A proposal to expand downtown Palo Alto's permit-parking zone is proving to be a tough sell in Crescent Park, with neighborhood leaders coming out against a program that they say will only worsen congestion near their doorsteps.
The plan, which the City Council is scheduled to consider Monday night, would annex 12 blocks into downtown's Residential Preferential Parking (RPP) district, which was established last September in response to years of complaints about the area's parking problem. Parking for cars without permits in the district is now limited to two hours during the weekdays. Because permits are only issued to residents and downtown employee, the scheme prevents Caltrain commuters and Stanford University faculty and students from using residential blocks as their free all-day parking lots.
But while the pilot program has alleviated congestion in some of the most impacted blocks of Downtown North and Professorville, it also worsened congestion in areas just outside of the permit area, which was bounded in the first phase of the program by Palo Alto Avenue in the north, Embarcadero Road in the south (east of Bryant Street, the southern boundary was Lincoln Avenue,), Alma Street in the west and Guinda Street in the east. The new proposal, which was prompted by resident petitions, would expand the zone further south and east.
The zone would now include the 1100, 1200 and 1300 blocks of Waverley Street; the 800 block of Forest Avenue; the 800 and 900 blocks of Hamilton Avenue; the 300 block of Kingsley Avenue; the 500 block of Lincoln Avenue; the 800 block of Lytton Avenue; and the 400, 500 and 600 blocks of Seneca Street.
The council already endorsed the annexation scheme last December, when it considered the proposals for the program's next phase. It also approved a proposal by staff to limit the number of permits sold to employees to 2,000, and to disperse these permits into 10 "microzones" throughout the area to make sure downtown's commercial core doesn't bear more than its fair share of commuter vehicles.
At the council's Dec. 14 meeting, several residents from the blocks just outside of the boundary testified about the worsening situation on their streets, as commuters simply shifted to the peripheral blocks to avoid paying for the new permits.
Perry Irvine, a resident of the 1100 block of Waverley, said that from the day the new parking program took effect, "the parking in front of our house and entire block going well into the next block has been completely impacted."
"Anybody coming to visit us simply has no place to park unless they park in our driveway," Irvine told the council.
Now, some Crescent Park residents are concerned that the same thing will happen to them once the annexation takes place. Rather than expand the existing program, the city should grant them a parking program similar to what is in place in College Terrace, they maintain. That program restricts permits to residents and includes time limits for anyone else.
John Guislin, who represented Crescent Park at the stakeholders group that helped design the initial program, argued in a letter to the City Council that the proposed annexation to the program would be inconsistent with the city's Comprehensive Plan, which has a policy committing the city to "protect residential areas from the parking impacts of nearby business districts."
"To describe codifying the intrusion of commercial parking into residential neighborhoods and the expansion of an RPP district into residential areas that had no prior intrusion from commercial parking reveals a stunning lack of appreciation for the concerns of residents and a willful denial of reality," Guislin wrote. "Staff has turned approximately a square mile of residential neighborhoods into the largest commercial parking lot on the Peninsula."
Norm Beamer, president of the Crescent Park Neighborhood Association, made a similar argument in a letter to the council. Writing on behalf of the association's steering committee, Beamer wrote that he objects "in the strongest possible terms" to the proposed annexation of several Crescent Park blocks into the district. The change, he wrote, would "result in an unwanted influx of non-resident parking for the first time in the over one-hundred year history of the neighborhood." He also urged that the council allow impacted Crescent Park blocks to have a College Terrace-style program.
"We all knew that as soon as the RPP enforcement for Phase I went into effect, the non-resident parking problem would immediately spread outwards and impact areas of Crescent Park for the first time," Beamer wrote. "It is totally unfair and unacceptable for the city to convert our neighborhood into a parking lot for the downtown office workers.
"The city for years has allowed developers to build new office space, and allowed companies to convert retail space into crowded warrens for dot-com startups, without requiring adequate downtown parking. Up until now, this has not affected our neighborhood. But this new proposal will suddenly allocate a substantial number of non-resident parking permits to our blocks," he wrote.
Now, it will be up to the council to decide whether to stay the course and approve $158,329 in contracts to make the second phase possible or to go back to the drawing board. If the council moves ahead with the staff proposal, the program would begin in late March.
The decision will have to be made by a short-handed council with at least one member participating despite a conflict of interest. Of the nine council members, five have property interests within the expanded zone (or, in the case of Mayor Pat Burt, just outside the zone). With only four able to avoid a conflict of interest, the council will have to draw a name to allow the fifth member to participate so that it would have a quorum.