Residents of Palo Alto's College Terrace neighborhood cheered and applauded when the City Council created the city's first residential permit-parking program in their area two years ago.
The council unanimously approved the program in July 2007 after residents argued that their residential parking spaces were being taken over by Stanford University students and employees from the nearby Stanford Research Park.
But for residents of the Professorville neighborhood, which abuts downtown, convincing the city to create a similar program in their neighborhood is proving to be as frustrating these days as finding an empty parking spot outside their homes.
Professorville residents have been pleading with the council for more than two years to set up a program under which parking for visitors would be limited to two hours. Under the existing system, downtown workers face two-hour restrictions throughout most of the downtown, a setup that leads many to park their cars in Professorville, where such restrictions don't exist.
The resulting parking shortage has vexed Professorville residents, many of whom have been attending meetings in recent months to ask the city for help. They reiterated these concerns Monday night (Sept. 12), during the City Council's broad-ranging discussion of parking problems downtown and near California Avenue.
So far, however, a parking program is proving a tough sell in the historic neighborhood. The College Terrace program was subsidized by Stanford University as part of the university's general-use permit with Santa Clara County. A potential Professorville program, by contrast, would have to be paid for entirely by the city, though officials would expect to recoup the costs from permit sales. At the same time, some business owners and council members remain skeptical about a new permit-parking program in Professorville and argue that new parking restrictions in this part of downtown would simply transfer the parking problem to another neighborhood.
The city's planning staff, for its part, remains open to creating the program -- eventually. In the meantime, planners are crafting a set of guidelines for a residential parking permit (RPP) program that could be applied to any neighborhood in the city. Jaime Rodriguez, the city's chief transportation official, wrote in a report that staff believes that "it is important for the City to establish some basic policies for all RPP requests before expanding beyond the current College Terrace program."
The city's cautious approach is testing the patience of Professorvile residents. Michael Hodos, a neighborhood resident since 1978, said he was frustrated by the lack of urgency -- and deadlines -- on the part of the city. Hodos said he and his neighbors have been trying to get the city to address the parking problem since 2007.
Hodos said other communities, including Los Altos and Menlo Park, already have similar programs. He said the costs of launching the program in those cities were recovered within two or three years.
"It's not like we're rediscovering fire and reinventing the wheel," Hodos said.
Hodos was one of several Professorville residents who attended the meeting and complained about the neighborhood's parking shortage, a problem exacerbated by the fact that many of the houses were built before 1900 and have either small garages or no garages at all. Ken Alsman, a Professorville resident who is leading the effort to create a new parking program, said he supports downtown businesses but doesn't want to "subsidize their success with destruction of our neighborhood."
Downtown business leaders, meanwhile, reject this characterization and note that they have already sunk millions of dollars into creating new parking structures. The businesses belong to an assessment district that funds downtown parking improvements. Charles "Chop" Keenan, a downtown developer who serves on a committee charged with tackling the neighborhood's parking problems, said the city should consider other options, including new garages, and to avoid any "magic wand" solutions to parking woes.
"To privatize the spaces in Downtown South and not even look at the problem in Downtown North is crazy," Keenan said.
Russ Cohen, executive director of the Palo Alto Downtown Business and Professional Association, acknowledged "we have a problem in Professorville" but urged the council not to launch the permit program until the city has a chance to evaluate other less drastic proposals on the table. These measures include new way-finding signs leading visitors to downtown garages (many of which remain underused, according to a recent city survey) and new rates for parking permits to encourage downtown workers to buy these permits and park in garages.
"If we implement those, they need to be measured before we implement the residential parking program," Cohen told the council. "We need to see if those incremental changes make a difference."
Cohen also wrote a letter to the council saying that residents who choose to live near busy parts of the city, including downtown, "accept and acclimate to their unique environs."
The council did not make any decisions about the permit program Monday but members were generally sympathetic toward the Professorville dilemma. Councilman Pat Burt challenged Cohen's assertion that residents should adapt to their environments and argued that Professorville's parking shortages go beyond reasonable expectations.
"It's not reasonable to expect perfection, but it's not reasonable to get flooded with a steep increase which seems to be the pattern we've seen in the last few years," Burt said.
Councilman Larry Klein was the only council member who advocated speeding ahead on a new permit program in Professorville. The neighborhood, he said, is a "unique situation" that does not require a citywide solution.
Others were more cautious. Mayor Sid Espinosa noted that parking problems in Professorville have gotten worse in recent years and that residents are becoming frustrated. But he said he was concerned that downtown workers would take their cars to other neighborhoods, including Downtown North, once a permit program is in place in Professorville.
Councilman Greg Scharff was another council member who said he was "hesitant" to launch a permit program in Professorville. He said he would prefer to see the city first use other means to lure downtown workers away from the residential streets.
"Let's focus on getting the parking out of neighborhoods by bringing parking into the garages," Scharff said. "If that's not working, we can look at a residential permit parking program."