'Extreme' changes to parking set for final approval by Olympia City Council

Six recommendations for moving forward


While considering reducing how much off-street parking developers are required to provide the city found that zero would be the right number.  It didn’t start off that way. 

The city submitted a grant (ironically named HAPI) to the Commerce Department in 2022 that talked about reductions, not eliminations of parking requirements. 

The grant also promised that,

“Public outreach will occur throughout the process and will involve more than just the required public hearing. We anticipate conducting an especially high level of public outreach around the reduction of parking requirements…...”

City staff developed a proposal that halved the current number of required spaces from 1.5 spaces per unit to .75 spaces for multifamily development.  Single-family houses, duplexes and townhouses were lowered from 2 parking spaces per unit to 1 per unit if within a ¼ mile of frequent transit.  Staff felt it was a moderate proposal. 

Policy Improv Nights

The proposal went to the Planning Commission and the moderate proposal was overturned with the elimination of all off-street parking requirements for multi-family housing (3 units or more) They also chopped the maximum number of spaces from 1.5 to 1.25 per unit.

Following a subsequent public hearing where 2/3s of the comments received were negative, the Planning Commission doubled down on their previous reduction and voted 7-2 to extend the elimination of parking minimums beyond multi-family to any residential development throughout the entire city. 

Since that time, there have been even more changes made at the Land Use and Environment Committee and at the City Council.  At the committee meeting, being informed by a member of the public that they were about to eliminate accessible parking for the disabled in buildings with zero parking, the Committee modified the proposal to add one space for any project with 5 or more units.  While the optics were improved, the result still meant that a 100-unit project would be required to provide only one accessible parking space.

At the City Council meeting they abandoned the previous two committees’ application of zero-parking city-wide and returned to the idea of linking it to “frequent” transit – but not the staff-recommended ¼ mile from transit but doubling it to ½ mile.  Also in the zero zone would be the Capital Mall Triangle area. Outside of the ½ mile buffer and the Capital Mall Triangle, parking requirements were reduced to just a half (.5) space per unit. After being informed by Habitat for Humanity that lowering the ceiling to the maximum amount of parking would adversely delay and affect their low-income housing efforts, the Council returned to the current law maximum level. 

Despite the commitment in the Commerce Grant, the public has had inadequate opportunity to engage on the ever-changing proposals before the decision makers acted.  

In their self-imposed rush, city decision makers moved forward undeterred despite not having the information they wanted, such as a map of what a half mile from frequent transit would look like.   A map was developed in just a few days by one of the writer’s working with Intercity Transit (see map).

Indicative of this improvisational approach to policy making are the divided votes at the Council and at the Planning Commission.  A divide that at the June 6th Council meeting had the Mayor talking about “moving forward in such an extreme way” and voting “no”.  The “yes” voters touted the proposal as a “very bold move” necessary because parking relates to cars and cars are implicated in multiple crisis – including climate change and affordable housing. 

Although the word “bold” was said 14 times during the Council meeting, giving developers what they want at the expense of our residents is hardly a daring departure from Council’s past practices.  It is also on course with the Council’s coming expansion of the Multi-Family Tax Exemption for millionaire developers of market-rate housing.  A policy that boldly doesn’t lose the city a dime because it shifts, dollar-for-dollar, the taxes from the developers to everyone else.

Short- and long-term winners and losers

The underlying economic logic of the parking issue is that it is unnecessary to make developers provide off-street parking when many streets have on-street spaces available.  The advocates for zero parking believe that not providing parking will reduce what building investors charge renters because of they will get savings by not providing parking and making more money by using the parking space land to build more units and get more rents. 

Thus, neighborhoods’ on-street parking is treated as an under-exploited asset ripe for developers to monetize -- if not for the pesky laws that have been in place for a very long time.  From a market perspective, free convenient on-street parking in established neighborhoods is not being efficiently utilized.

From a shorter-term perspective there is one winner and one loser.  The real estate investors will see the upside immediately and can take the results right to the bank.  For current Olympians the downside will be felt soon after and the effects will be easily identifiable.

Residents, their friends, and other visitors who will be driving in circles around their block looking for an open parking spot or walking for blocks in the dark and rain to get home will personally experience the “zero” parking decision.

A long fragile chain of interdependent assumptions

“Understanding” why this is an “important step” requires the public to buy into a long and fragile chain of interdependent assumptions that will take decades or generations to happen if they happen at all.  Assumptions like developers sharing their savings by lowering their rents. 

Or assuming that less on-street parking will make owning a car less desirable and more costly thus making some Olympians give up their cars. That will then result in increasing transit ridership which in turn will cause the transit to become better.  Also, the increased density from properties using would-be parking spaces for more housing, will motivate businesses to locate grocery stores and childcare services etc. within a 15-minute walk, leading to even more people giving up their cars.  You must also assume that those cars in the future will burn gas as it is not entirely clear how this logic chain of environmental benefits holds up in an all or mostly electric vehicle future.

The contribution to lowering housing prices and improving the environment from Olympia losing the real benefit of convenient parking is mostly theoretical.  For example, it is impossible to isolate the marginal effects of zero parking from the many other factors that effects housing prices such as interest rates, location, labor and supply chain issues all of which extend far beyond the city boundaries.  Likewise, the presumed environmental benefits tied to losing parking are swamped by behavioral, technological and economic assumptions.

We recommend a reset to the original staff proposal and living up to the City’s commitment to the high level of public engagement made in the Commerce grant.  We should:

  1. Delay action long enough for the community to understand and consider the proposal and provide informed input.
  2. Build the proposal using data and evidence relevant to a city like Olympia.
  3. Don’t apply parking reductions to broad swaths of the city. Target the changes to the streets and neighborhoods that can handle additional on-street parking. Some neighborhood streets are inappropriate for more off-street parking, such as those with narrow street widths, no sidewalks or off-road pathways and mailboxes where parking close to a mailbox means not getting mail delivered and where transit is not sufficient.  
  4. Provide realistic accessible parking requirements. Allowing a 100-unit apartment building to provide just one accessible parking space is inexcusable. 
  5. Make real the City’s assumption that reducing parking will make housing more affordable. If developers say that not providing a parking space saves $6,000 to $25,000 per space, then the Council should guarantee that the developer will actually deliver more affordable housing. 
  6. Recognize the realities of income inequality and, like it or not, today’s workers need to be able to use their cars to get to work and home. Regardless of the potential incremental long-term benefits from reduced vehicle use, real people have real needs that must be acknowledged under the present conditions.

In conclusion, we agree that it would be preferable to live in a world without cars that allows people of all abilities to get efficiently from point A to point B safely and comfortably.  But that is not a world that we have in Olympia today.  Nor will the City’s policy approach of increasing the cost and difficulty of having cars for residents change that reality. 

Even if Olympia triples its density to match Seattle’s and builds much better transit (more frequent, dedicated bus lanes, trolleys, and light rail) of a Seattle, it is important to know that Seattle still has over 460,000 vehicles and its renters own 195,000 of them. 

A moderate approach avoids inflicting harm and stresses upon the people who live here today from the poorly designed policy being considered by the Council. 

We care about the future.  But it is not reasonable nor fair to involuntarily sign-up our residents for sacrifices that benefit wealthy developers today yet are unlikely to result in the claimed environmental and housing cost benefits in the distant future.

Larry Dzieza, Olympia and Judy Bardin, Olympia

The opinions expressed above are those of the writers and not necessarily those of  The JOLT's staff or board of directors.  Got something to say about a topic of interest to Thurston County residents? Send it to us and we’ll most likely publish it. See the Contribute your news button at the top of every page.


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  • fyancey

    Well reasoned, but will they listen? I think not…..Developers and speculators rule the home and business building tax advantages. Sad. Once done and cars outnumber spaces, there can be no recapture of land for parking.

    Monday, June 19 Report this

  • Coug66

    Olympia's government seems so interested in destroying the culture and charm of our city by discarding its pioneer history and family friendly neighborhoods. City planning favors new residents who lack the income needed to fund good roads, parks and schools. Once what we have, right now, is gone it will never be retrieved. Just view each evening's news. Do we want to mirror what is being generated in Tacoma, Spanaway and parts of Seattle?

    Monday, June 19 Report this

  • Esther

    I can’t but help think of the Mom with kids struggling through the rain with bags of groceries, or the elderly who can’t walk 1/2 mile to wait for a bus, or someone who works at night when the buses don’t run. And where will the electric vehicles charge? It doesn’t make any sense.

    Tuesday, June 20 Report this

  • JnNwmn

    The City Planning Commission thinks that by eliminating parking, more housing will be created. But most Olympia residents in the service sector need a car and a place to park that car. It is foolish to assume that eliminating parking will help people live in Olympia. Many people change jobs and need to drive to their new job. Olympia is not ready to be car-free. Parking should be a part of all development.

    Tuesday, June 20 Report this

  • susanh

    Why does the city council continue to allow developers these advantages to enrich themselves at the expense of the citizens who live in Olympia?

    Tuesday, June 20 Report this

  • fredjackson

    I can't understand how incredibly inefficient driving has become. People seem to drive a mile to gather groceries and another mile to drive to work. I wish I could have the same thought idea that the rest of the Jones' in Thurston County seem to have. But I can't. I have to accept walking because of how costly it already is to operate a vehicle.

    I'm on a limited budget and I cannot drive because insurance alone would break my monthly operating cost for a vehicle. And if I am over budget with the cost of insurance alone, I could forget even considering maintenance or fuel costs within that monthly budget.

    I decided to walk years ago. And even if it's raining, yeah, that sucks. But at least I'm able to have more food on my table. I will take a little discomfort for a little more money in my wallet.

    Speaking of operating costs, was there any mention of transit being free? Was there any mention of Thurston County residents paying for public transit being free as they shop within the county? I also happen to be riding on a number of the routes that were shown on the included map, it's great that service lines are growing in frequency.

    It shouldn't be like pulling teeth, but for some people, apparently, it must be just exactly that. In riding Intercity Transit, you can shop at any of these within the county:

    Seven locations of Safeway.

    Two locations of Fred Meyer.

    Two locations of Costco.

    Two locations of Target.

    Two locations of Thrifty.

    Did I mention that the ridership of transit is free? It seems like maybe some people probably needs to stop paying for an arm and a leg for insurance/maintenance/gasoline and return some of that money to be used to feed themselves or their families.


    And in conclusion, I don't think it will get any cheaper for the majority of those who drive... maybe I should even say everyone who drives, as like anything else in America, the availability is based on supply and demand... and the whims of the occasional Saudi Prince or dear old Elon Musk.

    Tuesday, June 20 Report this

  • KatAshe

    It’s all very well to limit on street parking within 1/4 mile of public transit, if you’re even moderately fit, but as a 77 year ole woman with spinal arthritis and mobility limitation, there is no way I could walk a quarter mile to unlicensed transit. Reducing parking for those with disabilities will limit where I shop, and where in future I might have to move while staying in a city I love.

    It may surprise readers, but not everyone owns a smart phone so can quickly get and Uber or Lift ride. Currently, it’s bad enough that if one wants to attend a concert downtown it currently requires a smart phone just to pay in a nearby parking lot.

    Tuesday, June 20 Report this

  • HappyOlympian

    City council do a horrible job. Overall, city government very suspect. Booooooo

    Tuesday, June 20 Report this

  • pheong

    parking management is licking its chops. think of the revenue from parking violations! think of the fees for residents to park (yes, they'll be increased) ! all manner of new ways to squeeze more from those with bare minimum. think that the streets will be plowed in the winter? dream on. city manager-style of city government has no place in this modern world. who is accountable? no one. council members stand to make much more with shady deals on the side than their paltry pay allows. city manager can be as corrupt as pleases with little to no consequence. steve hall, anyone?

    Tuesday, June 20 Report this

  • pheong

    to Fred Jackson: we should all be relegated to shop at the most expensive grocery stores? Thriftway? NEVER! nice to have access to Winco and not be forced to buy from the monopolies. bus service out East Bay Drive? not yet. bus service to Boston Harbor? not yet. until Intercity actually serves this area in a manner that people actually can abandon their cars, these Draconian news rules, should they be applied, serve only the coffers of developers and the city.

    Tuesday, June 20 Report this

  • bobesan

    Yes, Fred Jackson, there's free public transit, but of more limited availability than before the pandemic, when more people dared to take it (as Covid-19 transmission is higher there than for other forms of transportation). Since then, I've mostly relied on bicycling to get to work & for many errands, but that doesn't work during heavy (rainy/windy or icy) weather (which is dangerous for visibility, slippage, trees falling down, etc.). As someone who used to take public transit regularly, in combination w/ using the bike racks, that still doesn't get me to Mt. Rainier & other places of nature that make it useful to live here. Plus, I now use my car for field work associated w/ my job, which includes transporting gear & other people for long distances. So get real!

    Tuesday, June 20 Report this

  • TheVirtualOne

    Yet another example of why Olympia city government is “driving” people away from the city.

    Tuesday, June 20 Report this

  • Citizen

    Members of the planning commission and City Council, please

    1. Stop driving immediately. Give up your parking space. Do all of you errands, shopping and commute to work by riding transit and walking at least 1/4 mile twice a day. Make sure to carry your groceries, work bags and other items usually carried in you car.

    2. Go to Seattle and try to find a place to park in neighborhoods densitified. I suggest Capital hill, or Ballard.

    3. Spend a few minutes engaging with the numerous Seattle refuges who have moved to Olympia and are appalled the you are repeating the errors Seattle made by repeating its parking restrictions and developer gifts. Rents have only increased in Seattle.

    Now that you have spent time a few months engaging in the above activites for during the heat, rain, snow and dark report your findings to the public.

    Be aware people will find it discouraging to shop, eat or play downtown when they can not find parking. In turn, downtown will have fewer occupied spaces. Guess what empty store fronts bring to livability.

    Tuesday, June 20 Report this

  • Citizen

    Thank you Larry. Well done.

    Tuesday, June 20 Report this

  • JnNwmn

    There are cities that you do not need parking. Paris France is an example. Paris has a subway system, a bus system, regional train stations that service outlying villages and a High Speed Train that connects all corners of the country at 186 mph. In addition the main airport is served by all these systems. Passenger rail was never abandoned like it was in the US. Thurston County needs an expanded bus system before Olympia abandons parking requirements. Outlying dead end bus loops should be closed. Routes 41 and 48 should be merged into one loop. Put a transit station on Harrison next to McDonalds in West Olympia to service the Mall. Think about a water taxi from Boston Harbor to Tacoma and Seattle and Shelton. Intercity Transit can be creative.

    Tuesday, June 20 Report this

  • HarveysMom

    I totally oppose removing and reducing parking space requirements. The plans are unrealistic, and they will be miserable to live with. Whjile I support an awareness of air pollution and other modern pollutions, I disagree with this busybody inspired, judgmental plan to force us all to be perfect in an imperfect world. We have all got cars. Get real! Mmmm, what's next? Commercial car-park developments in such areas? With tax incentives to enrich developers some more?

    Don't remove and reduce parking requirments! For people living in new construction where there are reduced and maybe zero parking spaces off-street--they will be parkling in public, on street spaces. That will induce stress and apply their transportation costs to the rest of us.

    Don't remove and reduce parkling space requirements! Get real, and incidentally, quit using my taxes to enrich developers.

    Tuesday, June 20 Report this

  • Yeti1981

    It is unfortunate that some people refuse to see beyond their own comfort and convenience and allow their bias to seep into a good policy decision. In fact, the evidence of the improvements that will come with reduced or no parking minimums isn't theoretical at all. It's already happening in over 200 cities across North America. Where parking minimums are more flexible or non-existent, builders are building more housing. The cost of housing is seeing some leveling. And, communities are becoming more people-centric. Also, this isn't some giveaway to so-called developers. This is making it cheaper for local builders to get the projects that they previously couldn't afford. These builders ARE your neighbors and work, live, and play right here in YOUR community. Removing more of the cost burden actually helps them to exist and get opportunities that would otherwise go to national and international corporations who could honestly care less about this community. Sorry authors of this article, but you're all mixed up and your only advocating against the things you claim to be for. Our problem IS that we have long-built car-centric communities. That has been a cause of many of the issues mentioned in this article. If you are for diverse communities, for cleaner and more sustainable communities, if you want folks with disabilities to have better access to the things they need, if you care about preserving the rural character in South county and other parts of the community, protecting farms, rivers, forests, etc., All of these things are tied to our dependency on cars. All of these things will end up impacted by more flexibility in parking. Currently, there are 8 parking spots for every 1 car in America. Mandated parking IS a major problem and obstacle in the way of what our communities need. Your short-sightedness shouldn't stand in the way of a better future.

    Tuesday, June 20 Report this

  • JnNwmn

    It looks like 88% of readers do NOT agree with reducing parking.

    Tuesday, June 20 Report this

  • DavidAlbert

    Why not simply ban City Council members from using their own automobiles to attend meetings or for any other city business?

    Tuesday, June 20 Report this

  • FrostedFlake

    Pardon me asking. What is wrong with building a garage under every apartment building?

    While I am here, what about under every home.

    And, finally, WHY do we lack parking, just exactly? Didn't plan for it, or planned to do without it? In which case, planning to do without it amounts to making the same mistake again, except intentionally. How do you see this working out in twenty years? And, what do you do about it once you are ready to admit the already clearly obvious mistake?

    It looks to me like you guys are planning to fail, to avoid the obvious consequences of failing to plan. I would fire you. Because doing nothing is an improvement on eliminating parking.

    Tuesday, June 20 Report this

  • JJmama

    I love Intercity Transit but it's woefully inadequate for this radical parking scheme, absolute magical thinking by our out-to-lunch City Council.

    I took public transport each way to SeaTac airport this month. I live next to Olympia High School. I walked out of my house just after 9am, to get to a plane that was leaving at 2:30...I needed to be there by 12:30pm. It took me 45 minutes to get just from my bus stop (a 10 minute walk from my house) to the Lacey Transit Center, then waited there, then took a bus to the 512 Park&Ride in Lakewood, waited there for half hour, then a one hour ride to SeaTac. It took me nearly 3 1/2 hours to get to the airport, in what would have been a 45 minute drive by car. On the way home, it took even longer. The FlixBus would have been great, however NONE of their offerings (which are precious few) aligned at all with my flights. Not a single FlixBus which goes through SeaTac after 4:30pm.

    I can't even get to downtown Olympia from my bus stop, which is only about 2 1/2 miles away... unless I transfer buses, in which I have to wait 25 minutes at Tumwater Square, cuz the buses come so infrequently and the times are unaligned well.

    And I'm not needing to get to a job, or two jobs, or doctor's appts., or the Co-Op (geez, if I tried to get to either Co-op on a bus and back, it would take nearly all day).

    It's magical thinking, by Council and staff who obviously have plenty of parking and auto in their own lives, perpetrated on average people's lives who actually have to LIVE with these ostrich-head-in-the-sand policies.

    Tuesday, June 20 Report this

  • HarveysMom

    A few years ago, I commuted to a job in Pierce County. By bus and with just one connecting transfer needed starting at a park and ride lot, it took me about two hours each way. When a creepy man at the bus stop scared me, I went back to driving. But creepiness aside, it took me about an hour each way when I drove. Driving my car put two hours back in my life. What about that two hours taken out of my life when I took the bus? Was I supposed to be happy about it?

    I rather think that increasingly difficult driving conditions will change our behaviors, especially when public transportation improves. Paris's public transportation took how long to construct???? Seattle has got some great public transportation routes, and it is costly, but people use them. Olympia is not 'there'. Policy aside, I also resent the blythe, holier than thou attitude that wants to force me to give up a car today.

    Tuesday, June 20 Report this

  • bobesan

    Is Yeti1981 one of our bullying City Council members? Anyway, I finally got around to viewing this early-pandemic webinar, which addressed DEI issues (e.g., redlining) in the face of expansion of the EV market, etc.:

    Parra, M., ed. 2020. Equitable transportation electrification (webinar). Forth (Portland, OR) and Puget Sound Energy (Bellevue, WA), June 15 (

    A big concern was minorities being more vulnerable to Covid-19 infections via greater needs for bus-riding, etc.

    At least I have the option of bicycling, being in good health, but that doesn't apply to everyone. The pandemic really isn't over, so forcing immunocompromised people onto buses seems unfair. And in the interest of everyone having access to nature in eco-social justice fashion (sensu Ballash 2016, Parra 2020), we shouldn't be trying to take these opportunities away from others, like happens in bigger cities for inner-city children, which leads to nature-deficit disorder, gang activity, drug abuse, etc. Access to nature should be a basic human right.

    Ballash, H., ed. 2016. Building Cities in the Rain: watershed prioritization for stormwater retrofits. Washington Department of Commerce Publication 2016(6): 50 pp. ( default.aspx).

    Saturday, July 1 Report this

  • bobesan

    We really need to oust several City Council members that have been in there too long, & thus disconnected from public reality as they try to set up their theoretical playground. That works only in larger cities w/ good public-transit infrastructure! When I did take such transit here (Oly. area, & sometimes to Tacoma, SeaTac, or Seattle), I made sure to use time wisely by reading a book, but now I don't want to catch Covid-19 (note the new vaccine coming in prep. for next winter). And here's further FYI on eco-social justice, which the City Council thinks applies to rich developers (as a "minority" re: 'neighborhood character'):

    Schell, C.J., and seven coauthors. 2020. The ecological and evolutionary consequences of systemic racism in urban environments. Science 369: 1446 & [online] eaay4497 (

    Tuesday, July 4 Report this