Residents question parking garage plan

Publication Date: Wednesday Jan 27, 1999

DOWNTOWN: Residents question parking garage plan

Neighborhood groups ask if new structures will ease downtown car crunch

Residents in two neighborhoods have voiced concerns that the city's proposal to build two downtown parking garages will fail to solve the area's parking woes, damage the character of the neighborhoods and unfairly burden local businesses expected to foot the $20 million bill.

Discussing the plan at a recent Planning Commission meeting, residents from the Downtown North and University South neighborhoods questioned the city's idea to build the two multilevel garages on existing lots at 528 High St. and 445 Bryant St. They also have raised issues ranging from the garages' size and appearance to potential environmental concerns.

"For the sake of the neighborhood and the service businesses, I think more environmentally friendly solutions should be explored first," said Yoriko Kishimoto, a University South resident. "You can accommodate transportation needs without building these huge parking structures."

The garage proposal is just one of several options the city is considering to alleviate the shortage of parking spaces--estimated at 1,500 a day--in downtown Palo Alto and its nearby residential neighborhoods. The city is also considering a permit plan for street parking and is conducting a study to test the feasibility of a downtown shuttle system.

"I think everyone acknowledges that this is only part of the solution," said Brian Dolan, a senior planner for the city. "The city is pursuing other avenues."

Though the residents said they want to remove the cars that spill into their neighborhoods from downtown businesses, they have questioned the logic of building garages. Designed to add about 700 spaces, the garages would reduce the overflow of cars by less than half.

"My feeling is that nobody wants big ugly parking garages in downtown Palo Alto, but we do have a problem with the parking deficit," said Sally-Ann Rudd, a Downtown North resident. "My big concern is that we're only cutting (the deficit) in half.

"What we really need is a way of getting people into the downtown area without bringing their cars," Rudd said.

If other options fail to eliminate downtown cars from residential neighborhoods, Rudd said, she will support the garages' construction. "If the price I have to pay to get cars away from my house is to build a big ugly parking garage, then I guess I'm for it."

The neighborhood groups have also raised concerns on behalf of local businesses, which, according to Kishimoto, could be assessed $1.4 million as a group each year to pay for the structures. She said that makes each spot in the parking garage worth roughly $2,000 a year and that businesses have better ways to spend their money.

Susan Frank, president and CEO of the Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce, said some businesses may feel the strain of paying for the garages but that most are willing to accept the assessment fees if they provide for better parking options.

"The concern from the merchants is greater about the lack of parking than over an assessment that is not that significant," Frank said. "It's the cost of doing business."

Residents may find it difficult to argue against the parking garages if they're granted another wish--to have most of the on-street spaces in their neighborhoods reserved for permit parking, with permits issued only to residents. Business employees and patrons would then have fewer parking options other than the garages.

According to Assistant Police Chief Lynne Johnson, who has been working with residents on the permit issue, the majority of households surveyed in both neighborhoods want parking permits. Though the parking garages wouldn't eliminate the area's transportation problems, she said, the garages would be a necessary complement to a permit plan.

"It's going to be a complete necessity because the cars have to go somewhere," Johnson said. "The parking garages would help ease the parking deficit."

Mark Nanewicz, a resident of Downtown North, said that if the city builds the garages without offering permits to nearby residents, it will simply encourage more commercial traffic without protecting the residents.

"We will only get behind (the garages) if we get residential parking permits," Nanewicz said. "Otherwise, everyone will be against it."

The plan will get its next hearing at the Architectural Review Board meeting on Feb. 4. The garages are expected to be discussed by the City Council in April.

--Jennifer Kavanaugh 

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