Palo Alto rejects developers' proposals for new garage | News | Palo Alto Online |


Palo Alto rejects developers' proposals for new garage

City to pursue publicly funded structure to solve downtown's parking woes

New parking garages may be an urgent priority in Palo Alto, but city officials balked Monday at giving private developers a shot at building the new structures.

Rather, the council reaffirmed by a 7-2 vote its commitment to pursue a publicly financed downtown garage and directed staff to draft a request for design firms to come up with plans for the structure. Members also agreed that the best location for a new garage would be on the corner of Hamilton Avenue and Waverley Street, which is currently occupied by a parking lot.

Vice Mayor Liz Kniss and Councilwoman Gail Price both dissented, but for very different reasons. Kniss said she's not comfortable moving forward with a new garage without first seeing how the city's other major parking-related initiatives turn out. These include a downtown residential parking permit program, which is set to launch early next year, and a "transportation demand management" program that would give downtown employers new incentives to switch from cars to other modes of transportation.

Price, meanwhile, said she was open to further exploring the privately funded proposals that the rest of the council rejected.

"I think we're prematurely limiting parking garage financial alternatives to publicly funded options," Price said.

Her colleagues bore no such reservations, after a lengthy discussion, rejected the two private-sector proposals that staff selected from a field of eight offers for further evaluation. One of these, presented by Ark Studio West, focused on the prominent Hamilton and Waverley lot and included a retail component on the ground floor. Council members loved the location and were generally open to the inclusion of retail. But the proposal, they agreed, suffered from a fatal flaw: a stipulation that the city switch to paid parking in downtown garages.

That proved an impossible sell. While council members generally agreed that paid parking might be a worthwhile idea to explore, the conversation should not be driven by a developer's proposal. Councilman Marc Berman called the proposal, which would net about $17.50 a day per parking spot, a case of the "tail wagging the dog." The need to add parking, he said, shouldn't be driving the conversation over paid parking.

Councilmen Larry Klein and Greg Scharff made similar points, each praising the retail elements of the proposal, but declining to go along with the paid-parking proposal.

"But I think it would be unwise for us to back into a dramatic change in policy just to have a deal," Klein said. "And I don't see that as being a good deal."

Council members found more to like in the second proposal, an offer by developer David Kleiman to build an underground structure with stacked parking spots on a small lot on Lytton Avenue and Emerson Street. That proposal also included a development with 18 residential units and retail. It would add a total of 75 new parking spots by replacing a 68-space lot with a 237-space garage. The new mixed-use development would require 94 spots to be fully parked in accordance with the zoning code.

The idea of installing lifts that automatically stack cars intrigued the council, though Klein argued that it also comes with risks. The garage on the small Downtown North lot would be in close proximity to two other parking facilities – the lot next to Aquarius Theater and the garage on Bryant Street. People might very well choose to park in these traditional structures rather than go to a more modern system. If the new lot isn't used much, that would not be a good return on the city's investment, Klein said.

"It might be perfectly appropriate for a private person to take that risk, but I don't see the public taking it," Klein said.

Several council members also made a point that the city doesn't really need a private party to finance the new garage. It is already included in the $125-million list of infrastructure priorities that the council approved in June and the city has already identified funding sources for these projects. These include the city's infrastructure reserve, funds from the Stanford University Medical Center's development agreement and proceeds from the hotel-tax increase that the council hopes voters will approve in November.

"I think it's something we can kind of do ourselves," Berman said. "I don't think it's something that needs a public private partnership. "I don't know, frankly, that there's a desire in the community to have a public private partnership for this king of thing right now."

Greg Schmid said the "private strategy doesn't make a lot of sense for the city." The city is not achieving its goals, he said, by getting just 78 parking spaces in exchange for giving up a piece of city property for the period of a long-term lease.

Resident critics matched the council's skepticism. Bob Moss, a frequent critic of new developers, argued against adding any kind of development, mixed-use or otherwise, to the garage.

"Just build a garage. Don't mix it with commercial, retail or anything else," Moss said. "A garage is for parking. Period. You're risking to create more problems if you try to create retail or office space in the area because it's going to make things worse."

Faith Bell, owner of Bell's Books, said it's hard not to see the developers' proposals as land grabs. She urged the council not to relinquish city-owned lots to private parties in exchange for parking spaces.

"It seems to me the bigger developers just want to get control of public spaces," Bell said. "This property is too valuable to give up."

In requesting that staff prepare a scope of work for a publicly financed garage (which is expected to cost about $13 million), the council cribbed some elements from the private proposals it rejected. The council stipulated that the lot on Hamilton and Waverley be given preference in choosing location for the new garage (the second choice is Lot G on Gilman Street, near the downtown post office).

The council also asked staff to explore smaller lots that would accommodate a heretofore unexplored technology: stacked parking.

While Kniss argued in favor of holding off on the new garages, Scharff spoke for the majority in advocating for imminent action. The city, he said, is about to start selling parking permits for residential streets and even with all the other traffic-reducing measures, people will need new spaces to park their cars.

He also cautioned that a similar need exists in the California Avenue area, where employees also park on the residential streets.

"We need to start on this immediately," Scharff said.

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1 person likes this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 21, 2014 at 8:03 am

What doesn't make sense is the difficulty to find a parking space at busy times and the difficulty in paying for a full day occasional parking in downtown.

There has been talk of high tech signage and other innovations, but as yet no action. Occasional parking for more than 2 hours is still difficult.

This town does nothing fast. This town can't plan a sensible solution to anything.

2 people like this
Posted by who asked for this
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 21, 2014 at 8:34 am

A related article said that staff invited private/public proposals.

You have these proposals show up and while I agree with the no, no, no thank you, it is disturbing that the City requested private/public partnership.

What is the City thinking asking for these proposals in the first place?!

3 people like this
Posted by NIMBY
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 21, 2014 at 9:40 am

"What is the City thinking asking for these proposals in the first place?!"

I'm gonna guess because ground level retail creates a much more appealing streetscape than a wasteland of parking garages. Not everything developers do is evil.

Also, if there's such a parking problem, why don't we start charging for parking instead of building taxpayer-subsidized garages?

3 people like this
Posted by Jo Ann
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 21, 2014 at 10:38 am

How about forcing the employers to force their workers to use the under-utilized garag4s first? Employers in SF subsidize their workers parking and commuting expenses.

And just maybe stop approving new offices before all our retail vanishes and we become just another suburban office park?

3 people like this
Posted by Carol
a resident of University South
on Oct 21, 2014 at 10:58 am

A parking garage at Hamilton and Waverley would totally destroy the ambiance of that corner. Right now it's pretty pedestrian friendly. The post office, the All Saints' church campus, and the bank have a lot of foot traffic. Why not build the garage on the lot behind the old Borders and adjacent to the hotel?

1 person likes this
Posted by commonsense
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Oct 21, 2014 at 11:44 am

Seriously, the "ambiance" of that corner? Is this "ambiance" created by the surface parking lot or the pay toilet? You can't want to get rid of the parking problem and not sacrifice space for a garage. It's a great location, very central. Now, if we could just get AT&T to move out of the ugly server/building next door!

2 people like this
Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 21, 2014 at 12:20 pm

> Now, if we could just get AT&T to move out of the ugly server/building next door!

And just where would they go? Sounds like you are suggesting that the City some invalidate AT&T’s right to do business in Palo Alto, and force them to move out. AT&T has been in this building since the 1930s, at least.

And even if AT&T were to leave—the building would still be there. [Portion removed.]

1 person likes this
Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 21, 2014 at 12:37 pm

Retail in parking garages is a stylish mantra but poor practice. We lose parking spaces while we expand the need for parking spaces to accommodate the added workers and customers.

"A parking garage at Hamilton and Waverley would totally destroy the ambiance of that corner."

That area is being actively trashed anyway. A Hayes Box is going up a half-block away. Per this town's urban "planning" logic, existing abominations like that justify further atrocities.

1 person likes this
Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 21, 2014 at 1:11 pm

> Retail in parking garages is a stylish mantra but poor practice.

Historically, this is true. But certainly given a large enough budget, and some creativity in the design of the garage, and the location of the retail areas--there might be a shift in the public's acceptance of these tightly co-located activities.

At the very least, use some 3-D rendering software to come up with some ideas to kick around in public.

1 person likes this
Posted by M. Rassamussen
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 21, 2014 at 1:18 pm

Gail Price once again sides with developers, despite the fact that the tide in the city is clearly turning against developers. [Portion removed.]

1 person likes this
Posted by Enough Already
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 21, 2014 at 1:37 pm

I agreed with @who asked for this , @NIMBY
I concur with these comments wondering who in the City is asking for these private/public proposals for parking lots. Where is the transparency? It is pretty obvious we are taking a step back and reassessing development pressures for more and more development. Who in the City is responsible for these proposals? P.A.Weekly maybe you can get to the bottom of this and shed some light on how this process got started........How much staff time/money was put into these proposals and initial evaluation?

Like this comment
Posted by who asked for this
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 21, 2014 at 2:09 pm

Takes awhile to figure it out, but the request is actually from private interests.

So the real question probably went like this

Hey City of Palo Alto, how can you help us private interests pay for the parking demand we are causing, that we need to keep growing?

Please City, how will you help us pay.

So the City re-frames the question. Please present some proposals to co-pay. Then Council says, no please let us pay for YOUR needs ourselves.

Can someone please start putting a CAP to the growth downtown? Those who cannot park their employees need incentives to go elsewhere.

2 people like this
Posted by No more
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 21, 2014 at 3:20 pm

Slowly, or maybe not so slowly, Palo Alto has developed into a city not run by elected officials but by developers. It has become a developer's dream. It is the place to own land because, for the past number of years, the City Council found an easy way to not do anything. Just say "yes" to the land owners/developers and they will do the work for you. And perhaps even support you when you run for reelection. Oops! The Measure D people got in your way.

The time has come for the good citizens of Palo Alto to take their city back. We are a residential city. I will vote for the four residential candidates because if I dont, I will not have the right to sit in traffic on Embarcadero and complain

1 person likes this
Posted by MultipleViews
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 21, 2014 at 3:24 pm

For Christ's sake, it costs MONEY to build a parking structure. Why NOT ask private developers what they would be willing to do and what designs and suggestions they might come up with? Who gives a #^%$# who asked whom first? It is something worth taking a look at. Not all developers are evil. And some actually have good ideas. Although I am not in favor of stacked parking, it is at least something new to consider and people are talking about it.
As to a garage at Hamilton and Waverly - I'd rather the structures be on the periphery (where that is possible) to minimize further traffic into the city core.

Posted by think
a resident of Palo Alto Hills

on Oct 21, 2014 at 4:00 pm

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Like this comment
Posted by SteveU
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 21, 2014 at 5:15 pm

SteveU is a registered user.

Parking does not have to be on the Ground floor. Look at the (newish) Safeway at San Antonio Shopping center.

Toss around ideas. Use the suggested 3D models to help people visualize.

Always 'No' is just as bad as always 'Yes'

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 21, 2014 at 5:32 pm

Steve U and others

The new Safeway in Los Altos has reversed the San Antonio model. In LA, the parking is on the street level and the Safeway store is above.

2 people like this
Posted by Julian
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 21, 2014 at 7:26 pm

I suspect that this stuff was set in motion a while ago, with the council totally accustomed to kowtowing to developers, and with an election a few weeks ago have decided to do some posturing. But it's solely to make it appear that they're listening to residents. That'll be gone in a month.

3 people like this
Posted by Oldster
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 22, 2014 at 12:23 am

Haven't the developers already paid into a City fund to build garages "somewhere... one day" every time they get permits to build or renovate without providing enough on-site parking?

What fun I had today voting by mail. Here's hoping for an overdue clean out at City Hall!

1 person likes this
Posted by another resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 22, 2014 at 9:39 am

To allow more office density the City has embraced use of parking
lift systems in underparked projects to provide even the reduced number
of spaces. How will these systems work out in practical terms? Do we know? Is there noise associated with these systems close to residences or other
uses, will there be enough parking attendants so that cars waiting will not back up traffic on already congested streets like Hamilton? Will people use these garages?

2 people like this
Posted by History Buff
a resident of another community
on Oct 22, 2014 at 3:08 pm

> [Scharff] also cautioned that a similar need exists in the California Avenue area, where employees also park on the residential streets.

Hmmm. I wonder why there are parking problems on California Avenue.

Consider the humongous building going up at 260 California, across the street from Fed Ex/Kinkos:

- The city’s (outdated) standard of one parking space/250 sq ft means there should be 120 parking spaces for the new building. But, there will only be 42 spaces on the site.

- It's my understanding that the project was given a “credit” of 56 spaces in the parking assessment, e.g., the public lot next to the Cambridge Post Office and other lots. Why would that credit be given to one developer when all businesses in the area pay into the parking assessment?

- It’s almost impossible to find parking near California Avenue now, especially during lunch hours. There aren’t 56 available spots available in any of the lots.

- In December 2012, Jamie Rodriguez, Chief Transportation Official, wrote in an email "the City does not allocate any parking spaces within any of the parking structures or surface parking lots to any business within the California Avenue Business District. Parking permits are sold on a first come-first served basis and permits are retained by individuals annually thereafter"


Like this comment
Posted by m2grs
a resident of another community
on Oct 22, 2014 at 6:20 pm

Instead of asking each developer and each project to "donate" parking structure, why not let them donate capital into a Parking Construction Fund.

The required donation should be significant per project, at least equal to the cost of building such a structure at that time.

The City accumulates the fund for several years. It then can choose the right time and right place to build the right parking structures.

Capital formation is the key. Large capital formation can enable the optimization in scale, efficiency and cost.

Maybe Palo Alto can get enough funds to build a giant underground cave across multiple blocks under downtown streets. That will be very appealing.

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