Editorial: A worthless permit parking test

Without changing downtown garage policy, employees will simply relocate to and impact other streets

If the city is truly committed to giving Professorville and other residents living in homes adjacent to downtown some protection from the daily invasion of workers seeking a free parking space, it will take much more than the trial run that was unveiled last week.

For years residents of the Professorville neighborhood just south of downtown have been calling for a residential permit parking program that would convert their streets to permit parking only, with the majority of the permits given to residents.

But instead of developing a plan for the entire neighborhood, the city staff's proposed six-month experiment covers only a few blocks, an approach that accomplishes almost nothing and just kicks the can down the road.

The affected area is roughly bounded by Emerson Street on the west, Waverley Street to the east and Addison and Lincoln avenues to the north and south. It also includes the Bryant Street block between Addison and Channing avenues, according to a map sent to residents.

Under the plan, each household would receive one free permit and the right to purchase another for $50.

But with all-day parkers needing only to relocate outside the trial area, it is hard to imagine any useful information coming out of this test other than the obvious: permit parking shifts the problem to other streets.

Professorville resident Ken Alsman, who has tried to stop the invasive parking for years, worked on a committee of residents, downtown property owners and city officials to come up with the pilot plan, which he grudgingly supports.

"We've got to go forward with it. I am a strong advocate of the pilot parking plan because it is the best we can get with the people involved," he said this week.

In order for the trial to take effect, at least 60 percent of the residents in the affected area must support the six-month test by responding to a city survey sent out last week.

At this stage, the city apparently has no intention of addressing the actual crux of the problem: the fact that there is available parking in downtown garages but workers aren't choosing to buy permits to use them.

A key part of this problem is encouraging and assisting the employers of low-wage workers (retail, restaurants and hotels) to defray the cost of parking permits for their employees and to be able to hold the permits as a business. Currently, the city only issues permits to individual workers, a strategy that all but forces low-paid, high turnover employees to park in the neighborhoods.

A far more interesting, and less punitive, approach to testing possible solutions to the downtown parking mess would be to establish a trial program of selling greatly reduced-price permits to retailers, restaurants and hotels so they could then provide them to their employees. Doing so would enable us to see how much the current permitting system is responsible for the neighborhood parking problems.

If parking is unilaterally taken away on some neighborhood streets without addressing the parking garage permit problems, employees will simply relocate to and impact other streets.

And, with more under-parked development coming downtown, the city needs to being doing much more than trying to appease a small group of Professorville residents. One example: remaking Casa Olga into an 85-unit luxury hotel will have a significant impact on parking but is only required to have 28 parking spaces, hardly enough to serve the parking needs of employees and guests.

Last year, a city study showed that of the more than 3,000 parking spaces downtown, including 1,200 that are open to the public at any time, there are hundreds of permit spaces that sit empty in all the city's parking garages. The survey showed there is a huge surplus of space at the 688-space Bryant Street garage, with only 16 percent of spaces occupied from 8 to 10 a.m. And only 53 percent occupied during the lunch hour, from noon to 2 p.m. During this period, the survey showed, there are more than 300 empty spaces in the Bryant Street garage alone.

If the city wants to truly find answers to its parking problem it will take much more than a tiny trial in the Professorville neighborhood. Downtown businesses must acknowledge that they are at least in part responsible for many of their employees clogging residential neighborhoods adjacent to downtown.

And the city needs to be actively experimenting with permit pricing and creating improvements in the permitting system.

Alsman and others have said for years that it is extremely unfair for his neighborhood to bear the burdens of downtown's employment growth. We agree.

But a successful solution will take a better effort among all the stakeholders, not a small piece-meal approach from which we will learn nothing.

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Posted by Allen Edwards
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 22, 2012 at 10:59 am

Employee parking in lot X is $75 a year which is 30 cents a day. People spend that much for the gas to drive 2 miles. Maybe kicking the can enough to get employees to buy permits in this lot isn't such a bad plan. Maybe I am missing something but it doesn't seem like too much to ask.

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Posted by the_punnisher
a resident of Mountain View
on Jun 22, 2012 at 11:03 am

the_punnisher is a registered user.

I mentioned before in another comments section about solutions to fill those empty spaces in the parking garages; that is stuff that WORKS.

To make this " experiment " work, you have to add aggressive " Tag and Tow ", something that rarely happens in laid back Palo Alto. Boulder, CO is VERY aggressive in making sure that people follow the rules. You only have to be TEN MINUTES LATE and your car is GONE. It will cost you a ransom of over $120 PLUS the original parking fine if you want to get your car back that same day!

It's a win-win situation ( except for the law-breaker ). The residents get their parking spaces back and the city has a new revenue pool.

Just pull the officers off of regular patrol duty for a few days or add it to the regular duties. Just assign the parking enforcement people to JUST MARK CARS with UV marks with the time and date ( invisible to the eye, so people don't play the " disappearing chalk make game " ).

The other answer is the " parking kiosks " that issue a TIME STAMPED PERMIT that you " ticket " your car with. Walking parking or regular LEOs simply check the time stamp.

Again, using LEOs to " walk a beat " is good PR. Cops on Bikes is more good PR and they could check even MORE parking " tickets " and issue the OTHER type of ticket too.

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Posted by Joe Baldwin
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 22, 2012 at 11:03 am

Agree with editorial 100%, but, as usual,
no mention whatsoever of Downtown North, solidly
parked all day everyday with downtown commuters.

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Posted by paarchitect
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 22, 2012 at 11:07 am

I wonder if the problem is simply too little parking provided in downtown itself by the city.

As someone who's applied for a city permit in the past, the wait times are over a year and there simply aren't that many spaces in lots and garages given to downtown commuters.

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Posted by Perry A. Irvine
a resident of Professorville
on Jun 22, 2012 at 11:11 am

This editorial raises very important issues about downtown parking, a bungled mess if there ever was one. I live in Professorville,at Waverley & Lincoln, but not in the area covered by the trial. I also work and am a part owner of a small office building across from City Hall. A number of years ago, our building was assessed about $90,000 to pay for the two new parking garages, which now apparently go unused. Our tenants get permits for parking. All of them are paying in increased rent for the unused parking spaces.

There is a simple rule of economics - if something is not selling, reduce the price to the level necessary to make a sale. In this case, if those unused parking places were used and even a dollar or two a day were collected, it would be more money than now collected.
In the meantime, this City should not be spending its scarce resources to develop, monitor and administer what you accurately describe as a patchwork proposed system. In fact, living where we do, an easy five-ten minute walk to downtown, we have never experienced the parking impact that is apparently causing some much consternation amongst some of our neighbors.

The City would do much better to spend its time coming up with a better system than the color zone. It can, and often does, result in someone who parks for five minutes at 9 am and again at 4 pm for another 20 minutes receiving a ticket because the person had the misfortune to have his or her license number recorded in the brief five minutes in the morning. That is idiotic and unfair.

All of us enjoy the benefits of a vibrant downtown, with many of the employees receiving minimal pay and who cannot afford to live here. Making their lives even more difficult is not in anyone's best interests. This proposal would have that effect.

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Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jun 22, 2012 at 11:20 am

The following letter has been sent to the Palo Alto City Council about problems with the Downtown Parking Structures:

Web Link

It's clear that management of these structures seems to be concerned only with extracting as much money out of them as possible, and not utilizing the capacity of these structures to the maximum possible for the relief of street parking.

There is also another problem, which is allowing businesses to locate in Palo Alto that are not providing adequate parking. This is a political problem that needs answers from the City Council.

It would be really nice if some of the many local lawyers would take on a pro-bono case once and a while, and sue the City when it's clear that it is not enforcing its own policies.

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Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 22, 2012 at 11:27 am

All heavily impacted neighborhoods should have a RPPP, like we have in College Terrace (CT). CT was the leader, and I am fully supportive of other neighborhoods doing the same thing.

Employee parking is part of the cost of doing business in Palo Alto. The employers should pick up the costs of their own employees parking needs.

Perry Irvine doth protests too much, methinks!

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Posted by All downtown streets should be included
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 22, 2012 at 11:29 am

About 20 years ago a developer had an agreement with the city that he would build the Cowper- Webster parking lot. He would use it for 15 years and then turn it over to the city for public parking. Well that contract expired about 5-8 years ago- and the whole lot was not turned over to public parking. There was never an agreement about after the 15 years it would be partly permit parking. I do wonder who has the permits, this same developer for all of his tenants? I have a building just west of Middlefield and there is never any parking outside my building. Employees of nearby restaurants and dental offices come early and take all of the spots on the street. I would love for my street to be included in 2 hour parking. But I do worry that with permits every year they might increase in price, so it becomes a burden for the home or building owners. But it would be better than having no parking right in front of my place.

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Posted by Chris
a resident of University South
on Jun 22, 2012 at 12:25 pm


Many Stanford employees take public transit.

Do you think the same number of downtown PA employees take public transit?

If not, why not?
Also, the reduced parking on te street should drive more people to buy permits.

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Posted by What about the 63 spaces
a resident of Professorville
on Jun 22, 2012 at 12:47 pm

About 9 years ago Ken Alsman promoted the 63 public spaces under 800 High Street as a solution to the parking problem in the neighborhood.
Where are those spaces now? who uses them? What explanation does Mr Alsman have for their seeming disappearance?
So much silence by the city too.

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Posted by Ray
a resident of Professorville
on Jun 22, 2012 at 1:25 pm

The City has the right to provide preferential parking on public streets for residents, a right granted by the United States Supreme Court in Arlington, Va. v Richards. The City has the obligation to provide preferential parking on public streets for residents, an obligation contained in the Palo Alto Comprehensive Plan that cites where the interests of business collide with the interests of residents, the city will support resident interests over that of business. Seems a likely winner for residents v Palo Alto. Like Ken Alsman, I support the pilot program reluctantly as a possible step in finding a complete solution that provides relief for all residential areas north and south of University Avenue. Although it is clear that the pilot program could make parking worse in adjacent areas (although it is hard to see where those extra cars are going to park since we are wall-to-wall as it is now), after working on the parking issue for five or six years, six months seems like a small price to pay if it proves anything. Full disclosure: I am in the pilot program. I'd vote for it if I weren't.

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Posted by jm
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jun 22, 2012 at 1:42 pm


If you look at the parking pattern in Professorville, where my daughter, was living, parking is only a problem from 11am to 4 pm when shift workers are parked. And even during those hours she never had to drive more than around the block to find a parking space.

And to those who think public transport is the answer, it is EXTREMELY EXPENSIVE AND PLAIN UNAFFORDABLE FOR SOMEONE WITH A LOW WAGE JOB. 2 to 3 hours of each daily shift just to pay to commute from San Jose.

Funnily enough, when representatives of the the Professorville neighborhood called they were quite enraged about all the "old" cars parked outside their houses, even people sitting inside and eating during their break. And in front of their window!

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Posted by Neilson Buchanan
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 22, 2012 at 2:22 pm

I represent more than a dozen neighbors near the intersection of Poe and Byrant. We too reluctantly support the Professorville experiment. It does not address the core issue. Our neighborhood is totally saturated with downtown workers desperately avoiding time restrictions and parking permits, driving around looking for parking and wasting their time and gasoline.i talk with these restaurant workers, bank employees, etal daily. You correctly point out the short term solutions: better use of parking permits and increased time restrictions in our neighborhoods. The only longer range solution could be moratorium of building permits without true, new parking spaces coupled with new parking garages. Any homeowner within 1 mile of University Avenue should be alarmed about a tidal wave of parking heading for their residential street as the City Council moves forward with more and more larger buildings downtown...many of which may have very low requirements for additional parking appropriate for their floor space.

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Posted by Emanuel
a resident of Professorville
on Jun 22, 2012 at 3:38 pm

I live in the Professorville area scheduled to be included in the pilot if 60% of my neighbors vote to implement it and it is subsequently approved by the City Council.

Like many of my pilot area neighbors, I voted for the pilot reluctantly. Why? Because with all its obvious shortcomings this pilot is the only solution the City has offered many, many years after the City knowingly turned the residential neighborhoods adjacent to the downtown business area into a virtual free commercial parking lot for downtown employees by implementing the downtown parking color zones.

In the last several years the problem has been exacerbated by the City Staff turning a blind eye to the parking demands associated with the "repurposing" of small, previously lightly populated spaces into dense commercial enterprises that now house 10-20 times the number of employees for which the spaces were originally approved. Two examples are the Christian Science Church at the corner of Forest and Bryant and the ex-furniture store on Emerson adjacent to the Whole Foods parking lot.

I couldn't agree more with the editorial and I'm quite certain that the vast majority of my neighbors throughout Professorville and Downtown North agree as well. But until the City and the downtown businesses work cooperatively to provide easier access to affordable off-street parking for the downtown employees, we really have no choice to grasp at any small straw the City blows our way.

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Posted by Adina
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jun 22, 2012 at 3:58 pm

The op-ed hits the nail on the head

A key part of this problem is encouraging and assisting the employers of low-wage workers (retail, restaurants and hotels) to defray the cost of parking permits for their employees and to be able to hold the permits as a business. Currently, the city only issues permits to individual workers, a strategy that all but forces low-paid, high turnover employees to park in the neighborhoods.... If parking is unilaterally taken away on some neighborhood streets without addressing the parking garage permit problems, employees will simply relocate to and impact other streets.

BUT there's a contradiction in that the op-ed also calls some new developments "underparked". Since there is spare capacity downtown, how is it "underparked."

The city should use the existing unused capacity more efficiently, and also encourage developments to provide transit passes, and maybe figure out how to validate transit in the same way that businesses validate parking.

It is very expensive to provide parking, and more cost-effective to use parking spots efficiently and reduce the need. Big companies like Google and Facebook know this. The techniques they use can be brought to the downtown market as well.

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Posted by Craig Laughton
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 22, 2012 at 4:04 pm

Hey, Downtown folks:

Your best political solution is to demand a RPPP. Just watch how fast our City Council listens to your complaints, once you accomplish this basic step.

My son went to UC Davis, and I have a deep level of understanding of how it went down over there, namely RPPP first, then a comprehensive solution. Palo Alto needs a comprehensive solution, but it won't happen until the RPPPs happen, first.

Trust me, there IS a solution, but it won't happen until there are several RPPPs in Palo Alto. Collge Terrace led the way...follow us!

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Posted by YIMBY
a resident of University South
on Jun 22, 2012 at 4:22 pm

YIMBY is a registered user.

Great comments, and stimulating editorial.
Re, "A key part of this problem is encouraging and assisting the employers of low-wage workers (retail, restaurants and hotels) to defray the cost of parking permits for their employees and to be able to hold the permits as a business. Currently, the city only issues permits to individual workers, a strategy that all but forces low-paid, high turnover employees to park in the neighborhoods."

Respectfully, I don't think this addresses the real problem. My solution: Scrap the permit program, merge all parking spots into metered spots, allowing long-term spots as well as short-term.

Look, do you really want to encourage the use of permits, thus discourage the use of alternatives?

The current system is like only allowing people who use Caltrain or the bus to board if they have a monthly pass - and they are costly! (My 2-zone Caltrain is $126)
Caltrain Fare chart: Web Link

The parking consultant indicated that some commuters buy the permit but don't drive & park daily - thus the empty spaces.

I commute to Burlingame. They have all-day parking lots - called "pay and display" for $3 (no meters), in addition to 10-hr. metered spaces.
Web Link
They do have a permit system as well - it can be used only in long-term parking lots.
Result: parking lots are fully utilized, no shortage of permits, and no residential parking permits are necessary.
A good person to consult is the director of the Palo Alto downtown business district, Russ Cohen - he's a Burl' resident and served on their council.
Web Link

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Posted by mattie
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 22, 2012 at 5:34 pm

As a newbie to this discussion, I wonder why the simple solution is not to reduce or eliminate fees for parking in the lots. Have designated "long term" spots high, and "short term" spots for customers low.

Are the lots not there to be a public good, to facilitate the commerce of the surrounding community and commerce? Let them not be there to extract as much coinage possible, but to make people flow smoothly to shops, cafes, whether as employees or patrons. The taxes generated by a vibrant downtown can pay for that and then some.

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Posted by Sharon
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 22, 2012 at 5:43 pm

The clear solution is to build a large car park in the Bay Lands with frequent buses to down town PA.

Commuter to PA bring in a lot of money as do their employers.

Also - all PA homeowners should have sufficient off road parking in their drive way and garage-too many garages have been converted to rental housing properties or other illegal extensions of homes.

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Posted by What about the 63 spaces
a resident of Professorville
on Jun 22, 2012 at 11:57 pm

Mr Sharon, do you know what happened to the 63 public spaces under 800 High? That was the "public benefit" for allowing that oversized, no setbacks building. There was so much publicity at the time about how wonderful all that public parking would be.
That no one seems to know or care about such a huge public parking garage gets curiouser and curiouser.
I wonder if there is a story behind its disappearance.

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Posted by Ken
a resident of Professorville
on Jun 23, 2012 at 9:03 am

I see my name mentioned about the parking under 800High street. The writer forgets that my comment was early in the possess when another developer had the project and wanted to provide space to local employees.. She forgets the U South neighborhood fought that project,the developer changed and the City at her insistence took over the parking.

In the meantime U South assoc..if it still exists has provided little to address or resolve an increasingly destructive commercial parking intrusion into a great old residential neighborhood.. The downtown with the exceptions it enjoys from City policy and the intensity of new businesses is short several thousand parking spaces. Yes to RPP! We are tired of subsidizing the commercial prosperity of downtown with the character and livability of our neighborhoods and homes.

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Posted by Toady
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 24, 2012 at 5:46 pm

I'm mixed about this whole thing. We're in this transition period that will eventually require better transit options for downtown Palo Alto. Yes, there's Caltrain, but feeder coverage by VTA is pathetic. That being said, the problem has been lack of density in Palo Alto to more transit cost effective.

As for the comment about garages being converted, well, what do you expect when you have a stupid, restrictive FAR requirement that includes garage space in the calculation?

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Posted by friendly comment
a resident of Ohlone School
on Jun 24, 2012 at 7:25 pm

Hello ..

Not sure why my complimentary comment to Chris Kenrick was taken down. Every word I had put was appropriate and well written. It was a thank you to Chris for being such a thorough and knowledgeable writer and citizen of Palo Alto.

I wrote this NOT only as a thank you to Chris... but also to DRAW ATTENTION to Chris' comments as well thought out and accurate... rather than simple (yet important) commentary.

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Posted by Tyler Hanley
digital editor of Palo Alto Online
on Jun 25, 2012 at 8:44 am

Tyler Hanley is a registered user.

The following comment was moved from a duplicate thread:

Posted June 24 at 8:20 a.m. by neilsonbuchanan:

I represent over a dozen neighbors around the 100 block of Bryant St. Our neighborhood is saturated every weekday with employees of banks, restaurants, offices, etc who avoid the restrictions of the city's garages. I talk with them almost every day and it is comical and sad to learn how much time they waste trying to find relocating from time limited spaces to residential parking. We too reluctantly support the parking experiment for Professorville. It is not a solution but a delay. Unused parking in the city garages must be opened up; otherwise, the city staff and developers can argue that there is no parking shortage. What are the plans for additional garages?

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Posted by anon
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 26, 2012 at 12:44 pm

Why does Professorville get special attention from City Hall? There is a neighborhood surrounding Professorville (called University South by some) that has a problem too.

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Posted by Mike
a resident of University South
on Jun 27, 2012 at 6:36 am

As I've said on all of the RPPP threads, "The University South neighborhood has a much worse problem than Professorville or Downtown North and should be included in any `solution'."

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Posted by multi-tenancy
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 27, 2012 at 9:40 am

University South has a load of apartments and so doesn't even qualify under the proposal for Professorville's RPPP. Even DTN wouldn't qualify.

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Posted by Mike
a resident of University South
on Jun 27, 2012 at 11:17 am

What? Can you explain how apartments affect the RPPP program?

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Posted by Mike
a resident of University South
on Jun 27, 2012 at 11:18 am

How about condo dwellers?

I suspect University South has more condo units than apartment units.

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Posted by Palo Alto Resident
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jun 27, 2012 at 12:53 pm

I must comment on the public parking spots under 800 High Street. I have parked there before but there is no way out for a pedestrian. There's a very small public parking sign directing cars in. The car ramp in/out states clearly "no pedestrians allowed" but after being parked, could not on 2-3 occasions find stairs or an elevator out for someone on foot. I, of course, walked out via the ramp as could find no other exit path. Surely, if this is public parking, the city has a responsibility to ensure there is a marked and/or safe exit path for the folks exiting/entering their cars.

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Posted by matthew
a resident of Professorville
on Jul 7, 2012 at 9:47 pm

So if they city is serious about understanding the impact of such a plan, why not run a six pilot for ALL of Professorville? As a resident who lives on the 1000 block of High Street, I am dreading this pilot; the overflow from the pilot is going to make parking at our house hell!

I predict that the city will learn three things from this pilot:
1.) the people in the teat area will be happier.
2.) the rest of the Professorville will suffer even more.
3.) Finally, the commuters coming into PA will still not feel compelled to buy garage parking permits.

Hopefully, there is a 4th thing the city could learn from this pilot, but I am not holding my breath; the design of the pilot was flawed.

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

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