Why should developers use up valuable square footage on parking spaces when they can pay the city to build and maintain parking lots elsewhere?
Some city officials want to encourage more developers to take up that philosophy.
Seeking to further a "park once" model in downtown, city officials want to expand a so-called "parking in-lieu fee," where developers volunteer to provide fewer parking spaces than what's required by city code for their buildings. In exchange, they pay a fee to the city that's supposed to fund construction of new public parking.
During a study session Tuesday night, most of the seven-member City Council indicated they are ready to move forward with increasing the scope of the program beyond its current boundaries in the core of downtown, and raising the fee developers would pay to the city instead of building their own parking. But councilman Bobby Shriver, who is not running for reelection when his term ends this year, doubts the fee actually helps encourage shoppers to to only park once during their visit.
"The way you're going to be able to get people to stay in one place, [is when] the things you want are near where you're parking," Shriver said.
The decision will come amid rising community concerns over the volume of new development citywide and criticism over the resulting traffic and limited parking, especially in downtown.
The fees would likely be used to improve current parking options, but not to immediately build new lots and garages. Suggested improvements included a valet program where drivers could leave their car at one end of the city and pick it up at a different location, and installing lighting systems in garages that flash green when a space is available.
Cities commonly use "park once" models to encourage new development, more room on the property for retail or restaurant space, and to reduce street congestion as more people walk.
"I'm constantly encouraged [by] how we’re keeping our eye on the prize for a better, more walkable, more livable, more sustainable downtown area," said councilman Terry O'Day.
Currently, the option to pay the "parking in-lieu fee" is limited to new development in the area bounded by Second Court (alley behind 2nd Street) to the west, Fourth Court to the east, Broadway to the south, and Wilshire Boulevard to the north. The fee is paid annually to the city. It's $1.50 per square foot that was added after 1986 for which parking is not provided.
The city has reported collecting about $600,000 annually from 44 parcels. There's about $7 million in the account, and it's being used to the fund the .
The existing fee covers just a small fraction of the amount it costs for the city to build new parking spaces—estimated at between $30,000 and $54,000 per space, according to a recent parking study.
The city's consultants, Nelson\Nygaard and AECOM, proposed setting the fee at a flat rate of $20,000 per space and adjusting it annually based on a construction cost index.
Councilman Bob Holbrook said $20,000 would be a "fair fee to start with."
He and Kevin McKeown stressed the importance of the city actually building the parking.
"We can’t collect the fee and not build the parking," said Holbrook. "There won’t be places for those cars to go."
The council is pushing city planning staff to move forward with the program's expansion before the city adopts its new Downtown Specific Plan, which is supposed to address existing parking problems and identify locations where new public spaces could be built.
"If we move this forward, we’re essentially saying, 'don’t worry, you don't have to build all this parking, we’ll take care of it,'" said McKeown.