Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Flexible Parking Requirements Spur Business in Santa Monica

(This information is condensed from a recent post at As Laguna Beach plans to develop a multi-million dollar parking garage on Laguna Canyon Road, lessons may be learned from a garage building project nearby. Santa Monica’s commercial areas were sleepy, under-performing and shabby just a few decades ago. To revive it's commercial district the city approved millions in funding for municipal parking structures in the heart of downtown. City leaders planned to revitalize the business district but those garages alone weren’t enough to generate the commercial transformation Santa Monica sought. What Santa Monica needed was a change in approach to parking requirements for commercial business. The critical policy change was to create a flexible process allowing developers to build, and businesses to operate with fewer on-site parking requirements. In 1986 the Santa Monica City Council approved a business assessment district to fund commercial improvements. Highlights of the changes were:

  • It gave developers the ability to opt-out of required on-site parking by paying a fee.
  • It allowed changes in a given building's land-use specification, the required amount of parking necessary for a retail establishments was relaxed.
Today downtown Santa Monica has thriving  pedestrian-friendly retail streets filled with successful restaurants and shops.  The north side of Wilshire Blvd maintained the old pre-1986 Standard Parking Requirements,the south side implemented the new Flexible Parking Requirements.

Properties in the flexible parking requirement area generate eight times more sales tax revenue per parcel than the properties in the standard parking requirement area. Businesses are generating all that revenue with a fraction of the onsite parking.
  • Parcels with flexible parking had an average of 4.4 spaces each.
  • Parcels in the standard parking averaged a hundred spaces each.
  • For flexible parking 80% of the street frontage was retail
  • For standard parking 30% was dedicated to retail despite ten times the amount of frontage dedicated to parking infrastructure.
These charts show to what extent the 1986 council decision was responsible and how much difference was due to change in parking policy.


So, the flexible side of Wilshire Boulevard has lots of thriving businesses, less on-site parking and a more pleasant pedestrian environment. The standard side has fewer businesses but more parking spaces including surface parking lots two blocks from the ocean. Santa Monica discovered how to create a vibrant pedestrian-friendly district by reducing parking.

For tables of this data and the complete article see the recent post at This data is from a recap article for the  L.A. Department of City Planning by graduate student Carter Rubin. His research adviser was the inimitable parking guru, UCLA Urban Planning Professor Donald Shoup. Read the report in its entirety here.


  1. This is very timely as Corona del Mar has set a priority for a new Parking Plan.

    It will be interesting to observe how the two cities embrace the findings in this report as many conclusions run counter to conventional wisdom, but that's what makes this report such front-page news.

    Good luck Laguna, and save that money.

  2. I've been parking in brick lot my whole life. This is pretty obvious. I'd like to se forest shut down and used as a cafe street like in Madrid. Does anyone know how many parking spots are on Forest? Probably 30-40

    1. I counted them once, West end has 46, Middle has 10, East end has 29, Total 85 metered spaces. Forest is operated like a parking lot, it would serve everyone better as a Pedestrian Zone. The alley behind it is paved in decorative paving stones but used as a loading zone for merchants. Re-schedule the loading period and renovate the alley for pedestrians. It is Prime real-estate one block from the beach begging for a remodel and re-use.