Los Angeles might ease up on parking requirements for businesses


Sparking new debate over how the city should grow, Los Angeles officials have embraced a plan to ease parking space requirements for apartments, restaurants and stores in selected areas of the city.

Council members Tuesday backed an ordinance that would allow real estate developers, landlords and business owners to reduce the number of parking spaces needed for their projects.

The action represents an ambitious effort to breathe new life into moribund business districts and spur new housing construction while getting more people out of their cars. It comes just weeks after the council endorsed new development guidelines for Hollywood that seek to decrease reliance on automobiles and nurture more vigorous pedestrian activity and street life.

The parking changes and Hollywood plan dovetail with a broader City Hall commitment to “elegant density,” a planning concept that seeks to channel growth along the city’s expanding rail and bus corridors.

Council members representing the Eastside and Central City spearheaded the new parking initiative, saying the ordinance would ignite investment in century-old neighborhoods designed without the car in mind.

“We need to be a business-friendly city ... [and] stop the bleeding that occurs every time a business cannot open its shop because it needs one or two” parking spaces, said Councilman Ed Reyes.

The only council opposition came from Councilman Paul Koretz, who represents traffic-choked neighborhoods on the Westside, where residents greeted the parking changes more skeptically. Koretz’s opposition triggered a requirement for a second vote on the ordinance next week, which is considered routine.

Neighborhood activist Mike Eveloff, a Koretz constituent, said the parking changes rely on “wishful thinking” and the mistaken assumption that when driving cars becomes too inconvenient, people will “just not use them.” The winners in Tuesday’s vote, he said, will be real estate developers, who will no longer have to spend tens of thousands of dollars to build parking spaces.

“I think it will make a [real estate] project far more profitable if the parking problem is shifted from a developer to the surrounding community,” said Eveloff, president of the Tract 7260 Homeowners Assn., which represents residents near Century City.

Existing planning rules date to 1946, when Angelenos were designing a city dominated by the automobile in nearly every way. Decades later, those rules “torture businesses and don’t actually solve the parking problem,” developer Mott Smith said.

Current requirements also have made the city uglier, with architectural design often taking a back seat to parking lots, said Smith, whose consulting firm has advised the city on parking issues. “Look at any Taco Bell, Jiffy Lube or Walgreens,” he said.

Los Angeles is the latest city, after communities such as Santa Monica and West Hollywood, to retool parking requirements.

Two weeks ago, officials in West Hollywood began allowing smaller businesses on the city’s western edge to pay the city money in lieu of providing a space. The credit for one parking space costs just $375 per year, meaning more businesses can open, said Oscar Delgado, West Hollywood’s director of public works.

“We wanted to create an environment ... where it’s nice to stroll down a street and all the businesses are activated,” he said.

In Los Angeles, an office-type business must provide two parking spaces for every 1,000 square feet it occupies. A retail store needs to provide four spaces for that amount of floor space and a restaurant must come up with 10, officials said.

Los Angeles officials have experimented with relaxing parking rules in scattered parts of the city for a decade. One early change made it easier to convert older, empty downtown office buildings into lofts, apartments and condominiums without requiring additional parking, helping lure tens of thousands of new residents to the area.

City leaders also decreased parking requirements around the Hollywood and Western subway station and launched pilot parking districts in Eagle Rock and Atwater Village, where businesses without enough spaces were allowed to purchase city parking credits instead.

The program transformed Atwater Village, filling storefronts on Glendale Boulevard that had long been vacant, said Councilman Eric Garcetti. “Instead of just being a thoroughfare from Glendale to downtown, it is now a real model commercial district,” he said.

Small business owner Corey Wilton said he and his wife, Michelle, could not have opened their small Eagle Rock restaurant without the ability to purchase such credits. The city’s previous requirements called for nearly a dozen off-street parking spots, an impossible task given the cafe’s location on Colorado Boulevard, he said.

The latest parking ordinance would go farther, allowing the council to create districts where builders of apartments and condominiums would have the opportunity to provide parking up to 1,500 feet away from their projects. Currently, parking spaces must be provided on site.

Depending on how the districts are designed, developers could seek permits to reduce parking without having to go through a lengthy review process. The districts could also be used to require fewer parking spaces in development projects that are near transit stops, such as the Metro Red Line subway station, said city planner Thomas Rothmann.

The changes also could allow a restaurant to replace a bookstore without having to provide any additional parking, even though dining establishments frequently draw considerably more customers. That prospect alarms David Garfinkle, president of the Tarzana Property Owners Assn., which has spent the last year lobbying against the new ordinance.

“If you’ve got a street like Ventura Boulevard in the Valley and some portion of that becomes a [special parking] district, then you could easily have 10 or 15 of the small shops turn into restaurants and end up with maybe 100 cars for which there is no designated parking space,” he said.

City officials downplayed the possibility of a parking crunch, saying the new districts could also be used to increase parking in some areas, particularly near tourist attractions. The new parking districts still would require multiple votes and hearings before the Planning Commission and the City Council.

Reyes is already eyeing possible parking districts in Lincoln Heights and Pico Union. The ordinance also drew support from the Central City Assn., a downtown business group that advocates for real estate developers, and the American Institute for Architects of Los Angeles. Also backing the measure is Fixing Angelenos Stuck in Traffic, a nonprofit group with ties to labor, transportation and development interests.

That group has argued that more flexible parking rules should be “the new normal” in Los Angeles. Evelyn Alexander, director of the group, recently told council members that the plan “recognizes we can walk a block or two to a restaurant, or to a movie theater, or to a wine bar.”

Times staff writer Martha Groves contributed to this report.