Professorville residents might soon get more muscle in their irksome tug-of-war with downtown workers over parking spots in the historic district -- a parking-permit program that would limit visitors' stays to two hours.
The permit program, which the City Council will discuss Monday night, is the city's response to years of complaints from the residential neighborhood adjacent to the bustling high-tech scene of downtown Palo Alto. Unlike other downtown neighborhoods, which generally have two-hour parking limits, Professorville currently doesn't have parking restrictions. To make matters worse, most houses in the neighborhood don't have garages. So when downtown employees park their cars on the Professorville streets to avoid time limits, residents find themselves without a spot.
That, however, may soon change. Over the past year, the city has been meeting with representatives from Professorville and downtown and surveying residents about a potential new permit program. Last month, survey respondents overwhelmingly favored the new program, with 83 percent saying they support a trial permit program and 17 percent saying they oppose it. City staff planned to recommend adopting the permit program if more than 60 percent of the surveyed residents agreed.
The permit program would apply to an area roughly bounded by Addison Avenue to the north and Lincoln Avenue to the south, between Emerson and Bryant streets. It would also include the block of Addison between Bryant and Waverley streets. The time limit would apply on weekdays between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. The city would give away one permit per household in Professorville and allow additional permits to be purchased for $50. The city would make two-thirds of the for-sale permits available only to residents, while the rest could be purchased by non-residents.
Staff proposes to begin the trial period in August and to consider the results in spring of next year.
"The trial period will allow staff and the community to measure the response to permit sales, the impact on neighborhoods outside the RPP boundaries, and citation revenue to help estimate the long-term RPP permit costs," Chief Transportation Official Jaime Rodriguez wrote in a report.
Some residents heralded the new program as a sorely needed solution to Professorville's parking woes. Matt Mealiffe, who lives on Addison Avenue, wrote in a letter to the council that he had some concerns about the restrictive boundary of the proposed permit area. But he said he and his fiancee strongly support a permit program in their neighborhood.
"The parking crush from living in a neighborhood adjacent to downtown Palo Alto is -- without question -- the most negative factor in our daily existence in Palo Alto," Mealiffe wrote. "It is also -- admittedly -- the only thing that drives us to anything resembling local political activism."
Not everyone agrees with the city's approach. Some area residents and employees complained in letters to the council that the permit area is too small and that the city's solution would only shift the parking problem to other areas. Donald Barr, a Stanford University professor and affordable-housing advocate who lives in Professorville, wrote a letter to the council urging it to reject the proposal.
"It is clear that street parking during business hours has become a scarce commodity in many neighborhoods of Palo Alto, including ours," Barr wrote. "Parking on city streets is a common good, shared by residents and workers alike. I believe it is your job to develop a process that allocates that scarce good fairly and equitably. The current proposal does not do this."
The residential parking-permit program is one component of Palo Alto's broader drive to make downtown parking easier and more efficient. In recent months, the city revised its policies for downtown garages to encourage workers to park in these underused structures rather than on residential streets. Changes included converting the fourth floor of the Bryant Street garage from regular time-limited parking to permit parking and introducing a new monthly rate ($45) for parking permits. Previously, the city only offered annual or quarterly permits.
The strategies appear to be bearing fruit. According to the new report from Rodriguez, the occupancy of parking structures increased during the noon peak period, with an average 20 percent increase in parking-permit usage.