Why do L.A. schools need so much parking?

Some of my earlier posts (here and here) have covered some of Los Angeles Eco-Village’s struggles with the Los Angeles Unified School District. LAUSD plans to build a large surface parking lot in the heart of our neighborhood. We think it’s not a good idea. Though we’ve heard some preliminary rumbles that there’s a compromise in the works, we’re keeping the pressure on until we see the actual plans and arrangements.

Getting to work: Your clean air commuteI am the primary author of Getting to work: Your clean air commute – a report released last week by the non-profit Coalition for Clean Air. It’s about what large employers are doing and can do to promote alternative transportation. One of the surprises that I learned in researching the report is that Southern California’s South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) rideshare rules don’t apply to school districts. Not even looking at student trips, the LAUSD generates a lot of car trips; it’s the second largest employer in Los Angeles County. LAUSD promotes using a car for these trips by providing lots and lots (pun intended) of “free” parking. So one of CCA’s recommendations is that SCAQMD reconsider their current exemptions for school districts.

The whole report is online here. Below is a selection from the report (from page 25) outlining recommendations for schools. I think that this helps shed some light on the conflict over the planned school parking lot:

Clean air commute to school

Two local school districts rank among the top 30 largest employers in the county, and with 75,000+ employees, Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) ranks as the second largest. School districts are exempt from SCAQMD rideshare requirements. No district rideshare programs exist, other than a tiny program at LAUSD headquarters.

In addition to negative environmental impacts, lack of clean air commute incentives impacts the siting and design of schools. Without incentives for alternatives, school districts are more likely to site new schools farther from public transportation and build larger parking lots. Employees are then more likely to drive and park, leading to increased space requirements and costs for parking. This takes away space and funding for students and complicates the search for new school sites.

More than just large employers, schools are where the behavior of future generations is shaped. School teachers and staff can inspire the next generation of clean air commuters.

[Recommendations for]


  • Whether legally mandated or not, school districts should implement clean air commute programs for teachers, staff and students. It may be easiest to pilot these programs at administrative offices, yard facilities and older schools in the most densely urban neighborhoods, where parking is often insufficient and transit alternatives are most viable.
  • School districts should collaborate with cities to pursue state Safe Routes to School funding, which can improve biking and walking for staff and students.
  • SCAQMD loopholes exempting school districts should be reconsidered. New mandates should be employed judiciously and possibly phased in over time.


  • Parents, PTAs and students should work with their local schools to encourage programs and facilities that make transportation to school cleaner and safer. There are many programs for encouraging student clean air commuting which can dovetail well with similar programs for employees.
  • To read the full report, and to add your comments and questions, go here.


    4 thoughts on “Why do L.A. schools need so much parking?

    1. This is a really good question. The old “pave paradise and put up a parking lot”
      I live in Canada and every building, housing project, shop, library, etc. has to be able to provide a certain amount of parking.
      Recently, where I live, an affordable housing project almost failed because they didnot want to provide the amount of parking to meet the regulations.
      Successful citizen action succeeded in allowing an amedment for this type of housing since it was explained that many of the tenants would not own a vehicle.
      At a seniors low income housing project, a beautiful hertiage plum tree which provided shade and food and enoyment was emoved along with a compost area to put in 2 more parking spaces, just in case visitors needed the. Residents were very angry. They did not ask for that.

    2. I’ve often wondered this. LAUSD should be a leader in alternative transportation. How much does all the parking space cost the city in wasted property?

      If they don’t already have it, why not offer special prices to teachers for riding Metro? Or carpooling? How about the school running a shuttle service for the closest Subway stop?

      Take some of that parking space and turn it into a place for children to play.

    3. @chiqui – Yes – the school district is moving out the portables from the former White House Place Primary Center, in preparation for building the parking lot. There are still a few details to iron out (including an actual joint-use agreement) but they won’t be tearing out the corner. The corner will be set aside for a garden – more or less like the image here.

      Eco-Village resident Lara stated that she will be posting an update about these issues/struggles here soon. Update: it’s now posted here.

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