News

Palo Alto expands downtown's parking restrictions

Council agrees to add new residential streets to nascent Residential Preferential Program

With more Palo Alto residents clamoring for parking restrictions that would keep commuters off their neighborhood streets, a conflicted City Council voted early Tuesday morning to expand and revise downtown's nascent parking-permit program.

By a 5-0 vote, with Mayor Pat Burt, Vice Mayor Greg Scharff, Councilwoman Karen Holman and Councilman Marc Berman all recusing from the discussion because of conflicts of interests, the short-handed council debated, agonized over and ultimately approved a proposal from city planners to push the boundaries of the existing parking district to neighborhoods in downtown's periphery. The move is both the expected evolution of the controversial Residential Preferential Program (RPP) that the council approved last September, and a response to those residents for whom the new restrictions have proved to be a curse, rather than a blessing.

Tad Baer, a resident of Lytton Avenue, just east of the parking district, was one of several residents who saw his block's parking situation deteriorate after the RPP made its debut last fall. The program, for the first time, required residents and employees to purchase permits to park on residential streets. Cars without a permit are subject to a two-hour time limit, a restriction intended to get Caltrain commuters and Stanford University students from using the neighborhoods for free all-day parking. To cope with the rule change, some commuters simply began to park in areas of downtown just beyond the parking district.

"Our neighborhood went overnight from a neighborhood to a parking lot," Baer told the council. "It's been difficult for us, the citizens of Palo Alto."

The expansion pushes the district's boundary past Guinda Street to include the western section of Crescent Park. With the change, the district now includes 12 blocks where residents have petitioned to be annexed into the district: 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; and the 400, 500 and 600 blocks of Seneca Street.

It also includes nearby blocks where the problem is expected to spread if a time limit were not implemented. While the parking restrictions would not take effect on the latter blocks, residents who live in these areas would be eligible to apply for annexation to the downtown district.

The change pushes the eastern edge of the district from Guinda to Hale Street and the intersection of Lincoln and Forest avenues. The district will also be expanded south, from its current boundary of Lincoln (east of Bryant Street) to Embarcadero Road.

The council was conflicted in more ways than one. With five council members having property interests within the expanded zone (or, in the case of Mayor Pat Burt, just outside the zone), and only four eligible to participate (one short of a quorum), the council had to draw a name out of a hat to see which of the conflicted colleagues will be allowed to join the discussion. That honor fell to Councilman Eric Filseth, a Downtown North resident well familiar with the neighborhood's parking frustrations.

The council also struggled to decide whether to move ahead with the staff plan or to support an alternate proposal from Crescent Park residents looking for a parking program more akin to the one in College Terrace. In that program, permits are only sold to residents. After a debate that stretched past 12:30 a.m. Tuesday, the council ultimately went along with the staff recommendation, though council members made several concessions to critics of the proposal.

Councilman Tom DuBois proposed not selling any permits to employees in the newly annexed areas until staff has a better sense of how the employees are using their permits. While regular employee permits would be limited to 2,000 in the second phase of the program, workers would also be able to purchase hangtag and daily permits that can be swapped among cars. DuBois' proposal, which the council ultimately accepted, calls for staff to come back with a plan for metering these permits and distributing them throughout the downtown area.

"I feel we haven't look at this in terms of, 'What are the easy loopholes?'" DuBois said. "We know there are businesses being run out of homes, hotels run out of homes. This permit process seems like a good opportunity to moderate this stuff."

DuBois also added a provision requiring staff to reduce the number of permits sold to employees by 10 percent (or 200 permits) every year, with the goal of selling none by 2026. Staff had originally proposed this reduction, though the council had rejected it in December.

This time, the five participating council members – DuBois, Filseth, Liz Kniss, Greg Schmid and Cory Wolbach – all agreed to re-insert it into the ordinance.

The council largely agreed with Filseth's position that the purpose of the parking-permit program is, above all, neighborhood protection.

"It's about the piece of the Comprehensive Plan that says we're going to protect neighborhoods from impacts of commercial vehicles," Filseth said. "The solution for transportation is the TMA (transportation management association, a new nonprofit aimed at reducing car trips) and potential parking garages, but RPP has to be about protecting the quality of neighborhoods."

Norm Beamer, president of the Crescent Park Neighborhood Association, made his case that the best way to protect the quality of the Crescent Park neighborhood is to simply not sell parking permits to employees.

Those blocks that are petitioning to get into the district are not doing so because they like the new system, Beamer said, but because they have been presented with a "fait accompli" and a difficult choice: Buy a permit or be inundated with cars.

"Please don't think these petitioners are cheerfully agreeing to convert their blocks into parking lots for downtown offices. Now you can provide them with that option," he said.

The council, however, decided to go along with the staff proposal. Unlike in the current program, however, the employee permits would be distributed throughout downtown by zones – a move intended to keep commuter vehicles from clustering around downtown's commercial core. Now, each permit would specify the zone in which the driver is allowed to park.

The council approved the proposal, even as members acknowledged that as soon as the annexation occurs, the problem will only continue to spread to the blocks that will remain without parking restrictions.

"It is moving just like a flight of birds," Kniss said of the parking problem. "When you tell them they can't (park) here, they just go further. They go further east or further south. I don't see this resolving the problem whatsoever."

Yet council members also acknowledged that they need to honor the residents' petitions. Wolbach noted that the residents of the blocks seeking annexation have made it clear that "they don't like what they see and are asking us for a redress of grievances."

"I am reluctant to further delay granting that redress of grievance to those streets," Wolbach said.

Comments

27 people like this
Posted by Disgusted
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 2, 2016 at 10:13 am

The expansion of commercial parking into previously unimpacted neighborhoods is illegal under state law. Even Cara Silver, the city's own attorney, acknowledged that last night by claiming that it was legal to have the program in areas already impacted -- but she forgot (??) to point out it wasn't legal in other areas, like Crescent Park and many streets south of Downtown. Why the Council even bothers to waste time and money on an illegal plan shows how low our city government has fallen.


16 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 2, 2016 at 10:27 am

Logic tells me that if you remove the parking from one area, it will make traffic park somewhere else.

Unless parking is improved then this is moving deckchairs on the Titanic.

Where will the cars go? Unless we put some decent parking somewhere with efficient dedicated shuttles, these cars will just move around and around with bikes and skateboards to take the drivers where they need to go.


9 people like this
Posted by Allen Akin
a resident of Professorville
on Feb 2, 2016 at 11:06 am

@Disgusted: I don't know if it's "illegal", but it seems likely to me that there are grounds for a challenge based on CEQA.

And for what it's worth, there may also be grounds for challenges from the original RPP areas. Traffic on my corner has gone up by slightly more than 10% per year recently, and two years ago it exceeded the levels required by the old "neighborhood traffic calming" ordinance. Any further building projects downtown that increase commute traffic seem ripe for CEQA review.


9 people like this
Posted by Carol Gilbert
a resident of University South
on Feb 2, 2016 at 11:40 am

Since the permit plan, our block of Byron is solidly parked ALL DAY. It never was before. There was always some movement of spaces and sometimes and open space. That doesn't happen any more. It is a parking lot. Restore our parking to what it was before and work out a better plan, please.


17 people like this
Posted by Misha
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 2, 2016 at 11:42 am

Parking has become such a nightmare that I now avoid going Downtown and head instead to Castro Street in Mountain View to dine. It is a shame for the consumer and local businesses when we cannot shop and dine Downtown because there is no place to park. Not everyone can bike around, especially late at night in the dark and now with the rain.


16 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 2, 2016 at 12:07 pm

"Restore our parking to what it was before and work out a better plan, please."

Like, dump it back on my neighborhood? Uh-uh. Why do you think you should be so privileged?

The RPPP works. You should welcome it.


6 people like this
Posted by Jim H
a resident of Community Center
on Feb 2, 2016 at 1:00 pm

How about providing low cost citywide (no zones) flat price permit decals to every Palo Altan that applies for one. Then Palo Altans can park anywhere without dealing with meters or worrying about zones.

Then have block and garage metering where one can pay by credit card or Apple Pay etc. that would be required for both streets and parking lots.

The metered pay could cost more in areas close to city center and less further out.
The city could tinker with pricing. City parking lots could have a cheaper rate to help fill them instead of streets. City lots could have dynamic spot vacancy signs to show available spots on each floor so that folks could see where to head in the garage for more spaces.

Furthermore, metering pricing could be dynamic like in San Francisco to reflect parking demand.

This system would be cheaper to implement and enforce as any zone differential would be automatically determined by the local smart meter machines.


4 people like this
Posted by Whatever the man
a resident of Professorville
on Feb 2, 2016 at 3:47 pm

Force it, tax them, repeat. Meanwhile our infrastructure is eroding. I find it ironic that this is touted as such a quality of life issue when most RPP streets are areas of continuously broken city promises. Our sidewalks are terrible (try a wheelchair for 30 minutes), streets cracked, curbs falling into the street, storm drains incorrectly sized, utility poles unmaintained, electrical infrastructure delivering continuos under voltage, etc.

At some point people seem to think the city will just do what they want regardless of the sense, legality, or promises made. Eventually somebody spends the money on an attorney and gets their way, often at the expense of our money for a fight we never wanted. At that point most people give up. Meanwhile everything maintained by the city in these areas is falling apart.

I have already witnessed fraud and retribution by Servo employees in RPP citations. This is another waste of time and taxes to distract people from the real problems.

Take away all the cars and our neighborhoods are still falling apart.

Make it free and for residents to park in front of their own homes and see how the interest in the program dwindles as nobody lines their pockets with our hard earned money anymore.

The first shift of traffic created blocks of hazardous intersection controls that were never addressed before this deck hair shuffle. Who do you think pays for the settlement when a child is killed in an avoidable accident if due diligence and a real EIR were performed? Lives are not replaceable.

Please enhance visibility and control intersections in the next domino area before somebody dies.

Thanks for today's apathy


15 people like this
Posted by Joe M
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 2, 2016 at 4:16 pm

This to some extent is the comeuppance of the city's long-standing policy of letting builders pay a fee rather than provide parking sufficient to accommodate their tenants, employees and customers. The city is way short of the parking spaces needed for business and commerce. Caltrain, SamTrans and VTA are seeing expanded ridership and yet the downtown transit hub has little more surface parking than 40 years ago. Stanford has grown mightily over the decades and provides its marguerite buses, but I am sure more cars are parked downtown to use that service as well. We are way short of the parking and transit facilities that we need, so it spills over into our neighborhoods.


5 people like this
Posted by member
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 2, 2016 at 4:25 pm

I live on one of the now-included blocks, apparently included based on block residents' petitions.

No one asked me whether or not I'd like to join any petition...


3 people like this
Posted by Joe M
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 2, 2016 at 4:30 pm

As for Jim H's comments about smart parking garages, Palo Alto should check out the system Barcelona and other cities have implemented where the location and status of all parking spots can be seen from one's cell phone, saving fuel and time. Parking fees are automatic, tll.


3 people like this
Posted by Allen Akin
a resident of Professorville
on Feb 2, 2016 at 4:58 pm

@member: Someone mentioned this back in December, so I asked City Staff about it. If you're in one of the blocks that was included by petition, that happened because a sufficient majority of residents on the block signed a petition. I suppose it's possible that no one contacted you because the majority requirement was already met (though that would have been impolite at best). If you're in one of the blocks that's simply "eligible", which is most of the expansion area, you're not included until a petition with a sufficient majority is received and Planning approves it. It's possible you're in an eligible area but no one has started a petition. I forget what the majority requirement is, though I remember seeing it in the Staff Report for yesterday's Council meeting, so you could find it there. People outside the eligibility areas not only need to file a petition, they have to get approval from Council (rather than Planning) to be included.


3 people like this
Posted by 700's Lincoln
a resident of Community Center
on Feb 2, 2016 at 5:23 pm

No! Leave us out of this. We have had no problems. Just enforce what is already there.


2 people like this
Posted by STeve
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 2, 2016 at 9:20 pm

If day-time employees can park and conveniently walk to work, the boundaries of this program are too close to University Ave. Moving the boundaries 10, 12, or even 15 blocks in any direction would be a place to start, but even that might not be adequate. Pushing the problem onto the streets just outside the zone is not right either. This only works of no one thinks they are gaming the system by parking outside the boundary, at the expense of a long walk to work.


5 people like this
Posted by Lisa Pickel
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 3, 2016 at 7:19 am

Question:
If I am included in these "new & improved" parking areas, does that mean I need to pay for a permit for the luxury of parking in front of my own house, and if so, how much will it cost homeowners that already pays the city taxes? Does anyone know the additional impact to the homeowners caught in this new parking web? Am I allowed 1 car, 2, 3, to park or none? If a friend stays overnight, do I need to send them down the street to park now? Just trying to figure out how this new rule will impact us? When I come home from work, will I see a parking ticket on my windshield because I didn't pay for a permit? Just wondering what the other impacts are for being in the "Special" parking zone? Thanks for any imput.


7 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 3, 2016 at 8:23 am

Lisa raises some good questions above.

I feel for these homeowners who are being pushed into a very complicated system they don't want.

In my neighborhood we are not impacted by downtown or business parking, but I have seen parking impacts on neighboring streets by the building of townhomes with inadequate parking and also by weekend or evening events at local schools and parks. In my street we have several neighbors who tend to have large parties that involve attendees taking up lots of street parking. However, these events are not life altering problems. As a family we use our driveway for parking but we do occasionally have guests and others who need to park on our streets, sometimes overnight. It is reasonable for us to understand that we share the street parking with others.

I also attend various church activities and PTA meetings in people's homes which can bring half a dozen or so cars parking on the streets, sometimes this is weekday hours. It is reasonable for a home to be able to have daytime visitors who need to park for a few hours.

I really think that it is time to get those who need to park for work into parking lots designed for them. We need to have them working in town doing the work that they do. We need them to be able to park somewhere that meets their needs at reasonable rates without impacting neighborhoods. For this reason we do need dedicated parking out of town with dedicated shuttles.

I think this should be looked at as a similar vein to say SFO. Many people work in SFO, but they do not take up all the parking for those travelers or for those meeting travelers. They have dedicated employee parking lots with employee shuttles. Employee parking does not affect the rest of us using the airport. The same should occur in Palo Alto.


3 people like this
Posted by Jim H
a resident of Community Center
on Feb 3, 2016 at 9:46 am

I think the whole idea of multiple zones requiring a permit that keeps expanding isn't a solution the the real problem. Non residents, either workers, students, or commuters are taking up more parking than is available. Of course they try to park close to town. None of this solves the problem of insufficient parking.

Instead,

1. Sell low cost citywide resident permits to park anywhere in Palo Alto. This helps people in downtown North because the excess cars there are not coming from other people that live in Palo Alto and it allows all of us park wherever we want with no hassle.

2. Use smart metering for streets and garages for non residents.

3. Use all of the money made from metering to build new garages or alternative means to mitigate this resource imbalance.


6 people like this
Posted by Bob
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 3, 2016 at 10:05 am

First, the city's studies show that it is not the office workers that are dominating the parking in the neighborhoods, it is the service workers--those who work differing shifts and within the lowest wage brackets. These workers can not afford the permits and their employers can't either, after all running a small business or restaurant is expensive as it is, the added burden of paying for permits is unreasonable.

There are three questions that need to be asked.

1.) The first is obvious: "where are employees supposed to park?
2.) Where are employees supposed to park when the city won;t allow them to even purchase permits in the years to come?
3.) How many cars per household are residents parking on their own streets? (On my own street for example, many residents have two adult cars and two of their kids cars and no one is using their driveways or garages.)


6 people like this
Posted by Bob
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 3, 2016 at 10:05 am

First, the city's studies show that it is not the office workers that are dominating the parking in the neighborhoods, it is the service workers--those who work differing shifts and within the lowest wage brackets. These workers can not afford the permits and their employers can't either, after all running a small business or restaurant is expensive as it is, the added burden of paying for permits is unreasonable.

There are three questions that need to be asked.

1.) The first is obvious: "where are employees supposed to park?
2.) Where are employees supposed to park when the city won;t allow them to even purchase permits in the years to come?
3.) How many cars per household are residents parking on their own streets? (On my own street for example, many residents have two adult cars and two of their kids cars and no one is using their driveways or garages.)


4 people like this
Posted by Deborah
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 3, 2016 at 12:25 pm

How about a plan where the close in parking lots are made much more expensive with alot and dedicated service vans for those that don't want to pay. Since builders pay a fee for not having enough parking, those fees could be used to subsidize the vans.
This plan would also cut down on traffic. It would also be great if bike share was expanded to various areas, such as the Baylands, for ones who would like to bike.
Expanding and continuing to patch the problem is a ridiculous solution, nor does it help with traffic.


4 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 3, 2016 at 1:31 pm

We just spent $XX,XXX to expand our driveway because of the city's nonsense about whether or not they were AGAIN going to ban parking on our street. They ultimately decided not to but you can be sure they'll be back with the same proposal which has been repeatedly rejected.

It would be truly wonderful if the City talked to the Schools and the Business Community about coming up with a UNIFIED plan for parking and for traffic congestion. If the shuttle buses don't match the school schedules, then maybe you could coordinate them??

I'd like to see a cost comparison for how much the school district "saved" by eliminating school buses vs how much the city spent on 20 years of city traffic "planning" to reduce traffic congestion.

Is it too much to ask for the various govt. entities to work together to find good solutions TOGETHER?


3 people like this
Posted by Patrick
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Feb 3, 2016 at 6:49 pm

Once you get some new system where you need a sticker to park for more than two hours, then you just create an inconvenience for people visiting your home.

Someone referenced developers and their lack of parking with associated new building development. I think that's where the problem gets solved. I know in our neighborhood people park and walk the 100 yards to work as their El Camino employers don't let them use their lots as they don't want to inconvenience their customers.

Is it annoying? Yes. But what will be more annoying is the first time family or friends come to visit and get a ticket for parking more than two hours.


1 person likes this
Posted by No Parking here
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Feb 3, 2016 at 8:07 pm

Could the Weekly please provide a map of the changes. Thank you.


12 people like this
Posted by OMV Resident
a resident of Mountain View
on Feb 4, 2016 at 12:47 pm

All the comments on this message board about a scarcity of parking downtown for businesses, restaurants, the train station, etc. are pointless until the city starts to charge for public parking (more than just the employee permits you can get now). Parking is a scarce resource, so by offering it for free, you're encouraging over-consumption and scarcity of that resource. Set the price right and provide flexible and convenient options for paying, like Redwood City has done, and the problem will immediately lessen.

And by the way, I actively advocate for Mountain View to do the same along/near Castro Street.


3 people like this
Posted by Kevin Ohlson
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 4, 2016 at 5:00 pm

We have a wonderful economic problem - people want to come to downtown and spend money. If you work in one of these places, think of what you would do to get to work. Probably not use public transportation (takes too long) and probably not pay for parking (can't afford it, or don't want to). Until using public transportation is faster than using your car to get close (and walk or bike the remaining distance), I don't see how this is a viable solution. CC and business have made this clear with recent actions - we think we can push this into the neighborhoods. I think it's up to the people with the most to lose to solve this -- CC and landlords. CC has the most to lose because voters can pressure them, and because CC like the sales tax revenues to fund the budget. Landlords have the most to lose because if businesses can't hire workers, or if people can't get downtown to shop, then direct or indirect revenue suffers. Most Affected, please meet Most to Lose. Discuss. Vote and act accordingly.


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

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