College Terrace residents starving for parking spaces in their bustling Palo Alto neighborhood may soon see the gridlock ease along their neighborhood curbs.
After almost nine years of complaints, studies, debates and petitions on the issue, the City Council Monday night recommended instituting permit parking in the residential section of the mixed-use neighborhood adjacent to both Stanford University and Stanford Research Park. The council voted 7-0 to direct staff to draft an ordinance creating a residential parking-permit program for the congested area, where in years past the city has put in street closures and roundabouts to discourage cut-through traffic and speeders.
Vice Mayor Jack Morton was absent, and Councilman John Barton recused himself from the vote.
The program would only apply to those blocks where more than 50 percent of the households support opting in. It would allow unlimited parking for permit holders while restricting parking for visitors to two hours between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.
More than a dozen neighborhood residents spoke to the council on Monday night, while dozens more wrote e-mails and looked on from the Council Chambers seats as the council deliberated. About 20 residents stuck around until the 11 p.m. vote and gave the council a round of applause after the decision was made.
The council, for its part, agreed that the program was a long time coming. Too long, in fact, said Councilman Larry Klein, who's been hearing about residents' parking woes for most of the past decade. The start-up costs for this program, estimated at $100,000, will be paid for by Stanford University – a condition of the university's 2001 general-use permit with Santa Clara County.
In July 2007, the council directed staff to find a suitable parking-permit program for College Terrace. On Monday, Klein said that given the availability of the funds, the city should have been swifter in implementing the needed changes.
"Somehow, we should've gotten this done long before nine years," Klein said Monday.
But so far, the ordinance would affect only about a third of the neighborhood's 63 residential blocks. In February, the city sent out petitions to College Terrace residents asking them whether they would support the parking program. Only 21 blocks had a majority of residents voting "yes."
Since that time Facebook moved into Stanford Research Park, further exacerbating the neighborhood's parking pains.
On Monday, staff and some neighborhood residents suspected that some of the opponents of the permit program might come around. Colin Mick, who lives on Hanover Avenue in College Terrace, said he and a group of residents are surveying 22 of the 39 blocks who didn't opt into the system.
Mick said 13 of these blocks had a majority of residents interested in joining, while one had a majority opposing the program. Surveys of the other eight blocks are in progress.
Staff proposed giving those blocks that haven't replied to the city petition until Sept. 30 to opt in. But the council, at the urging of Klein and Councilman Greg Schmid, voted to keep the deadline flexible, thereby allowing other residents to change their minds.
Most of the neighborhood residents who spoke at Monday night's meeting urged the council to adopt the program. Susan Rosenberg, a member of the College Terrace Residents Association's board of directors, said the board strongly supports the proposal, but asked city officials to launch the program sooner.
"The neighborhood is ready for a solution," Rosenberg said. "The College Terrace Neighborhood Association board and the project advisory committee believe your approval for the residential parking-permit program -- with the timeline expedited -- will provide the neighborhood with a much-needed relief."
Staff and neighborhood residents attributed the parking shortage in large part to the neighborhood's proximity to Stanford's graduate-student housing. Many students choose to park their cars at College Terrace and walk to the university rather than pay parking costs. College Terrace resident Brent Barker said the parking problem needs urgent attention.
"I think Facebook, the university and all the neighbors agreed that the only way this will be resolved is through permit parking," Barker said. "It's urgent, it's needed and, hopefully, we'll get it."
But another resident, Bill Ross, urged the council not to segment the issue into blocks, but to address it "consistently throughout the Terrace." Councilman Sid Espinosa also proposed applying a permit program to the entire College Terrace.
"I think the patchwork approach is nonsensical," Espinosa said.
But his proposal failed to get the five needed votes and failed 4-3, with Greg Schmid, Pat Burt and Larry Klein dissenting. The council then agreed to implement staff's proposal only in the blocks that opted in. Each vehicle in these blocks will receive a residential permit and each household will receive two annual guest permits. Permits will cost $25, but day permits for guests could also be issued for a $2 fee.
Klein acknowledged there were many different approaches the city could have taken with the permit program. But he said it was important to move the project forward before the College Terrace neighborhood loses its faith in the city.
"I think it's time to move and not have another six-month or two-year program when we think about how many ways we could do this," Klein said before the vote was taken.