News

City takes the ax to parking exemptions

Palo Alto's planning commission agrees to delete outdated provisions from city code

With downtown's parking woes on everyone's mind, Palo Alto officials are scouring far and wide for solutions, from large new parking structures to the fine print in the city's Municipal Code.

On Wednesday night, the city's Planning and Transportation Commission took aim at the latter as it considered a staff proposal to eliminate numerous exemptions that allow developers to provide fewer parking spaces than will be needed by their buildings' tenants.

Many of these exemptions were born in the mid-1980s, when the city revamped its code to encourage more development downtown and in the California Avenue business district. With the local economy booming and development activity now on the rise, few feel these incentives are still needed.

"A lot of development is happening downtown and parking issues are at the forefront of the public conversation now," Interim Planning Director Aaron Aknin said at Wednesday's meeting, explaining staff's proposal to eliminate the exemptions.

The effort to make the code changes kicked off in earnest a little more than a year ago, when the City Council approved a one-year moratorium on the "floor-area parking exemption" downtown and around California Avenue. The exemption had allowed developers to reduce the amount of parking they provided, based on a formula related to square footage.

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For example, if the property had a 10,000-square-foot lot, the developer would not be required to provide any parking spots for the first 10,000 square feet of the new building. On Wednesday, the commission voted 5-0, with Commissioners Eduardo Martinez and Greg Tanaka absent, to support a staff recommendation to extend this moratorium indefinitely.

Commissioners also supported removing other exemptions, including one that reduced the parking requirement for developers who rehabilitate historical buildings and perform seismic retrofits (developers would still be eligible for density bonuses, just not for parking reductions).

Another exemption that got axed pertained to "grandfathered uses and facilities." The exemption allowed developers to replace certain old buildings with new developments and continue to receive the parking exemptions that went with the grandfathered old buildings.

The commission characterized the ordinance changes as a small but positive step to alleviating parking problems.

Vice Chair Arthur Keller, who moved to Palo Alto in 1977, recalled a time when a person could roll up to the curb any time because the streets were "dead." He agreed that certain development incentives were no longer needed.

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"When economics change, you need to change," Keller said. "When conditions change, we need to change these rules accordingly."

Chair Mark Michael also commend the staff for proposing to eliminate the archaic exemptions, though he added that he doesn't "for a minute think that this will address the urgency, intensity and magnitude and reality of the concerns we're hearing from the neighborhood.

"However," he said, "it's taken very much in good faith as a step forward."

The commission's vote came after members heard from some of the leading stakeholders in the heated parking battle. Ken Alsman, a Professorville resident, argued that downtown businesses whose employees fill the residential streets of his neighborhood with their cars are "destroying a registered historic district." He lobbied the commission to institute a moratorium on all new development until the parking problem is solved.

"The only way you can get these developers to the table to talk about real solutions is to stop giving them these subsidies," Alsman said.

Resident Jeff Levinsky said the staff strategy to remove certain exemptions in inadequate because it merely forces developers to use other exemptions. He urged the city to eliminate a rule that allows developers to pay "in-lieu fees" instead of providing parking spaces for new buildings. He also conjured up a future in which taxpayers are funding new garages to effectively subsidize developers.

"Do not lead the city down this hopeless path," Levinsky said. "The only solution that makes sense is a moratorium on all underparked projects across Palo Alto and all the exemptions, all the special rules, all the waivers, all the giveaways. If you want to build it, you need to park it."

David Kleiman, who is in the midst of developing a four-story building at 636 Waverley St., saw things a little differently. Last year's moratorium forced him to change the number of parking spaces he's providing from four to 21, prompting him to employ lifts that stack cars in four layers. He argued that the city should focus on building parking facilities, not restricting developers' rights.

"I think we have a parking problem, but I don't think we should start limiting property rights, which is really what people who are upset about the parking are asking you to do," Kleiman said. "When people like me spend millions to buy the property and hundreds of thousands to a million (dollars) in engineering developments and go through the process, we have certain realistic expectations. And then to lose those rights midstream -- that's bad planning."

The commission's recommendations will now go to the City Council for a vote.

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City takes the ax to parking exemptions

Palo Alto's planning commission agrees to delete outdated provisions from city code

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Wed, Sep 25, 2013, 8:55 pm

With downtown's parking woes on everyone's mind, Palo Alto officials are scouring far and wide for solutions, from large new parking structures to the fine print in the city's Municipal Code.

On Wednesday night, the city's Planning and Transportation Commission took aim at the latter as it considered a staff proposal to eliminate numerous exemptions that allow developers to provide fewer parking spaces than will be needed by their buildings' tenants.

Many of these exemptions were born in the mid-1980s, when the city revamped its code to encourage more development downtown and in the California Avenue business district. With the local economy booming and development activity now on the rise, few feel these incentives are still needed.

"A lot of development is happening downtown and parking issues are at the forefront of the public conversation now," Interim Planning Director Aaron Aknin said at Wednesday's meeting, explaining staff's proposal to eliminate the exemptions.

The effort to make the code changes kicked off in earnest a little more than a year ago, when the City Council approved a one-year moratorium on the "floor-area parking exemption" downtown and around California Avenue. The exemption had allowed developers to reduce the amount of parking they provided, based on a formula related to square footage.

For example, if the property had a 10,000-square-foot lot, the developer would not be required to provide any parking spots for the first 10,000 square feet of the new building. On Wednesday, the commission voted 5-0, with Commissioners Eduardo Martinez and Greg Tanaka absent, to support a staff recommendation to extend this moratorium indefinitely.

Commissioners also supported removing other exemptions, including one that reduced the parking requirement for developers who rehabilitate historical buildings and perform seismic retrofits (developers would still be eligible for density bonuses, just not for parking reductions).

Another exemption that got axed pertained to "grandfathered uses and facilities." The exemption allowed developers to replace certain old buildings with new developments and continue to receive the parking exemptions that went with the grandfathered old buildings.

The commission characterized the ordinance changes as a small but positive step to alleviating parking problems.

Vice Chair Arthur Keller, who moved to Palo Alto in 1977, recalled a time when a person could roll up to the curb any time because the streets were "dead." He agreed that certain development incentives were no longer needed.

"When economics change, you need to change," Keller said. "When conditions change, we need to change these rules accordingly."

Chair Mark Michael also commend the staff for proposing to eliminate the archaic exemptions, though he added that he doesn't "for a minute think that this will address the urgency, intensity and magnitude and reality of the concerns we're hearing from the neighborhood.

"However," he said, "it's taken very much in good faith as a step forward."

The commission's vote came after members heard from some of the leading stakeholders in the heated parking battle. Ken Alsman, a Professorville resident, argued that downtown businesses whose employees fill the residential streets of his neighborhood with their cars are "destroying a registered historic district." He lobbied the commission to institute a moratorium on all new development until the parking problem is solved.

"The only way you can get these developers to the table to talk about real solutions is to stop giving them these subsidies," Alsman said.

Resident Jeff Levinsky said the staff strategy to remove certain exemptions in inadequate because it merely forces developers to use other exemptions. He urged the city to eliminate a rule that allows developers to pay "in-lieu fees" instead of providing parking spaces for new buildings. He also conjured up a future in which taxpayers are funding new garages to effectively subsidize developers.

"Do not lead the city down this hopeless path," Levinsky said. "The only solution that makes sense is a moratorium on all underparked projects across Palo Alto and all the exemptions, all the special rules, all the waivers, all the giveaways. If you want to build it, you need to park it."

David Kleiman, who is in the midst of developing a four-story building at 636 Waverley St., saw things a little differently. Last year's moratorium forced him to change the number of parking spaces he's providing from four to 21, prompting him to employ lifts that stack cars in four layers. He argued that the city should focus on building parking facilities, not restricting developers' rights.

"I think we have a parking problem, but I don't think we should start limiting property rights, which is really what people who are upset about the parking are asking you to do," Kleiman said. "When people like me spend millions to buy the property and hundreds of thousands to a million (dollars) in engineering developments and go through the process, we have certain realistic expectations. And then to lose those rights midstream -- that's bad planning."

The commission's recommendations will now go to the City Council for a vote.

Comments

Wondering?
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 25, 2013 at 10:03 pm
Wondering?, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 25, 2013 at 10:03 pm
Like this comment

Developer David Kleiman is quoted as saying:

"I think we have a parking problem, but I don't think we should start limiting property rights .."

So, Mr. Kleiman, what property rights in particular might you be talkng about? Can you be a little more specific? No one is suggesting you can't build a commercial property downtown, are they?

So, can you be a just a little more specific?


Empty Pockets
Downtown North
on Sep 25, 2013 at 10:32 pm
Empty Pockets, Downtown North
on Sep 25, 2013 at 10:32 pm
Like this comment

@Kleinman - Your property rights are not being limited. Build what fits within existing zoning. You know, follow the rules like you learned in kindergarten. You need to cover all the costs of your project. The voters don't want to pay for the parking that you think you should get for free. Sorry if you can't keep the millions in profits all to yourself, but the voters don't want you emptying their pockets!


Sam
Stanford
on Sep 25, 2013 at 11:18 pm
Sam, Stanford
on Sep 25, 2013 at 11:18 pm
Like this comment

@Empty

Thanks for bringing up free parking. Given how scarce parking is downtown, and how little good anyone gets out of it being free, why isn't the city converting more spaces/lots to paid? If public parking costs a reasonable market rate, then it can be left up to developers to decide freely whether they want to spend money upfront provide their tenants with parking, or worry about parking costs and transit incentives later.


resident
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 25, 2013 at 11:19 pm
resident, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 25, 2013 at 11:19 pm
Like this comment

It's too bad we had to get to this point of destruction of the
neighborhoods, that the City feels obligated to take away developer incentives in the the hottest office market on the planet, but it does go strongly against the grain and the long-standing culture in City Hall so it's a big step for the Council, Commission and staff.
And again, the cumulative effects of these policies were not
fully understood until about ten years ago.


Marie
Registered user
Midtown
on Sep 26, 2013 at 3:45 am
Marie, Midtown
Registered user
on Sep 26, 2013 at 3:45 am
Like this comment

Too little too late. Any and all exemptions from providing full parking for any development should be eliminated. No in-lieu fees, no density exemptions (whatever that is). And there should be a moratorium of all new developments until the current parking deficit is eliminated. If a TDM can help -by all means. But don't allow development based on a strategy that is unproven. Implement a TDM and then recalculate the parking deficit.

One suggestion that seems to be universally ignored, is to convert some monthly parking passes to daily passes to accommodate the many employees that don't work a standard 40 hour week, and Palo Alto citizens who occasionally need more than 2 hours. Why can't there be an app for this?


Geoff
Greenmeadow
on Sep 26, 2013 at 5:50 am
Geoff, Greenmeadow
on Sep 26, 2013 at 5:50 am
Like this comment

Developer Kleinman bought 636 Waverley from a friend about a year ago, paying a greatly discounted price because City staff informed all parties at the time that more parking would be required on this site if redeveloped.

To have him publicly claim otherwise today is nothing more than a developer's self-serving statement that is BS.


Justin
Mountain View
on Sep 26, 2013 at 9:58 am
Justin, Mountain View
on Sep 26, 2013 at 9:58 am
Like this comment

Great, just when some cities are moving forward towards paid parking and reducing or eliminating parking minimums, Palo Alto is going backwards.


David Edmondson
another community
on Sep 26, 2013 at 10:15 am
David Edmondson, another community
on Sep 26, 2013 at 10:15 am
Like this comment

Terrible. Palo Alto should address parking as a demand problem, not a supply problem. Is the goal to squeeze more cars downtown, or to get more people downtown? There are three steps: Implement market pricing for parking; invest parking revenue going in the new transportation-demand management policy; and implement a residential parking permit policy for near-downtown neighborhoods. Web Link


backwards
another community
on Sep 26, 2013 at 12:27 pm
backwards, another community
on Sep 26, 2013 at 12:27 pm
Like this comment

if Palo Alto wants to see an example of a downtown with ample parking it should look at downtown San Jose. It may want to think twice about considering that change unless it wants it's downtown to become dead and void of street life with parking taking up the first few levels of every building. It would definitely be a backwards move for Palo Alto that always likes to pretend it's such a "progressive" community. Regardless, Palo Alto has proven itself to be anything but "progressive" in the last few years. Every day it's residents are making it sound more like the "Orange County of the North".


Greg
another community
on Sep 26, 2013 at 1:51 pm
Greg, another community
on Sep 26, 2013 at 1:51 pm
Like this comment

What a bummer for Palo Alto. This policy reversal will only bring more cars, more congestion, more collisions, and more pollution to downtown.


Get used to it
Midtown
on Sep 26, 2013 at 2:43 pm
Get used to it, Midtown
on Sep 26, 2013 at 2:43 pm
Like this comment

It appears to be a common trait of developers: self-serving greed.

Know thy enemy


Empty pockets
Downtown North
on Sep 26, 2013 at 3:14 pm
Empty pockets, Downtown North
on Sep 26, 2013 at 3:14 pm
Like this comment

@ Sam. You are right that the city ought to convert more to paid spaces. That's the whole point of how staff designed the RPP. City will collect revenue for what is now a free public resource. The availability of parking in residential neighborhood and safety are merely coincidental.

And if you let developers worry about parking shortages later, there's no legal means to require the under parked projects to pay for the impacts. Everyone else has to shoulder the costs imposed by the few.

Property rights do not mean that an owner is guaranteed maximum profits at the public's expense.


Speechless at City Council Hypocrisy
Green Acres
on Sep 27, 2013 at 12:54 am
Speechless at City Council Hypocrisy, Green Acres
on Sep 27, 2013 at 12:54 am
Like this comment

"a staff proposal to eliminate numerous exemptions that allow developers to provide fewer parking spaces than will be needed by their buildings' tenants"

How about starting at Maybell? The City Council wanted that development to go through, so they are allowing the main building to have just 36 parking spots for a 60-unit building, and only 6 spots for visitors. When neighbors asked why they didn't put in underground parking, developers said it would cost too much. So instead, they put residents through a ridiculous farce of justifying the inadequate parking by comparing the Maybell apartments to full-service senior centers or locations with lots of amenities very nearby.

But Maybell is in the middle of a residential neighborhood. The City Attorney got to write the ballot language and ballot question, so you'd never know any of this, you might not even realize the issue at hand is rezoning.

Worse, they're using the Tan Apartments (which should never have been allowed to build so tall in the first place, but it was another time, and at least it's on Arastradero) as an excuse to begin building high-density into the R-1 neighborhood.

Without nearly enough parking. Apparently, they will solve the problem by providing a van that residents can share to drive for basically everything they need because there's nothing nearby. They billed it as "shuttles" for the seniors, even the City Council seems to believe there will be some kind of shuttle service with drivers (which is not so). It's kind of hard to understand how giving residents a very large heavy vehicle they are not used to driving loaded with other people to drive up and down a street that is often essentially one-lane and heavily used by children on bicycles is going to make things safer. Or get residents not to bring their cars with them like they do in every other senior apartment that doesn't include any kind of assisted living.


Jeff
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 27, 2013 at 12:12 pm
Jeff, Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 27, 2013 at 12:12 pm
Like this comment

Until a developer provides a system that actually gets people to his building without using cars, he should provide adequate parking spaces for cars.

Constructing and selling a building with inadequate parking is simply selling parking that doesn't belong to him at the expense of others.


Useless, useless
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 27, 2013 at 12:28 pm
Useless, useless, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 27, 2013 at 12:28 pm
Like this comment

The city council, ARB, and planning commission are all so inept and useless that they have served no benefit for Palo Alto. many members of the city council should recuse themselves from even serving on the council. In any other city it would be illegal for them to serve considering their financial connections to some of these developments.

The rest should resign for having poor taste and no architectural sense or concern for what the residents like or want.


curmudgeon
Downtown North
on Sep 27, 2013 at 4:23 pm
curmudgeon, Downtown North
on Sep 27, 2013 at 4:23 pm
Like this comment

" they're using the Tan Apartments ... as an excuse to begin building high-density into the R-1 neighborhood."

It's the hallowed Palo Alto zoning exception process: existing atrocities justify new abominations.

If Measure D passes, the R-1 zone is dead for all practical purposes.


stephen levy
Registered user
University South
on Sep 29, 2013 at 10:59 am
stephen levy, University South
Registered user
on Sep 29, 2013 at 10:59 am
Like this comment

With increased growth Bay Area communities including Palo Alto are dealing with incorporating more jobs, people, housing and associated parking and traffic increases. Parking, which was formerly easy to provide free of cost to users, is now a scarce and expensive resource in dense areas like downtowns.

As with housing and office space the major response to additional parking will be in structures, above or below ground—not wide open single story parking lots.

There are three payment or cost allocation challenges. Asking property owners to bear the cost of parking facilities for new structures addresses one of the challenges. But it does not address the challenge of existing parking shortages or those that will occur not connected to a large new property development. The other challenge that remains is how to manage and allocate existing parking spaces.

I am interested in hearing whether posters are interested or willing to share in the costs of new structures or other ways to eliminate the existing parking shortage and provide parking for growth that cannot realistically be tied to any specific new project.

Are posters willing to support a bond for new parking structures, a partial bond supplemented by parking fees, increased parking fees in general, bond or user pay funding for a satellite parking facility with shuttles?

As far as non office related parking, there are many places where parking comes with a charge, but businesses “validate” and pay the customer’s charges. The same can be true for employee parking fees.

We have all gotten accustomed to the parking charges at airports and in downtown San Francisco. As we grow, parking is becoming a scarce resource and expensive to expand in more and more places.

It is a shared problem and we need to find solutions that go beyond “the other dude should pay for it” only approaches.


palo alto resident
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 29, 2013 at 11:34 am
palo alto resident, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 29, 2013 at 11:34 am
Like this comment

Stephen - good questions. Here are my thoughts:

Office parking cost should be totally born by the Developers and companies. New buildings should be required to build a realistic and adequate amount of parking. In lieu fees should not be permitted unless they are going to build a parking structure.

Our existing City garage, lot and street parking should be better managed and more understandable (get rid of the color system). Use a combo of free 30 minutes spots, parking meters and pay parking in the garage with a machine, etc. to manage the parking and make some money for the City. Said money should NOT go into the general fund, but towards the Parking System. Restaurants, etc. could choose to validate parking.

A RPP system should be put into place. It could be just one side of the street (which I believe Boston does) or both sides. People park downtown and walk to their jobs AND park near shuttle stops (like then tennis court lots and the streets near Rinconada Park).

I personally think the City would have the most luck funding a satellite parking spot with frequent shuttles and should work with the Stanford shuttle system for the abundance of cars that head to offices on Stanford land. Some incentive for part-time and low pay employees to use the shuttle would help.


stephen levy
Registered user
University South
on Sep 29, 2013 at 11:38 am
stephen levy, University South
Registered user
on Sep 29, 2013 at 11:38 am
Like this comment

Thanks PAR. They sound like constructive ideas. I agree that parking revenue should go to the costs of parking facilities.


Paul
Professorville
on Sep 29, 2013 at 1:54 pm
Paul, Professorville
on Sep 29, 2013 at 1:54 pm
Like this comment

The draft plan focuses on how to divide the finite "pie" of existing parking. This may help in the short run. But ultimately, given just the building developments now in the pipeline, the pie needs to grow.

The City should create peripheral parking lots, preferably located near the freeways, for use by employees and all-day guests of downtown businesses, and provide frequent shuttles to downtown, Cal Ave, etc. At the same time, dedicate some of the existing downtown garage space to 8-hr metered spaces reserved for employees who occasionally need to park all day downtown.

As an analog, think of off-site airport parking, except make the peripheral lots free to employees, while others pay. Who subsidizes the lots? Existing businesses, and developers of properties that don't provide adequate parking for their own tenants.


Paul
Professorville
on Sep 29, 2013 at 3:30 pm
Paul, Professorville
on Sep 29, 2013 at 3:30 pm
Like this comment

Good ideas, Stephen!

It never occurred to me that the Stanford shuttle system may be exacerbating the problem by porting folks to the campus after they park (for free and without campus permit) on P.A. streets. If happening to a significant degree, that's outrageous. Gennady Sheyner, can you look into this for your next article?


Not an issue
Community Center
on Sep 29, 2013 at 3:46 pm
Not an issue, Community Center
on Sep 29, 2013 at 3:46 pm
Like this comment

Paul, where do you get the idea that Stanford is making the problem worse? I believe that the issues that downtown north and professorville have is with workers from downtown parking in their neighborhoods.
Of course this whole issue is another example of our council not dealing with important issues. It reflects a lack of long term planning and an ego- driven, self- centered council more interested in photo ops.
The gennady comment is funny


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