A proposal in Palo Alto to create a new parking area near the Baylands and shuttle commuters downtown edged ahead Monday night after a reluctant and deeply ambivalent City Council approved a design contract for the experimental "satellite parking" program.
By a 5-4 vote, with Pat Burt, Karen Holman, Larry Klein and Greg Schmid dissenting, the council authorized spending $180,000 on a consultant who will study the proposal, which is one of the city's many strategies for addressing downtown's shortage of parking. Under the proposal, about 132 parking spaces would be created on the north side Embarcadero Road, between Faber Place and the Palo Alto Airport driveway.
The city had previously also considered adding 68 spaces for commuters in the Baylands Athletic Center parking lot, but staff decided to scrap that idea and focus exclusively on Embarcadero Road. The new 90-degree parking area would be located the north side of Embarcadero Road, which would be reduced from four lanes to two to accommodate the new spaces. The project would also include bike lanes, enhanced transit stops to support shuttles and an enhanced crosswalk to the Baylands.
For the council, the effort to bolster parking supply is becoming increasingly urgent. The city plans to unveil a "residential-parking permit program" in the beginning of next year, which would set time limits for downtown commuters on residential streets that currently serve as de facto parking lots during business hours. Downtown residents have been calling on the city for years to start such a program. On Monday night, Downtown North resident Neilson Buchanan provided his latest survey of parking in his neighborhood. It showed every one of the blocks between Alma and Bryant in red, meaning they were completely full.
Yet even as the council acknowledged on Monday the need to increase the city's parking supply, the majority was skeptical about the Embarcadero shuttle idea. Burt and Klein both suggested moving the discussion to a later date. The council is scheduled to discuss next week a range of technology solutions aimed at making local garages more efficient. The shuttle program should be considered in the context of these solutions, Klein said.
"It's out of sequence for us to be considering this before we hear some of the other things," Klein said.
Holman went a step further and proposed eliminating the program from consideration.
"I find it a bit frustrating that we're spending a lot of time on this concept," Holman said. "It's a high cost per space in an environmentally sensitive area."
Several residents offered their own criticism of the Embarcadero Road program. Jeff Levinsky warned that creating more shuttle stops near residential areas outside downtown might prompt commuters to park their cars in these neighborhoods to catch the shuttles, thereby shifting the parking problem. He also pointed at the $180,000 price tag for the design work and questioned whether this is money well-spent, given that the Embarcadero program is supposed to be an interim solution while the city explores ways to reduce traffic.
"It's probably going to be thousands of dollars per car removed," Levinsky said.
Mary Carlstead urged the council not to look to the Baylands for parking and called Embarcadero a "scenic corridor" that would be affected negatively by the proposal.
"Do not destroy the Baylands," Carlstead said. "Because if you do narrow it down to two lanes, you will ruin the ambiance and the entrance to our Baylands."
The council majority argued that solutions, however flawed, should be pursued as soon as possible to address the growing parking problem. Mayor Nancy Shepherd called the problem a "puzzle" that the city needs to solve. Councilman Greg Scharff noted that the $180,000 contract with BFK Engineers wouldn't commit the city to the program but merely provide information.
"People have ben complaining that we're moving too slowly. If we don't move forward, we are moving too slowly. We need to do something," he said.
Councilman Marc Berman also said he wasn't too excited about the satellite-parking program, particularly because it does nothing to discourage driving. But he spoke in favor of moving ahead with the study.
"This is an imperfect possible solution to a very difficult problem," Berman said.