The projections, carefully drawn and conservative, are stark: A current "parking deficit" of 901 spaces for downtown Palo Alto alone (meaning people park in neighborhoods) could explode to 2,390 by the end of 2016, according to the projections.
That is well above city staff projections in a March 18 report that foresee an increase in the deficit by 665 spaces for a total of 1,566 (available at www.cityofpaloalto.org/civicax/filebank/documents/33531).
The new estimated impacts are based on some limited city studies and on a survey of parked vehicles in the neighborhoods that was done in April.
Developing the cumulative projections is still a work in progress, according to Neilson Buchanan, one of several residents involved in raising the concerns. He says the projections are flawed but on the conservative side. He has used 20 percent as an estimate for alternative transportation usage, for instance — well above estimates of actual use.
The residents are pushing for direct city participation in developing a cumulative model for growth in downtown that would also serve as an approach for other business districts, such as California Avenue and some major thoroughfares. A partnership, in other words.
There are three neighborhoods most impacted: Downtown North, University South and Crescent Park. North and south residents have experience heavy overflow parking for decades, but the problem is relatively recent for the upscale Crescent Park area.
The impact reaches well beyond the neighborhoods themselves. It is actually part of a broader issue of traffic — a political bugaboo in town for more than a half century.
The overflow also impacts the several thousand employees who work in downtown Palo Alto and the thousands of persons who head there to dine, shop or do business with the attorneys, financial institutions and other enterprises.
The fact that Palo Alto and Silicon Valley communities (from Cupertino to Menlo Park) seem to be leading a national economic recovery doesn't help with the parking problems, according to the residents. Downtown Palo Alto is one of the hottest points of the growth-demand surge, with several large and medium-size developments working their way through city reviews and expected approvals, in one form or another.
Representatives of all three neighborhoods met with City Manager James Keene May 31 to outline concerns and try to get a stronger city commitment to looking at the cumulative impact of new developments and increased intensity of use for downtown Palo Alto.
Developing cumulative projections is a huge challenge for city planning staff, usually neck-deep in keeping up with day-to-day demands. The pending retirement of Planning Director Curtis Williams at the end of June just adds to the overload on remaining staff, especially on Acting Planning Director Aaron Aknin. A national search for a new "permanent" director will continue the overload.
But the absence of a cumulative approach to planning and growth has been a frustration both to journalists and residents for decades. And it's no longer good enough for Palo Alto to bounce along from project to project, according to Buchanan, who once was chief administrator at El Camino Hospital in Mountain View.
He and Ken Alsman, a former planning official in Mountain View and Downtown South resident, and others want to develop a partnership approach with the city to come up with a solid projection that would lay the groundwork for specific steps to alleviate the overflow.
The draft of their preliminary document cites 25 specific actions by city staff that would increase parking intrusion into neighborhoods versus five actions that would reduce the parking-space demand.
The bottom line, it states, is: "Downtown neighborhoods are being harmed from profound spillover of commercial vehicles unable to park in the downtown commercial parking areas. It is a clear finding of fact that commercial enterprise is being promoted by city policy and practices to the severe detriment of three city residential neighborhoods for the next three years."
And beyond, presumably.
In addition to specific development or redevelopment projects, two factors are expected to boost the deficit: (1) increased density of employees in existing buildings due to the high cost and shortage of office space downtown, increasing the deficit by 120 spaces (if 20 percent of employees use alternative transportation); and (2) an increase in the "development cap" for downtown that could add 320 to 400 spaces to the deficit (again depending on use of alternative transportation).
A half dozen large projects and several smaller developments are listed with estimated deficits, including: (1) a hotel at the old Casa Olga site at 180 Hamilton Ave., adding 73 spaces to the deficit; (2) an office/retail project at 500 University Ave., adding 66 spaces to the deficit; (3) an office/retail project at 278 University, adding 55 spaces; (4) an office/retail project at 135 Hamilton, adding 46 spaces; (5) a new skilled-nursing unit to Channing House, adding 40 spaces; (6) a general increase in retail and restaurant employees downtown, adding 40 spaces.
Lesser sources of increased deficit include opening a community history museum at 300 Homer Ave.; reconfiguring the former Apple Computer store at 451 University; additional outbound Caltrain passengers; re-use of the historic post office at 380 Hamilton; office/retail at 101 Lytton Ave.; and even the office towers and homes proposed in Menlo Park by developer John Arrillaga.
The question of whether the city staff can, or will, collaborate with the residents to develop a solid, confirmed base of information remains to be seen. Such joint efforts are rarities, locally and elsewhere. They can be significant time sinks.
But having a firm foundation of fact on which to build community decisions might be well worth the effort.
This story contains 954 words.
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