George and Janet Keller steer their tandem bike around parked cars on India Street. / Photo by Sam Hodgson

California’s affordability and environmental crises are only intensifying. The state now has just 22 affordable units for every 100 extremely low-income households in need — the second-lowest rate in the nation — and the U.S. Geological Survey found that damage from sea-level rise due to climate change will cost far more than any natural disaster in state history.

San Diego is in a dire housing crisis, but we must ensure that homes are built for all San Diegans and in the right places: near transit, jobs and everyday necessities. Fortunately, local policymakers across the political spectrum are rising to simultaneously face the two defining challenges of our time.

Voice of San Diego Commentary

Last month, the San Diego City Council voted to reform parking regulations as part of Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s plan to make housing more affordable for all San Diegans. By doing so, San Diego joined a group of world-class, innovative cities that are taking climate change seriously by making dense and sustainable cities more affordable to live in.

It can cost as much as $90,000 per space to build parking, which was mandated by the city’s decades-old regulations. The high cost of parking has been invariably passed on to homeowners and tenants, even when the household neither wants nor needs its allotted spaces.

Unfortunately, there is opposition to this bold and necessary reform. Those resistant to change say that public transit infrastructure must be expanded before denser housing is allowed and parking requirements are eliminated, even though the city’s parking reforms only affect Transit Priority Areas, which are located within one-half mile of a trolley station or a bus stop with two or more high frequency routes. It is unclear at which point transit investments will satisfy opponents of parking reform when groups in communities receiving a $2 billion transit investment still argue against more housing and reduced parking in their neighborhoods.

No doubt there must be a dramatic increase in transit investment across San Diego. Improving transit and increasing ridership is the only way to achieve the greenhouse gas reduction targets set by the city’s legally binding Climate Action Plan. To that end, the potential Metropolitan Transit System 2020 ballot measure to fund new transit projects and improvements to the existing transit network, along with parking reform and the updating of MTS’s joint development policy, will allow more San Diego families to forgo the high cost of car storage and encourage more environmentally friendly commutes.

Solving the housing affordability crisis also requires that different agencies and departments work together, with parking reform just one of many that’s worthy of support. Another is City Council President Georgette Gomez’s proposal to require developers building new apartment complexes to include more units for low-income residents or pay stiffer fees. There’s also a local bond measure that will raise $900 million to build affordable homes in San Diego, as well as state and local efforts to strengthen tenants’ rights and prevent unjust evictions.

Enacting parking reform is a necessary step toward meeting our housing affordability and environmental goals. On Tuesday, the City Council should affirm its support for parking reform when Faulconer’s proposal comes up for another vote. Our elected officials and community leaders must continue to advocate for policies that address our great climate and housing challenges in an equitable manner. Innovative policies are essential, as are bold leaders who support them.

Brendan Dentino is a co-chair of the YIMBY Democrats of San Diego County policy committee and a housing policy consultant. Maya Rosas is the founding president of the YIMBY Democrats of San Diego County and an urban planner working in land use and transportation policy.

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