Palo Alto Weekly

News - August 16, 2013

Crescent Park gets ban on overnight parking

Residents settle for 'imperfect' solution

by Gennady Sheyner

Crescent Park residents seeking a cure for their parking pains received a Band-Aid on Monday night, Aug. 12, when Palo Alto officials banned overnight parking in a particularly congested section of the neighborhood.

The ban, which the City Council passed unanimously, aims to address a flood of cars from East Palo Alto into the neighborhood. East Palo Alto residents, who have been dealing with their own parking shortages, have been routinely crossing the Newell Street bridge that straddles the two cities to park. The problem has gotten so bad that many Crescent Park residents rallied behind a ban that would keep them from parking on their own streets unless they buy a permit.

For many, that was a worthy price to pay for relief. Things have become particularly congested over the past two years, as Equity Residential took over the apartment complexes formerly owned by Page Mill Properties and began renovating the aged buildings. As a result, occupancy has increased from around 70 percent to the mid-90s, according to Marty McKenna, spokesman for Equity.

Palo Alto residents on Edgewood Drive and nearby streets have not only seen their blocks fill up, but drivers have parked blocking their driveways and left trash behind, residents told the council Monday.

Some said crime has been on the rise. Dan Hansen said his car had been broken into. Frank Branson said his home was burglarized in July 2012 and his family no longer feels safe. Burglars, he said, methodically went through the house room by room, ransacking the place.

"Our home was damaged. Personal property was stolen," Branson said. "We felt violated, and it was an emotionally traumatic experience to go through."

Palo Alto planning officials on Monday attributed the parking problem to a large extent on Equity's inability to provide its tenants with adequate parking. Each unit at Equity's properties gets one spot. While Acting Planning Director Aaron Aknin said the company had been charging residents for additional parking spots, McKenna said this is not the case. The number of parking spaces is very limited, he said, and Equity hasn't changed any parking policies.

"Everything is the same," McKenna told the Weekly.

Equity hopes to open two new lots to accommodate the parking demand, he said. The lots would make 88 new spots available, though the company plans to charge residents who wish to use them.

Under Palo Alto's new restriction, parking on selected blocks will be banned between 2 and 5 a.m. The ban affects Edgewood Drive, between Southwood and Jefferson drives; Hamilton Avenue, between Island Drive and Madison Way; parts of Dana Avenue north and south of Newell; and Newell, between Dana and Edgewood. Residents who wish to park on these streets at night would be able to buy nightly $5 permits.

The solution, many agreed, falls far short of what most residents have been clamoring for since late 2011: a residential permit-parking program of the sort that exists in College Terrace. A permit program would limit the time nonresidents can park in this section of Crescent Park. The city has decided not to pursue this solution in Crescent Park at this time because officials are now in the midst of designing a permit-program prototype that any neighborhood could later adopt.

The overnight ban is a temporary measure and, from most perspectives, an imperfect one. But Jane Kershner, an Edgewood Drive resident, spoke for many when she said the streets need immediate help.

"We're looking for some relief now," Kershner said. "We're looking for some help, some support from you to help send the message to the property owners and the City of East Palo Alto."

The council proved sympathetic to the residents' requests. The ban, as adopted, applies to the blocks where at least 70 percent of the residents support the new restriction.

In its discussion, the council characterized the solution as imperfect but necessary. Councilman Larry Klein praised the neighbors for their patience and concluded that it's time to act.

"This isn't only the way to help our residents but to send a message to the owner of apartment buildings and the municipal government of East Palo Alto that we really have to move forward on this. We have to change the status quo," Klein said.

Yet Klein and Councilwoman Liz Kniss also predicted that with the ban, there is a risk that the parking problems will simply move further into the neighborhood. Kniss predicted that many people will be willing to walk the longer distances for free parking.

"I wouldn't be surprised if we're back in a month with people saying, 'We want to be part of this,'" Kniss said.

Council members also acknowledged that their options are somewhat limited because the problems they are dealing with are rooted in a different jurisdiction and stem from policies formed by Equity Residential, which is headquartered in Chicago. Equity bought the roughly 1,800 units from Wells Fargo in 2011, about two years after Page Mill Properties defaulted on its $50 million loan from the bank and lost control of its vast portfolio in the Woodland Park neighborhood.

Councilman Marc Berman pledged to reach out to his counterparts on the East Palo Alto City Council to come up with a more permanent solution.

Vice Mayor Nancy Shepherd proposed the city do a "firm reach-out" to Equity Residential so that "we can stay connected while they pursue their investment in the community."

Glenn Campbell, an East Palo Alto resident and an Equity tenant, encouraged this dialogue even as he opposed the ban, which he said would only serve to punish hard-working people on the other side of the bridge.

"Most of my neighbors — most of whom look nothing like any of us (here) — are good hard-working, blue-collar people, trying hard to raise families in an environment that we created that requires dual incomes just to keep above the water," Campbell said. "They don't have a place to put both of those cars. They are not people who should be bearing the brunt of this. We should be dealing directly with the Equity apartment owners."

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

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