Over union concerns, Palo Alto looks to contract out enforcement of parking program

Fact-finding panel supports SEIU's position to keep enforcement in-house

Despite vehement opposition from the city's largest union and an unfavorable ruling this week from a fact-finding panel, Palo Alto plans to move ahead with hiring a contractor to enforce the city's long-awaited downtown parking-permit program, the city announced Thursday.

The city has been pursuing a permit program for downtown's parking-parched residential neighborhoods for more than five years, a process that hit a milestone in December when the City Council approved the details of the latest proposal. Initially slated to launch this spring, the new program is now set to make its debut in the fall. The program will institute a two-hour parking time limit on residential streets and require drivers who park there longer to purchase permits, which would only be made available to downtown's residents and employees.

While the plan has won the hard-fought support from residents, employers and the City Council, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Local 521, has lashed out against one of its key components: the hiring of outside consultants to enforce the new time limits. The city plans to hire the firm Serco to be the enforcer, a function that the SEIU believes should fall to the city's eight existing community-service officers. In March, several union officials attended a City Council meeting, where they maintained that the job can be handled by existing staff.

Gabriel Mora, a community-service officer, told the council that the union was "surprised that the city was thinking of contracting out" and said the proposal was never mentioned to the workers by their managers. But management believes that keeping the work in-house would further delay a program that has already faced a series of setbacks.

In a statement, city officials said they believe the contractor, Serco, can have the program up and running within 60 days. Serco currently provides parking services in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Chicago. Keeping enforcement with existing staff or hiring new workers would delay the program by up to a year because of the need for training, new technology and redeployment of personnel, the statement notes.

At a March meeting of a Residential Parking Permit Program stakeholder group, the city's Transportation Planning Manager Jessica Sullivan said the city held six meet-and-confer sessions with the union and said the workers "did not provide proposals which were responsive to the city's main concerns."

On Thursday, City Manager James Keene called the parking-permit program a "pilot program" and noted that it will "require a flexible, adaptable and changeable approach to staffing throughout the project."

That is not possible using existing staff, and our community has been advocating and working on this program and expects to see it implemented as soon as possible," Keene said in a statement.

The union's concerns were bolstered by this week's report from a three-member fact-finding panel, which includes representatives from the two disputing sides and a neutral arbitrator. Though the conclusion is non-binding, the panel's arbitrator and mediator, Paul D. Roose, recommended that the city not contract out enforcement.

The panel, Roose wrote, "views the City's proposal to contract out this work now as a substantial departure from past practices." And while the city has characterized the parking program as a "pilot program," Roose noted that the city has no plans in place to switch the enforcement duties to city staff once the trial is completed.

"The evidence that parking enforcement constitutes the vast majority of CSO work was unrebutted. However, the job description reads, parking enforcement remains the core of the CSO duties. Enforcement of residential parking programs and other hang-tag programs are part of these core duties," Roose wrote.

The panel concluded that the city's proposal "tilts too far and too fast in the direction of upending a long-standing practice."

"That practice is that the Union's bargaining unit members in the City of Palo Alto have performed parking enforcement in all its various aspects," Roose wrote. "For this reason, and in the context of the entire analysis presented above, the panel recommends that Downtown RPP parking enforcement work not be contracted out to the City's selected vendor."

The ruling was immediately slammed by city officials, with Assistant City Manager Suzanne Mason arguing in a dissent that Roose "prioritizes the speculative concerns of a public employee union over the best interests and welfare of the public."

Mason, who represented the city on the three-member board, argued that the factfinder "improperly dismisses the unique challenges associated with the downtown pilot and recommends a course of action that would further delay -- by a year or more -- the implementation of a pilot program that Palo Alto residents have clearly identified as an urgent need."

Initially slated to launch in the spring, the city now plans to start selling permits in August and begin enforcement in the fall.

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10 people like this
Posted by Retired Staffer
a resident of another community
on Jun 18, 2015 at 10:13 am

Obviously, the City's elected officials are afraid of their own employees.

17 people like this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 18, 2015 at 10:44 am

Here we go again ... say that local resources are too expensive,
contract it out to some company that might initially be the same
cost or less, and then get screwed year after year with price
gouges and dirty tricks while whoever got these companies in
probably moves into the private sector somewhere where they
receive their silent payoff.

I'd like to know the story behind the garbage company in Palo
Alto and why year after year our garbage service give us less
service and demands more money as well.

Or power, water, schools, etc.

I don't think most Palo Altans really even want a parking
program, or to have to pay for parking, and then be ripped
off more and more for parking over time, while the City just
moves on to outsourcing whatever they can think of next.

They are not listening to the people ... so who are they listening
to, who is driving this model? Do people think it is working?

12 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 18, 2015 at 10:46 am

I'm generally in favor of contracting out services when necessary, but in the case of PASCO being replaced by Greenwaste, I'm not so sure.

I really doubt that this new system will help the situation. We still have a horrendous parking policy in downtown and this will not help. Someone wanting to visit downtown all day has very little help in finding all day parking and this will not help them. Someone wanting to have a business meeting and lunch will not find this helpful. Someone wanting to have lunch, then an early movie, will not find this helpful. Etc. etc. etc.

We need some pay per hour machines in all lots and garages. We need some parking meters on popular streets. We need 30 minute parking outside retail. Without enabling people to park to suit their needs without having to buy a ridiculous permit or curtailing their time because of the two hour limit without a permit is just making occasional visitors and parkers who want to park more than half a day the enemy.

BTW it is cheaper to park at Caltrain and buy the cheapest Caltrain ticket than it is to pay for all day parking - even if the driver is not going to use the train! Those in the know are doing this. Then the Caltrain riders complain about full lots! Crazy situation.

4 people like this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 18, 2015 at 10:56 am

What is needed in terms of parking is another parking structure.

I thought there was one in the pipeline, and we could have another
one in that huge lot between the Aquarius theater and University.
That would be perfect.

I have never had a serious problem finding parking downtown when
I need it in the parking structures, and it is a short walk out and to
wherever I am going, but it is reliable.

This is just to suck more money, there is no reason we cannot
of this and keep parking free, retaining the ease of going downtown
in Palo Alto as it has always been.

Resident. I'd "Like" your comment but for the opening line where for
some reason you first want to let us know how you feel about contracting
stuff out ... but not really since you qualified it with "when necessary"
Isn't that an awfully complicated subject to slip by without qualification
when you are going to go on to talk about how you disagree with it in
this case?

>> I'm generally in favor of contracting out services when necessary,
>> but in the case of PASCO being replaced by Greenwaste, I'm not so sure.

I'm curious as to what "necessary" is, and when has contracting things
out benefitted the City? I am sure there are cases, the whole idea of
contracting is not a bad one, but what the City seems to think of as
necessary simply means anything they can find a private company to
do and pass off so that Palo Alto is no longer a better value than
surrounding communities.

I think we pay more for our electricity ... maybe they should have
started there.

9 people like this
Posted by Lenny
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 18, 2015 at 11:24 am

In my opinion, our city has very poor enforcement of anything. We need a company that can handle the job and produce the results. It will be a big job and I just don't have the faith that our city can or will be able to do it. Sorry.

6 people like this
Posted by Slow Down
a resident of Community Center
on Jun 18, 2015 at 11:30 am

Slow Down is a registered user.

@ CrescentParkAnon - the composting fiasco and fee increases isn't Greenwaste's problem, the city council is dictating the program to them. We need to move away from the zero waste insanity and move to reasonable trash solution.

The last thing the city needs is more union employee pension burden - we have to outsource jobs like this until the retirement/health/pension benefit issues are resolved.

4 people like this
Posted by Neilson Buchanan
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 18, 2015 at 11:35 am

I am one of 6 residents serving on the 11-person Permit Parking Stakeholder Group. We six residents represent heavily impacted neighborhoods....Downtown North, City Center, University South, Professorville and substantial section of Crescent Park.

Here are two facts.

FACT #1 Our neighborhoods are serving as the largest parking lots and garages in all of Palo Alto. My neighborhood has a maximum of 1400 possible parking spaces on purely residential streets. Commercial parking intrusion commences before 7am each working days and peaks by mid-day with 700-759 parked non-resident vehicles. Another 400 vehicles belong to residents, our service workers, nannies, et al.

Distribution of parked vehicles is horrible. About 80% of residential streets are 100% saturated. The other 20% of streets are less than 30% impacted.

In total these four residential areas provide an estimated 1200-1500 parking spaces daily for workers downtown. The goal of the upcoming permit program is to limit the non-resident parking intrusion to some defined quality level. I personally expect the city council to demand that Downtown North neighborhood provide 700 parking spaces for downtown workers. The degree of intrusion wont be determined until late 2015 at the earliest.

FACT #2 In the near future the city will reveal plans for at least one new garage for the Univ and Calif Ave commercial cores. The most viable garage in Univ Ave core could be built on a relatively small surface parking lot. The net gain in parking capacity is relatively small. Cost is unknown. Will the City Council dedicate this new parking space capacity to relieve intrusion on residential streets? Or will the Council provide free public garage parking for the private office buildings approved without adequate on-site parking?

3 people like this
Posted by supporter of the 99%
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 18, 2015 at 12:40 pm

[Post removed.]

11 people like this
Posted by Marjie
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 18, 2015 at 12:47 pm

I try to go have lunch and can never get any parking. I try to shop downtown to support the local economy and I can never get any parking on the street or in the garages. It is so bad than many folks are now going elsewhere because you cannot park.

Like this comment
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 18, 2015 at 1:26 pm

[Post removed due to deletion of referenced comment.]

2 people like this
Posted by Taxpayer
a resident of Community Center
on Jun 18, 2015 at 3:51 pm

In theory, choosing between outsourcing vs using in-house resources should be close to a wash. But in today's union dominated public sector environment, it is much more efficient and cost effective to outsource most operations. Probably the only department I wouldn't outsource would be police. A great example is the utilities operation. Generally when I see a CPA utility truck, the employees are generally standing around or talking on their cell phones. When I see an outside contractor truck, the employees are generally working. When there is an owner and profit involved, some one is usually focused on making sure the work gets done timely and efficiently. The other department where cities could achieve huge cost savings would be by outsourcing union fire departments.

1 person likes this
Posted by SteveU
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 18, 2015 at 5:25 pm

SteveU is a registered user.

If the city wants to build a project, the must get bids and awarded to low bidders

Why aren't these expensive city worker positions subject to the same bid? Campaign Contributions?

2 people like this
Posted by Don't trust
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 18, 2015 at 8:25 pm

There are so many contractors working for the city, it's a real problem. I believe a list was published a while back, does anyone know where it is?

Given the spending spree the Manager is on, I don't trust his judgement anymore.

Like this comment
Posted by Mike
a resident of University South
on Jun 19, 2015 at 10:30 am

Resident claims, "Then the Caltrain riders complain about full lots! Crazy situation."

The Caltrain lots are not full. I walk by them every morning about 7:25am and they're half full

2 people like this
Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 19, 2015 at 11:09 am

Parking is not just a north PA issue. We have people parking on the streets here in South PA because their employer will not provide adequate parking. That becomes an issue for street cleaning - which we pay for. If we pay for street cleaning then it is going to get done.

Other issue is workers who do not live in the area leave trash which I end up picking up and disposing of. I told one parker today that there is a $1,000 fine for littering and I have their license plate number. Leave trash and they are it.

We need street signs that state when the days for street cleaning are and someone to issue fines if people park on those days and hours. We are paying for city services that become unavailable if employees use our streets for parking on those days.

That gets back to the requirement that new construction has to provide adequate parking for their employees so it is not off loaded on to residential streets. It also gets back to what our requirement as a city is to allocate enough space for parking so we do not have these issues.

5 people like this
Posted by @Mike
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 19, 2015 at 11:53 am

Walk by the CalTrain parking lots again at 9:30 a.m. You will see they are full.

3 people like this
Posted by AdamH
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 19, 2015 at 1:18 pm

Because when I think of SF, LA and Chicago I think, "Wow, these cities all have great parking". Glad we are striving so high!


2 people like this
Posted by Outsourcing is good
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 19, 2015 at 1:38 pm

Don't let the SEIU get you down. The more outsourcing the better. I agree entirely with Taxpayer. It will be much more efficient and cost effective with an outside contractor.

2 people like this
Posted by Johnny
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 19, 2015 at 5:16 pm

Resident 1 is out there picking up others' trash, waving it in their face, and warning them of a $1000 fine! *gasp*

Truly a role model for our community!

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 19, 2015 at 5:50 pm

How about the Weekly sending a reporter to the Caltrain lots at 10.00 am on a weekday morning looking for empty spots?

How about the Weekly sending a reporter to the garages and lots at 12.30 pm looking for an empty spot?

I think it is about time someone started looking at the parking problem in Palo Alto. If people can't park and pay in a lot or garage then what are they to do?

What happened to the electronic signs we were told would come to help people park?

Of course, nothing as usual. Where is common sense in Palo Alto?

The only people who will be allowed to park for more than 3 hours anywhere in Palo Alto are permit holders. Anyone who for any reason doesn't have or want a permit will be treated as unwanted.

5 people like this
Posted by Johnny
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 19, 2015 at 6:04 pm

Another major problem is that downtown employees are going to get robbed, because I'm sure a lot of them who are new at a job will not know that they must buy a permit or that they are actually eligible for one. But they have to get to work! As a result, they'll get parking tickets that they absolutely don't deserve.

They had the right to park there, but just because they didn't buy a permit, they have to pay a fine.
How in the world is this justifiable.

This is a fundamental problem when innocent people are forced to comply or else have to pay a fabricated fine. At this point, it is the meter maid and her employers who are the true criminals. Theft at its finest.

I'm definitely going to avoid downtown as a result of this. When parking is difficult, they must make it even more difficult and cash in on the situation?

And residents who complain that their neighborhoods are full of parked cars, go live in Los Altos Hills or Woodside! Your complaints are petty and unwarranted. It's sad that you have the arm of the government and the force of law on your side.

5 people like this
Posted by Learn from Mistakes
a resident of Professorville
on Jun 19, 2015 at 6:17 pm

The big mistake of the recent past was ditching PASCO in favor of Greenwaste. Greenwaste misses pickups, leaves a mess of garbage blowing down the street, and the drivers refuse to move trucks when blocking traffic ( on Alma, they pick up garbage so late on Tuesday mornings they block rush hour traffic).

City of Palo Alto, don't repeat mistakes, learn from them. Don't contract out for anything again.

2 people like this
Posted by Me
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 19, 2015 at 8:39 pm

This is great! As a tax payer, I don't need to pay for their retirements. We are already on the hook to pay pensions for firemen, policemen, city hall workers, librarians ,..Let's not add more to the burden.

If I have my way, firemen and librarian could also be contract employees. Down size PA police department and use Sheriff instead. Thus will reduce our burden as a community!

3 people like this
Posted by S. Palo alto resident / DT worker
a resident of Terman Middle School
on Jun 21, 2015 at 1:48 pm

I live in south Palo Alto and work downtown. M-F it is rediculous in the morning to find a parking spot.I already have to walk at least 3-4 blocks from where I park.
I notice a lot of the residence's in downtown don't use their garages and park on the street. Those who park in the middle of 2 spots to save one are complete jerks.

How about Palo Alto takes some of the money they get for taxing the business's and residence's and build a garage for employees only, free of cost? I can't afford the expensive not to mention limited permits the city has. I can't take public transportation as I have 3 jobs and need my car to get from A to B.

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

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