Aug 31, 2023 - News

Downtown San Diego is 14% parking

A view of downtown Petco Park in downtown San Diego in 2009

Petco Park, where some surrounding parking lots have since been replaced by development. Photo: Andy Hayt/Getty Images

In San Diego, few topics derail a conversation as quickly as parking — the housing crisis, changing Balboa Park and public access to the coast all often become parking debates.

Driving the news: About 14% of downtown San Diego is dedicated to surface parking lots or garages, less than the average of other major metropolitan areas, according to the Parking Reform Network, a nonprofit advocacy group.

  • That puts San Diego behind San Francisco, ahead of Los Angeles and about even with San Jose, in terms of land dedicated to parking in each city.

Of note: The group defines downtown as a slightly smaller area than its official designation, excluding Little Italy, Cortez Hill and part of East Village.

Why it matters: Abundant parking discourages transit use, walking and biking, the group argues.

  • "Our research indicates that the percentage of land taken up by parking decreases as the percentage of individuals opt for public transportation, walking or biking as their primary commuting methods increases," Parking Reform Network writes on its website.

The big picture: At least nine hotel or housing projects have been built downtown recently on sites formerly reserved for parking, said Brian Schoenfisch, a San Diego development official focused on downtown.

  • Those projects have produced over 2,000 housing units, about 150 of which are reserved for people with low incomes, according to city development logs, plus hotel and retail space.

Zoom in: As part of a reform aimed at turning downtown lots into housing approved by the City Council earlier this year, city planners surveyed the downtown area and found 35 surface parking lots ripe for development.

  • That change lets developers build 50% more units than regulations otherwise allow, if they include affordable housing and the project is on a lot currently used for parking, auto shops or drive-thru restaurants.

Flashback: In 2022, San Diego eliminated minimum parking requirements for many businesses within a half-mile of transit, a change vocally opposed by some residents.

  • Three years earlier, the city removed parking minimums for apartment projects near transit.
  • The city's parking reforms have been a persistent source of controversy, with neighborhood groups like Neighbors for a Better San Diego rallying against them.

The bottom line: Despite its car-first reputation, San Diego actually has less downtown land dedicated to parking than other cities of over 1 million people, after the city pushed parking reforms for years.

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