Palo Alto Weekly

News - November 16, 2012

No quick fixes for downtown's parking woes

Palo Alto to study scope of the parking shortage

by Gennady Sheyner

With downtown residents up in arms about a shortage of parking spots on their blocks, Palo Alto officials approved on Tuesday a series of initiatives aimed at diagnosing the severity of the problem and finding a cure.

Through a series of votes, the council agreed to proceed with two major studies — one looking at downtown's capacity for new development and another focusing on garages and considering new parking facilities. The council also directed staff to consider zoning revisions to stem parking problems resulting from new development, pursue additional bike-parking stations and consider a variety of shorter-term solutions such as loading zones around residential areas.

While the measures are unlikely to satisfy the downtown residents looking for immediate fixes, council members agreed that they are a good start to what promises to be a long and complex search for solutions. Mayor Yiaway Yeh called the Tuesday actions "the start of what I know is a significant undertaking."

In approving the set of proposals by a 8-1 vote, with Karen Holman dissenting, council members emphasized the challenges inherent in solving the glaring and often-cited problem. Residents in the Professorville and Downtown North neighborhoods have been particularly adamant in recent years about downtown workers increasingly taking their street spots to avoid the time limits on parking in other areas of downtown.

Over the past two years, representatives from the neighborhoods have been meeting with downtown business owners and city planners in hopes of finding a solution all parties can agree on. In July staff recommended a residential-permit-parking program that would limit visitor parking to two hours in a section of Professorville. The council struck down the proposed parking restrictions and directed staff to consider more holistic and comprehensive solutions.

Russ Cohen, executive director of the Palo Alto Downtown Business and Professional Association, expressed support on Tuesday for the parking study and said downtown businesses are behind the city's effort to solve the parking problem. The business community, he said, "has recognized the need to provide a parking study to meet demand, having spent millions upon millions of dollars to build parking garages."

"We continue to explore new ways to meet parking demand," Cohen said.

Residents were far less thrilled. Richard Brand, who lives on Addison Avenue, urged the council to focus on the major parking shortages in the residential areas and not to conflate Professorville's problems with those of downtown as a whole. The time for gathering data, Brand said, "is quickly coming to an end."

"What we have is a development situation in the city that's out of control," Brand said. "Too many developments with too few parking spaces are being approved by the city and that, I think, is the crux of the problem."

Ken Alsman, a Ramona Street resident who has long lobbied the council to create a residential parking program in his neighborhood of Professorville, compared the parking problem in his area to a flood and told the council members that they should be ashamed for letting the parking problem get so out of hand on their watch. The process for finding parking solutions, he argued, "has been horribly mismanaged and horribly planned." He urged the council to focus on what he called the "core issue": Is there a systemic deficit in parking downtown? And how big is that deficit?

"There is no viable data in anything," Alsman said, referring to the staff's proposed approach.

The city hopes that its parking study will address the issue of inadequate data, though the answers aren't expected to come for some time. Palo Alto's Chief Transportation Official Jaime Rodriguez said the city wants to get reliable, independently verified numbers. Staff is scheduled to return to the council next week with a proposed contract for a consultant to conduct the study. The council directed staff to return in six months with a report on the progress of the study.

At the same time, city officials plan to establish the parameters of the "downtown cap" study, which according to Rodriguez' report will consider the "land use types, densities and recent and projected development around the downtown to determine future land use and parking needs/strategies to support land use changes." Planners look to hammer out the scope of the downtown study in the next month or two, Planning Director Curtis Williams said.

The council also backed staff's recommendations to study installation of more electric-vehicle and bike-parking stations and to discuss with Professorville and Downtown North residents the potential for short-term solutions such as loading zones and on-street parking permits for Professorville residents whose homes don't have parking or driveways. The lattermost proposal proved the most controversial, passing with a 5-4 vote (Vice Mayor Greg Scharff and Councilmembers Larry Klein, Gail Price and Nancy Shepherd dissented).

Scharff made the motion to endorse most of the proposals in the new staff report, including the two major studies. He also suggested that the city's Planning and Transportation Commission review the progress of the various initiatives before they return to the council for further consideration. Most of his colleagues agreed.

"I think this is a preliminary approach by staff," Scharff said. "It's a good one, and I'd like to see it move."

Karen Holman said it was a "systemic problem" that needs a near-term solution. She argued that the city should create a residential-permit-parking program in the downtown neighborhoods and urged staff to consider more immediate revisions to the zoning code, including changes that would roll back some of the parking exemptions for new developments.

She dissented because the proposals didn't come with a firm timeline.

Councilman Greg Schmid called downtown parking a "critical issue" and agreed with Alsman's point that staff should devote its near-term efforts to accurately pinning down the scope of the parking problem. It is "essential," Schmid said, that staff resources get spent on the issue of figuring out whether the city has a "systematic deficit." That should be the starting point, he said.

"You cannot leave the City Council here making decisions one application at a time without having a notion of what that deficit is and what it means to everybody downtown," Schmid said.

TALK ABOUT IT

What do you think of the parking situation downtown? Share your experiences and ideas on Town Square, the community discussion forum on Palo Alto Online.

Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be emailed at gsheyner@paweekly.com.

Comments

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 14, 2012 at 11:19 am

How long does it take to put in a few pay per hour machines at all lots and get rid of all the color coded parking bays that are not used? First 2 hours still free, after that modest per hour fee.

Study? not necessary.


Posted by common sense, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 14, 2012 at 11:26 am

This problem has been going on for over a decade, and city staff still doesn't have a handle on the problem.

I don't see adding bike corrals at the expense of parking spaces helping the problem at all, only making the problem worse.

I don't see more electical charging stations solving the problem at all, only making the problem worse.

I would suggest that the neighborhood associations put on the ballot one of the following:

1) A moratorium on all building permits until the parking is bought back in balance. This will light a fire under the developers to put pressure on the city.

or

2) Remove all the "time limit" color zoned parking downtown, and open up all those spaces to the employees of the businesses.

The current council has a majority of members (Klein, Scharff, Price, Shepard, Burt) who are more interested in representing the developers than the residents, and will stall, stall and stall and keep approving PC zoning changes (Lytton gateway, Arrillaga Skyscrapers) so that's why a ballot initiative is needed.


Posted by what about traffic?!, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 14, 2012 at 11:45 am

City Planning's full time job is the Arrillaga development, where are they finding time to do their job?

We also have a traffic problem, which would be aggravated by more parking and more new commercial developments.

If someone would study the costs that office buildings bing to Palo alto, compared to the benefits, this would be a very simple problem to solve now, and for the future.


Posted by what about traffic?!, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 14, 2012 at 11:49 am

common sense,

"1) A moratorium on all building permits until the parking is bought back in balance. This will light a fire under the developers to put pressure on the city."

Best idea.

Balance went out the window a long time ago.


Posted by Anon., a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 14, 2012 at 12:24 pm

One thing that is NOT going to help anything is the continual building of more office space and homes with inadequate parking!

The moratorium on development is a good idea.

I'd like to see some more parking structures. Once you get used to them they are a good quick alternative when you drive around a bit and cannot find any other space. They should also house restroom facilities with video surveilance so they and the parking structures are safe too since there are few places downtown that are available at all hours.

The little stand-alone restroom across from the Post Office is often broken and also does not take dollar bills ... so it's practically useless. How much did they spend on that again?

What is wrong with Palo Alto planners and developers, and why is our city government just a rubber stamp for incompetence ... in most cases?


Posted by resident, a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 14, 2012 at 1:30 pm

What happened to that "bike share" system that was supposed to start up this fall? It would help commuters get from the Caltrain station to local businesses that are too far to walk, thus reducing the need for car parking.


Posted by No Quick Fix?, a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 14, 2012 at 2:18 pm

I ride my bike and have no parking issues. Quick fix. BOOM!


Posted by WilliamR, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Nov 14, 2012 at 8:33 pm

Would it help if the downtown garages offered all-day, pay-by-the-day parking? CalTrain charges $4 in their lots. If you only drive to work once in a while, you don't need a quarterly permit. And having to stop at City Hall beforehand to get a 'day pass' for garage parking seems ridiculous. If more workers downtown used the garages for all-day parking, that would free up spaces on streets and surface lots for short-time parkers.


Posted by Question, a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 14, 2012 at 9:03 pm

Is it true - or a rumor - that the new hotel going in at the former Casa Olga has no parking underground?


Posted by Polly Wanacraker, a resident of Professorville
on Nov 15, 2012 at 10:19 am

I hear that Casa Olga will rely on valet parking. Valets will take your keys, toss a Razor scooter in the back seat, and park your car in Leland Manor, Old Palo Alto, or Menlo Park depending on where they can find a space, mark the spot on a GPS, and scooter back for the next customer. You will need to give them 25 minutes advance notice to retrieve your car.


Posted by casa olga, a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 15, 2012 at 11:52 am

I don't think the Casa Olga has underground parking to being with. It's not a brand new building, simply a remodel and renovation to a hotel.


Posted by Studies instead of action, a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 15, 2012 at 11:55 am

More and more studies are the city's substitute for action. Keeps city employment up and kicks the problem down the road.
How about not giving parking exemptions to developers? Even the mega development by a mega developer, at 355 Lytton was allowed to pay off the city with money for a study instead of building the required parking.


Posted by Adina, a resident of Menlo Park
on Nov 15, 2012 at 1:49 pm

@williamr yes!! With Palo Alto's pricing we really get what we pay for. Here's what we encourage people to do:

1) You need to buy one month parking permit in advance. So an employee drives every day, even if transit would be practical for them, because the parking is already paid for

2) Parking is cheaper for most employees than Caltrain, so employees drive. Only the largest employers can buy into Caltrain's GoPass discount program.

3) Employers pay employees to park, but not to avoid parking. So employees drive. (One great perk is "parking cashout" where companies pay employees a benefit if they don't drive, which they can use on transit, carpooling, bicycling, etc)

4) Daily parking is expensive ($16) or inconvenient (keep moving the car) so employees park for free in the neighborhoods

5) Caltrain parking is cheaper ($4) than daily parking ($16) so employees park in the Caltrain lot and riders park in the neighborhood

If Palo Alto improved its pricing structure so that it was more cost-effective to use alternatives where practical, and it was more convenient to park in a lot or structure than in a neighborhood, that would take a lot of pressure off the parking supply and save a lot of money by reducing the amount of new parking needed.


Posted by the_punnisher, a resident of Mountain View
on Nov 15, 2012 at 2:39 pm

the_punnisher is a registered user.

I'll keep repeating this until it sinks in to some thick heads:

Do what other places like Denver has done: Offer a 99 year lease to a COMPANY THAT SPECIALIZES IN BUILDING and COLLECTING FEES to build a parking garage; they have special rates including the " early bird " special to park on the roof. When I did an IT contract down in Denver, I paid $4.00/day for that special.

This is a non issue once you start talking to the right people.

Stanford may also want to do the same thing about student parking. When I attended SJSU, I had a " hunters permit " that covered parking. When I was at Foothill College, being early let you stay ot of the " Cardiac Hill " lot.

The TAXPAYER wallets will thank you.....


Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 15, 2012 at 3:15 pm

True that Casa Olga is a remodel. But its use is has been radically re-purposed. It was a low-cost, long-term resident hotel...mostly senior citizens on social security, etc. Most of the former tenants did not own a car.

Now it will be an upscale "boutique" hotel --- which will bring a large number of people with their rental cars in tow. This is going to be a parking impact nightmare.


Posted by what about traffic?!, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 15, 2012 at 3:51 pm


Adina,

Your ideas are great. Question is whether this solves the problem for current needs, or also future parking demand.

What if 10 or 20 more Casa Olga style buildings pop up?

WHat about traffic?

The CIty needs to come clean with number of building applications, and what the ideas are about "growth" for Palo Alto.

At some point this needs to stop, simply because there is no room, and there is no way that downtown can be Manhattan - not enough bridges, tunnels or subways.



Posted by Adina, a resident of Menlo Park
on Nov 15, 2012 at 4:02 pm

@what - that is why I do think that the studies are important, to figure out how much parking is needed, and how much extra parking construction can be prevented by using existing resources better. There are many examples of successfully reducing demand for parking by fixing the pricing structure and encouraging alternatives. I think that Palo Alto is far from saturated in taking advantage of the transit, biking and walking resources we have.


Posted by curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 15, 2012 at 5:31 pm

"I think that Palo Alto is far from saturated in taking advantage of the transit, biking and walking resources we have."

Uh-huh. What Palo Alto IS saturated in is wishful thinking about transit, biking and walking. Our reality-challenged city government especially. Each time it approves another huge, underparked office development we hear the predictable giddy rhapsodies about how the employees will of course walk, bike, or take transit to their jobs.

But in reality, people do what actually works for them. They drive their cars, including our "walk-bike-transit" city council members, who (guess what) have reserved parking spots under city hall.

It is the decades of this wishful thinking, dismissing the abundant evidence to the contrary, that got us into the high-carbon-footprint traffic jam and parking mess we're now in. And there are no easy, inexpensive fixes.


Posted by What about traffic?!, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 15, 2012 at 6:55 pm

curmudgeon,

"...Palo Alto IS saturated in is wishful thinking about transit, biking and walking...."

I agree.

And overwhelmingly, the people that walk, bike and use transit are Palo Altans. That includes tikes on bikes getting to school.

As Adina says, employees drive.

Adina,

"2) Parking is cheaper for most employees than Caltrain, so employees drive. Only the largest employers can buy into Caltrain's GoPass discount program."

The new buildings will likely be random offices space. Big employers are smarter, and they won't buy into downtown Palo Alto traffic, or all these dumb parking problems.

Transit is an illusion, like the commuter lanes on 101, littered with cars with one person in them.

Anyway. you would think this would be studied every day. There has to be a pipeline of new building projects. WHere is this already available information, and future planning?

A little spreadsheet listing building applications, number of floors, number of offices. Estimated amount of people working there, types of employers. Historical numbers, 2012-2013. DOesn't anybody keep track of this stuff already?

Once you have the historical and current numbers, does it really hurt to put some projections on paper? Keep "transit" real, stop hallucinating.

The big "studies" missing are the traffic studies - also should have been done all along, this is really new?

In case nobody noticed, Palo Alto has tourists too.

Add it all up.


Posted by What about traffic?!, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 15, 2012 at 6:57 pm

Adina,

I meant the second half of my previous post as a vent, not directed at you.


Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Nov 15, 2012 at 7:26 pm

> Only the largest employers can buy into Caltrain's
> GoPass discount program."

Not true. The program is a give-away of taxpayer money. While larger clients to get better breaks--the cost for smaller companies is really not too much different.


Posted by musical, a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 15, 2012 at 9:46 pm

Caltrain GoPass (unlimited zones) 1-year, $165.

12 monthly passes (3-zone, e.g. P.A.-S.F.) at $179 per month, $2148.

Something smells fishy.


Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Nov 16, 2012 at 8:40 am

The following two short papers were submitted to the Palo Alto City Council, and other local governing bodies, outlining just how badly managed--from a taxpayer's point-of-view--the Caltrain GoPass progam is--

Problems With Caltrain GoPass Program:
Web Link

Caltrain GoPass Program As Corporate Welfare:
Web Link


Posted by infrequent, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Nov 16, 2012 at 10:58 am

When we came at 10 am to use the Cal train parking lot at University , it was full. We would be returning home after 8pm and needed a station that has more stops later in the evening. We had to park in the Menlo park station. Is this a frequent problem for later day commuters to San Francisco?
Some Palo Alto parking spots have time limits.


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