City contracts out parking enforcement for new downtown program

Palo Alto City Council rejects recommendations from SEIU and fact-finding panel, approves deal with Serco

If there's one thing that's more frustrating for downtown residents than finding parking on their congested streets, it's waiting for City Hall to fix the worsening problem.

Yet on Monday, the City Council offered a hopeful sign that a solution will be in place this fall when it approved an enforcement contract for downtown's new Residential Parking Permit Program (RPPP). A product of many years of clamoring from downtown residents and 10 months of planning by a group of area stakeholders, the new parking-permit program would establish time limits for cars that park on downtown's residential streets, which currently allow all-day parking.

The time limits would not apply to cars with permits, which the city plans to start selling in August and would only be available to downtown's residents and employees. The goal is to drive out from downtown streets the Caltrain commuters and Stanford students who city officials believe use residential neighborhoods like Downtown North and Professorville as their all-day parking lots to avoid paying garage fees.

In approving the $1.5-million contract with Serco, Inc., the council trampled over objections from the city's largest labor union, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Local 521.

The union had protested the city's decision to contract out enforcement and insisted that the function can be carried out by existing city staff. The SEIU had proposed enforcing the permit area with two employees, aided by license-plate readers. The city intends to have four enforcement officers without license-plate readers.

After four months of negotiations brought about no compromise, the SEIU brought their complaint to a fact-finding panel, as allowed under state law. On June 15, the panel recommended that the city not contract out parking enforcement. Mediator Paul D. Roose argued in the opinion that parking enforcement has always been the domain of the city's community-service officers and that the city's decision to contract out the service deviates too much from historic precedent.

"The Employer's proposal, in this instance, tilts too far and too fast in the direction of upending a long-standing practice," Roose wrote. "That practice is that the Union's bargaining unit members in the City of Palo Alto have performed parking enforcement in all of its various aspects. 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."

Because the recommendation is not binding, the union's victory proved largely symbolic. The council swiftly agreed to follow staff's recommendation and approve the Serco contract. According to a staff report, Serco will recruit and train personnel, as well as provide uniforms, badges, identification tags and vehicles.

In discussing the contract, council members kept returning to the same point: It's time to get this program started.

Councilwoman Liz Kniss observed that the city has had "few issues more in contention than downtown parking" and her colleagues agreed that the program should be put in place as soon as possible. Yet both Kniss and Councilman Greg Scharff marveled at the fact that, for all the controversy about the new program, not a single speaker came to Monday's meeting to address the council.

Scharff called the long journey to the parking program "embarrassing" and said he was "disappointed" with the SEIU and its decision to challenge the city on enforcement and to request an opinion from a fact-finding panel. This delayed the implementation of the program by six months, he said.

"To put the city through all that and put the public through all of that -- and yet there's not a single person here from the SEIU," Scharff said. "It's just shocking. And I'm really disappointed that something like this would happen."

Councilman Eric Filseth, a resident of Downtown North, observed that the program has been "a long time coming," while Councilman Marc Berman said it's "vital that we roll out the RPPP as quickly as possible."

Despite all the frustration in getting to the starting line, council members voiced some optimism for the program, which will be implemented in two phases. The first phase will focus on collecting data and will last six months. The second phase will follow immediately and will be based on stakeholder input and refinements based on the collected data. Enforcement is scheduled to begin in September.

"This is really going to be a phenomenal program," Kniss said. "I have high hopes for this and I think the general public has been waiting for this a long time."

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4 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 30, 2015 at 9:31 am

Great decision to source it out and I can't wait for this program to begin. Thank you City Council.

8 people like this
Posted by Gus L.
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 30, 2015 at 11:21 am

So the City Cant do the job and we hire out a private contractor to do it.
If the City cant do the job of managing the City, Maybe we should pay a firm to Manage our City for us.
Has to be better that what we have now...

2 people like this
Posted by Johnny
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 30, 2015 at 11:36 am

And thine coffers shall flow with stolen parking ticket money

12 people like this
Posted by Sandy
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 30, 2015 at 11:43 am

And again the City is using someone from the outside instead of who they have to solve this problem and waste our money yet again. I agree with Gus - let's hire someone to manage the City because they obviously cannot do it on their own. This happened when the City hired the contractor for the library and it cost more than anticipated and took too long. I am tired for paying for their mistakes. When did the City become so flush with cash?

Like this comment
Posted by Downtown Worker
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jun 30, 2015 at 12:05 pm

Finally, a parking program that makes sense! People blame their difficulties parking on the retail workers and Caltrain commuters parking in the neighborhoods - but you can't blame people for doing something that's explicitly legal.

Closing this loophole makes a lot of sense and will hopefully encourage people to start using all the empty parking spots we have in the city garages. There are no oil stains on the top floor of the Cowper garage. Maybe we can get some cars parking there on a regular basis rather than in the neighborhoods nearby.

It's good to see the city allowing retail workers to have lower-priced passes than office workers as well. Office workers can and should pay $500/year or more to park in the garages. But it's unrealistic to expect shift workers to pay $500 upfront to park for a year when they don't drive in every day and they don't even know how long their jobs will last. (Even the current price of $100 for unlimited yearly parking is a lot to pay upfront if you only make $50/day in your four-hour shift.)

4 people like this
Posted by Member
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 30, 2015 at 1:03 pm

Wise residents of downtown will sell their parking spaces. Check out websites from the UK. and Justpark make it easy.

6 people like this
Posted by Kathy
a resident of another community
on Jun 30, 2015 at 6:18 pm

These folks will be the "eyes and ears" of certain parts of our community. Do we really want to outsource this?? City employees have a greater stake in the outcomes (IMHO.

Like this comment
Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 30, 2015 at 7:48 pm

> Do we really want to outsource this?

Yes. This is a trial program, so the people working under the terms of the contract will not be a on the payroll for perpetuity once the trial comes to its conclusion. If it turns out that permanent employees are needed at some point in the future--then the City can take them on at that time.

> City employees have a greater stake in the outcomes

This is really so much bunk. There is no evidence that city workers are interested in much more than higher salaries, more benefits, and less accountability.

7 people like this
Posted by Mark Weiss
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 4, 2015 at 1:27 pm

Serco is actually a $9 B British-based defense contractor with its U.S. headquarters in D.C. and a satellite office in SF. Why do we need a defense contractor enforcing the parking of Downtown North and Professorville? Besides the fact that they were the highest bid, twice their competition. Besides the fact that SEIU said they would do it for nothing. This is $1.5 million given away, for reasons that are anything but obvious. Free helicopter rides for Jim Keene? Helicoper pilot training for Jim Keene? What is it?

2 people like this
Posted by Another spending spree
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 5, 2015 at 12:09 am

Maybe Serco was recommended by Palantir. They are in similar businesses. Palantir contracts for police departments, governments, and the oil industry.

The plan is a total win for the City Manager. He gets to spend $1.5 Million and buys himself some well paid supporters, the city doesn't have to do any work, and the whole thing is postponed till the fall. Total Win.

5 people like this
Posted by Agenda
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 5, 2015 at 6:59 am

The real question should be why are we even bothering with this,program since the vote for this as less than overwhelming, despite what the council and some vocal residents would like you to believe
As noted in this article :
Web Link
The city had to remove votes in order to actually get a slim majority in the n favor of the program.
Democracy in action in palo,alto under the leadership of mayor Holman!!!!!!

3 people like this
Posted by Citizen 7
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 6, 2015 at 1:23 pm

Serco is one of the most corrupt and nefarious companies on the planet.

"G4S and Serco woes deepen with British fraud investigation" Web Link

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