Professorville residents looking to reclaim the parking spots on their streets from downtown employees will have to cope with status quo for at least six more months after the City Council shot down Tuesday morning a proposed parking-permit program for the historic Palo Alto neighborhood.
The permit program intended to defuse the tension between Professorville residents who have long decried the lack of parking on their streets and the downtown workers who often park in the neighborhood to avoid the two-hour time limits prevalent in other parts of downtown. A group of residents has been clamoring for such a program for more than a year, claiming their quality of life has been affected. They've said they can no longer find parking close to their homes, many of which are so old they have no garages.
But after a long and winding debate, the council decided at about 12:30 a.m. Tuesday not to rush into such a program. Council members voted 6-2, with Gail Price and Sid Espinosa dissenting, to scrap the permit-program proposal and to pursue a broader and more comprehensive strategy for solving the problem of inadequate parking downtown.
The broader analysis of the downtown parking scene will include consideration of new public-parking garages and new methods to increase use of existing garages, including valet parking and different permitting processes. The council also directed city staff to analyze technological remedies such as gate controls, parking-space identification systems and zone changes.
In shooting down the permit-program proposal, members argued the process for developing the program hasn't been open enough, that the proposed pilot area is too restrictive and that the program wouldn't solve the problem but merely shift it to a different neighborhood.
"This is moving around a problem," Mayor Yiaway Yeh said. "And my greatest concern is that a lot of the neighbors who are not in the zone would be negatively impacted for whatever time duration we'd have the program."
The pilot area proposed by staff would have been bordered by Addison Avenue to the north and Lincoln Avenue to the south, stretching between Emerson and Bryant Streets, along with a block of Addison between Bryant and Waverley streets. Time restrictions would have applied on weekdays between 8 and 5 p.m. Staff proposed the program after six months of meetings with a self-selected working group of neighborhood residents and downtown employees.
But while some Professorville residents endorsed the plan, many of the speakers at the council meeting voiced major reservations about the staff proposal. Robert Steinberg, a local architect who lives in Professorville, was one of many to argue that the time limit would only push cars to another downtown neighborhood, frustrating those residents.
"What assurance can you offer to neighbors of the parking program that our streets will not be recipients of those displaced cars?" Steinberg asked. "I hope there is a consensus among our council that kicking the can down the street would not be a satisfactory solution to the problem."
Don Barr, a Stanford professor who lives next to the proposed pilot area, argued that the process hasn't been transparent enough and urged the council to keep Professorville streets open to all comers -- residents and workers.
"Parking on city streets is a social good that belongs to all the people of Palo Alto, residents and employees alike," Barr said. "Residents have no more right to a space than workers."
Others disagreed and urged for staff to proceed with the trial, which would have lasted between three and six months. Ray Dempsey, speaking on behalf of a group of Professorville residents, urged the council to pursue the trial program. Dempsey said the program has received support from many residents both inside and outside the pilot area and called it a "short-term step to providing relief to a wider area."
"It's important to understand that the pilot is not a solution but a test case for a solution for broader activity," Dempsey said.
Downtown developer Charles "Chop" Keenan also supported the plan, though his endorsement was more measured. The experiment, he said, would at the very least provide staff with some information about parking.
"It's a fragile parking ecosystem that can't take radical disruption," Keenan said. "We are supporting the staff report. It's been a long process. We don't know how it's going to turn out, but we'll know more in six months."
Councilwoman Price agreed, supporting both the trial permit program and a more comprehensive solution
"Clearly, a more aggressive, a more comprehensive plan is really important," Price said. "Along those lines, I feel for us to really be comprehensive, we do need to do a trial as one element of a comprehensive approach."
The broad analysis will be funded by a $250,000 contribution from developers of Lytton Gateway, a mixed-use development at Lytton and Alma streets that the council approved earlier this year. The contribution was targeted for parking analyses and was included in the "public benefits" package the developers had to provide in exchange for the city's approval.
Planning Director Curtis Williams said the parking study will also include consideration of zone changes, given all the changes downtown has seen in recent years with new developments and different types of office uses. The analysis of parking demand is particularly timely, he said, given the recent trend of offices becoming denser.
"We do have parking ratios for office use that probably at this point deserve to be re-evaluated," Williams said. "We're seeing office occupancies that tend to be considerably more than one person per 250 square feet. The old model isn't holding up the same way, so it's appropriate as part of this to look at those ratios."
Staff will return to the council in six months to report on the progress of the parking study and early findings.