Downtown Palo Alto's nascent parking-permit program is about to undergo another transformation, with the latest changes aimed at reducing congestion near the commercial core and ultimately getting commuters' vehicles completely out of residential neighborhoods.
The changes, which were proposed by Councilman Tom DuBois at the Feb. 1 meeting and unanimously approved 5-0 by the council (with Councilman Marc Berman, Mayor Pat Burt, Councilwoman Karen Holman and Vice Mayor Greg Scharff recusing because of property interests in and near downtown) would gradually phase out the number of permits that the city would sell to downtown employees. The Residential Preferential Parking (RPP) program, which launched last fall, currently doesn't have a cap for permits, which are only sold to downtown residents and workers.
Starting in April, there would be a 2,000 cap on employee permits -- a number that would go down by about 10 percent every year thereafter. At that rate, there will be no employee permits sold after 2026.
The council is scheduled to consider the revisions on Feb. 23.
The proposal to reduce the number of permits for employees was part of the initial proposal for Phase 2 of the parking program, though it was subsequently scrapped after by the City Council last December. The idea was to see whether the city's new Transportation Management Association (TMA), a nonprofit charged with reducing the number of solo commuters by providing incentives for them to use other modes of transportation, will succeed in reducing car traffic, thus obviating the need for the hard cap.
But with residents of Crescent Park increasingly complaining about the parking congestion spilling over into their neighborhood, as commuters simply shift to areas beyond the parking district's border (which, unlike the blocks within the border, does not have a two-hour limit on cars without permits), the short-handed council decided to make another pivot and revive the employee limit.
The move still falls short of the type of parking program that Crescent Park residents were demanding: a program more akin to the one at College Terrace, where permit as limited to residents.
Norm Beamer, president of the Crescent Park Neighborhood Association, beseeched the council earlier this month to create a similar program in his neighborhood.
"We traditionally have never had this problem," Beamer said, referring to the influx of commuter vehicles. "So, you're pushing the problem into our neighborhood."
Many residents expect the parking problems to spread further away from downtown next spring, when the city expands the parking district by adding 12 blocks to the permit area (blocks where residents petitioned to join the district) and creates new "eligibility" areas where parking spillover is expected to occur once the annexation takes place.
Residents who live in the two newly eligible areas (one runs east of Guinda Street to Hale Street and Forest Avenue; another includes the area between Lincoln Avenue and Embarcadero Road) will be able to easily join the district in the future, without the need for further council reviews.
The council agreed that one of the goals of the program is to protect residential neighborhoods just outside the downtown core from commuter intrusion. As part of the revised plan, staff is proposing to divvy up the downtown area into 10 zones and make employee permits zone-specific. And as the number of employee permits drops in the years ahead, it will be the outermost zones (in Crescent Park and just north of Embarcadero) that will see reductions first, according to a new report from the Department of Planning and Community Environment.
"Reducing the sale of permits in the outer zones alleviates commercial parking intrusion from areas more removed from the Downtown first, encouraging a more natural distribution of parking," the report states.
Other changes in the parking program include new policies regulating the daily "scratcher" permits, which are currently not capped. The limitation, according to staff, "supports the use of other transportation options while providing opportunity to employees to drive occasionally."
Employees will also be able to buy one five-day scratcher permit, which will allow them to park in the downtown permit district up to five times a month. These permits will be zone-specific to ensure the distribution of cars throughout downtown. However, they will not be sold for the newly annexed areas.