Trying to ease the angst of Palo Alto residents who've found their streets inundated with parked cars, while also trying to meet the needs of businesses whose employees want spots to park in all day, the City Council Monday night will consider a residential permit-parking program.
"In the past few years, community concern about parking supply and traffic congestion in Palo Alto's downtown and neighborhoods has reached critical levels," a city manager's report on the proposal states.
Though the city has been looking for some time at ways to limit parking in neighborhoods to the residents themselves, it's been two years since a pilot program for the downtown area known as Professorville was proposed by staff and one year since it was scrapped by the council. Council members feared that the pilot would simply push the parked-car problem into adjacent neighborhoods, like a municipal game of Whac-A-Mole.
The council Monday night is being asked by city staff for direction on a program concept that would involve issuing permits to park on neighborhood streets. Most permits would go to residents, although some people, such as employees of businesses, could also obtain them. The city would charge for the permits, making the program cost-neutral, the report states.
Though downtown residents, who say can't find parking spots near their homes, have been the driving force for instituting a program, city staff acknowledge the program has to take into account multiple stakeholders.
"In some neighborhoods of the city, existing businesses and employees currently rely on street parking to supplement available parking lots and garages, and the process for establishing RPP districts must address this issue," the report states.
The proposal has yet to be fleshed out, but it has already stirred considerable concern among business and property owners.
One group, led by property owner Simon Cintz, has posted a website, www.paloaltoparkingsolutions.org, criticizing the city's plan and offering its own alternative.
"It's going to create a lot of problems," Cintz told the Weekly.
The program doesn't address where his employees, after they're prohibited from leaving their cars along neighborhood streets, will park. If they have to drive blocks away, the situation could create danger when they walk back to their cars late at night. And their new parking patterns will cause problems for outlying neighborhoods, which would suddenly become a hot spot for commuters, Cintz said.
Then there's the cost. If workers must have permits to park nearby, either businesses will foot the bill or they will pass the cost along to their employees.
Susan Nightingale, owner of Watercourse Way on Channing Avenue, said that another consequence of the program would harm her business.
"Employees will park in front of our business," she said.
With higher competition for fewer downtown parking spaces, her clients will no longer be able to find a place to park.
"We're going to lose our customers," Nightingale said.
Cintz's group has proposed another plan: Painting the curbs in neighborhoods to indicate where parking spaces are, thus preventing overcrowded streets; and marking some slots for residents only. There would be no permits.
The city is asking the council for direction on several aspects of the proposed program: the criteria under which a Palo Alto neighborhood could apply to have a residential permit-parking program; a process for establishing the program, including data that substantiates a problem; and a list of issues that need to be resolved as the program rolls out, such as the cost of permits, who will be eligible for them, and how compliance will be enforced.
The program, while requested by downtown neighborhoods, is meant to be available to any neighborhood in Palo Alto, according to the city. The report acknowledges that each area might have different reasons for parking shortages, but the program is intended as an overarching plan that can be tailored to specific areas.
The residential parking-permit program is being proposed at a time when the city is also undertaking a major examination of its supply of parking downtown and strategies to get people out of their cars and either walking, biking or taking public transit.
Monday's council meeting is scheduled to start at approximately 6:40 p.m. in City Hall, 250 Hamilton Ave., Palo Alto. The agenda is posted on the city's website.