Oregon Nears Green Light for Big Parking Reform

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“A Chance To Do So Much Good for Free”

Lelack’s stated concern wasn’t with the parking components of the proposal, which he’d singled out for particular praise at the commission’s previous meeting. 

“It’s pro-housing, pro-equity, pro-efficient-land-use,” Lelack said. “It addresses all the key issues we needed to address.” 

Most of the oral testimony the board received in Thursday’s three-hour public hearing was similarly supportive: 32 testifiers generally in favor of the reform package and 19 opposed.

Parking mandates aren’t the main reason we have parking lots. We have parking lots because cars are useful and, in many cases, necessary. And Oregon isn’t considering a ban on parking lots, new or old.

But the effect of mandatory parking lots is to keep cars necessary. By forcing buildings apart and driving up the cost of adding homes, shops, and offices to walkable areas, parking mandates make it illegal for cities to ever gradually and voluntarily evolve away from auto dependence.

Parking mandates ban new Main Streets by requiring each new 2,000-square-foot café to be surrounded by 5,000 square feet of parking lot. They keep buildings vacant. They drive up the rent in new apartments by hundreds of dollars a month and kill the incentive of landlords and employers to save everyone money by coordinating shared cars or discounted transit passes. They induce deadly heat islands and, by forcing new buildings to be spread out, literally cast modern auto dependence into stone. 

Transportation advocate and city planning consultant Cathy Tuttle was among those speaking Thursday in favor of removing parking mandates.

“The beauty of these administrative changes to eliminate parking mandates is that they’re easy to implement, and have the potential to do good without costing the state or the cities much money,” Tuttle said. “Rarely do we get a chance to do so much good for free.”

“It Gives Me a Stress Attack”

Parking was also on the minds of various local officials who spoke in opposition. 

“Since I’ve been on council for 10 years now, I can sum up in three words some of the most important issues: parking, parking, parking,” Eugene City Councilor Claire Syrett told the commission. “It is a huge topic that you don’t expect when you join city council. … Frankly, as an elected official it gives me a stress attack to think about how we’re going to deal with this in terms of public engagement.” 

In a state with soaring rents and sale prices, a state-estimated shortage of 111,000 homes, and one of the highest rates of homelessness in the U.S., the rules would increase the number of new homes, shops and offices that can be built without mandates for a certain number of parking spaces on site in the state’s eight largest metros. 

For small homes, homes meeting affordability standards, and buildings near transit service, the number of on-site parking spaces would become fully flexible by the start of 2023. 

Happy Valley Councilor Brett Sherman spoke from a suburban city where the median income of $125,000 is among Oregon’s highest. He cited one new building with 168 homes and 301 parking stalls, warning that the new rules would have allowed it to be built with as few as 84 stalls. 

“The parking lots are currently 80 percent full at night,” Sherman said.

Hallova replied that the commission isn’t preventing the construction of parking lots, and that in her own developments she has included on-site parking even when it isn’t required, because she knew that she would struggle to find buyers without it.

A different testifier, Paul Frazier, argued that Sherman’s own example was of a parking lot that had been overbuilt.

“That means there’s 20 percent too many,” Frazier said. “Right now we provide an abundance of supply regardless of the demand.” 

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