Development vs. Parking - What's The Solution?
Driving around our town you cannot help but notice the growing proliferation of common interest developments - former single family lots that were purchased by developers, who scraped the little homes from them and built 4-6 units in the same spot. They replaced a 1200-1400 square foot, 2-bedroom, 2 bath residence with 12,000 square feet of living space in the form of a half dozen two-story 3 and 4 bedroom, 3 bath dwelling units. In most cases, the parking spaces provided don't come close to those necessary to meet the needs, which means the excess spills out onto the neighborhood streets. These kind of developments are popping up like mushrooms. Most of them really look nice, but severely overtax the infrastructure, including parking.
Last week my travels took me past a couple recent housing developments in our city - the Standard Pacific project near Harbor and Adams behind Mesa Verde Center and the Richmond Homes development at the former site of the Daily Pilot on Bay Street. Two things stuck me as I drove through both of those neighborhoods. First, you get the feeling that everything is just too close together - like driving through a series of canyons. Second, the parking is abysmal! In fact, driving through the Richmond Homes development is kind of like driving through an open wound because of the proliferation of red curbs.
PARTY TIME! - BRING YOUR HIKING BOOTS
With the holidays just around the corner and parties being planned, I found myself wondering how the residents in those two developments plan to handle visitors to their homes. At the Standard Pacific development, if they invite more than two couples someone is going to walk a quarter mile from the closest parking space. At the Richmond Homes development extra cars almost certainly already spill out onto the surrounding neighborhood.
The problem here, as I see it, is systemic. Our ordinances, as administered by our Planning Commission and City Council, permit developers to squeeze every last square inch of space on a lot without enough consideration to what happens after the last home is sold and the residents are left to deal with the traffic flow, parking and general congestion of such developments. I understand that we can't expect developers to do business in Costa Mesa if we impose such draconian restrictions that they cannot make a profit, but I suspect that's not the case.
RETAIL AFFECTED, TOO
This is not only a problem in new housing developments, either. It's a problem with many retail projects, too. For example, on the far eastside there is a strip mall on the corner of East 17th Street and Irvine Avenue that suffers from severe underparking. It's a real Catch 22 situation. Businesses that move into this particular mall and are successful eventually suffer business loss because of their success and the success of the businesses around them. As a result, there is a steady stream of new businesses passing through the mall.
MY SOLUTION? FEWER UNITS, MORE PARKING
What's my point? Well - and this will make my old pal, Planning Commissioner Jim Fisler happy - I think we need to fine-tune our rules about parking. I think we need to strictly enforce those rules already in place - which doesn't seem to happen very often - and make it clear to any developers planning to do business in Costa Mesa that we will be unwavering in the enforcement of adequate, off-street parking for any new projects.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know what's coming next. You're going to tell me that this will discourage development. Maybe, but I don't think development for development's sake is necessarily a good idea. Yes, it's a good idea to encourage ownership housing to a greater extent - our ratio of renters to owners is upside down. However, I don't think jamming five or six times the number of people onto a residential lot than was originally planned is a smart way to go.
I need to have someone explain to me why it's important to just keep packing more and more people into what is constantly referred to as a "built-out city". If we were to magically tear down half of the apartment buildings in this city and replace them with condos or single family homes that would accommodate only two-thirds of the people, is that necessarily bad? I don't think so. More people doesn't necessarily make for a better city - only a bigger one, with all the problems that come with compressing the population. We should take the same view with these insidious common interest developments, too. More people stuffed into otherwise quiet neighborhoods doesn't make them better, only more crowded.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
That's my view on this subject. I expect to hear from Commissioner Jim on this one, but what about the rest of you? Any ideas?