Palo Alto casts wide net in search of parking solutions

City considers zoning changes, new garages, valet parking as it seeks to quell complaints about parking shortage

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.

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Like this comment
Posted by spend spend spend
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 1, 2012 at 10:32 am

New parking garages will cost $100 millon each. Not with my tax dollars. If employers want more parking, let them build new garages.

Like this comment
Posted by Mary
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 1, 2012 at 10:50 am

There should be a fee to charge electric cars in City Garages. The owners of the cars shouldn't get free power that is paid with my tax dolloars.

Many Cities charge for parking garages. If the issue is so critical put up new garages, charge for them and also put parking meters on the streets that are very busy.

Like this comment
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 1, 2012 at 12:08 pm

As written in an earlier article - require developers to provide greater number of parking spots for new buildings.

Secondly, join the 21st Century and install parking meters that accept debit or credit cards (or iPhone app).

This is not rocket science and doesn't need a $150K study.

Like this comment
Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Nov 1, 2012 at 1:14 pm

The link points to a letter sent previously to the City Council about the management of the downtown parking structures--

Web Link

Since the time this letter was sent, the Arrillaga project has been revealed, making the problem even larger.

It's very hard to believe that the current parking structure management--which is effectively the planning department and the City Manager, with nominal oversight by the City Council are up to this job--since none of these people can be held accountable for their decisions.

Wonder if any of the people running for City Council have thought through the issues, and been providing clear visions of what the City needs to do--once they are elected/re-elected to the Council.

It's also kind of amusing that we are paying the City Manager and his immediate staff around $2M in salary and benefits--and all they can do is contract out for "studies" which they then generally follow. What's the point of paying these huge salaries when all these folks do is sign contracts, and follow what these unaccountable consultants tell them to do. Come to think of it, maybe it's not so amusing after all.

Like this comment
Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 1, 2012 at 1:20 pm

"What's the point of paying these huge salaries when all these folks do is sign contracts, and follow what these unaccountable consultants tell them to do."

It's the same story as in the private banking sector. Palo Alto pays huge salaries because the neighbors do. If it didn't, the city staff will take jobs elsewhere, and there would be nobody to sign Palo Alto's consulting contracts.

Like this comment
Posted by the_punnisher
a resident of Mountain View
on Nov 1, 2012 at 1:31 pm

the_punnisher is a registered user.

An answer that works in other areas might be the answer here.

Just offer a 99 year lease ( or shorter ) to parking structure management companies. Paying for city parking is a new revenue stream that other cities have. Let THEM build the parking structures!

It appears that many city governments have this " We have to spend TAXPAYER MONEY for a consultant " mantra instead of DOING THEIR JOBS and researching a problem and presenting solutions that work in other cities.

People can be intellectuals and not have a lick of common sense. Is that the real problem in the SFBA?

Like this comment
Posted by KJ
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 1, 2012 at 1:55 pm

These don't sound like bold proposals. Talk to Sausalito, LA, and Indianapolis about the flexible-rate, space-tracking and reservation systems they are trying out. There is real-life experience now with smart parking solutions and they should be considered, especially for a new garage. And especially if it's true that paid-up places often stand empty in the garages we have now.

Like this comment
Posted by Ducatigirl
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 1, 2012 at 2:21 pm

We used to have an electric scooter, and it cost about five dollars an hour to charge it, or about twenty-five dollars a day. What must an electric car cost, as they require eight hours to charge? Getting you electric car charged for free is lke getting your gas engine car filled up for free, isn't it?

Like this comment
Posted by Concerned Retiree
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 1, 2012 at 2:41 pm

Parking problems and too much congestion -- another argument against the out of scale and out of zoning building proposals by Chop Keenan and John Arrilliga.

Let's look at what it takes to improve our present traffic, parking and human congestion -- and keep our quality of life which we came to Palo Alto for.

Like this comment
Posted by Joseph E. Davis
a resident of Woodside
on Nov 3, 2012 at 8:34 am

This may come as a shock to residents of Palo Alto, but the technology to manage shortages of resources like parking spaces has been with us for thousands of years.

It is called the price system, and it works by increasing the price until there is enough of the resource left to satisfy new "customers".

Like this comment
Posted by Watching the Circus
a resident of another community
on Nov 4, 2012 at 7:52 am

Palo Altans and their cars....yuk yuk yuk. Amusing.

Like this comment
Posted by Not Exactly
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 5, 2012 at 9:30 pm

"We used to have an electric scooter, and it cost about five dollars an hour to charge it, or about twenty-five dollars a day"

At 12 cents per kWh, your scooter would have to have been drawing over 40 kilowatts (for illustrative purposes: close to 60,000 horsepower) from the grid to run up that charge.

It looks like someone has been smoking their breakfast.

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

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