Sierra Club: City should say 'no' to more parking for 355 Alma

Local chapter recommends 'environmentally preferable' transportation options to cut traffic in Downtown North neighborhood

The local Sierra Club chapter says the City of Palo Alto should not require a developer to add more parking to a planned 5-story development downtown as a "community benefit."

Instead, Planning and Transportation commissioners should consider adding a car-share program and ask Lytton Gateway LLC, the developer of 355 Alma St., to fund a study of a residential-parking permit program for the adjacent Downtown North neighborhood, the Loma Prieta Chapter wrote to the city's planning commission on Feb. 16.

Developers are asking for a new Planned Community (PC) zone designation and Comprehensive Plan land-use designation amendment to allow a 64-foot-tall, mixed-use, five-story building with an 84-foot corner tower at the former Shell station site at Lytton Avenue and Alma.

Planned Community zoning allows for greater density and for combinations of commercial and residential occupants not otherwise allowed.

Five below-market-rate housing units would be included among the 14 apartments and other "public benefits" would be added in exchange for going above the city's height and mass regulations.

The development would have approximately 155 parking spaces in a parking garage and eight street-level spaces for retail customers. But additional parking could be considered as part of the public benefit.

The Planning and Transportation Commission began a hearing on the zoning change on Jan. 25 and will continue the hearing Wednesday, Feb. 22.

In its letter to commissioners about Wednesday's meeting, the Sierra Club said the entire fifth floor of 14 rental apartments, 35 percent of which are below-market-rate, are a community benefit.

"Second, based on the discussion on January 25, we cannot stress enough the importance of not providing additional parking as a community benefit. Adding more defeats the principles of transit-oriented developments," Bonnie McClure of the Sierra Club wrote.

Brett Walonski, a transportation consultant, said at the Jan. 25 meeting that one of the biggest factors with how people are going to arrive at the site is if there will be free parking.

The Sierra Club chapter instead said it strongly recommends adding a car-share program at the site for public use. Residents who live closest to the site are likely to use the car-share service if it is accessible, McClure wrote.

McClure said the Sierra Club also recommends the parking-permit study, noting that Professorville, which is to the south of downtown, is being considered for such a program but that residents north of University Avenue face the same parking problems.

"Expanding parking capacity would only serve to accommodate increased driving -- that is no long-term solution at all and in fact, would only serve to exacerbate the parking/traffic congestion problems known for the area," she wrote.

But neighborhood leaders did not agree with the Sierra Club's assessment.

"It's a huge building, and it should not add to the parking woes of Downtown North," said Elaine Meyer, president of the University South Neighborhood Association. "The process is broken," she added.

Downtown North Neighborhood Association leader Sally-Ann Rudd agreed.

"The planning department continues to allow oversize developments on the Lytton corridor, which increase demand on Palo Alto infrastructure -- schools, water, power and of course parking loads in the surrounding neighborhood.

"The justification is that these developments are near transit hubs, so people will use public transport. But public transit use is never made more attractive by choking off the currently unlimited supply of free parking on neighborhood streets.

"Of course people will continue to use their cars, clogging streets, dumping their trash outside homes and all the other myriad inconveniences Downtown North residents are accustomed to," she wrote in an email on Tuesday.

She would also like to see a parking-permit program for the neighborhood.

"I would love to see the unlimited free-parking supply choked off by a resident-parking program. But until a program exists, developers will continue to use neighborhood streets north and south as their de facto free parking lots. Reducing the parking requirements for this development will be ineffectual when there is unlimited free parking less than a block away.

"If we want people to come to Palo Alto by bike, bus and train, then it is time the city made it a lot less easy to come by car. Choke off the supply of free parking first, then think about reducing parking spaces in private developments," she said.

The planning commission meeting will be held Wednesday, Feb. 22, at 6 p.m. in the Council Chambers, First Floor, Civic Center, 250 Hamilton Ave.


Like this comment
Posted by Lost-In-LA-LA-Land
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 22, 2012 at 8:00 am

Once again, the Sierra Club (with its unpublished membership list) indicates how out-of-touch it is with the reality of life in California, and the basic problems of downtown Palo Alto. The issues of parking revolve around demand, and supply, of parking spots. Those numbers are not all that well understood, although the City has recently made an effort to measure some of the parking supply, and did a half-asked job of determining the utilization of some of the City-owned parking spots.

The garages are not fully utilized, and the streets of Downtown North are pretty much full of parked cars. How this scenario is to be resolved by a ride-share program makes little sense.

It's a shame that City does not understand how to model their operations on a P&L basis, at least to understand how to get to a break-even basis for those services that they provide that have a high capital cost associated with them. The recent decision of the City to refinance the bonds for the Garage that is near Dana reminds us that the cost of the garage was in the $30M range. Presumably the total cost, once the bonds are paid off, with be close to twice that amount. So, the parking structures can not be free, unless there is some other offsetting revenue stream to pay for the structures.

The parking assessment district is supposed to be paying for the bonds, but exactly how that works is not exactly clear--particularly if there were to be a downturn, or businesses were to vacate for some other location before the bonds are paid off.

The Bryant Street Garage also has a similar price tag, and a similar $50M-$60M that needs to be paid to its bond holders.

These bonds are not going to be paid off by people who are using alternative transportation, or ride-share programs. Perhaps the bonds are not going to be paid off by people parking in business-supplied parking, either, but 155 parking spots would be enough to hold the cars for about 5 blocks in Downtown North.

What's needed here is a solution that understands the City's costs in providing parking, the neighborhoods problems associated with parking that can not be satisfied within the confines of the so-called "business district", and how parking affects people's willingness to come to downtown Palo Alto to shop, and do business.

So far, this understanding seems to be sketchy, at best. Maybe the right answer is to declare this "the year of the bicycle", and proclaim the problem as solved!

The Sierra Club's input is counter-productive, and should be ignored.

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 22, 2012 at 8:27 am

Put pay per hour machines in all city garages and lots and see what changes!

Why is nobody understanding that it is not a case of people not willing to buy monthly passes, it is that people don't want monthly passes, they want to be able to park for several hours, for several days. I fall into that category and I don't want to have to go to city hall to do so and my only alternative is to park on neighboring streets and walk!

Like this comment
Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 22, 2012 at 9:28 am

Just remember that the Sierra Club endorsed the High Speed Rail bond in 2008, and the city council voted 8-0 to endorse as well.

Let's see if the City Council learned it's lesson of blindly following the Sierra Club....

Like this comment
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 22, 2012 at 12:42 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Anyone who still believes the Sierra Club speaks just for the wilderness is naive.

Like this comment
Posted by Nicholas Baldo
a resident of Stanford
on Feb 22, 2012 at 2:20 pm

Great to see the Sierra Club supporting smart growth at the local level.

Like this comment
Posted by Enviromentalist ignorance
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 22, 2012 at 2:30 pm

The Sierra Club and other environmentalists voted in two of the most poorly informed and incompetent mayors the city has had.
They mindlessly followed the Chamber of Commerce and voted in terrible projects. Oh that's right, global warming justifies ruining the city. R-right.

Like this comment
Posted by Douglas Moran
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 22, 2012 at 3:14 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

On the bias/ideology of the local chapter of the Sierra Club, be aware that their spokesperson for Transportation Affairs advocates reducing the vehicle lanes on Alma to accommodate bicycle lanes, nevermind that the Bryant Street Bike Boulevard is but 2 blocks to the east and there is a bike path on the other side of the Caltrain tracks. The bike lanes are but a "statement" and a means to make travel by car more and more difficult, nevermind that many of those drivers don't have viable alternatives.

My experience with the leadership of the chapter over the years is that they are ideologues who are unwilling to consider negative consequences and side-effects of what they propose.

Like this comment
Posted by Anon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 22, 2012 at 3:22 pm

This seems very odd. The Sierra Club which I generally support should think twice about weighing in on issues this like this.

Downtown Palo Alto is hardly wilderness so they should bug the hell out … UNLESS there was some very important environmental reason they felt they needed to make a public statement.

This just seems like meddling and also seems to put the Sierra Club in a bad light. One wonders if that is not the reason. Who is saying this and why, and why the overriding need to comment on one small part of one small city in a developed area?

There are much more important real things to do to protect or recover the environment in my opinion. Perhaps this article is incomplete but again, I think the SC should bug out on city matters, or make sure that it is clear this is some individual's opinion.

Like this comment
Posted by Anon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 22, 2012 at 3:26 pm

Crackpot and inappropriate ideas are going to give the Sierra Club a bad name - and their name and brand are pretty much all they've got. Maybe whoever's running the local chapter needs to step down or start taking appearances into account.

There can be honest disagreement about how to pursue a green agenda, but pushing what seems like an "annoy the heck out of people" fringe point of view doesn't seem like the most effective way to capture people's hearts and minds.

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Posted by Enviromentalist ignorance
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 22, 2012 at 7:27 pm

It is time to recognize that many environmental groups have become like religions. They have a high level mantra for anything that doesn't make sense, like: global warming is the most important issue facing us.
Like right wing religions, they have become one-issue voters, which accounts for the 2 uninformed and incompetent mayors we suffered with for so many years. It takes more than being a "nice guy" to be a legislator.

Like this comment
Posted by Oldbasse
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 22, 2012 at 9:29 pm

I have been a financial contributor to the Sierra Club since 1988, a Club hike leader for 12 years (until 2010) and a participant in several local Club committees. My overall experience with the latter is that they tend to be composed of well-meaning, but poorly informed and ideologically skewed individuals who are incompetent at participating in any serious public debate.

It is entirely inappropriate and even ludicrous that some busy-body member(s) of the local 'Loma Prieta' Chapter of the Club is/are now getting involved in a City of Palo Alto parking issue. Keep it up and the Club will surely not only lose yet another supporter, but also generate another antagonist -- because of its extraneous and inept meddling in political matters and issues that are none of its stated mission and business. Go stand in the corner, Bonnie McClure and your cohorts!

Like this comment
Posted by Liam
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 22, 2012 at 10:22 pm

I too recall the Sierra Clubs ringing endorsement of High Speed Rail. I read the ballot initiative and though it absurd them, and was not duped by the bogus 'green' claims by HSR backers. Now they are whining about parking spaces for an over sized bloated building with more of the idiotic 'public benefit' that almost without exception grants developers free reign to do what ever they want, and leaves the public with an eyesore, and no benefit. And oh yes, those zip cars will come to the rescue once again! What, do those things blow pixie dust out their tail pipes or something? They my be convenient, but they are also about as expensive a rental car as you can find, and will therefore have a limited market. They are hardly the 'public benefit' the local Sierra Club thinks.

Like this comment
Posted by newdn
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 23, 2012 at 11:36 am

I have been a ZIP Car user for years in the eastern seaboard city where I have a house but no car. It's a hourly rental ( they rent conventionally too) and it has been a life saver for me. I don't use it in California because they are Stanford lot based and therefore difficult to get to and from if you are not on campus. We have 2 cars but one is used seldom (less than 500 miles/year) and I keep it so that it's available when needed. I am now a downtown north resident and in need to replace one car. If Zipcar or similar was available I wouldn't need a second car and woud save street parking. There is no reason why more parking spaces shouldn't include a few reserved for hourly rent car., which obviously some of you know nothing about. Why throw the baby with the bath water? Bring me my Zipcar AND more parking spaces-both are needed.
And people-this is not a forum about the Sierra Club-it's about the parking we need

Like this comment
Posted by Build it Wisely for parking
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 23, 2012 at 2:10 pm

Seems logical, since a multi-level parking lot would help a lot for businesses and local homeowners, that have out of area workers parked all over the local neighborhood! That's not fair.
BUILD The Parking tower.

Like this comment
Posted by Anon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 23, 2012 at 3:50 pm

There is also another possibility and that is that powerful political pressure is putting people into environmental organization specifically to make bad decisions and take unpopular steps since this is one of those political areas where almost all Americans strongly support the environmental movement and the only way to stop that movement is to destroy it from the insides. This was done with some of the radical and human rights movements of the past by what was basically America's secret police, the FBI and CIA.

I'm curious about how the Sierra Club became concerned and thinks that it is their jobs to comment on city decisions like this one and what does this kind of micromanaging supposed to accomplish?

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Posted by Chris
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Feb 23, 2012 at 6:05 pm

How wonderful it must be to live in the Sierra Club's world. It's one where everyone can walk or take public transportation. Although I can walk small distances, I have not been able to shop without the use of my car to get me around town since I was in an accident.

Just what is this organization's real agenda?

Like this comment
Posted by Anon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 23, 2012 at 8:11 pm

Here is what the Sierra Club ought to be most concerned about: Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 24, 2012 at 3:21 pm

The local Sierra Club should perhaps focus on finding financial and/or practical solutions to preventing the imminent closing of so many State and County parks!

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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