Saturday, February 8, 2020

City Council, February 10th - Parking and Housing Again

Last month Council continued the Hearing on new multi-family housing code in order to get more information on parking mandates.

The Staff Report this month didn't really do that, and instead merely offers Council a menu of possible decisions. Staff ducked, and it's a weak response.

From the SKATS 2019 RTSP appendices
(comments in red added)
Fortunately, there's an academic paper submitted by a citizen.

"Households with bundled parking use transit less"
But this also casts an interesting light on our prevailing standards for Staff Reports. Why doesn't staff ever compile academic papers and give Council a summary of current research? Rarely does a Staff Report actually present the best available current research on a topic. "Literature review" is not some exotic genre of writing or analysis.

We see the lack of a review on homelessness right now, we have seen it many times on induced demand in transportation, and probably we see it on trees and other topics. It seems to be a pattern. Is it unrealistic to expect City staff to be able to summarize the current best state of research on a given topic and then to formulate a recommendation based on that rather than recycling the same old popular bromides from a decade or two previous? This is a way that City staff fail to give Council the best information for their decision-making and policy choices. Staff sometimes seem too responsive to politics, and it's Council's job to assess politics. Staff's job is to articulate the best analysis regardless of politics and to let Council do the politicking.

Back to the matter at hand, in the current Staff Report there's an understated link,a little buried, to an article at the American Planning Association.  Once you click through, there is this:

Buried in the APA article: 17% of rent goes to parking
(A different analysis of Portland costs comes to the same conclusion)
It's not clear why the Staff Report doesn't surface more of the analysis and make an explicit recommendation.

What the Staff Report blandly offers instead are "ideas for consideration" and makes no representation about what they actually think best serves the larger goals. It's passive and dithery.
Summary of Options Discussed Above:
1. Minimum Parking Requirements for Multifamily Housing
 a) Current proposal
 b) Eliminate minimum parking requirements for multifamily projects in the Central Salem Development Program area
 c) Eliminate minimum parking requirements for multifamily projects within ¼ mile of Cherriots’ Core Network

2. Minimum Parking Requirements for Room and Board facilities
 a) Reduce or eliminate parking requirements for Room and Board facilities...

4. Bike storage
 a) Current proposal
 b) Require a minimum of at least 50 percent of bicycle parking spaces to be indoors, in bike lockers, or secured covered areas.
Staff has bailed on this, and it is strange they are not more engaged in analysis and making a recommendation.

On these issues I think Council should more act more aggressively on unbundling parking and removing parking mandates, but should wait on bike parking. The Staff Report also says
Staff has discussed the idea of revising the UDC to have short-term and long-term bike parking requirements and intends to pursue this as a broader update to the UDC. This work would include proposing minimum number of short- and long-term bike parking requirements for each use and developing design and locational standards for long-term bike parking. Staff anticipates doing this code update within the next year or two.
Portland just updated their bike parking code, and it's a little more complicated than just requiring covered bike parking on complexes with 13 or more homes. Hasty action on this risks bad and unusable bike parking. (See BikePortland here and here.)

Stepping back a little, as a general rule for context and in analysis, one thing that would be helpful is to talk about "homes" rather than acreage:
This code amendment implements recommendations in the Salem Housing Needs Analysis (HNA). The HNA found that Salem’s portion of the urban growth boundary has a projected 207-acre deficit of land designated for multifamily housing (2,897 units) based on a 20-year population forecast.
As you can see from the chart at top, we have accumulated a real deficit in building, and questions about surplus/deficit of appropriately zoned land are subordinate and supporting details, not the primary question. If we are concerned about homelessness and affordability, we need to center the actual creation and number of homes (and a home is also an apartment in a multi-family building, not just detached dwelling for a single family) in our analyses, not merely the theoretical possibility of them on appropriately zoned acreage.

(Previously see notes here on the housing code project. Sightline also has an interesting series going right now on abundant housing and climate change and it is worth a read.)

Other Items

Report on planting
There are a couple of formal reports on trees, one on tree planting, the other a canopy assessment.

But you know what's missing? A report on tree loss and tree care. It's hard to square the City's profession of love for trees with the shoddy pruning, construction "protection," and outright cutting-down we see around town. It's as if planting saplings, and not retention, is the only thing that matters. It will be interesting to hear what tree advocates specifically have to say.

Does the basket-weave actually protect from rain?
February 19th, 1920
There's an update on the amphitheater and bathrooms in Riverfront Park. The latest rendering for the amphitheater is unclear about whether the basket-weave roof will offer shelter from sun and rain or if it is open and wholly ornamental.

There will be more to say perhaps on the Rotary Club's 100th anniversary later this month.

Council will also be appointing someone to the Planning Commission, and Michael Slater's the only one who has mentioned climate change as a problem. He also says "I believe we need to give deference to long-term vision over responding to current market needs" and points to ways we erode our formally adopted plans. His responses are especially thoughtful and avoid slogans and cliches.

Council should appoint him.

There's a map for  the camping concepts, and on the surface it does not look like a fully baked proposal. Instead it looks like spitballing another "idea for consideration." Others will have more to say.

In the minutes to January 27th, there was the 8-1 vote to deny the Hospital a parking fee waiver and a 5-4 vote against calling up the apartments at the State Hospital for Council review. (The specific reasons for a callup may deserve more comment and I may come back to it later this weekend.)


Susann Kaltwasser said...

Glad you noticed how poor the staff reports from the Planning Department are these days. Been something that has been bugging me for some time. Staff is supposed to be helping the Council make decisions by giving them data, or ideas to consider. Either this or that choices is not helpful.

I want to know why the rush to complete this process. I want to see an analysis of the projected impact of some of the recommendations. What I call a 'reality check.' What is the purpose of the code changes and are we going to achieve them with the adoption of each change. Or are we just changing for change's sake?

Case in point, this discussion about the issue of reducing parking for apartments close to bus lines. If the idea is to reduce costs and ensuring that saving get passed on to renter, great. If the idea is to create more bus riders, that's good too. But how likely is either to happen?

At the last ELNA meeting we had an administrator from the Cherriots and in front of our Councilor I asked him if he could tell us where these corridors are located and then if we could identify any parcels of land along Lancaster (because it is close by) that might be developed as apartments. No one could think of one. Even if you go 1/4 mile from Lancaster the only parcels on arterials are all developed as commercial, or are already apartments. So, the proposal is not likely to result in more housing in our area. Then the issue of parking is meaningless, since we aren't going to get any large apartments. For small parcels, it might be impactful, but where is the analysis of where this is going to happen so we can evaluate the wisdom of the suggestion?

No one had seen the staff report by the time of this discussion, but now I see there is no analysis of impact, but wishes and good intentions. I suggested that Council send this whole thing back with the order that staff answer two very important questions. 1) what is the estimated impact on increasing housing; and 2) how will this ensure lower rents? Do that for each of the recommendations.

Of course, one thing that the Comprehensive Plan review that prompted this code review was that we have a deficit in multifamily housing, and should we re-zone some land. But we got into the more important question of whether we have enough low-income or affordable housing. This is the filter that the Council should be considering when making any code changes.

My point is that we have spent almost 4 years tinkering with the codes on the premise that we need more diverse housing, but at this point there is no analysis as to whether we can get to the goal with these strategies. How many ADUs did we get in the last couple of years with the time spent on that code revision? How many will we get with this effort? If we are experiencing a housing shortage, let's get going on strategies that will produce more housing. We did that the last time we worked on the codes. And we need to do it as part of this effort. Otherwise, why are we doing it?

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

As I have said before, I think you are too much in the weeds, stuck on non-essential detail rather than the big picture.

For the sake of a simplified argument, let's just assume that all land within 1/4 mile of Lancaster Drive is already developed. (This may or may not be true, but let's just assume it for the moment.)

Why would this apparent fact mean we shouldn't eliminate parking mandates on new housing within a 1/4 of Lancaster? Maybe in a few years an empty big box store will be demolished or converted to housing. Then the code will support that conversion without mandated parking.

Reducing parking mandates on housing along Lancaster also builds a base for reducing parking mandates on commercial and retail development.

So a provision you might find "empty" today could dovetail with or contribute to the next step in a policy shift.

Shifting a little, just because the ADU project hasn't yielded more new ADU construction doesn't then mean it was a failure. It means instead that we should look at further iteration or refinement in a new round of adjustment.

Sometimes trying to get things "perfect the first time" obstructs, and we should be more tolerant of an iterative approach to change with successive rounds of incremental change.

At the same time, you are right to point out that many times we fail to achieve our policy goals, and do not seem very interested to achieve them. But it has seemed like the answer is not slowing down to try to make things "perfect the first time," but to tinker more, with shorter wait times between iterations.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Briefly...The City formally announced the Council action midmorning:

"Revisions to the proposed code amendment include the following:

1. Eliminate minimum parking requirements for multifamily projects within the Central Salem Development program area and within a quarter-mile of Cherriots' Core Network

2. Eliminate minimum parking requirements for room and board facilities

3. Remove a proposed restriction on balconies, and instead require balconies on building facades that face single family-zoned properties to have fully sight-obscuring railings

4. Eliminate picnic areas from the list of possible active recreational opportunities that can double count toward the open space requirement for multifamily housing

Staff is expected to bring the revised code amendment to City Council for final approval on February 24, 2020.