News

Palo Alto's parking-permit program gets green light

Planning commission votes to approve proposal to require permits to park in residential areas

Responding to years of complaints about downtown's residential streets transforming into parking lots for employees, Palo Alto's planning commissioners unanimously backed a parking-permit program that they hope will ease the congestion.

In two separate unanimous votes, the Planning and Transportation Commission gave the green light to a downtown Residential Parking Permit Program (RPPP) and approved an ordinance that creates a framework for other neighborhoods who want to set up similar programs.

The downtown program is a response to a parking situation that has been getting progressively worse in recent years. Occupancy data gathered by staff showed most blocks in the Downtown North filled to capacity during business hours. A September survey of downtown by planning staff showed that much of the area was at least 86 percent occupied between noon and 2 p.m., with many blocks "exceeding their capacity for parking."

The resolution to create a downtown program was drafted after nine months of work by a specially appointed stakeholders group featuring representatives from businesses and neighborhoods. It would take effect early next year and play out in two phases, with the first phase lasting six months and focused primarily on gathering data. During the first phase, residents would be given free permits while employees would be able to buy six-month permits for $233, which is equal to the cost of buying a garage permit. Low-wage workers would be able to buy permits for $50 each.

In the second phase, residents would get one free permit and be required to pay $50 per year for additional ones, with a limit of four. Permits for businesses would be limited based on the data gathered in the first phase and parking for employees would be assigned to a specific one- or two-block area. The permit would allow cars to park all day on the streets, though there would be a two-hour restriction for cars that don't have permits.

The program is far broader than the one that the council considered and rejected two years ago, which targeted a portion of Professorville and was also put together after a stakeholder process. At the time, the council argued that the permit area is too restrictive and creating the program would merely push the problem to other downtown blocks.

The new program encompasses a huge swath of downtown, from Palo Alto in the north to Lincoln Avenue in the south and from Alma Street in the west to Guinda Street to the east. Staff had originally intended to extend the border further south, to Embarcadero Road, but agreed to omit that section after results from a survey showed only 65 residents saying they would support a parking-permit program and 138 (68 percent) saying they would oppose it. That section is furthest away from the commercial core and, as the city's parking-occupancy data shows, has far more free parking spots.

In the rest of the permit area, the split in the informal survey was 643 in favor of the program (53 percent) and 47 percent (against). The survey did not, however, include many of the details that were later added to the program and was intended largely to gather feedback.

The permit program is a major component in Palo Alto's multi-pronged approach to bringing downtown some parking relief. The strategy also includes building a new garage, expanding the shuttle program, and launching a host of transportation-demand-management initiatives aimed at getting drivers to shift from cars to other modes of transportation.

"Non-residential vehicle parking disrupts neighborhood quality of life," Jessica Sullivan, the city's parking manager, said in describing the need for the ordinance. "Which is another way of saying that shortage of parking spaces can result in noise, traffic and those types of things."

Dozens of residents attended the meeting to support this assertion, though only three remained in the audience by the time the planning commission adopted the downtown program at about 11:30 p.m. All speakers at the meeting advocated in favor of the program, though some suggested modifications.

Malcolm Beasley noted that the parking situation is deteriorating fast and urged staff to consider future development projects in tallying parking deficits.

"The reality is that parking will surely get worse and we must openly face up to this reality if we are to deal with it in a firm way," Beasley said. "I urge staff to make dynamic projections to the degree it's possible to do so."

The planning commission largely followed staff's proposals and approved the ordinance that allows any neighborhood to opt in. The ordinance establishes a process that requires a neighborhood to complete an application and submit a petition indicating majority support from the residents. The planning commission would review the petition, and staff would proceed with outreach and occupancy studies. The resolution and the data gathered by staff would then return to the planning commission, which would then make a recommendation to the council.

Commissioner Kate Downing agreed with the public that a parking-permit program should be implemented, and suggested that the city come up with a threshold for parking congestion that would inform its priorities for parking programs. Creating a system in which fewer people are circling the block and looking for parking would not only provide relief to the neighborhoods but also be good for both the environment and safety. She also suggested that permit parking be more expensive for streets than for garages, which are chronically underused despite the congestion on the streets.

"To get people off the streets, it needs to be a less palatable option than the garage," Downing said.

Commissioners added a few amendments to the staff proposal for a downtown program. They agreed to add the 300 and 400 blocks of Lincoln Avenue to the program (the were on the periphery of the omitted area, and specified that it should be the planning commission rather than the planning director that determines the priorities for parking programs. Commissioners also supported making the permits transferable among employees, though Sullivan warned that this could increase instances of permit fraud.

The commission largely supported the proposal, though members quibbled over some details. Commissioner Michael Alcheck recommended expanding the downtown permit area to the original wider boundaries, despite resident opposition in the southern section of the area.

Once the permit restrictions start, Alcheck argued, this section of downtown will be overrun with cars and the "nos will become yeses the minute the program is implemented."

Commissioner Przemek Gardias argued that the permit fees for employees should be "nominal" in the first phase, though this suggestion did not win the support of the rest of the commission.

The majority agreed that the proposal is worth pursuing and later adjusting as needed.

"A lot of work has been put into this and it's well thought out," Commissioner Greg Tanaka said. "While not perfect, it's a trial. If it's not perfect, we'll make it better."

The City Council is scheduled to consider the parking program on Dec. 1.

Related content:

Downtown residents split over parking-permit program

Comments

10 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 13, 2014 at 8:05 am

This is very much putting the cart before the horse.

Where will these cars park? Why is nobody asking that question? What will happen to people who need to park all day on an occasional basis?

Where are signs to direct drivers to all day parking garages? Where are signs to direct drivers to parking lots which actually have some spaces?

Where are visitors to Palo Alto going to park all day?

This is very backwards.


8 people like this
Posted by Sally-Ann Rudd
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 13, 2014 at 8:38 am

Backwards??? What's backwards is building huge swaths of office without building adequate parking, allowing unchecked intensification of use of downtown properties without adding parking, allowing developers to buy their way out of parking requirements at rock-bottom rates, and building parking garages that are only half-filled because right next door is unlimited free street parking. That's backwards.
Finally we have some forward progress! Finally we are getting to grips with the problem! Thank you PTC!


Like this comment
Posted by Kenagain
a resident of another community
on Nov 13, 2014 at 8:39 am

FFinally something that might begin to work. To comment on the first "resident" the cart (build without parking) has been in front of the horse for a long time.


5 people like this
Posted by palo alto resident
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 13, 2014 at 8:41 am

Simple economics - people will not pay for parking (or anything else) if it is free. I regularly drive downtown and see tons of empty spots in the City lots when the streets are so full of badly parked cars that you can't drive safely.

Charge for parking everywhere and the lots and garages will get used.


Posted by I am confused
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood

on Nov 13, 2014 at 8:42 am


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Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 13, 2014 at 8:52 am

No, you are missing the point.

The empty spaces in garages are for permits. Occasional parkers and visitors don't buy permits, they want to pay per hour and often want to park for more than 3 hours.

These are the people who will suffer. These are the people who won't know where to park.


1 person likes this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 13, 2014 at 8:55 am

Answering the original question:
1. Paid parking in the city garages/lots
2. Paid parking at CalTrain
3. Free street parking outside the permit zone
4. Public transit
5. Bike parking

Those are the options. Number 3 is the most likely scenario.


2 people like this
Posted by palo alto resident
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 13, 2014 at 9:06 am

@Resident - I agree with you that a component of this should be a garage where you can pay by the hour to park. It should be expensive enough that people won't use it everyday, but inexpensive enough to not be a detriment to business.


1 person likes this
Posted by Norman Beamer
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 13, 2014 at 9:22 am

At least in the parking lot where I often park when I come downtown (near the corner of Cowper and University), there is a machine where I can buy an all-day permit if I want to park for more that two hours. I assume there are such machines in all the garages, and if not they should be installed. So that's the answer to the person who was asking about the need for customers or vistors for longer parking hours.


5 people like this
Posted by palo alto
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 13, 2014 at 9:56 am

My Downtown North neighborhood is used mostly to park vehicles for the massive construction projects of the elite, and their hired help. Hourly workers from the downtown restaurants and such also park here. Not people, that
work in offices. The neighbor behind me spent nearly three years building their "green" mansion. They had 10-
15 trucks parked all day every weekday during the construction. Seems like these restrictions are just more war on the poor.

Congratulations.


3 people like this
Posted by Silly
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 13, 2014 at 10:17 am

Why are workers allowed to buy permits for residential neighborhoods? Seems way backwards to me.


1 person likes this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 13, 2014 at 10:29 am

Caltrain is $5 per day for parking so anything more than that does not make sense. No, there are not pay per hour machines in all garages and lots. Most of the garages have color zones and visitors have no clue how to pay for parking for over 3 hours.


Like this comment
Posted by Jeanie Smith
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Nov 13, 2014 at 11:01 am

YAY! Finally! We've been trying to get something similar in Evergreen Park for at least two decades-- so now, hopefully, we will have a precedent for implementing the same practice in our neighborhood. Once the renovation is complete on Calif. Ave., it would be an ideal time to start RPPP for us!


1 person likes this
Posted by jerry99
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 13, 2014 at 11:44 am

Going to go ahead with a parking permit program after the City Council has allowed unbridled building of business properties, hotels and condos in the city and removing huge numbers of parking places? And allowing businesses to expand and give them waivers to allow them to be higher and with less parking?
Lunacy


2 people like this
Posted by Pissed Off
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 13, 2014 at 11:59 am

[Post removed.]


Like this comment
Posted by Fill in the Blank
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 13, 2014 at 12:03 pm

As a resident of Crescent Park, I expect us to have a plan in place to push everyone out of our neighborhoods by the end of 2015. Green Gables you are next.


Like this comment
Posted by question
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 13, 2014 at 12:06 pm

I question the wisdom of charging employees $233 for trial 6 months permits when the normal downtown business district parking permits cost $466.00/year, $146.50/quarter or $17.50/day. Shouldn't the price be at least the same so employees are encouraged to park in garages/locations closer to their workplace than seeking to park in residential areas for cheaper?


1 person likes this
Posted by Fresh Choice
a resident of Community Center
on Nov 13, 2014 at 12:07 pm

Silly....you ask why are business aloud to buy permits to park in residential neighborhoods.....Last time I checked....you don't own the streets. Otherwise you would be collecting a toll for everyone who crosses your house.


1 person likes this
Posted by Barron park
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 13, 2014 at 12:24 pm

[Portion removed.] Trying to increase density in out neighborhoods. when will they realize businesses need parking.


1 person likes this
Posted by MadamPresident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 13, 2014 at 12:36 pm

I am with Resident & Pissed Off

Residents of downtown, please park in your garages & driveways.

If you don't have those, lobby to have street space across your homes marked so only you can park


2 people like this
Posted by wow... the PTC caved
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 13, 2014 at 12:47 pm

[Post removed.]


2 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 13, 2014 at 1:59 pm

Pointing fingers at one party does not solve the problem nor does it correctly identify the source of the problem/solution.

Yes - residents of a downtown area should expect higher than normal parking congestion.

Yes - it is not unreasonable for a downtown resident to hope to park somewhere that is within a block or so of their home.

Yes - most of the older homes in DTN have 1-car garages or no garages...and do not reflect the modern car ownership paradigm.

Yes - city council has allowed too many commercial projects to go forward without sufficient parking

Yes - city staff has not been proactive in managing the various parking needs of all stakeholders

Yes - city staff/council has not embraced modern technology in order to remotely issue all day or hourly parking (paid) permits, as well as allow for the usage of a popular parking app (e.g., Parkmobile).


[Portion removed.]


Like this comment
Posted by commonsense
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 13, 2014 at 2:07 pm

This will be a disaster. If you live in Crescent Park or Old Palo Alto, be prepared to be angry. Employees of downtown businesses need to park somewhere - they will not all suddenly start taking the bus or train to work. Time will tell.


1 person likes this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 13, 2014 at 2:17 pm

Crescent Park Dad is a registered user.

Or businesses should buy permits for their employees. That's what my spouse's firm does. They also supplement monthly public transit passes as well.


2 people like this
Posted by Pissed Off
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 13, 2014 at 2:39 pm

[Post removed.]


1 person likes this
Posted by Jeff
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 13, 2014 at 2:57 pm

Tax every commercial building owner for each parking space they are short. They will quit asking for exemptioms very quickly. They may even build extra spaces if they can rent them to neighboring businesses.


3 people like this
Posted by Grandma and mama
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 13, 2014 at 4:04 pm

So now all of us who live just out of the permit area can expect downtown's problem to become our problem.


1 person likes this
Posted by Not so fast
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 13, 2014 at 4:12 pm

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]


2 people like this
Posted by OldAlum
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 13, 2014 at 4:13 pm

The obvious solution to this problem is just don't go to downtown Palo Alto.


Like this comment
Posted by Not so fast
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 13, 2014 at 4:15 pm

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]


Like this comment
Posted by chris
a resident of University South
on Nov 13, 2014 at 4:34 pm

commonsense,

you may think you have common sense, but you are missing 2 obvious points

1) your neighborhood can join the residential parking permit program

2) the Constitution does not grant a worker an inalienable right to drive their car to work. Thousands of Stanford workers get by without driving to work. Maybe it is time for Palo Alto to take some of its own medicine.


Like this comment
Posted by chris
a resident of University South
on Nov 13, 2014 at 4:40 pm

MadamPresident,

You are agreeing with someone who has been deleted.

It is ridiculous to reserve specific parking spots on the street for specific residents. This plan will put controls on the whole class of people that are causing the problem -- the workers and their employers.


Like this comment
Posted by Duh Chris
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 13, 2014 at 5:42 pm

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]


Like this comment
Posted by Mike
a resident of University South
on Nov 14, 2014 at 6:26 am

Does this plan allow the permit holders to park all day in the downtown colored zones? Or are those zone still restricted like they are now?


Like this comment
Posted by Midtowner
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 14, 2014 at 6:28 am

Will on-street parking restrictions apply evenings and weekends?


Like this comment
Posted by Mike
a resident of University South
on Nov 14, 2014 at 6:37 am

>>Will on-street parking restrictions apply evenings and weekends?

No. They apply M-F 8-5.


3 people like this
Posted by sunshine
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 15, 2014 at 9:06 am

Once again the Palo Alto 400 are protecting their own to the detriment of other city residents.
I live in Palo Alto. However, I am older and if I want to shop cannot manage to shop and carry purchases to a bus stop or home from the bus stop. Therefore, when I want to shop downtown I look for a residential area in which to park so that I can look and shop as long as I want. I also park in residential areas when a friend and I want to have lunch and go to a movie--over a 3 hour visit to downtown.
This move by a City Council that favors big developers and special interest residents will encourage me to not shop in downtown PA.
I do not understand this huge push to avoid parking in front of homes. Most of the homes I see in the affected area are large, on large lots and have plenty of room for parking on their own site. Once again the beautiful PA 400 get their way against those who would like to patronize locally owned downtown businesses. Perhaps that is the desire here--to eliminate all locally owned businesses and have only chain stores and restaurants downtown.


Like this comment
Posted by NewAlum
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Nov 15, 2014 at 9:26 am


I'm with OldAlum. I just won't go downtown anymore. The diners on California Ave are good for us.


1 person likes this
Posted by Karen
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 15, 2014 at 11:23 pm

Why are the new developments not being required to be inclusive of underground
parking? Why are tax dollars not able to provide for maintaining free parking?
If employees could park within their office complexes and other personnel park
in garages for free, then chances are good neighborhoods wouldn't be impacted-
Free parking also supports businesses by encouraging dining and shopping. It's
too bad the City Council and reviewers can't rethink the whole plan...........
Business minds are not prevailing; city coffers will increase at an expense to
all, but not problems have really been solved. People will continue to be very
discontented.


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

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