News

Palo Alto treads cautiously toward new downtown garage

Ambivalent City Council opts to further study "Chop" Keenan's proposal for a new garage on High Street

Everyone agrees that downtown Palo Alto is facing a parking crisis, but the city's latest solution to the problem -- a new five-story garage built in partnership with a private developer -- was blasted on Monday by some residents, downtown merchants and council members as an ill-advised and short-sighted giveaway of public land.

The City Council on Monday night debated but stopped just short of approving a partnership with prominent developer Charles "Chop" Keenan to build a new garage on "Lot P," a city-owned lot on High Street, between University and Hamilton avenues. Though four members of the council initially supported moving ahead with the partnership, the council ultimately voted 7-2, with Mayor Greg Scharff and Councilwoman Liz Kniss dissenting, to defer the decision until more analysis in conducted.

If approved, the new garage would allocate the top two stories to Keenan to support his new development at 135 Hamilton Ave. The rest of the garage would be available to the public and to other downtown businesses, possibly through issuance of permits.

During a long and detailed discussion Monday, four council members -- Councilwoman Gail Price, Mayor Greg Scharff, Vice Mayor Nancy Shepherd and Councilwoman Liz Kniss -- proposed moving ahead with the deal and supported a staff recommendation to draft an agreement that would effectively give Keenan ownership of the two top garage levels in perpetuity. But after a parade of technical motions and amendments, council members decided to tap the brakes and do further analysis of the prominent and centrally located lot.

Supporters of moving forward with the new garage characterized Keenan's proposal as a good (albeit, not perfect) opportunity to address one of the biggest issues facing the city today, a shortage of downtown parking. Price, who proposed drafting a memorandum of understanding, said the project has "great merit." Under the plan, Keenan would pay $7 million for the new garage, while the city would contribute another $1.5 million in construction funds and waived fees.

"It addresses one of the several needs that have been identified in the downtown, which is the lack of parking and the deficit that's been identified," Price said.

Scharff agreed and while acknowledging that there is no "magic bullet" for downtown's parking woes, encouraged to approve the partnership with Keenan as one valuable prong in the city's multi-pronged approach to solving one of the city's most perplexing dilemmas. If the garage is built, the number of parking spots on the site would increase from 61 to 145, with 63 of the spots on the new garage allocated to Keenan during the daytime on the weekdays.

"I think it's these incremental processes, if we don't take them, the process just gets worse and worse with parking," he said. "I think it's important that when you have the opportunity to build something like this, we build it."

Kniss called the proposal "an imperfect answer to a perpetual issue in need." She said she's not sure if the council can come up with a "perfect" answer during the Monday meeting, but argued that the proposed garage "would seem at least to help address the problem."

But others argued that there are still too many questions lingering over the proposal and it was their argument that carried the day. Councilman Karen Holman and Councilman Greg Schmid both voiced opposition to the proposal and said they were concerned about what Holman called "privatization of public land."

"I think we all agree there's a parking issue downtown," Schmid said. "It seems to me the answer is not to give up, as the first step, public control of public property. Effectively, we're giving up our property rights over decision-making of a valuable city property, forever or for 35 or 40 years."

Holman also pointed to a recent analysis of five potential garage sites, which identified Lot P as a location in which a garage would have major impacts on neighboring sites, when compared to other possible areas.

Councilmen Larry Klein, Marc Berman and Pat Burt had their own concerns and supported further exploration of the partnership before any agreement is drafted. Each said he has major questions about the garage's impacts on traffic circulation. They also requested more analysis of the financials, including a professional appraisal of the value of the city-owned land. Under the proposal that the council approved, the council's Finance Committee would use this analysis to determine whether the easement agreement should be "in perpetuity" or for a set term.

The proposed partnership also received a cool reception from the residents and merchants who spoke at the Monday meeting, including those who have been most adamant in calling for a parking solution. Sally-Ann Rudd, president of the Downtown North Residents Association, urged the council on focusing on "macrosolutions" to the problem of moving people around rather simply moving more garages.

"This is not the time to be proposing a precedent-setting project that does not appear to fit into long-term plans," Rudd said.

Elaine Meyer, president of the University South Neighborhood Association, added her voice to the opposition and urged the council not to move forward with the partnership. If a new garage is needed, the council should ask its residents -- not a private developer -- for funding help.

"Is the city incapable of building what it needs without enriching a private developer?" Meyer asked.

The city owns the lot site and should be able to proceed on its own, Meyer said.

"If the citizens thought it was an honest deal, we'd support it," Meyer said. "Put out a bond and we'll support it."

Rob Fisher, a restauranteur with three businesses in the area (Peninsula Creamery, Gravity and Reposado) also criticized the garage proposal, saying it would make it very difficult for the trucks serving downtown restaurants to enter and leave the site. It's not fair, he said, to put the burden of building parking for new developments on other people.

Even so, council members reasoned, the partnership should be considered further, especially given downtown's worsening parking problems. Keenan's four-story development, which has already been approved, would add about 60 cars to downtown without providing parking for them. The development, a 20,000-square-foot building with offices on the bottom stories and two residential units on the top floor, would include 24 underground spaces. But Keenan also paid "in-lieu fees" for 40 parking spaces and used a zoning exemption to reduce the parking requirement by another spots.

On Monday, Keenan told the council that his proposed partnership is an example of his willingness to "walk the talk" when it comes to alleviating downtown's parking woes. But he also urged the council not to dither on the plan.

"I want you to look at today as an end, not a beginning," Keenan said. "If the terms of the (memorandum of understanding) are satisfactory, then we'd go forward. If they're not, we'd just go build the project that we have and I'd rather not do that. I don't want to exasperate any parking deficit."

Comments

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 11, 2013 at 8:01 am

Parking permits are the dearth of parking in Palo Alto.

Get pay per hour machines at all lots and garages and see what happens.

Why is there an assumption that people want to park all day every day instead of all day once a week?

Why is parking in downtown so difficult? It is because the present system is too confusing, doesn't meet the needs of those who need to park, and those ridiculous permits!


Posted by SteveU, a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 11, 2013 at 8:17 am

SteveU is a registered user.

Then there are those trips where you thought you were going to be there all day, and made an extra stop at City Hall and purchased a permit, only to find the 'Downtown' phase was 2 hours :/
We need 'Permit Machines or a Web App of some kind' where you enter the Plate number and transfer the fee and the meter Maids hand-held verifies compliance at the lot.


Posted by Tired of just process, a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 11, 2013 at 8:29 am

The council again decided to study something rather than do it. No decisions from this bunch. They go from 4:00 to midnight and they don't get anything done


Posted by Steve, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Jun 11, 2013 at 11:28 am

This is a very inefficient use of space. The current lot has 61 spaces.
With 5 stories there will be a total of 145 spaces which is only 29/floor, a reduction of more than 50%. The rest of the space presumably is ramps. This is a problem in other city multistory garages also. They are too small, so the ramp infrastructure takes up most of the area. Please build new parking structures on a large enough lot so that they are not so wasteful. We get 84 additional spaces at a cost of about $100,000 each. I suspect this cost would go down significantly if the space was used more effectively.
The cheapest way to increase parking place is to reduce the size of most of the parking slots and allocate them to small cars only. This should apply to all the existing garages and street parking. This would be consistent with Palo Alto policy of encouraging energy efficiency by discouraging the use of large vehicles.


Posted by CrescentParkAnon., a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 11, 2013 at 11:52 am

There is already a lot between Hamilton and University on High isn't there? Is this going to be demolished, refurbished or are we talking a different location. I don't like the idea of given the developer space to use while he is working - unless there is a very compelling reason for that.

When I think about it though, parking along Alma is a great idea I think. It is where many cars will be coming from, and it shields the rest of the city from the train noise. I can't think of anywhere better but along Alma.

It might even be better if something could fit along the train tracks where the current parking is now ... maybe even OVER Alma like some of the larger buildings in large cities ... have Alma go through the structure with appropriate lanes for entrance and exits.

Make it extensible so it can start out as a few stories and can be expanded upward later.

Then, when you go up there you can have a magnificent view of the whole of Palo Alto.

Turn University ONE-WAY and Hamilton THE-OTHER-WAY and you have a vision of Palo Alto that would:

1. Maintain the character of the city.
2. Fix traffic problems.
3. Fix pedestrian and bicyclist problems.
4. Create a perimeter for parking and future parking structures.
5. Keep the city walkable as well.
6. Expand Palo Alto Downtown from just University Ave. to University and Hamilton Ave.s

Summary, build a long overpass over Alma with a long parking structure over it that can be expanded as necessary between University and Hamilton which would be converted to ONE-WAY.


Posted by curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 11, 2013 at 12:44 pm

" This would be consistent with Palo Alto policy of encouraging energy efficiency by discouraging the use of large vehicles."

Right. Large vehicles such as trains and buses. The train/bus station is not even a block away from this site. Keenan's garage would be the second parking garage built right in the heart of Palo Alto's alleged transit-oriented district. Anybody else see the disconnect?


Posted by CrescentParkAnon., a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 11, 2013 at 2:28 pm

> Keenan's garage would be the second parking garage built right in the heart of Palo Alto's alleged transit-oriented district. Anybody else see the disconnect?

I think your logic here goes .... a "real" "transit-oriented district" should ONLY be reachable by foot, bicycle, pogo-stick, roller skates.

I don't see a disconnect here at all, in fact as I alluded to earlier, that area is the transit hub of Palo Alto, so why would we not want cars to be a possible half of a public transit lifestyle.

It's not like we are going to get rid of cars anytime soon, or that a public transit oriented policy should actively make owning a car painful is it? I sure hope not.

Cars are one of the most useful tools in the world today, and newer cars are evolving into non-polluting, possibly accident avoiding; fuel, trip and parking optimizing; possibly self-driving machines.

Public transit is great, but it's hard to say the drag that mandating its use by everyone would cause right now would be worth boxing everyone in without a clear vision everyone can agree to. That's a long way off.


Posted by paco, a resident of Palo Alto Orchards
on Jun 11, 2013 at 2:52 pm

Let's get a blue ribbon committee on this immediately, but first, we should hire an outside consultant to give us needed information so nobody is held responsible for a wrong decision. Take a drive through one of the many downtown parking structures and you will find that parking is abuntantly available above the ground floor. It is obvious the city council has given control of city land use to developers such as "Chop" (as he is affectionately referenced by city council members and Palo Alto Weekly writers) and have no intention of controlling blight. Good luck! What a pity!


Posted by curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 11, 2013 at 3:09 pm

"I think your logic here goes .... a "real" "transit-oriented district" should ONLY be reachable by foot, bicycle, pogo-stick, roller skates."

No, that's a pedestrian-oriented district.

I define a transit-oriented district as city hall does: an area where extra high density overdevelopment is encouraged on the premise that public mass transit (that's trains, buses, and trolleys), not private automobiles, will be the primary mode of travel to and from it. It is generally defined as a radius of 2000 feet from the transit hub, hence the enthusiasm for the merciless overdevelopment of our "transit-oriented" downtown. And hence the glut of automobiles there because the "transit-oriented" concept does not work in real life.

So I find it amusing that our city government giddily encourages "transit-oriented" development while it simultaneously poisons the concept by locating new parking garages in the center of its prime "transit-oriented" district to encourage automobiles. The irony, the irony.

BTW, do you commute by pogo stick often? Can I watch?


Posted by Art, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 11, 2013 at 8:30 pm

Elaine Meyer got it right!

"Is the city incapable of building what it needs without enriching a private developer?" Meyer asked.

The city owns the lot site and should be able to proceed on its own, Meyer said.

"If the citizens thought it was an honest deal, we'd support it," Meyer said. "Put out a bond and we'll support it."

Simply put, this proposal does not pass the smell test


Posted by curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 12, 2013 at 11:42 am

This is sure gonna solve our parking deficit.

The proposed garage would increase the parking on the site from 61 to 145 spaces. Of the added 84, Keenan's project gets 63 during the day. That leaves a net gain of 21 spots for other downtown parkers.

Wow. That's sure gonna solve our parking deficit.


Posted by Chris K, a resident of Southgate
on Jun 12, 2013 at 12:23 pm

Almost right ... we should turn Lytton one way, Hamilton the other way, and close University to cars.


Posted by CrescentParkAnon., a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 12, 2013 at 2:17 pm

Chris said:
> Almost right ... we should turn Lytton one way, Hamilton the other way, and close University to cars.

That's an idea, but I think Forest is more business and Everett is more residential which means that is you made Lytton one-way and part of the main business section of Palo Alto you would encroach on more residences than if you moved the "center of mass" just a bit toward Hamilton ... also, the parking structure that exists already are more geared to service Hamilton and Unversity.

If you remove a street from traffic, you then create a bottleneck of displaced traffic that has to move all around areas that are more residential too.

Also you have the north section of Palo Alto bounded by the creek meaning that if you push more development and traffic in there it is more likely to cause a problem. On the other side is Embarcadero which is already geared towards managing traffic.


Posted by Justin, a resident of Mountain View
on Jun 12, 2013 at 9:56 pm

No consideration for parking meters? The city should at least consider focusing on demand before hastily wasting valuable downtown space.


If you were a member and logged in you could track comments from this story.

Post a comment

Posting an item on Town Square is simple and requires no registration. Just complete this form and hit "submit" and your topic will appear online. Please be respectful and truthful in your postings so Town Square will continue to be a thoughtful gathering place for sharing community information and opinion. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

We prefer that you use your real name, but you may use any "member" name you wish.

Name: *

Select your neighborhood or school community: * Not sure?

Comment: *

Verification code: *
Enter the verification code exactly as shown, using capital and lowercase letters, in the multi-colored box.

*Required Fields

Handmade truffle shop now open in downtown Palo Alto
By Elena Kadvany | 3 comments | 2,300 views

Why is doing nothing so difficult?
By Sally Torbey | 7 comments | 1,055 views

Breastfeeding Tips
By Jessica T | 4 comments | 806 views

Weekly Update
By Cheryl Bac | 0 comments | 715 views

Call it a novel: Dirty Love by Andre Dubus III
By Nick Taylor | 1 comment | 236 views