As Palo Alto prepares to launch its long-awaited Residential Parking Permit Program, people who live in the congested downtown neighborhoods are almost evenly split about the ambitious effort, which would require drivers to buy permits to park on residential streets.
The results of a survey that the city conducted in recent months in the affected downtown area shows that the permit program remains a controversial and polarizing topic.
Of the 1,417 survey responders (about 32 percent of those who received it), 708 said they favor the program and 709 said they are opposed. Much of the opposition comes from the southern tip of the downtown area, a section south of Lincoln Avenue and east of Bryant Street.
Because these residents live farthest from the commercial core and are thus less affected by commuters' vehicles parking in front of their homes, they were unsurprisingly less keen on paying for permits to park in front of their own homes. When this section of downtown is omitted from the permit program, as staff is now proposing to do, support for the parking program enjoys a slight edge over opposition, with 643 responders saying they are in favor (53 percent) and 571 responders saying they are against it (47 percent).
The survey results suggest that approving the new program will be a politically thorny endeavor for the City Council, which has been fielding requests for such a program from Downtown North and Professorville residents for more than three years. Residents from both neighborhoods have complained about the streets near their homes getting completely taken over by employees' vehicles every day. A prior proposal, which considered only a section of Professorville for a pilot permit program, fizzled in 2012 after a section of the neighborhood came out in opposition and the council agreed that the program should be broader and more comprehensive.
The new program is far more ambitious in scope. Even with the recently revised boundaries, it would still encompass most of downtown, from Alma Street in the west to Guinda in the east and from Palo Alto Avenue in the north to Lincoln Avenue in the south (initially, the program was to extend all the way to Embarcadero). A product of about a year of work between planning staff and a committee of stakeholders from downtown businesses and neighborhoods, it would operate in two phases.
In the first phase, which would last six months, the city would provide permits to any downtown employee and resident who wants one. The goal is to collect data about who actually parks in the downtown neighborhoods. By restricting parking permits to downtown employees and residents, the city would seek to prohibit others from taking up downtown parking spots, including Caltrain riders who don't wish to pay the Caltrain parking lot fee; Stanford University students and faculty who park for free in the neighborhoods and then bike to the university; and employees of the Palo Alto Medical Foundation and Town and Country Village.
Currently, many employees choose not to pay for parking-garage permits by leaving their cars in residential neighborhoods. Unlike the streets in the commercial core, the residential blocks in Professorville and Downtown North don't have time restrictions, allowing employees and train commuters to park for the entire day for free.
Residents in the first phase would get parking permits for free. Downtown employees would have to pay $233 for permits. Low-income service employees would pay a lower fee of $50.
In the second phase of the permit program, which would last a year, the city would set a cap on the number of permits issued and modify the permits so that each would be dedicated to a specific block. Residents would be able to buy up to four permits per address, with the first one free and additional ones for $50 each. Rates would remain the same for employees: $466 annually for standard permits and $100 for low-income employees. The standard rate is equivalent to what it costs to buy a permit for downtown garages, according to staff.
Jessica Sullivan, the city's parking manager, said staff will present the program to the City Council for approval on Dec. 1. If things go as planned, the city will begin setting up a system for selling permits online and enforcing the parking restrictions early next year. Enforcement under the tentative timeline will begin in early April, Sullivan said.