Faced with booming downtown development and a severe parking shortage, Palo Alto officials endorsed Monday a wide range of potential solutions to make life easier for downtown residents and commuters, including exploration of a new garage on High Street and a fresh look at a permit-parking program that exasperated downtown residents have long clamored for.
In a series of votes, the City Council agreed to support on Monday a list of recommendations from planning staff to alleviate downtown's congestion, a problem that has been escalating in recent years and that emerged as a top priority in the past year. The most controversial solution includes teaming up with downtown developer Charles "Chop" Keenan to build a parking garage across the street from Keenan's proposed development at 135 Hamilton Ave.
Under Keenan's proposal, he would pay about $7 million for the new structure and the city would chip in about $1 million. If approved, the new garage would stand on a city-owned lot across the street from the High Street garage. The occupants of Keenan's new building would occupy the top two stories of the new structure, which would revert to public use on evenings and weekends.
The proposal received a cool reception from some of the speakers at Monday's meeting, with several residents urging the council not to give up valuable city land for a project that would benefit a private developer.
"It's outrageous. You can't do it," said Sally Ann-Rudd, a Downtown North resident. "Public funds should not be used to subsidize private developments in this way."
Schmid argued against exploring this project, saying it would preclude the public and the council for considering any other uses for this site "in perpetuity." Councilman Larry Klein disagreed and said rejecting this proposal outright would send a negative message about the city's willingness to engage partners from the private sphere.
"For us to kill it here would be to say we're not sincere on looking for ideas, to looking at public-private partnerships to achieve a number of different goals in different areas," Klein said.
Keenan told the council that he sympathizes with downtown residents' concerns and is eager to help the city solve its downtown-parking problem. The parking structure project, he said, is essentially ready for construction if the council chooses to go that route. The structure, he aid, "can solve a lot of problems right now and is fundamentally shovel ready."
"The more we can build, the better," Keenan said.
The council agreed that the city has plenty of homework to do before it decides on whether to partner with Keenan on the new garage. With its vote, it authorized staff to study the idea further and return in May with more information. Councilwoman Liz Kniss was one of several council members who said that the project is worth considering.
"Again, this isn't perfect, but I'd just a soon not let perfect get in the way of what I think would be a good outcome," Kniss said.
Mayor Greg Scharff, a major proponent of building a new parking structure downtown, agreed.
"Dealing with the parking issue is a multi-pronged approach," Scharff said. "We need to fight it on all fronts, frankly, and see what we can do to resolve this issue in many different ways."
Other proposals proved far less controversial and resulted in swift council approval. These include introducing valet parking in on city garage, selling more permits at two others and reducing the number of employee spots at the City Hall garage by giving employees incentives to take alternate mode of transportation. Councilwoman Karen Holman called these proposals a "slam dunk."
The council also agreed to take another look at eliminating parking exemptions for new developments and consider parking restrictions at residential neighborhoods, as Professorville and Downtown North residents have long demanded. The city's previous effort to create a residential permit parking program (RPPP) in a section of Professorville fizzled last year when the council decided that the area's parameters are too narrow and directed staff to consider broader and more comprehensive solutions. Staff now plans to present recommendations about parking restrictions in residential neighborhoods in early September.
The council decided to take a fresh look at these options after hearing from numerous downtown residents, most of whom said they supported new regulations that would set time restrictions on parking for non-residents.
Downtown North resident Michael Griffin, a former planning commissioner, said residential streets currently present a great deal for developers and downtown employees, who freely use residential streets for parking. He argued that it's "long past the time we stopped kicking the can down the road."
"I don't think it's fair treatment of downtown residents and I hope you council members will feel the same, regardless of where in town you must live," Griffin said.