The last thing the downtown business community or nearby residents need is a debate over who is to blame for the parking problems in downtown Palo Alto.
Yet that is exactly what a group of property owners is instigating by organizing and submitting a petition to the city last month that warns of a "greatly less successful and less vibrant downtown" if neighborhood parking restrictions are imposed.
The confrontational approach is apparently intended to raise doubts and fears about the economic collateral damage that could occur if neighborhoods are given relief in the form of some kind of permit system to limit the encroachment of employee parking.
It is a foolish and short-sighted strategy that sets up false battle lines and only serves to fuel the intense and legitimate concerns of neighbors.
The letter and petition, spearheaded by developer-property owner Chop Keenan and signed by 16 business and property owners, comes at a time when creative problem-solving and outreach is needed, not posturing that attempts to blame residents for parking too many of their own cars on the street.
Downtown property owners, you are better than this.
You should be seeking to help solve the problems of the adjacent neighborhoods, not deepen the divide between residents and businesses.
There is a substantial shortage of parking for the number of employees and visitors to downtown businesses, and to assert that nearby residents are major contributors to the problem distracts from the development of meaningful solutions.
To be sure, the causes of downtown's parking problems are complicated and have been exacerbated by the city's employee parking-permit policies, but commercial property owners are in denial if they think the City Council or community can be persuaded that the commercial growth and success of downtown is not the primary generator of the parking shortage.
But more disturbing is the assertion that restrictions on employee parking in residential areas would force businesses to leave downtown for less impacted office parks.
"As employee parking becomes difficult and office building leases expire, office/technology companies will leave the downtown one-by-one for more attractive areas," the letter argued.
"This in turn will reduce the supply of customers for restaurants, retail and service businesses. By the time the economic effects of the exodus are noticed, it will be too late to reverse," the owners said.
Downtown property owners have had the good fortune of owning the most valuable commercial office space outside of Manhattan. With a few exceptions, they have continuously increased rents because demand for space downtown allows them to. Using Palo Alto's special planned community zoning, many have redeveloped their properties with greater density than normally allowed by offering so-called "public benefits."
The result of this success is a vibrant downtown with much more office space, many wealthy property owners, and traffic and parking problems that were not anticipated.
By most measures, it is wonderful to have a busy and vibrant downtown. But it does not come without impacts and problems, and downtown property and business owners need to own the parking problem, not suggest that residents with too many cars or too few garages should share the blame.
It is critical to downtown's future and to the quality of life in nearby neighborhoods that parking for employees and customers keep pace with new development. The city has failed at achieving this by not finding an affordable parking solution for low-paid service workers, forcing them into the neighborhoods, and by not providing enough total parking spots to meet the demand.
The philosophy that by limiting parking or making it more expensive workers will stop driving and use public transportation can only work if employees are prevented from spilling out into nearby neighborhoods and if low-paid workers are provided affordable parking options other than parking on residential streets.
The City Council last year wisely rejected a poorly conceived staff proposal for a trial residential parking-permit system for a few blocks in the Professorville neighborhood. Instead, it asked for a more comprehensive plan to address both parking and development downtown, which is now underway.
There is little doubt that a permit program for residents will be a component of a final plan.
Commercial property and business owners would be wise to spend their time and energy looking for successful models in other communities and actively working with their residential neighbors to develop a consensus plan for such a system. Posturing to head off new regulations is a non-starter.