Why You Can't Build That! 3 of San Diego's Most Egregious Parking Regulations

By Sean Canning

San Diego is experiencing a severe housing crisis, but you wouldn't know if if you were @ the Development Services Department applying for a permit to build more housing.    

According to the San Diego Housing Commission, the City of San Diego is experiencing a shortage of housing stock by upwards of 50,000+ units.  The State of California has already taken drastic action by recommending reduction of the fees associated w/ building new Accessory Dwelling Units.  For comparison, the average new home in San Diego costs around $50,000 in permit fees before you even put a shovel in the ground. Until the State stepped in, the City was charging similar fees for smaller Accessory Dwelling Units. Imagine planning a tiny granny flat in your backyard so your mother-in-law can move in to watch your children during the work day. Sounds great huh? Hope you've got an extra $50k saved up. But the State stepped in + those fees have been largely eliminated.  

Imagine planning a tiny granny flat in your backyard so your mother-in-law can move in to watch your children during the work day. Sounds great huh?  

Hope you've got an extra $50k saved up.  

But there's another regulation which is still preventing new housing; the requirement for off-street parking. This is parking, for your personal use, on your lot. It's a requirement the City of San Diego can easily change, but haven't. This is the low hanging fruit of allowing more housing in San Diego.  

The City of San Diego bases the required off-street parking count on the number of bedrooms on your lot.  Parking requirements can be found in this section of the Municipal Code. Basically, the more bedrooms, the more required parking. Seems simple enough, right? You've got a pretty big driveway so it shouldn't be a problem. But the Parking Regulations have some pretty egregious requirements which can prevent your bedroom additions, granny flats, or 2nd dwelling units. Here are a few of my least favorite parking regulations.  

You can't legally park in most of your front yard driveway!  

San Diego Municipal Code  142.0510(e)(2)

Residential lots have a required front yard setback, generally 15' - 20' from your front property line. This area cannot be used to build structures. What most people don't realize is that you can't legally park your car in this area either (even if it's in your driveway)!  

If you take a walk down your street you're likely to see most driveways have vehicles parked within this area. While the City of San Diego doesn't actively ticket these violators of this obscure code, when you apply for a building permit Plan Reviewers will not qualify these spaces as required off-street parking, often obstructing homeowner's plans for additions or other development on their property.  


You can't park behind your spouses' vehicle in most parts of town!  

San Diego Municipal Code  Diagram 132-09A

Most families in San Diego have 2 cars but some properties only have a single narrow driveway. If you're in the Tandem Parking Overlay Zone, no problem, you're fine. But if you're home is not in this randomly designated zone, the City doesn't believe it's acceptable to ask you spouse to move their vehicle so you can go take yours to the Chargers game up in Los Angeles.  

I know, I know.. You already share your driveway w/ another car owner. It's not a big deal. After all, you're probably related to that person.. But it becomes a big deal if you want to add a bedroom. Bedroom additions often triggers the requirement for another off-street parking space. Even though you've been able to negotiate the complications of 2-cars / 1-driveway for the last few decades, you're not getting approved for that permit.  

2020 UPDATE: It appears the City is finally taking steps to eliminate the Tandem Parking Overlay Zone!  (Probably the DSD Building Official purchased another car.)  Contact the DSD to confirm.  


25% - 33% of your buildable square footage needs to be dedicated to parking in some zones!

San Diego Municipal Code  131.0445(e) + 131.0445(f)

This is probably the most unreasonable of all of San Diego's parking regulations. Not only are you required to provide a number of parking spaces based on your total bedroom count, but for some odd reason, when developing on certain multi-residential zones the City also wants you to provide additional area for more parking. They required a percentage based on the square footage of your homes. The worst part about it, this parking area comes out of the your floor area ratio, or maximum allowed buildable square footage.  

What is this extra parking area for? I mean, we've already provided the required parking count.. Honestly, we're not really sure.  

If you're considering an infill development project in the City of San Diego, don't get hung up on the parking requirements. We can help!  

Contact Ten Seventy Architecture today to set up a consultation.  

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