Initially slated for this spring, Palo Alto's long-awaited residential parking-permit program now is unlikely to fully launch until September, according to a schedule released by the city Wednesday.
The Residential Parking Permit Program (RPP), which aims to provide parking relief for downtown's neighborhoods, was unanimously approved by the City Council in December after years of debate and a year-long collaboration by a task force of downtown stakeholders, including businesses and residents. The goal at the time was to roll out the program early this year.
Yet a dispute with the city's labor union and the complexity of putting together and authorizing the four different contracts required to get the program up and running have extended the timeline.
The new schedule, which was provided Wednesday to the Residential Parking Permit Program Task Force, indicates that the city now plans to start selling parking permits for residential blocks in late July and that enforcement won't begin until Sept. 8.
The City Council has repeatedly pointed to the new parking program, as well as to the city's fledgling Transportation Management Association (a new nonprofit charged with reducing traffic), as critical tools for addressing the parking and traffic anxieties that have been growing in recent years.
This week, the council directed staff to put together an interim ordinance that would cap office space in the city's main commercial strips. During the discussion, Councilwoman Liz Kniss pointed to the delays within the parking program in making her argument for action.
"I have no idea why RPP has gone so far south but it's absolutely regrettable," Kniss said.
The Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Local 521, which represents about half of the city's workforce, has its own concerns about the program. While union officials said they support the program and understand the need for it, they have taken issue with the city's plan to outsource enforcement of the program to a contractor.
During Monday's meeting, several city employees urged the council to keep the work in-house.
Margaret Adkins, who represented the union during the conversations with management, said two community-service officers (members of the Police Department who handle parking enforcement) had recently undertook a trial and were able to cover the permit area within an hour.
Under the parking-permit program, cars without a permit would be subject to a two-hour limit in an area that currently has no limits. Permits would only be sold to downtown residents, employers and employees.
Adkins said the union "was not treated fairly by the city" and was "not heard" by management.
"These pilot RPP program discussions could have, and should have, been held between two collaborative teams," Adkins said.
Community Service Officer Gabrial Mora said the employees all believe that they can do the work in-house. They have been enforcing the parking-permit program in College Terrace for the past three years, he said, and the time it takes an officer to cover that permit area has gone down from about an hour to about 30 minutes.
"We were all surprised that the city was thinking of contracting out, because we never heard that before from our managers," Mora told the council on Monday.
Yet the plan to contract out enforcement has been part of the program since well before the council's vote late last year and was discussed throughout the stakeholders group meetings before the program's adoption.
Jessica Sullivan, the city's transportation planning manager, said the city held six meet-and-confer sessions with the SEIU, a process that ended in an impasse. The union, she told the stakeholders group Wednesday, "did not provide proposals which were responsive to the city's main concerns."
The city plans to contract out enforcement to Serco, which has been providing parking services to San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago and other major cities.
"They are working in a lot of contentious environments and they're very professional," Sullivan said.