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    In Depth

    Councilwoman Suja Lowenthal Advocates Reducing Downtown Parking Space Req'ts For New Developments; Urges City "Investment" In Downtown Public Transit

    (April 18, 2007) -- During an April 17 hearing in which the City Council approved a 22-story 6th/Pine twin tower development with fewer parking spaces than required by LB's zoning law (overruling an appeal on the parking issue by representatives of three downtown-area homeowner/neighborhood groups), 2nd district Councilwoman Suja Lowenthal delivered an extended statement advocating increased density with reduced parking requirements for downtown LB developments. believes her statements are indepedently newsworthy apart from the 6th/Pine project...and has provided them below in extended transcript form.

    If ultimately adopted by a Council majority, the development policies advocated by Councilwoman Lowenthal would have significant, long-term implications for LB residents and taxpayers citywide.

    Councilwoman Lowenthal denied that her advocacy of fewer parking spaces for downtown dense developments is inconsistent with her February action [reported by] to find additional parking for neighborhoods "robbed" [her April 07 term] of their parking by 1980's Council actions that brought "crackerbox" [multi-unit] apartment density to residential neighborhoods, saying the two circumstances aren't comparable. posts Councilwoman Suja Lowenthal's statement in extended form below. Our transcript is unofficial, prepared by us. Councilwoman Lowenthal's words speak for themselves.

    [begin transcription]

    Councilwoman Suja Lowenthal: ...I know parking is a challenge. Perhaps more than anyone else I tackled it as a challenge. And I want to make some remarks about parking that I don't believe are inconsistent with how I have gone about advocating for increasing parking availability in areas that have been robbed from it.
    Councilwoman Suja Lowenthal April 17/07
    Screen save from April 17 City Council webcast

    And those areas are the neighborhoods. In no way can we compare the crackerbox development of decades ago to developments that we want invite into the downtown that we wish to underpark.

    Underparking a project, and we'll have to come up with a different term, isn't the same as when people were allowed to put up their crackerboxes into neighborhoods. These are projects that are different. In an urban environment, those parking requirements have to be different.

    Oftentimes when I look at things such as urban developments here in the city, I look back to some of my favorite reading, and since none of us really have time to read novels, I know we do tend to read things that are of interest to the subject matter that perhaps we've studied, or perhaps just interest us.

    And something that I pulled up always reminds me how I need to forge ahead when I think about building our urban density. And it's an article that I read a while ago but I want to just read a little something from it. And the title was The Effects of Parking Requirements on Urban Density

    And again, I want to remind everyone this is not incongruent with how I advocate for parking in areas that were robbed of it.

    [begins reading text]

    The right to access every building in this city by private motor car, Lewis Mumford wrote in 1961 in an age where everyone owned such a vehicle, is actually the right to destroy the city. Mumford meant not physical destruction, of course, but the loss of cohesion that can make a central area an urban environment more than the sum of its parts.

    Parking requirements go a long way toward making downtown little more than a group of buildings, each a destination in its own right to be parked at, and departed from, and not part of some larger whole.

    This missing sense of urbanity, subjective though the term may be, might explain why people often react with disbelief, when they are told L.A. sprawled less than New York or San Francisco.

    So what should we do? We should start by admitting there is such a thing as too much parking. So long as we continue to make minimum parking requirements a condition of development, we subordinate almost every other function of our cities to the need for free parking.

    But free parking, indeed parking in general, is not what makes cities great. It doesn't create Manhattan and it doesn't make downtown San Francisco. Urbanists -- [Councilwoman breaks from text] such as a lot of us in this room -- [returns to text] who admire these cities should call for other areas to mimic not simply their density but also their willingness to limit, rather than require, parking.

    Perhaps the simplest and most productive reform of American zoning would be to declare that all existing off-parking requirements are maximums rather than minimums. From that point we could let the market take care of parking and let city planners take care of many vital that really demand their attention. [ends citing text]

    And for me, those vital issues include public transportation, mobility schemes that reflect the opportunities in our city. We are a city with fabulous terrain and fabulous weather and we don't explore the mobility schemes that we should and we certainly don't invest in them.

    Something has to give for a great downtown to develop, and sometimes that something has to be behind this rail, and that something has to be our City. Our City has to spend a lot more time investing in transportation options rather than hampering development based on the challenges that already exist.

    Another article that I read, which was from 2003 and I saved in my archive because I got kind of a laugh from it, but the title was, and it was in the Chicago Tribune, "Higher Parking Requirements Could Turn Chicago Into L.A." [Laughter]

    They are looking away from our example and we actually need to look out and mimic other examples. And in that it talked about how Chicago was considering moving from its one to one parking requirement to two to one, and it went on to detail how that would actually destroy the fabulous downtown that they had created.

    So in all of this, what I wish to share is that when you build in the downtown you cannot use the same parking standards that we use throughout our city. You cannot compare crackerbox developments that built with zero parking to those developments that actually should be underparked in the downtown.

    When the expectation is that we will move from building to building in our car as opposed to park once and move about, then that means we're not committed to a downtown, we're not committed to the downtown that we have the potential to have and we deserve.

    And so when our visioning team looks at density, I am so appreciative that they are also looking at everything else that's a part of it. Because what we tend to do, and I think this is endemic of other cities as well, we tend to take pieces of other people's success and not realize that a lot more went into those cities' success.

    So if we say we need higher density in the downtown, well, we need to actually invest in what would require [invite] a higher density to come.

    And so why is it that Vancouver can have their developments park at such a lower rate that we think ours must? Why is it that Portland [OR] does it? And why those cities now and not us today?

    Those are questions we have to answer. And again it takes me back to something has to give. And for me, I'm committed to that give being on this side of rail.

    We cannot talk about what Mayor Enrique Peñalosa said when he came from Bogota, Colombia about mobility schemes. We can't sit back and say how wonderful that is when we don't want to invest in it. We can't talk about incorporating mobility into our General Plan unless we are actually committed to building the kind of projects that would complement those mobility schemes.

    So I am asking that we look at projects like this as examples of why we need to reduce our parking requirements so that we can get rid of the congestion and really create a vibrant downtown that we deserve. I want to live in a city where we can have a Manhattan of our own, or we can have a Vancouver or a Portland.

    What that may also mean is that we need to invest in other forms of transportation. I for one will be advocating for a light rail such as a streetcar that I saw in Portland. Nothing excited me more than that streetcar...

    [Mayor Foster reminds Councilwoman Lowenthal of other items pending on the evening's agenda. She wraps up by indicating she'll vote to support the 6th/Pine twin tower project with its parking standard.] [end transcription]

    Councilwoman Lowenthal, who was president of the LB Unified School District governing board, was elected in June 2006 to the City Council in a multi-candidate special election [replacing a Council incumbent who resigned] in which Lowenthal finished first with roughly 37% of the vote.

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