A proposal to cut the number of parking permits sold to downtown employees as part a new parking-permit program is facing opposition from Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce, which on Friday issued a statement strongly urging the City Council to reverse course.
The proposal, which the City Council tentatively approved earlier this month and plans to formally adopt on Feb. 23, calls for limiting the number of permits sold to downtown employees. Two thousand worker permits would be sold this year, and about 200 fewer would be sold every year thereafter. At that pace, the city would stop selling permits to employees altogether by 2026.
The change would take effect in April, when the second phase of what's known as the Residential Preferential Parking Program officially launches. The program launched in September, requiring permits for all-day parking in downtown's residential neighborhoods and establishing two-hour limits for cars that don't have permits. Only residents and downtown employees are able to purchase permits.
The decision to limit permit sales to employees was triggered by concerns from Crescent Park and other neighborhoods just beyond downtown's periphery. At the Feb. 1 council meeting, several residents called for the council to establish in Crescent Park a parking program that would allow permits to be sold only to residents. Though the council did not adopt this suggestion, members agreed to gradually phase out employee permits.
By a 5-0, with Marc Berman, Pat Burt, Karen Holman and Greg Scharff recusing themselves, the council also agreed not to sell any employee permits at this time for parking in sections of Crescent Park and Professorville that will be annexed as part of the second phase of the parking program.
Now, these changes are facing a backlash from the city's largest business group. In a letter approved by the Chamber of Commerce board of directors and signed by Chamber CEO Judy Kleinberg, the group is asking the council to reconsider these changes, which it claims are premature.
The letter notes that the Chamber had supported the first phase of the Residential Preferential Parking Program with the understanding that the program would produce important data that would show how well the program is working and that would be used to design later phases. The new changes, the Chamber argues, are not based on such data.
City officials are hoping that many employees who currently drive will ultimately find other means of getting downtown. The city recently jump-started a downtown Transportation Management Association, a nonprofit charged with providing incentives for employees to carpool, take Caltrain and rely on other modes of transit to get to work. Palo Alto is also looking to expand the city's tiny shuttle program by adding more routes and buses, though these changes won't be in place until the city completes a strategic plan for the shuttle program.
The Chamber's letter argues that until these measures are in place and employees have other options to get to work, phasing out permits is premature.
"Alternatives such as trip reduction and new garage construction will take years to come to fruition," the letter states. "In the meantime, we will be reducing an already inadequate supply by 200 spaces per year. Without the alternatives in place, it is premature to do away with the only program that attempts to meet both the needs of downtown residents and the still unmet parking needs of downtown employees.
The Chamber's letter requests that the council not make any changes to the parking program at this time, "until the alternatives to downtown street parking are more than a commitment but actually implemented. Only then will we be able to analyze how these solutions work together to mitigate the parking congestion in our downtown neighborhoods while supporting the workforce that drives downtown prosperity."
The statement from the Chamber pits the business community against downtown residents clamoring for relief from commuters' vehicles. At the Feb. 1 meeting, Norm Beamer, president of the Crescent Park Neighborhood Association, asked the council for a "resident only" permit program in Crescent Park.
And Neilson Buchanan, a Downtown North resident who was part of a stakeholder group that designed the first phase of the program, told the council that the "galloping annexation" of new neighborhoods into the parking program, without restricting employee permits, is the wrong way to go.
"Absolutely reduce the amount of spaces allocated to non-residents," Buchanan said. "Slowly reduce the neighborhoods from parking lots to neighborhoods."
The council will consider changes to the parking program at a special 3 p.m. meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 23, at City Hall, 250 Hamilton Ave.