Professorville residents who for years have borne the burden of clogged streets and fender benders from all-day employee parking have petitioned the City of Palo Alto to implement a residential-permit parking program.
Now, they're citing a city parking study that showed hundreds of spaces are vacant during the day as justification for their petition.
The 147 residents submitted their petition to the city and a multi-page letter that they hope Planning and Transportation commissioners will consider when they study parking management strategies next Wednesday (Aug. 24).
The city's Transportation Division began analyzing its parking management in April as part of the Transportation Work Plan for 2011. The analysis includes a focused review of parking strategies in the Downtown and California Avenue business districts. Several citywide parking policies are also being explored, including bicycle parking, on-street disabled parking, electric-vehicle charging station and residential permit parking, according to a staff memorandum.
Hundreds of permit-parking spaces remain vacant, according to the recent analysis of how -- and whether -- drivers are using off-street parking facilities. It studied 12 surface lots and five city parking garages: Alma and High North, Alma and High South, Bryant Street, Cowper and Webster and City Hall.
The city has 2,328 downtown garage parking spaces, of which 1,567 are designated as permit parking and 711 surface-lot spaces, with 186 for permits, according to the analysis. In four out of the five garages, use of permit spaces ranges from just 13 percent to 26 percent, according to the analysis. The numbers jump during midday, but 424 permit spaces are still unused. In city lots, 106 out of 186 permit spaces are unused in the morning and 76 spaces are unused during midday.
Professorville resident Ken Alsman wrote to the commissioners that despite the 300 to 400 empty permit spaces "the city will not issue new permits to persons on the waiting list."
Alsman said the spaces might better be filled if the pricey permits are reduced to a cost that is affordable for employees. A yearlong permit costs $420 for a 5-day work week, or about $1.75 per day.
If the city allowed employees to break the fee down rather than paying a lump sum and reduced the bureaucracy, more employees could utilize the permit spaces, he said. The city could still make money and there would be ample parking for customers, he said.
The staff memorandum from Chief Transportation Official Jaime Rodriguez, states the city has begun to free up more spaces.
Staff immediately began locating places where more on-street spaces could be found and to convert underutilized red curb and loading zones to parking. Eighteen new spaces have been created or are planned. This represents the equivalent of $1.8 million in parking improvements if new garage spaces were constructed, he said.
Staff also converted the fourth floor of the Bryant Street garage from hourly parking to permit parking, providing 104 additional permit-parking spaces. This allowed he city to issue permits to everyone on the waiting list for a permit at that garage, according to the staff report.
Currently if a permit is not renewed, it takes three months for permit holders to be notified to return their permits. This represents a significant loss in revenue and a delay in distribution of permits to those on the waiting list, he said.
A new permit-management computer system will help streamline the process and a tier-pricing permit structure for downtown would include monthly permits and less expensive hardship ($30 per month) and fleet-vehicle permits.
Day permits, which are available for $16, are often altered by users, who add other dates. Starting in September, the day permits will be sold as a "scratcher" type of permit that can be only changed once, according to the report.
The city is also looking at developing additional residential permit-parking districts that would include amending a city ordinance that only allows the program in College Terrace.
The report suggests developing criteria for neighborhoods to apply for the program. Staff plans to present the outline to Professorville and other neighborhoods and return to the planning and transportation commission within 90 days with recommendations.
The current parking-management program was adopted in 1996, Rodriguez noted, and the color-coded zoning was updated in July 2011 to include the Main Library parking lot and its Bryant Street frontage.
But Alsman said as much as the trasnsportation division's efforts are appreciated as a first step, even the most successful efforts of the management plan will eventually fall short due to growth and use changes taking place under the current city land use and entitlement policies.
Parking exceptions and incentives granted to downtown development for offices, retail and housing have exacerbated the situation and the city has not taken into account the wave of start-up businesses coming into downtown, he said.
"Traditional assumptions about parking standards are no longer valid, where the typical office module of a few years ago gave employees each about 250 square feed of space, leading to a requirement of one parking space fore every 250 square feet of building area for parking. The current trend is to put many more employees in the same space -- clusters of people working with their laptops around a table at three or four times the employee density once considered standard," he said.
Other "nonconforming conversions" have upped vehicle density. A space at 818 Emerson Street that was formerly occupied by a furniture store with one or two workers and a few is now occupied by a start-up firm with 30 or more employees, he said.
"By our estimate every 12 to 15 employees without a designated parking space in the commercial district pushes the parking one block further into the low-density residential neighborhood," he said.