Testimony on Residential Permit Parking Voluntary Exclusion Bill

On Friday, September 25, the DC Council Committee on Transportation and the Environment will host a hearing on Bill B23-0859, the RPP Voluntarily Exclusion Act of 2020. Any time the DC Council examines Residential Permit Parking (“RPP”), I will not miss the opportunity to scream that there’s a better way, as the District Department of Transportation laid out in their 2014 Curbside Management Study

As currently designed by the DC Council, the RPP program is based on the block of a residence, not the address. So there’s technically no way to exclude a building from RPP. This bill stems from a case at the Board of Zoning Adjustment at 3400 Connecticut Ave NW, where the developer has agreed to not allow RPP for their tenants in exchange for building a new building without parking which isn’t possible based on topography and zoning restrictions.

I support the purpose of this narrow bill and my testimony focuses on this. But the end shows my vision for a reformed RPP. Smaller zones unrelated to political boundaries, increased fees for houses with off street parking, increased fees for each additional car at an address, dynamic pricing that allows prices to increase or decrease, and allowing exclusion of addresses in exchange for building parking-free buildings.

Good morning and thank you for allowing me time to present testimony on Bill 23-859. My name is Corey Holman, commissioner for ANC 6B06 though I am here testifying as an individual. I wanted to highlight four items related to this bill. 

  1. Zoning orders over the last 10 years generally coalesce around language restricting RPP through condo documents and lease provisions. In my submitted testimony I have included example provisions. A lease or condo provision like this is obviously unenforceable at DMV and there is no interest to property owners to enforce these provisions privately. Despite over a year of effort with DMW, I have further been unable to get RPP data in my ANC through FOIA or asking nicely to confirm that RPP ineligible buildings are complying. A few orders with particularly litigious and involved opponents have harder stronger conditions written. Sometimes VPP is included in restrictions but usually not. What I’m saying is, you’re right, there is functionally no way to prevent a building from being added to the RPP database and functionally no way to verify these private provisions in Zoning Orders unless you happened to be privileged and involved enough to know you needed to ask for verification. [Appendix A has some representative portions of BZA Order conditions]
  1. At many zoning hearings, you will hear DDOT representatives say that RPP is not allowed on commercial blocks. This seemingly arbitrary language is not included in regulation and not enforced in practice and I don’t understand why DDOT keeps trotting it out. For example, looking only at blocks added to the RPP database in 2018 and 2019, my colleague at 6B was able to add the 800 block of Virginia Avenue to the database, despite the fact that block that is mixed-use zoning and whose only building is a small mixed-use building with ground floor retail. Elsewhere, picking the most obvious example, the 1200 blocks of 24th and 25th St NW were added, two dense blocks with large commercial buildings and no existing RPP spaces. These are hardly exclusive, of course, but I wanted to highlight the policy as it’s being implemented now. 
  1. No matter how well tailored your legislation is, implementation will take multiple years and likely require appropriation to DMV. I don’t need to explain this to you, after all RPP still only costs $35 a year after legislation was passed and appropriations given for implementation. And this legislation would require coordination of both DDOT and DMV and, well, yeah, you know where this is going.
  1. Finally related to this bill, I would encourage the committee to work with OAG’s detailed lawyers at the Office of Zoning to get this language right if you want it to apply to 3400 Connecticut Avenue. The draft order on the record from the applicant is clear that that removal from the RPP database is not a condition of approval of this BZA application and includes the standard language regarding lease provisions (which, again, are seemingly unverifiable through FOIA or ANC action) [Appendix B has relevant portion of the Applicant’s Draft Order in the 3400 Connecticut Ave BZA case]

This bill is an obvious fix to an obvious problem at the Office of Zoning. But this obvious problem is simply not that important city-wide and it does not address the multitude of ways in which RPP is fundamentally broken and in need of complete overhaul. 

At the zoning hearing for 3400 Connecticut Avenue, many neighbors complained about intra-Ward 3 parking being one reason for parking spot scarcity. I see this too living near the Potomac Avenue Metro Station, though likely on a much smaller scale. But the solution to this problem isn’t to prevent neighbors at 3400 Connecticut Avenue from RPP. It’s to prevent neighbors from the 3400 block of Wisconsin Avenue or the 3400 block McArthur Boulevard or the 3400 block of Massachusetts Avenue or residents on 34th Street NW in Forest Hills from parking near this project.

Also, preventing people living in these 17 residences at 3400 Connecticut Avenue from getting RPP while houses with multiple off-street parking spaces are eligible RPP is also backwards. The impacts from street parking by convenience more than outweigh whatever impact these building residents will have. Street parking by convenience should simply cost more than street parking by necessity. And right now we are in ways punishing this building for not having parking while rewarding those who do not use their off-street parking. And we should point out near this project, most of the off-street parking often comes with curb cuts, further privatizing public space and adding to the parking crunch. And for the record, our family has a car, we mostly street park by convenience, and we use our street parking space for a play area, garden, and patio. We are part of the problem here too for my neighbors who do not have alley access and we should pay more for on-street parking since we also have off-street parking. 

But underlying this entire testimony is the original foundation of RPP as a policy fully directed by legislation and not executive regulation, down to moving some blocks from one zone to another. So now it’s on the Council to fix the problems. This bill is an obvious fix to an obvious problem at the Office of Zoning. But this obvious problem is simply not that important city-wide. Understanding politics the way they are and the electoral consequence of tweaking a program that provides so much subsidized value to voters, I would encourage the Council to look at this bill as the first step in devolving as much regulatory authority of this program as possible to the executive while setting reasonable and enforceable guide rails to ensure the district uses every possible tool to address the systemic equity, safety, and environmental damage done by the current RPP system. What does a functional RPP system look like:

  1. Zones should be set by land use and neighborhood patterns, not political boundaries, and there should be a lot more zones. For example, in Arlington the vast majority of the county is not eligible for RPP and the remaining areas near transit and major trip generators are split into 24 parking zones. Apply that rate to the district and Arlington being ⅓ of the size of the District, there would be 72 parking zones in the District. Parking zones must be separated from Ward boundaries and devolved to the executive’s transportation experts to draw boundaries. 
  1. Permit prices should reflect access to off-street parking to reduce street parking by convenience. In Toronto, for example, applications for residential street parking must make clear their number of off-street parking spaces available to them and street parking by convenience costs more. I shared my anecdote above. I share an alley with residents that do not have alley access. It boggles my mind that we pay the same price. Residents with access to off-street parking should be required to pay more for RPP, by counting available spots as permits in the graduated permit fee system. So if I have two off-street parking spaces, my first RPP would be the cost of someone without off street parking’s third RPP permit. 
  1. Furthering the fee structure passed in 2019, the Council should continue to increase the price on multiple permits per household.
  1. The above three things simply reduce the value of a RPP and thus reduce demand. While so much recrimination is focused on the price of the RPP, we should refocus on value and then worry about prices. For example, implementing the above three steps would dramatically reduce the demand for RPP and in some cases the costs likely could be adjusted down. However, in areas like Dupont or Adams Morgan, $35year or $50/year simply does not deter anyone from paying for the permit. To that end, the council should devolve pricing to the executive, allowing for dynamic demand driven by-zone pricing and setting an annual cap for price increases but no floor for price decreases, muck like performance meter parking. 

At this point with all other aspects included, the Zoning Commission, BZA, and DDOT could then analyze the requested special exception to provide zero of the five required parking spaces and if necessary require this building to not be eligible for RPP. Removal from RPP eligibility for parking-free projects should be allowed as a condition of approval when seeking a parking-free project as long as those findings are supported by DDOT and the BZA/Zoning Commission.

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