For those who favor retaining parking minimums: We should set bathtub minimums for new housing. After all, many people like a nice bath, and surely if we do not mandate this, nobody will have a bathtub.

What’s that you say, this sounds silly? Of course it is. Precisely because many people like baths, businesses that build apartments provide plenty of units with bathtubs. If we set a bathtub minimum, that would be telling a low-income renter who needs to save money that it is illegal to provide an efficient studio unit that just has a shower — which might mean that renter can’t afford to live here at all, and instead becomes yet another super-commuter, driving in from three hours away, adding congestion and GHG emissions.

The same logic applies to parking. Builders know that many of their renters will want parking, so they build as much as they think the market will demand. Parking minimums are the government intervening and saying, “No, you must build MORE than the market demands!” This is a tax on those who want to drive less, to subsidize those who drive more. It makes our traffic and climate problems worse.

Demographic studies of the people moving into new apartments near transit along El Camino show only about 0.8 cars per bedroom. And that’s with those apartments being over-provisioned with parking. There’s no reason to keep wasting valuable land on asphalt. We need affordable housing for humans, not cars.

Auros Harman

San Bruno

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(7) comments

Doug North Central

So my friend Auros. I know you live in San Bruno, not San Mateo, but here in North Central San Mateo, which is a minority neighborhood and has many second (or more) units already on small lots, we will be seeing front yards concreted over for parking - with resulting stormwater run-off into the Bay. The City's Public Works just sent notice that Humboldt Street through our neighborhood will be losing 170 parking spaces along one side of the street, with a replacement bike lane being provided for those commuting through our neighborhood. There has already been a road-diet on the parallel San Mateo Drive in order to provide bike lanes there. What do you propose to protect our humble neighborhood? There is one chance for public comment, October 4th before the City Council (online I hope), before the contract awarded the same night!!

Doug Handerson San Mateo

Doug North Central

Where were the Auros Harmans of the World when Burlingame approved the mega-jobs development with one street in and out, now to be occupied by Facebook with 6,000 jobs at Burlingame Point (300 Airport Blvd.)? I find it interesting that Auros ignored my comment previously on this controversial one-sided post and letter of his. There is no regular transit service to this development. Jobs equal increased densities in limited residential units, when commercial developers are not required to locate on existing transit lines nor build equivalent new housing units, yes?


We absolutely do need to address the jobs/housing balance issue from both sides.

Just to give an example -- I'm quite disappointed in the RWC Council here. CM Espinoza-Garnica had this right.


Sure, adding office space for 500 more jobs is a way to make the numbers pencil out for 100 units of subsidized affordable housing... But how many low-income people are going to be displaced because 500 incoming workers bid up the existing housing stock? I know math is not everyone's strong suit, but I am pretty confident that 500 is _more_ than 100!

We have to get serious about up-zoning near our transit corridors sufficiently to create self-contained mixed-use neighborhoods where folks have access to the services they need within a 10-15 minute walk from home, and we get an adequate customer base for more high-frequency bus routes.

As far as the parking issue, you need to put a price on parking, and make the permit scheme pay for enforcement. In my own neighborhood, we have a problem with people parking on our streets and then calling an Uber to get to the airport (because it's just across 101 from us), but so far there isn't a consensus on doing permits. But what we've seen with recent apartment buildings is that the apartment developer is getting told that their residents will not be allowed to buy into a permit scheme for the rest of the neighborhood. Fundamentally if everyone knows that if they build a unit without parking, they will ONLY be able to rent that unit to somebody who doesn’t need parking, because there is no local un-priced parking to compete for / congest, then builders will make smarter choices about what to build.

Terence Y

Mr. Harman – thanks for your letter, but as stated a few days ago, perhaps more data to support less parking minimums is in store before any changes are made. You include a statistic of 0.8 cars per bedroom for people moving into new apartments, but what about existing folks in apartments? How many cars per bedroom or per adult do they have? And where are they parking if they don’t have assigned spaces? Local neighborhoods? The more this issue is delved into, the more complicated it gets. We know government can’t deal with complicated – sometimes they can’t even deal with easy and maybe that’s why the status quo stays in effect. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it?

BTW, what about turning high rise office buildings into housing? Turn one of the Oracle buildings into apartments/dorm rooms. Creating communal bathrooms, kitchens, living areas, etc. would lower costs. We then wouldn’t need to destroy single family housing areas. There are already parking garages so inhabitants won’t need to surround local neighborhoods with parked cars. A win all around?


But Terence, my entire point here is that I want to get the government out of the business of deciding how much parking there should be! The status quo is that government is insisting that more parking get produced than the market actually would otherwise want. Once the private businesses that make the buildings have been coerced into providing extra parking, of course a lot of people do use it. They've been forced to buy it as part of renting their home, whether they wanted it or not. If your office suddenly started docking everyone's wages, and spent the money on buying donuts to put out every day, folks in your office are probably gonna eat a lot more donuts than they would if they got to decide for themselves how to spend that money.

It's not like we don't have examples of suburbs and small towns that have done this. Sandpoint, ID removed parking minimums, and it has helped revitalize their downtown: https://www.strongtowns.org/journal/2019/1/30/one-line-of-your-zoning-code-can-make-a-world-of-difference

Regarding converting commercial buildings to apartments -- I absolutely agree! But you're talking about another area where most cities' zoning codes are extremely restrictive -- they say "you can ONLY build residences here, you can ONLY build commercial space over there, and never the twain shall meet!" Separating heavy industrial uses, with their noise and pollution, from our residences, was a triumph of public health. But a large portion of how zoning has subsequently evolved is perverse. In literally every city and town in history, up until the mid-twentieth century, small businesses and families just built what they needed. You can look at the lost Roman city of Pompeii and find buildings that clearly were residences with small businesses attached. https://www.strongtowns.org/journal/2021/8/20/the-spooky-wisdom-of-pompeii

When I was a kid, my family used to get our hair cut in a little studio that a neighbor ran out of her home, in a very-suburban neighborhood of a town 20 minutes west of Baltimore. This kind of integration of commercial and residential uses, and with a blend of different building types, is _normal_. It's how humanity lived up until VERY recently. https://www.strongtowns.org/journal/2019/7/3/making-normal-neighborhoods-legal-again

The legislature has had some bills circulating that would make it harder for cities to ban conversion of commercial space into residences. I'm hopeful that just as we've passed laws like SB 9 allowing for small-plex dwellings, and laws that prevent cities from blocking Accessory Dwelling Units, we'll soon see a wave of support for "Accessory Commercial Units", to allow aspiring entrepreneurs to start small businesses out of their homes without the level of red tape and license fees that currently get in the way. https://www.strongtowns.org/journal/2020/8/15/accessory-commercial-units

Terence Y

Mr. Harman, thank you for your response. So you want to get the government out of the business of deciding how much parking but you want the government to stay in the business of dictating zoning laws, and allowing only residential, commercial or industrial or other zones? Would you want the government deciding that you can only install electric appliances to all new construction, and existing gas appliance users need to update to electrical (as is being proposed in some local cities)? Would you want the government deciding that electric car chargers must be installed in units, whether or not you have an electric car (again, as is being proposed in some local cities)?

Who decides what the government should be deciding? For now, it appears special interest groups are deciding what the government should be deciding, as SB 9 and SB 10 have shown. If you want the government out (and I don’t necessarily disagree, unless it’s for safety), let’s get them out – we can start with everything related to housing and zoning. But what are the odds of that?


I would not favor _entirely_ abolishing zoning, because there's clearly public health value to separating industrial uses from everything else. Like, would you want somebody to open a gravel mine right next to your house? Or a paper mill, or a chemical refinery?

As a general principle, we _should_ ask the government to regulate when there are externalities -- i.e. when your neighbor can profit from something, while making you bear part of the cost from his operations. You'll find this idea discussed in any econ 101 textbook. Pollution from industrial activity is one of the standard examples.

Re: gas appliances, AFAIK nobody has proposed forcing anyone to update existing appliances, everything I've read has been a push toward not including gas hookups in new construction, and banning sale of whole new gas appliances. (It would still be able to get parts to maintain existing ones.)

And as far as chargers -- yeah I agree, there's no obvious need to force that. As a matter of the building code, we need to make sure that a new building's primary interconnection is adequate for future electrical demand, but people can install as many or as few chargers as they actually need -- electric vehicles are already popular enough that businesses are choosing to install hookups, no government mandate required. And installing a new wall connector is maybe a couple hours of work for a competent electrician. (n.b.: I work for Tesla.)

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