers to reduce their automobile parking by different percentages in different circumstances for providing it, as long as each car space reduced is replaced by one bicycle space.  Many zoning codes completely ignore bicycles, treat automobile parking as necessary and treat all other modes of transportation as optional, which is a mistake.  Although I don't like off-street parking requirements generally, I think this approach is a good incremental step because it allows a reduction in car parking requirements.  The net effect should be to reduce the cost and space required to comply with parking requirements, while encouraging cycling.  My ideal is to have no parking requirements, but as long as we have car parking requirements, this approach makes sense.

On the negative side, LA requires a lot of parking (one space per 100 square feet) for restaurants in tenant spaces larger than 1,000 square feet.  If the tenant space is 1,000 square feet or smaller, the requirement gets cut in half to one space per 200 square feet.  Restaurants with take out only get to use the general retail requirement of one space per 250 square feet.  Gyms also face the burdensome one per 100 square feet requirement.  This is a serious issue because, as internet retailing erodes traditional brick and mortar stores, we are increasingly seeing restaurants, cafes and service-oriented businesses like gyms filling the void.  Yet these businesses face some of LA's toughest parking requirements.  LA also picked up the practice of requiring significantly more parking for medical offices (one space per 200 square feet) than for general offices.

Parking Fantasy

If I could wave a magic wand that only got me half of what I wanted, I'd simplify and lessen the non-Downtown automobile parking requirements.  Maybe something like this:

  • 1 space per 300 square feet of floor area: general retail, restaurants/cafes/bars/nightclubs, medical offices and hospitals, gyms and other commercial recreation, commercial schools, theaters
  • 1 space per 500 square feet of floor area: general offices, houses of worship, retailers selling primarily large items (e.g. furniture or appliances), other commercial uses, manufacturing
  • 1 space per 5,000 square feet of floor area: warehouses or self-storage (storage portion only)
  • 1 space per housing unit: studio and one-bedroom units
  • 2 spaces per housing unit: units with two or more bedrooms
  • 0.5 space per guest room: hotels

Add up the parking requirements based on the above requirements to create a subtotal, then apply any or all of the following reductions to that subtotal, as applicable.

Bicycle parking reduction: 10-20% reduction in car parking requirements where each car parking space reduced is replaced by one bicycle parking space.  The bicycle parking which replaces required car parking is required parking.  At least a 10% bicycle parking reduction must be taken (i.e. an amount of bicycle parking must be provided which is equal to at least 10% of the subtotal of parking required for cars).
Mixed-use parking reduction: 20% reduction in parking requirements for all uses in a building with a mixture of residential and commercial spaces as long as the commercial space is at least 1,000 square feet or at least 5% of the total floor area of the building.  For other buildings, a 10% reduction in parking requirements for commercial and residential space when residential space is within one kilometer of at least 1,000 square feet of commercial space or when a commercial space is within one kilometer of any housing unit.
Transit parking reduction: 20% reduction in parking requirements for being located within one kilometer of a major transit stop, as defined by California law, or a 10% reduction may be taken for being located within one kilometer of any transit stop.
Affordable housing parking reduction: 20% reduction in parking requirements for housing units that are restricted to low-income households, as defined by California law, for at least 50 years at the time they are built.  This reduction only applies to the parking required for the affordable units but persists even after the units revert to market rate.
Senior housing parking reduction: 50% reduction in parking requirements for housing units that are permanently age-restricted to senior citizens.  This reduction only applies to the parking required for the senior units and expires if the units cease to be age-restricted.
Urban parking district: There are no minimum off-street parking requirements in an urban parking district.  This would apply to places like Downtown LA, Koreatown, and Hollywood that are already dense and well served by transit, or other places which the city intends to make that way.

Parking Fantasy Example

Let's say we are proposing a mixed-use apartment building that is within 1 km a major transit stop and is not in an urban parking district.  The building will have 5 studio apartments, 15 one-bedroom apartments, 10 two-bedroom apartments 10 three-bedroom apartments (five of which will be affordable to low-income households), and 6,000 square feet of ground-floor commercial space intended for restaurants or general retail.

Parking Required
Studio apartments: 5 * one space per unit = 5 spaces
One-bedroom apartments: 15 * one space per unit = 15 spaces
Two-bedrooms apartments: 10 * two spaces per unit = 20 spaces
Three-bedroom apartments: 10 * two spaces per unit = 20 spaces
Commercial Space: 6,000 square feet / one space per 300 square feet = 20 spaces

Subtotal: 80 spaces required

Parking reduction for affordable units: 10 spaces * 0.8 = 2 spaces
Parking reduction for mixed use building: 80 spaces * 0.8 = 16 spaces
Parking reduction for proximity to a major transit stop: 80 spaces * 0.8 = 16 spaces
Parking reduction for bicycle spaces: 80 spaces * 0.8 = 16 spaces

Total: 46 automobile spaces required, 16 bicycle spaces required

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Carta abierta sobre proyecto propuesto en la Avenida Bright

Estimado consejo de la ciudad de Whittier,

Como tu constituyente escribo en apoyo de la propuesta de urbanización en la Avenida Bright entre la Calle Philadelphia y la Calle Wardman.  Como saben, este proyecto involucraría la demolición del Hotel Bright que por mucho tiempo ha sido vacío y en muy mala condición, tres aparcamientos de la ciudad y la construcción de 124 unidades de alojamiento, 3,466 pies cuadrados de espacio para tiendas y estacionamiento en estructura.  Este proyecto hará Uptown más interesante, más próspero, más amable al peatón y suministrará alojamiento muy necesario.

Como el diario Whittier Daily News reportó el 10 de Agosto ("Uptown Whittier could get more housing, but parking puzzle remains") el Consejo de la ciudad votó martes 9 de agosto negociar exclusivamente (vean el documento para artículo 7.G en la agenda) con el dueño de la propiedad del Hotel Bright, una decisión que apoyo, dado que el urbanizador es la entidad que ha invertido más en el sitio y tiene la capacidad mejor de hacer un projecto allá el el futuro inmediato.

Entiendo las preocupaciones que miembros del consejo han expresado sobre la pérdida de estacionamiento en esa ubicación, pero hay unas cosas importantes recordar.  Primero, reemplazar los 193 espacios de estacionamiento en el sitio será muy costoso.  El costo promedio (no incluyndo costos de tierra) de un espacio de estacionamiento en una estructura arriba del suelo en Los Ángeles es más o menos $27,000 y el costo aumenta a $35,000 para cada espacio construido debajo de la tierra (fuente:  Ya que el urbanizador propone una mezcla de espacios arriba y abajo del suelo, digamos que el costo promedio de cada espacio será $31,000.  Esto significa que reemplazar todos los 193 espacios de la ciudad costará $5,983,000 o $48,250 por unidad de alojamiento en el proyecto propuesto.

Si a tí te importa el alojamiento económico, como yo, no puedes ignorar la importancia de esos números.  Ese costo de estacionamiento causa rentas más altas y si el proyecto llega a ser condominios, precios más altos de compra.

La ciudad tiene que ser preparado contribuir dinero al costo de construir ese estacionamiento, si insistes en reemplazar todo.  Como residente y votante de Uptown, puedo decirles por experiencia personal que nunca he manejado a un negocio en Uptown Whittier, pero eso nunca me ha parado hacer compras y comer aquí todo el tiempo.  Es mucho más fácil caminar.  Hay tanta gente que vive en la área inmediata que el tráfico de peatones solamente suministra mucho apoyo a los negocios locales.  Para los que manejan, hay opciones como el garage de la ciudad una cuadra al norte del sitio en la Avenida Bright, que tiene precios muy bajos.  Poner parquímetros en Greenleaf y cobrar precios que cambian con la demanda puede producir dinero para construir estructuras de estacionamiento en el área y lo haría más FÁCIL encontrar estacionamiento durante tiempos populares como las noches de Viernes y Sábado.

Este proyecto da más gente la oportunidad de vivir en una área en que pueden caminar a restaurantes, tiendas, y entretenimiento.  Eso siempre ha sido la fortaleza de Uptown.  No aplasten esta oportunidad por ser demasiado rígdo en el estacionamiento.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Open Letter on Proposed Bright Avenue Development

Dear Whittier City Council,

As your constituent I am writing in support of the proposed mixed-use development on Bright Avenue between Philadelphia Street and Wardman Street.  As you know, this project would involve the demolition of the long vacant and blighted Bright Hotel, three City-owned parking lots and the construction of 124 housing units, 3,466 square feet of retail space and structured parking.  This project will make Uptown more vibrant, more prosperous, more pedestrian-friendly and provide badly-needed housing.

As the Whittier Daily News reported on August 10th ("Uptown Whittier could get more housing, but parking puzzle remains") the City Council voted Tuesday August, 9th to pursue an exclusive negotiating agreement (see PDF document for item 7.G on agenda) with the owner of the Bright Hotel property, a decision which I support, given that this developer is the party who has the most invested in the site and has the greatest capacity to realize a project there in the immediate future.

I understand the concerns Councilmembers have expressed over the loss of city-owned parking at that location, but there are a few important things to keep in mind.  First, replacing the 193 City-owned parking spaces currently on site will be extremely expensive.  The average cost of constructing an above-ground structured parking space (not including land costs) in Los Angeles is about $27,000 and the cost increases to about $35,000 per space for underground spaces (source:  Since the developer is proposing a mixture of above-ground and underground structured spaces, let's say the average cost per space is $31,000.  This means that replacing all 193 city-owned parking spaces will cost $5,983,000 or $48,250 per housing unit in the proposed development.

If you care about promoting affordable housing, like I do, you can't ignore the significance of those numbers.  That parking cost gets passed on as higher rent, or if the project goes condo, higher home purchase prices.

The City needs to be prepared to contribute financially to the cost of building that replacement parking, if you insist that it all must be replaced.  As an Uptown resident and voter, I can tell you from personal experience that I have never once driven to a business in Uptown Whittier, yet that's never stopped me from shopping and dining here all the time.  It's much easier for me to just walk.  There are so many people who live in the immediate area that foot traffic alone provides a substantial amount of support for local businesses.  For those who choose to drive, there are options like the City-owned parking garage one block up Bright Avenue, which has very affordable rates.  Putting up parking meters on Greenleaf and charging rates that vary with demand could raise funds for the City to build parking structures in the area and would make it EASIER for people to find parking during busy times like Friday and Saturday nights.

This project gives more people the chance to live in an area where they can walk to restaurants, shops and entertainment.  That has always been Uptown's strength.  Don't squash this opportunity by being too rigid on parking.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Construye esto: pensando en las subdivisiones de lotes pequeños

Plano de sitio para una casa de lote pequeño con distancias típicas a las líneas de la propiedad

Las casas en lotes pequeños tienen muchas ventajas.  Típicamente son más económicos ya que están en menos tierra que una casa separada típica de EE.UU.  Su densidad más alto significa que cuesta menos suministrar la infraestructura necesaria (incluso servicio frequente de transporte público) y debe ser más oportunidades caminar y distancias más cortas manejar si los vecindarios se diseñan así y mezclan usos de tierra.  El impacto más ligero en consumo de tierra significa menos daño al hábitat natural en comparación con modelos típicos de urbanización.

Me gustaría desacar unas cosas en el plano de sitio que dibujé arriba.  Primero, el tamaño de lote es de solo 3,500 pies cuadrados (325 metros cuadrados), que es muy pequeño en comparación con lo típico en los suburbios estadounidenses.  Típicamente ves lotes de por lo menos 1/8 acre (5,445 pies cuadrados o 506 metros cuadrados).  Los requísitos locales de subdivisiones a menudo lo hace ilegal hacer el lote que ves arriba ya que es "demasiado pequeño."  Esta es una estrategia por regular en contra de densidades más altas (y gente no rica).

A propósito usé distancias convencionales de las lineas de la propiedad que se encuentran en los suburbios, solo para notar que estas casas pueden caber en el contexto convencional en cuanto a cómo son puestos en sus lotes.

Próximo, este diseño suministra un garage de dos coches en la yarda de atrás.  Esto es típicamente necesario por las reglas de zona.  El plano arriba muestra que se puede hacer en un lote pequeño.  El hecho de que el garage es separado es importante en un lote pequeño como esto.  Si el garage fuera conectada, el delantal de su entrada sería de una anchura de 18 pies (5.5 metros), significando que el espacio para estacionarse en la calle sería reducido a solo 12 pies (3.7 metros), suponiendo una distancia de cinco pies al lado (35' anchura de lote, menos 5' distancia del lado, menos 18' delantal es 12'), mucho menos que un espacio de estacionamiento típico de 20 pies (6.1 metros).  En el ejemplo arriba, el delantal no está mostrado, pero la intención es que sea de nueve pies de anchura y que existiría justo más alla de la línea frente de la propiedad y la vereda en la tierra pública.  Este diseño mantiene 26 pies (7.9 metros) en el borde para un espacio estándar, más sies pies para contenedores de basura y reciclaje.  Garajes contectadas también tienen otros aspectos negativos, desde una mala apariencia a problemas con contaminación de aire adentro de la casa (si uno no tiene cuidado en la ventilación).  Uno de mis quejas con San Francisco es que muchos de sus edificios tienen entradas de coche tan cercas de si mismos que muchas partes del borde de la calle no puede tener estacionamiento en la calle, y aun los árboles no encuentran espacio.  Esto empieza pasar cuando la anchura del lote llega a ser más pequeño que 29 pies (8.8 metros) con entradas de un coche de nueve pies en frente.  Este problema se puede evitar por callejones, entradas comunes que sirven múltiples unidades o no tener estacionamiento fuera de la calle.

La anchura de la casa es de 20 pies, más o menos lo mismo que una casa en hilera.  Mucho más estrecho y el diseño interior llega a ser torpe.  Probablemente tendría dos pisos en realidad ya que la demanda del mercado es por casas grandes, aun más grande que el 1,320 pies cuadrados (123 metros cuadrados) en el ejemplo arriba.  En este plano hay espacio hacer una adición (suponiendo que las reglas de zona fueron diseñados permitir esto).

Haciendo proyectos como este require reglas que permiten lotes más pequeños y que regulan la anchura y la distancia entre entradas para preservar por lo menos 26 pies de espacio en el borde en frente de cada propiedad (para tener espacio suficiente para estancionar un coche, poner contenedores de basura y reciclaje y tener un árbol en la calle.  Ya sabemos como hacer esto y que el mercado está allí.  La única pregunta es, ¿lo bloquearán los gobiernos locales?

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Build This: Musings on Small-lot Subdivision Design

Plot plan of a small-lot house with conventional setbacks

Small-lot houses have a lot of advantages.  They tend to be more affordable because they sit on less land than a typical detached house in the United States.  Their higher density means it is more cost effective to provide them with infrastructure (including more convenient transit service) and there should be more opportunities to walk and shorter driving distances if neighborhoods are designed on this model and mix land uses.  The lighter land footprint of small-lot houses means less natural habitat must give way to the bulldozer compared to conventional suburban development patterns.

I'd like to highlight a few things on the plot plan I drew above.  First of all, the lot size is only 3,500 square feet (325 square meters), which is pretty small by the standards of American suburbs.  Typically you see lot sizes of at least 1/8 of an acre (5,445 square feet or 506 square meters).  Local subdivision regulations often make the lot size above illegal to create because it is "too small."  This is a strategy for regulating against higher densities (and people of modest means).

I intentionally used conventional suburban setbacks on the plan, just to make the point that these houses could be tailored to fit into a conventional context in terms of how far they sit from the property lines.

Next, this design provides a two-car detached garage in the back yard.  As a practical matter, a two-car garage is often required by the zoning code.  The plan above shows that it can be done on a small lot.  The fact that the garage is detached is important on a narrow lot like this.  If the garage were attached, its driveway apron would be about 18 feet (5.5 meters) wide, meaning the curb parking space out front would be reduced to only 12 feet (3.7 meters), assuming a five-foot side setback (35' lot width, minus 5' side setback, minus 18' driveway apron equals 12'), much less than a standard 20-foot-deep (6.1 meter) parking space.  In the example above the apron is not shown, but it is intended to be nine feet wide and would exist just beyond the front property line and the sidewalk in the public right of way.  This design preserves 26 feet (7.9 meters) at the curb for one standard on-street parking space, plus six feet to roll out trash and recycle bins.  Attached garages also have other disadvantages, from car-oriented aesthetics to indoor air quality issues (if you aren't careful to properly ventilate them).  One of my beefs with San Francisco is how many of its buildings have driveways spaced so close together that large swaths of street parking, and even opportunities for street trees, are wiped out.  This starts to happen once the lot width gets down below 29 feet (8.8 meters) with nine-foot one-car driveways at the front.  This problem can be avoided through rear alleys, common driveways serving multiple units or dispensing with off-street parking altogether.

The width of the house is 20 feet, about the same as a townhouse.  Much narrower and the interior design starts to get awkward.  It would probably be two-stories in practice, since the market demand is for large houses, larger even than the 1,320 square feet (123 square meters) in the example above.  On this plan there is room to add on (assuming the zoning were designed to allow that).

Doing developments like the one above requires regulations that allow for smaller lot sizes and which regulate the width and spacing of driveways to preserve at least 26 feet of space at the curb in front of each lot (to have room for parking and trash bins at the curb and a parkway tree).  We know how to do this and the market for more affordable detached homes is definitely there.  The only question is, will local governments stand in the way?

Viviendo en una casa en hilera

Una foto de unas casas en hilera por

No he escrito mucho recientemente ¡ya que mi esposa y yo acabamos de comprar nuestro primer hogar!  Es una casa en hilera.  Architectónicamente es una casa en hilera, legalmente es una unidad de condomimio.  Una casa en hilera es un tipo de casa que típicamente es de dos o tres pisos y conectada a otra casa en hilera en un o ambos lados.  Esto nos hace un poco extraño ya que en EE.UU., 61.5% de las unidades de vivienda fueron casas separadas en 2014 (vean el 2014 Encuesta de comunidades estadounidenses cálculos de un año, Tabla B25024, "Unidades en estructura").  Solo 5.8% de las unidades de alojamiento estadounidenses fueron casas en hilera.  Sin embargo, no vivimos en cualquier parte de EE.UU., vivimos en el Condado de Los Ángeles, donde el precio mediano de una casa separada es $561,000 (CoreLogic "Southern California Home Resale Activity, June 2016").  ¡Dios mío!  Si eso parece una gran cantidad de dinero es porque la es.

Casas en hilera tienen muchas características únicas.  Ya que son un forma de alojamiento más denso que una casa separada (29.8 unidades por acre o 73.5 unidades por hectárea en nuestro caso), no son puestos en tanta tierra, significando que el costo de tierra en la unidad es menos, significando que tenemos los recursos financieros.  También significa que esta forma de casa mejor apoya al urbanismo en que se puede caminar y el transporte público que una casa separada.  Nuestra casa incluye un garage conectada de dos coches, significando no más busqueda de estacionamiento en la calle.  El garage fácilmente cabe en el espacio de primer piso de la casa y fija la anchura de la casa.  Tenemos un patio y un balcón, que en comparación con una casa separada son pequeñas, pero por el otro lado, no hay un césped cortar o regar (¡¡¡sí!!!).  Las escaleras son algo diferente.  Este tipo de casa no es bueno para alguien con una discapacidad que hace imposible el uso de escaleras (mejor una casa separada con mejoras de accesibilidad o un edificio de departamentos con un ascensor en ese caso).  Por el otro lado, hago más ejercicio solo por vivir aquí y probablemente estoy poniendo mi trasero en el mejor figura de mi vida ;)  Paredes compartidas pueden ser una preocupación en cuanto a ruido de los vecindarios, pero en nuestro caso, no hemos tenido tal problema.  De hecho, yo diría que es más tranquilo que el departamento en que vivimos antes.  Las paredes compartidas tienen ventajas también, como mejor aislamiento y costos más bajos de calentar y refrescar en comparación con una casa separada (por unidad de área).

Es obvio que las casas en hilera son una minoridad en EE.UU., pero creo que tienen un futuro bueno en mi rincón del país.  En áreas costosas como la área urbanizada de Los Ángeles, las casas en hilera dan oportunidades de ser dueño de casa a más gente y tienen una escala que en mi opinión funciona bien en un ambiente de los suburbios o un ambiente urbano.  El mercado parece suministrar una prueba de eso.  Las casas en hilera fueron solo 5.6% de las unidades de vivienda en EE.UU. en el Censo 2000 y como notado arriba fueron 5.8% en 2014.  Espero que ese porcentaje aumente ya que las grandes ciudades de EE.UU. siguen luchando con la falta de alojamiento económico y ven las oportunides en modelos de urbanización con más densidad y capacidad de caminar.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Living in a Townhouse

A photo of some townhomes via

I haven't been blogging much lately since my wife and I just bought our first home!  As it turns out, we bought a townhouse.  Architecturally it's a townhouse, legally it's a condominium unit.  A townhouse is a kind of house that is typically two or three stories tall and is attached to another townhouse on one or both sides.    This makes us kind of weird in that in America, 61.5% of housing units were detached houses in 2014 (see 2014 American Community Survey One-year Estimates, Table B25024, "Units in Structure").  Only 5.8% of America's housing units were townhomes.  However, we don't live in just any part of America.  We live in Los Angeles County, where the median home price for detached houses is $561,000 (CoreLogic "Southern California Home Resale Activity, June 2016").  Yikes!  If that sounds like an insane amount of money to pay for a house, that's because it is.

Townhomes have a lot of unique characteristics.  Since they're a denser form of housing than a detached house (29.8 units per acre or 73.5 units per hectare excluding streets in our case), they don't sit on as much land, meaning the land cost per unit is lower, meaning we got to pay a price that we could afford.  It also means this form of house better supports walkable urbanism and transit than a detached house.  Our townhouse includes an attached two-car garage, meaning no more hunting for parking on the street.  The garage easily fits into the footprint of the house and pretty much sets the width of the house.  We've got a patio and a balcony, which by the standards of a detached house are definitely cozy, but on the plus side, no lawn to mow or water (yes!!!).  The stairs are definitely an adjustment.  This type of house is not really suited for someone with a disability that prevents them from climbing stairs (a one-story detached house with accessibility upgrades or an apartment with an elevator would work better in that case).  On the plus side, I'm getting more exercise just by living in this house and probably getting a toned townhouse butt ;)  Shared walls can be a concern in terms of noise from the neighbors, but in our case we haven't had a problem.  In fact, I'd say it's quieter than the apartment we moved from.  Shared walls actually have some advantages too like better insulation and lower heating and cooling costs compared to a detached house.

While clearly townhomes are in the minority in the U.S., I think they have a bright future in my neck of the woods.  In expensive metro areas like Greater Los Angeles, townhomes give more people a shot at home ownership and they're at a scale that I would argue fits well in a suburban or an urban neighborhood.  The market seems to bear that out.  Townhomes were only 5.6% of America's housing stock at the 2000 Census and as noted above were 5.8% in 2014.  I expect that share will increase as America's large cities continue to struggle with housing affordability and see the opportunities in denser, more walkable development patterns.