News

Downtown residents, workers near consensus on parking

Palo Alto's long-planned permit-parking program set to kick off next year

It took decades of dreaming, years of complaining and months of painstaking negotiations, but a residential parking-permit program is finally starting to take shape in downtown Palo Alto, with implementation eyed for early next year.

The details of the proposed program were released this week and are subject to tweaking in the next two months, based on feedback from the Planning and Transportation Commission and the City Council. Even so, the proposal that was made public on Tuesday and that the city's Planning and Transportation Commission discussed Wednesday has already achieved one notable accomplishment: bridging the heretofore wide gap between downtown businesses and residents.

The program, a product of years of lobbying by residents of Professorville, Downtown North and other downtown neighborhoods, aims to bring some relief to the residential streets around downtown's commercial core, which currently lack parking limits. For years, the City Council has been fielding complaints about downtown workers completely filling up neighborhood blocks during business hours, a problem that has gotten more severe in the past few years as the pace of development has quickened.

Michael Hodos, a Professorville resident who serves on a stakeholder group that has been working with staff to design a new program, noted at Wednesday's meeting that between 2011 and 2014, about 30 blocks have become completely "gobbled up" by commuters' cars. For neighborhoods like his, this often means blocked driveways, trash in the parkways and no place for guests to park.

"We have vendors who won't even come to the neighborhood anymore because they can't find parking and they don't want to carry their tools from three blocks away," Hodos said.

Yet coming up with a proposal has been difficult. In 2012, city staff proposed a permit-parking program targeting a small area around Professorville. The council ultimately rejected this proposal, with members arguing that this solution would merely kick the parking problem over to more distant blocks. They called for a more comprehensive solution.

The new permit program has a much broader target area, stretching from Palo Alto Avenue in the north to Embarcadero in the south and from Alma Street in the west to Guinda Street in the east. Early signs suggest that it also has a broader base of support from the downtown community. The stakeholder committee, which includes six business representatives and five residents from different parts of downtown, have reached a general consensus on several contentious points.

They have agreed, for instance, that about 20 percent of the parking spots on residential blocks should be available to businesses, with priority going to low-income employees from business like Whole Foods Market and downtown restaurants. Everyone also agreed that the threshold for opting into the program should be the support of a simple majority of residents, rather than the 70 percent that staff had previously supported.

Stakeholders also generally agreed that permits should be distributed to residents for free during a trial period, while staff gathers data about how many permits are needed for employees. So far, the city has been struggling to answer this question. Though recent car counts have indicated that about 1,850 non-resident cars park in residential neighborhoods during the business hours, it's not clear how many of these belong to downtown employees. Other groups, including Caltrain commuters, Stanford University faculty, and employees of Town and Country Village Shopping Center and the Palo Alto Medical Foundation have also been known to park for free on downtown's residential streets, according to staff.

Jessica Sullivan, the city's parking manager, proposed having a six-month trial period in which city staff would distribute permits without regard for how many went to employees. Because only employees and residents would get permits, this would effectively take the other groups out of the equation. After the trial period, staff would cap the number of permits sold to employees to achieve the 20 percent allotment to businesses that residents said they would tolerate.

Not everyone is thrilled about the trial period. Several residents in the stakeholder group argued that the city should set a cap on the number of permits going to businesses immediately. Hodos said allowing the city to issue an unlimited number of permits would do nothing to alleviate the parking problem in the neighborhood. Gabrielle Layton, a downtown resident who also serves on the stakeholder group, made a similar point.

"I think without a cap, the RPPP (residential parking-permit program) has no teeth and does not act to put significant pressure on the city to solve the supply/demand imbalance that exists," Layton said.

It also remains far from clear whether the program will win over the broader neighborhood. While the stakeholder group has reached compromises on key aspects of the program, recent city surveys suggest that the new parking restrictions will also have plenty of detractors. While the survey results are still pending, Sullivan called the levels of support and opposition "very close."

The planning commission did not vote on the proposal Wednesday (it is scheduled to do so on Nov. 12), but members generally looked favorably at the latest iteration of the permit program.

Chair Mark Michael observed that in implementing the new program, the city is doing more than simply trying to solve a parking problem in one part of the city. It is also trying to modify behavior and encourage more people to take public transportation, walk, bike and use car-share services.

But Vice Chair Arthur Keller stressed the need for broad solutions to solving the parking problem. Keller characterized the block-by-block approach as a game of Whac-a-Mole: you whack the moles and they pop up elsewhere.

"We need birth control for moles," Keller said. "That's through parking structures, and TDM (transportation-demand management) measures, which are ways to reducing the number of moles around."

In fact, the city is undertaking multiple approaches to solving the downtown parking crunch. In recent months, the City Council has considered building new garages, explored new garage technologies, approved design work for a "satellite" parking lot on Embarcadero, east of U.S. Highway 101, and approved a contract for creation of a downtown Transportation Management Association, a nonprofit that would offer incentives for workers who switch from cars to other means of transportation.

Keller also opposed the proposal to issue unlimited parking permits in the early phase, noting that demand would still exceed supply. He and Commissioner Greg Tanaka both opposed a suggestion from the stakeholder committee that residents be given free permits in the initial phase.

Commissioner Michael Alcheck had no such reservations.

"I think residents and business owners and employees are taking this enormous step toward potentially solving this problem together," Alcheck said. "And I think there's something to be said for making it less burdensome while we're working on it. I don't necessarily think residential permits have to be priced."

Michael urged staff to use "market-based solutions," including exploring parking meters and charging more for neighborhood parking permits than for permits granting privileges at the city's chronically underused downtown garages.

"The fact that garage permits are more expensive and neighborhood permits are less expensive means you're pushing people out of garages into neighborhoods," Michael said.

Staff plans to begin implementing the program early next year and to have it up and running in March or April, Sullivan said.

Comments

2 people like this
Posted by Lue
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 11, 2014 at 8:22 am

This is great news!


1 person likes this
Posted by Not so fast
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 11, 2014 at 9:02 am

"While the stakeholder group has reached compromises on key aspects of the program, recent city surveys suggest that the new parking restrictions will also have plenty of detractors. While the survey results are still pending, Sullivan called the levels of support and opposition "very close.""
So the above comments make is sound like either there really is not a problem or people see the RPPP as a draconian solution or people understand the concept of public streets.
Could it be that once again, in palo alto, the squeaky wheel is getting oiled?


2 people like this
Posted by Midtown
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 11, 2014 at 10:18 am

Next April! Which year? Market driven, let's see, streets are free all day, garages cost money, IT WORKS!


1 person likes this
Posted by Numbers Please
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 11, 2014 at 10:31 am

> 30 streets have been gobbled up ..

Is this thirty streets, or thirty blocks on a lesser number of streets?

It would be best to actually specify the number of blocks, because streets is just too ambiguous a notion to be helpful.


2 people like this
Posted by palo alto resident
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 11, 2014 at 10:48 am

This is a great start! I particularly like the fact that the lower paid employees will be able to benefit from the permits.

@numbers please - I drive downtown almost every week day (dropping off and picking up various people). Anecdotally - if you take the areas from University to maybe Addison and Middlefield to Alma pretty much every non-2 hours spot to park is filled by 10 o'clock. The streets closer to Alma (like Bryant) are totally full of cars from Embarcadero to Palo Alto Avenue. Not only are the streets full, but driveways are blocked too.


5 people like this
Posted by B Kelley
a resident of Professorville
on Sep 11, 2014 at 10:58 am

Extending the permit parking all the way to Embarcadero is not called for. After Lincoln Ave. there is no problem with on street parking from down town. Please take another accurate poll and you will find this to be the case. Do not penalize the people with paid parking when the issue does not effect them.


1 person likes this
Posted by resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 11, 2014 at 11:08 am

The City Council promised implementation in January.
Now it is morphing into "March or April."
The City Manager is continuing his resistance, making sure it wont happen. No surprises here.


4 people like this
Posted by Numbers Please
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 11, 2014 at 11:15 am

> but driveways are blocked too.

The City should have contracted with a company to tow away cars blocking driveways. Tickets costing perhaps $250-$350 should be issued for those cars that could not be towed. The money from the tickets would be used to pay the tow company.

Time to ask the Council Candidates why they have not been interested in solving this problem to date, with forceful means, like towing cars blocking driveways.


1 person likes this
Posted by Inaccurate story
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 11, 2014 at 11:51 am

The headline is misleading--it makes it sound like the residents of the area are in unison, however it clearly states in the story that city surveys show an almost even split on the RPPP. Also the picture shows 5 cars parked on a portion of a street--not an entire street full of cars, as the caption states.
Biased reporting, anyone?


3 people like this
Posted by Silly
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 11, 2014 at 11:57 am

If the parking garages are so under-utilized, would it be too radical to suggest giving parking tickets to commuters who aren't using the garages we the taxpayers paid for?

Of course limiting more offices would be unthinkable.


Like this comment
Posted by Mama
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 11, 2014 at 12:14 pm

Ok, fellow Crescent Park homeowners, let's brace ourselves for all the downtown parkers who will now be parking in front of our houses.


2 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Professorville
on Sep 11, 2014 at 12:35 pm

I live on Tasso Street close to the Embarcadero and am not effected by the down town parking problems as many of the folks who live south of Lincoln Ave. can agree with. To levy a parking fee on all these home owners who are not effected is wrong. Do not extend the boundaries all the way to Embarcadero Road. Stop at Lincoln Ave.


3 people like this
Posted by Norman Beamer
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 11, 2014 at 12:39 pm

regarding "Ok, fellow Crescent Park homeowners, let's brace ourselves for all the downtown parkers who will now be parking in front of our houses."
Yes, there will be a spill-over effect if this is passed. Note, however, that as blocks adjacent to the RPP district become effected, they can petition to be added to the district. So I expect there will be a steady expansion until some sort of equilibrium condition occurs. Also, the spreading out of the parking problem will occur anyway, even if there is no RPP, because of the crazy expansion plans to the downtown offices that are already in the works. (This includes the crowding in of more bodies in dot-com startup sweat shops that are taking over retail space). The real solution, whether or not we have RPP, is (1) robust transprotation demand management; (2) satellite parking arrangements with shuttle buses; (3) crack down on parking exceptions granted to developers; (4) full use of parking garages; (5) new parking garages.


2 people like this
Posted by Thinking Historically and Holistically
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 11, 2014 at 12:42 pm

This is a complicated issue and the parking landscape in and around Downtown Palo Alto is less than ideal to start with. But RPP has been proposed 3-4 times previously (1980s, 1990s, 2000 and 2011) and its good to hear that we are close to a potential program this time. RPP is also a important foundation to a lot of the other parking management strategies and programs that council has already reviewed and staff is working to put in place.


Like this comment
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 11, 2014 at 1:24 pm

I don't live near Middlefield --- but there are already some DTPA workers who park on the other side of Middlefield on streets such as Lytton, Hamilton, Forest, Homer, Channing. And the permit system hasn't been implemented yet!

No doubt that the parking zone will have to be expanded to a distance where it will be terribly inconvenient for the office types to walk to work. I would guess at least to Guinda, if not Seneca.


6 people like this
Posted by nodriveway
a resident of Professorville
on Sep 11, 2014 at 2:45 pm

Bottom line: Residents' permits should be free.


2 people like this
Posted by palo alto resident
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 11, 2014 at 2:48 pm

@resident and @nodriveway - from the article "permits should be distributed to residents for free "


4 people like this
Posted by Jared Bernstein
a resident of Professorville
on Sep 11, 2014 at 2:52 pm

Really we're in Associate Professorville. PLEASE do not extend this parking zone out all the way to Embarcadero. We on Tasso near Melville do not need this and have expressed that we do not want it.

A more location-specific polling is in order.


3 people like this
Posted by free lunch for millionaires?
a resident of Palo Verde
on Sep 11, 2014 at 3:01 pm

We are really going to take a public resource paid for by all of us taxpayers, and transfer it for exclusive use of a small group of residents for free (for the first car) and $50/YEAR for the next car?? And then, they want the city to spend scarce resources on enforcement??

If the folks that are advocating so strongly for this really cared, shouldn't they be willing to pay SOMETHING? This feels awfully fishy to me.

I live in South Palo Alto. It is not convenient for me to get to University Ave. I am not asking the other residents of Palo Alto to pay for a chauffeur for me to more conveniently get downtown.

Each of our neighborhoods has positives (eg., people in downtown live close to restaurants and parks) and negatives (eg., they might occasionally have to park in their driveways. The horror!).


Like this comment
Posted by Professorville Resident
a resident of Professorville
on Sep 11, 2014 at 3:02 pm

I live one block south of Lincoln, and there is NO STREET PARKING available during business hours on my block. The permit program absolutely needs to go all the way to Embarcadero. If you are north of Embarcadero, and don't think you have a problem now, just wait until the permit program ends at the end of your street. The article mentions that besides downtown employees, there are Caltrain riders, Stanford students/employees, PA Medical Foundation Employees, and Town & Country employees that exacerbate the situation. There are Paly High students as well. We all need to work on this collectively, so that we solve the problem once and for all, rather than spread it to other neighborhoods.


Like this comment
Posted by Mr.Recycle
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 11, 2014 at 3:19 pm

@Jared Bernstein, @B Kelley - Think about this for a minute - you WANT the RPPP. If you don't take it in your neighborhood, you will become the default spillover area. It may not be a problem for you today, but it will be the day that the RPPP goes into effect in the neighborhoods that do have a problem. Save yourselves the headache, and join the program now.


1 person likes this
Posted by PollyWanacracker
a resident of Professorville
on Sep 11, 2014 at 3:48 pm

"Ok, fellow Crescent Park homeowners, let's brace ourselves for all the downtown parkers who will now be parking in front of our houses."

It's not all that bad. And what do you expect: your neighborhood has the word "Park" in its name?


Like this comment
Posted by PAmoderate
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 11, 2014 at 4:52 pm

PAmoderate is a registered user.

This seems to only hit at one part of the problem. I agree getting to University avenue from more southern parts of Palo Alto requires a car.

Perhaps an expansion of the Palo Alto shuttle is in order? I also am not sure I understand the need for free residential permits. Running the program will be a cost to all of Palo Alto for the benefit of a subset of residents. Also, maybe the fees from the RPP can offset the costs of expanding the Shuttle.


2 people like this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 11, 2014 at 5:21 pm

Let me echo this statement ...

> nodriveway
> Bottom line: Residents' permits should be free.

Maybe Palo Alto should have a free yearly sticker for residents that marks them as a resident and they can park within Palo Alto anywhere for free. You would need to go downtown with your registration and pick up a sticker every year for every care registered to a Palo Alto address. Would that work?


4 people like this
Posted by Jeff Keller
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 11, 2014 at 6:28 pm

Jeff Keller is a registered user.

Tax the owners of office buildings with inadequate parking.

Also, if Palo Alto keeps building more office space, we will be forced to accept even more high rise, high density housing.

Put the cost on the people who have made a ton of money by creating the problem.


3 people like this
Posted by Ray
a resident of Professorville
on Sep 11, 2014 at 7:44 pm

There is no way of knowing from news articles, but one does see a tendency from addresses in the comments that those who oppose a residential permit parking system are those who don't live in the affected area. Note comments such as "I live in an adjacent area and I don't want the spillover." That kind of comment says "I don't care if you have the problem, but I don't want my ox gored." Before I lived in Professorville, I signed a petition about the PAMF expansion although it didn't affect me. It affected the people who lived in the neighborhood and I thought they had the right to complain about PAMF changing the essential character of the neighborhood. Further, people in locations far from downtown have felt the overreaching development. No matter where you live, if the stewards we elected do not protect the citizens of the city, no area is safe if they put the interests of developers that bring in unsafe conditions to our neighborhoods ahead of the neighborhoods. "We either hand together or hang separately."


1 person likes this
Posted by Ben Lerner
a resident of Palo Verde
on Sep 11, 2014 at 10:18 pm

I'm not a fan of a parking permit program for residents, as I believe you should not have to pay for the right to park in your own neighborhood. I would allow any car registered to a Palo Alto resident to park in those zones without limits, but non-resident vehicles would be subject to time limits. Enforcement could be via license plate scanning, matched against a DMV database. Non-resident vehicles who exceed the limits would receive computer-generated parking tickets. A system like this would be a great convenience to everyone in Palo Alto, especially the residents of neighborhoods next to downtown.


Like this comment
Posted by Marie
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 11, 2014 at 10:48 pm

Marie is a registered user.

I was very happy to see that you can buy an all day permit from a machine in the Bryant street parking structure ... until I saw the price: $17.50 for one day. This is an outrageous charge and will do nothing to encourage low wage workers find some place to park other than the surrounding neighborhoods. How will the city be able to prioritize low wage workers for eligibility for low cost (if such will exist) parking permits to enable them to park in nearby neighborhoods? Is there a way to reduce charges for parking permits for low wage workers in city parking garages? One way would be making one day parking permits available to eligible workers at a discount.

Parking meters will kill downtown retail. The day Stanford Shopping Center starts charging for parking is the day parking meters makes sense.


1 person likes this
Posted by Pat Markevitch
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 12, 2014 at 10:26 am

Ray, I live in downtown north and I oppose any form of permit parking in neighborhoods, even though my street is heavily impacted. I knew moving into this house that parking would be bad but I accepted it because that comes with living next to a large retail area.


1 person likes this
Posted by PAmoderate
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 12, 2014 at 11:59 am

PAmoderate is a registered user.

$17.50 is outrageous? For 9 hours of parking (8a-5p)?

That's less than $2/hour.

Before we plead their case, let's define what's a "low wage" worker is. What's the income line, and how many are there really working in downtown Palo Alto? Or is this just one of a number of hypotheses that we don't really have any data to back it?


3 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 12, 2014 at 12:36 pm

Pat @ Downtown North,

The amount of development in the last decade in downtown has not been retail space, but office space. The city, by not requiring adequate parking for the office space, has been subsidizing the landlords by making the parking in the neighborhoods the substitute for a landlord building a parking space.

Each parking space is about 200 square feet for a car. Add in additional square footage for the road leading up to the parking space, and we are talking around 300 - 350 square feet per parking space. Instead that 350 square feet is being used a rentable space. Rents in downtown are around $7 per square foot per month. So by being able build rentable office space instead of providing a parking space, the landlord is getting around $500,000 of value added to their property.

As an example, there is a proposal for a new building at 425/429 University. It should have 94 parking spaces, but instead it will have around 30. That 21,000 square feet that should be for parking will become rentable office space - adding around $30 million in value to the property!

I don't think the government should be subsidizing private enterprises through providing public facilities (street parking).


2 people like this
Posted by Darwin
a resident of another community
on Sep 12, 2014 at 12:57 pm

If they're going to make people pay for the permits, they should make the residents pay for the permits too. When you buy a home in a downtown area those are the problems that come with the territory. It's not as if these residents are paying for the paving and curbing of these streets on their own. They're paid for with the tax dollars of everyone. They should not get a free pass to park on the streets if others have to pay.


Like this comment
Posted by palo alto resident
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 12, 2014 at 5:07 pm

@Darwin and @Pat Markevitch - The problem with your thought "When you buy a home in a downtown area those are the problems that come with the territory" is that the parking issues extend far beyond just downtown. Professorville and Crescent Park aren't downtown and cars from the offices downtown overflow to those areas.


Like this comment
Posted by Mike
a resident of University South
on Sep 12, 2014 at 8:24 pm

@free lunch says, "I am not asking the other residents of Palo Alto to pay for a chauffeur for me to more conveniently get downtown."

Other residents already pay for free shuttle service for you. Here's the link to your free shuttle service to downtown: Web Link


Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 14, 2014 at 12:55 pm

Please tell me then when I have a 3 hour meeting in downtown where I should park and how much it will cost?

It seems that since all day at a Caltrain lot is $5, it is best value to park there, pay for parking at the ticket box (and if necessary the lowest fare) and then walk to the meeting on Hamilton.

Now if it costs $5 per day in the Caltrain lot, any higher fee is going to make Caltrain commuters unable to find a parking spot.

Who is using their common sense here?


Like this comment
Posted by long time resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 15, 2014 at 1:56 pm

I think the permits should go to residences and retail employees only, no office workers. These developers continue to build 4 story buildings with office on top which should be two story max and crowd out the downtown. The city charges a hefty fee for parking to these developers but where is the money going- I don't see any new parking structures. The poor retail employees shouldn't have to pay to park. So PA- just keep charging your outrageous parking fees allowing 4 story developments and providing no more parking than whats there now- that's why the residential areas are being over taken.


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

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