Editorial: A solid parking plan in Palo Alto

Downtown permit system set to begin next spring

Like most outcomes built on compromise, the journey of creating a program to begin addressing downtown Palo Alto's parking problems has been long and circuitous, with many false starts, misunderstandings and disappointments along the way.

But after years of frustration and resistance, downtown residents, businesses and city officials came together Tuesday night to adopt a phased plan that will begin bringing relief to residents without unduly disrupting employees needing places to park.

The city council, working with only five members due to potential conflicts of the other four, who own property in the affected area, unanimously approved the recommendations carefully negotiated over much of the last year by an 11-person working group of residents and property and business owners.

As Councilman Larry Klein said in making the motion to approve the plan, it had been an extraordinary and successful process and one in which the council needed to trust the working group's compromises and resist the temptation to tweak the proposal.

In the end, the group's common desire for action overcame differences over individual elements and enabled the council and staff to notch a major accomplishment and set in motion solutions to a priority city concern as promised before the end of the year.

The plan, which will be rolled out in two phases beginning in April, establishes a permit system that will regulate day-time parking on neighborhood streets in most of the area between San Francisquito Creek and Embarcadero Road, and between Alma and Guinda. (An area south of Lincoln will not be in the permit area.)

During the first six months, the affected area will have two-hour limits on weekdays between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., just as streets in the commercial district do now. Residents will receive free permits, while downtown employees will pay either $50 or $233 for the six months, depending on their income level.

The intent is to make parking affordable for lower-paid service workers who can't afford to buy permits in city garages and who now flood residential neighborhoods just outside of the current two-hour restricted area.

With no limits on the number of permits during this first phase, the idea is to avoid suddenly shrinking the supply of available parking spots for employee use, to impose some financial disincentives and to monitor and collect data on what happens. This addressed the concerns of business owners who worried that an outright ban on neighborhood parking without new parking alternatives would make hiring and keeping employees even more difficult than it already is.

The biggest immediate impact will be on the unknown number of people who are parking free all day in downtown neighborhoods and either commuting to jobs on Caltrain or parking and then walking, biking or catching the Marguerite shuttle to jobs or school at Stanford. These people will be stuck with no place to park and will need to find alternatives, and this will reveal the extent to which they contribute to today's parking problem.

The second phase will last a year and is more controversial because its impacts are more difficult to predict. Instead of unlimited permits good anywhere, a cap will be set on the number of permits, and employees will be allotted about 20 percent of the total. Employee permits will also be assigned on a block basis, where they are only good on specific blocks of specific streets to ensure that areas closest to the downtown commercial areas aren't disproportionately clogged with employee permit parking.

In phase two, residents will get one free permit per dwelling unit but may purchase up to four additional permits for an annual cost of $50.

The city's parking manager, Jessica Sullivan, deserves much credit for calmly facilitating the working group's efforts during the last year and helping it find solutions and forge compromises.

The residential parking permit program is only one piece of a much broader set of initiatives, which include use of technology to guide drivers to available garage parking spots and at least one new parking garage. But it is the critical first step in solving a problem that is increasingly hurting the quality of life in our downtown.

The program won't be without problems and surprises, but it is the collaborative start we need to begin zeroing in on long-term answers to the lack of parking.

Related content:

Palo Alto launches downtown parking-permit program

What is community worth to you?
Support local journalism.


6 people like this
Posted by Bruce Heister
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 5, 2014 at 10:48 am

The editorial generalization that "lower-paid service workers" are "now flood residential neighborhoods just outside of the current two-hour restricted area" does not match with observations from the very over-parked area of Emerson Street and Palo Alto Avenue. The majority of those parking in this area are young and carrying computer bags. Let us not blame these essential service workers in our downtown area for the lack of forward thinking by the City and developers about parking needs.

3 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 5, 2014 at 12:39 pm

This editorial, like the other reports and articles, just outlines where people can't park.

Why don't you ask the question as to where people can park? Where are occasional all day visitors able to park and how do they know? How do many of our seniors who enjoy going to lunch and then a matinee movie in downtown going to park? How do employees who normally ride a bike or use public transportation park on the few days they need to have their car with them for work? What about the employees who only need to park a couple of times a week on their day for dropping off the kids on the way, or the day they need to have a car for after work activities? What about someone who has a hair appointment after lunch, or wants to visit an office for a meeting and then have a business lunch, or has an interview and wants to explore the town, or, or, or.

Don't assume that those parking on the residential streets all day are going to buy monthly permits. There has to be a better parking system for occasional all day parkers.

The Weekly should be giving information on how to park in downtown, not lots of repetitive articles on how it is going to be harder to park.

Like this comment
Posted by cw
a resident of Menlo Park
on Dec 5, 2014 at 12:53 pm

I recommend readers save this editorial so that when the implementation of the parking permit program goes seriously wrong, they can have something to laugh at. This is going to be a disaster, folks.

1 person likes this
Posted by palo alto resident
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 5, 2014 at 3:43 pm

I think this is a pretty well thought out system and I'm sure it will receive tweaks as time goes on.

@resident - yes, some people will be inconvenienced, but most people either drive to work or don't. And most people can fit their errands and lunches into a 3 hour window (some of the parking garage spots are 3 hours). Those who need more time can buy an all day parking pass, good in ALL the garages and City lots. Passes can be purchased at City Hall, in the Bryant Street garage and the garage between Cowper and Webster. It would be great if the City would expand the places that parking passes could be purchased.

1 person likes this
Posted by subverting democracy
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 5, 2014 at 4:09 pm

[Portion removed.] Forget the fact that there is NO overwhelming demand for this program--just the usual squeaky Palo Alto wheel that demands oiling. The people that have been yelling screaming for this program are the usual suspects-- the vocal minority that the weekly loves to support for reasons that are evident to those of us that know what the weekly agenda is.
This editorial conveniently ignores the trashing of the democratic process by the city, in removing votes from the final count so that the demand would seem large. But not surprising.

Like this comment
Posted by CalTrain Commuter
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 5, 2014 at 6:18 pm

When the Caltrain parking lot fills up, where can CalTrain commuters park? Why were they consider an acceptable sacrifice in this plan?

Like this comment
Posted by Mr.Recycle
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 5, 2014 at 6:33 pm

@CalTrain Commuter - Caltrain commutes were considered. They were considered part of the problem that permits are going to fix. Are the bike rack full too?

1 person likes this
Posted by CalTrain Commuter
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 5, 2014 at 6:58 pm

But to my original question, where can CalTrain commuters park once the CalTrain lot fills up? If I could buy a monthly pass that would be fine but daily passes will take way to much time.

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 5, 2014 at 7:55 pm

I suspect the Caltrain lot will fill up even quicker with this as those who work in Palo Alto will find it easier to pay $5 to park all day rather than work out how to buy a daily permit at City Hall.

Like this comment
Posted by Bob
a resident of Menlo Park
on Dec 5, 2014 at 8:38 pm

I think the RPP is reasonably well designed as is - as good as we could hope for given all the groups that had competing claims.

However, I definitely agree we need a way for those who usually bike or take transit to drive and park on days when they need to pick up a child or run errands. But the neighborhoods don't need to be that place - we should reserve spaces for this in the garages, some of which have empty spaces.

Buying a daily pass at City Hall is four times more expensive per day than buying a yearly pass. The city should make the price the same and let people purchase using an app. ParkMobile already does this, the city would just need to sign up.

3 people like this
Posted by Caught 22
a resident of another community
on Dec 5, 2014 at 11:26 pm

Um, where do you park while you buy a parking permit at City Hall?

1 person likes this
Posted by Johnny
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 6, 2014 at 4:18 pm

What an abomination. I am truly disgusted by every one of our city's council members.

Lets not pretend this isn't entirely about ways for the parasites to take the blood, sweat and tears of hardworking citizens.

Lets not pretend that this isn't entirely, 100 percent about MONEY.

They admit the program is flawed, and yet they still want to "give it a chance", oblivious to all the innocent citizens who will now get robbed by silly parking tickets and silly permit costs.

I have seen the result of "preferential parking" in Santa Monica: stretches of broad, empty curbs. Blocks and blocks of endless, unused parking spots.

And if someone dares to park there... they are hit with an exorbitant ticket. Wonderful! Negative reinforcement, baby!

Utterly irrational!

What a misled and destructive solution they have devised. Big government at its best folks!

Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Dec 6, 2014 at 4:26 pm

Blocks and blocks of endless, unused parking spots. Bicycle paradise.

Like this comment
Posted by Johnny
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 6, 2014 at 4:40 pm

Ah yes, musical, because cyclists are automatically superior to motorists, and laws should be passed to encourage (force) individuals to live a certain way based on an opinion about the environment, "safety", or what have you.

Sadly, most people were too lazy to really fight this. Apathy is rampant nowadays.

Like this comment
Posted by Celine
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 6, 2014 at 9:22 pm


You live in Midtown and don't bare the burden.

Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Dec 6, 2014 at 9:58 pm

A parked car is not a motorist.

1 person likes this
Posted by Mike
a resident of University South
on Dec 8, 2014 at 4:02 am

> where can CalTrain commuters park once the CalTrain lot fills up?

CalTrain needs to solve its own parking issues - as does Stanford.

> Um, where do you park while you buy a parking permit at City Hall?

The first two or three hours are now and will still be FREE!

Like this comment
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 8, 2014 at 2:29 pm

I have suggested in the past that PA should partner with Caltrain and build garages on the Caltrain parking least on the hotel side of the tracks. No brainer.

Posted by Name hidden
a resident of Duveneck School

on Sep 26, 2017 at 3:37 am

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?

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

All your news. All in one place. Every day.

DoorDash is opening a shared delivery kitchen in Redwood City. What does that say about the future of the restaurant industry?
By Elena Kadvany | 9 comments | 2,946 views

What did you learn last week?
By Sherry Listgarten | 11 comments | 1,696 views

The holiday season
By Cheryl Bac | 2 comments | 663 views

Bond. Bond Touch.
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 656 views