Faced with constant complaints about a dearth of parking spots on downtown streets, Palo Alto officials are weighing a wide range of dramatic solutions, from building new garages and introducing valet parking at existing ones to installing more electric-vehicle charging stations and beefing up the parking requirements for new developments.
Downtown's parking pains have been aggravated in recent years by new developments and a strong local economy. Over the past two years, the city has been hit with a flurry of complaints about parking shortages in residential neighborhoods around the city's commercial core. Much of these complaints have come from Professorville and Downtown North, neighborhoods that don't have two-hour parking restrictions and often attract downtown workers looking to park for free.
The city had flirted in July with the idea of creating a residential permit-parking program in Professorville but the City Council voted down the proposed program and directed staff to pursue more comprehensive solutions to the parking problem. On Monday night, the council is scheduled to consider a wide range of recommendations for improving the parking situation. Some of these recommendations rely on new infrastructure such as garages, bike corrals and charging stations for electric cars, according to a new report from the city's Chief Transportation Officer Jaime Rodriguez. Others center on technological solutions, such as parking apps and a garage system that allows users who wish to park beyond the three-hour limit to pay for extra time. Still others target the city's zoning laws. Rodriguez is recommending that the city conduct a full analysis of downtown's recent and projected development and consider the parking strategies that would be needed to support this development.
The "Downtown Cap" study, which would cost the city up to $150,000 and would take about six months to complete, is also a requirement of the city's zoning ordinance. In 1986, when the city revised its zoning code, it created a development "cap" of 350,000 square feet in downtown and specified that the city has to re-evaluate the cap when it gets to 235,000 square feet. The recently approved four-story Lytton Gateway project near the Caltrain station pushed the city close to the cap. The proposed mixed-use building at 135 Hamilton Ave. would push the city over the cap.
Other recommendations are less conceptual and more concrete. The city plans to pursue a separate study to evaluate downtown parking garages and consider an attendant-parking program at these garages. The study would also consider the feasibility of building a new parking structure at one or more of five surface parking lots. These lots are located at Hamilton Avenue and Waverley Street; Gilman Street; High Street between University Avenue and Hamilton Avenue; High Street between University and Lytton avenues; and Urban Lane between University Avenue and the Palo Alto Medical Foundation.
The study will be partially funded by a $60,000 contribution from the developers of Lytton Gateway.
"The results of the study will be used to determine whether the City should pursue construction of a new parking structure using its own local funding, enterprise funding to build a parking structure in conjunction with additional office facilities, or to pursue a private partnership with land developers to help build a parking facility," Rodriguez wrote in the new report.
New garage technology should also be evaluated, Rodriguez wrote. By installing "garage parking access" control gates, the city could regulate the number of cars entering and exiting the garages and collect revenue for those seeking to stay beyond the existing time limit of three hours. Staff has already prepared a draft request for proposals for the garage technology. The request proposes to introduce this technology at the Bryant Street garage, though it lists the Alma Street/High Street garage as an alternative site.
Other proposals that the council will consider aim to make life easier for drivers of electric vehicles and bicyclists. Staff is proposing adding six new charging stations for electric vehicles downtown and up to five stations around California Avenue. These would supplement the four charging stations that would be included as part of Lytton Gateway and two that would be part of the redeveloped Edgewood Plaza. At the same time, staff recommends that the city pursue "additional bicycle parking stations" around both downtown and the California Avenue Business District.
The bold new proposals aim to supplement a series of less dramatic adjustments that the city has recently made to its parking-permit operation. These changes were spurred by the city's recognition that downtown parking garages are often underused, despite long waiting lists for parking permits. Area residents have also complained that downtown workers often shirk these structures in favor of street parking in residential neighborhoods.
In response, the city has upgraded its parking-permit system. It now allows monthly renewals of the parking permit (before, renewals were offered on a quarterly and annual basis) and allows only one permit per person in the California Avenue Business District.
Previously, Rodriguez wrote, "it was not uncommon for someone in the California Avenue District to be on the wait list multiple times." He noted that this has been a common practice of start-up owners trying to get permits for future employees.