Editorial: A parking Rubik's Cube

Solving downtown neighborhood parking problem requires patience, also in short supply

Just how far will downtown Palo Alto employees venture into surrounding neighborhoods in order to park free during the day? Five blocks? Eight? Ten?

And what happens if the supply of parking within the downtown area simply isn't able to meet the demand?

Those are among the many unanswered questions as the city is set to enter the second phase of a residential parking-permit system that feels to some residents like a game of Whac-A-Mole.

Since it was launched last September, residents who live in the downtown core have seen considerable relief from the daily inundation of drivers who used to park on residential streets to avoid buying permits for city garages or moving their cars every two hours to different color zones.

In a multi-pronged program approved after years of study, debate and compromise, the large area bounded roughly by San Francisquito Creek, Alma Street, Embarcadero Road, Lincoln Avenue and Guinda Street was limited last fall to two-hour parking unless cars displayed either a permit issued to residents of the area (first one free, up to three more for $50 each for a year) or one sold to downtown employers or employees for $466 ($100 for low income workers).

Not unexpectedly, as a result of the new program, streets just outside the regulated perimeter became severely impacted by employees willing to walk a few more blocks in order to park for free, and residents who had previously been largely unaffected by the downtown parking mess suddenly found themselves suffering the same fate as those who had advocated for years for a residential permit system.

Now, residents of those newly affected areas understandably want relief from a problem created by the solution developed for the originally impacted neighborhoods. This was entirely predictable and a part of learning that can only occur by trial and error.

Next Tuesday, at an unusual 3 p.m. City Council meeting devoted only to this topic, the four council members without conflicts of interest (because they don't own property in the affected area) plus one conflicted member, downtown resident Eric Filseth, whose name was drawn from a hat in order to create a required quorum of the council, will decide on important tweaks to the program aimed at addressing some of the early negative consequences. (Also conflicted and unable to participate is City Manager Jim Keene, who lives in the impacted area.)

Those living in Crescent Park, just outside the current boundaries, would like a simple outright prohibition on all-day non-resident parking, similar to what has existed for years in the College Terrace neighborhood. But after a long discussion on Feb. 1, the five participating members of the council voted instead to approve the staff's recommendation that the current permit program be expanded by several blocks, essentially trying to find the point at which employees consider it too inconvenient and far from their workplace to pursue free parking.

Next Tuesday, this change will be up for final approval, along with two other key modifications: Creating 10 "micro-zones" within the residential permit area so that employee permits are issued for a specific zone in order to spread out the employee parking more evenly, and establishing a declining cap on the number of employee permits that will be issued annually.

Equally critical as these changes, however, is continued attention to how efficiently employee permit parking is working in city garages so that there is full utilization of exisiing parking in the commercial district. As Filseth said in early February, the residential parking program is about protecting the quality of neighborhoods, not solving the parking problem. For that, he and his colleagues agreed, the city must fulfill its commitment to managing employee parking within the confines of the core downtown and not simply spread it out over residential neighborhoods.

After years of avoidance and neglect, the city staff and council have worked hard on developing a comprehensive strategy for protecting neighborhoods, creating more parking in the commercial core of downtown, implementing valet parking and technology aids for locating available parking and getting more employees to use public transportation.

Most of these are in progress but some will take years (as in the case of building a new garage), and no one should be discouraged or surprised by the early challenges of addressing the neighborhood parking piece of the puzzle.

While we worry about the added complexity of establishing 10 zones in neighborhoods surrounding downtown and a complicated daily permit option to supplement the annual permits, the mindset now should be one of experimentation and remaining nimble and flexible. Like a Rubik's Cube, it may take a lot of painful trial and error to get to the ultimate solution.

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17 people like this
Posted by Marc
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 19, 2016 at 8:55 am

Let me offer a possible short term solution.

Have ALL city employees that work downtown including the police, city management, library and planning department park at the city services lot on west bayshore. Have the city shuttle ALL the city employees to their offices. Since there are known fixed begin and end times and only two locations to shuttle between this should be a simple task.

This will free up a lot of parking spaces in the city hall garage, make them available at a very discounted/free rate to employees that work downtown. You can even link the cost the the employee's income. Under a certain amount, parking is free.

This will relieve some of the parking burden on the neighborhoods and give the city first hand knowledge of the issues associated with remote parking and shuttles.

If city workers need to get around, they can use BikeShare.


1 person likes this
Posted by mutti
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 19, 2016 at 10:58 am

People driving in from Morgan Hill or Modesto will park anywhere. They can park down by Mitchell Park and take the 35 bus up Middlefield. Maybe open some outlying lots (Golf Course?? Duck Pond??) and let the free city shuttle buses ferry people to downtown. How much parking or free transit passes does Palintir offer for its employees.

3 people like this
Posted by Downtown Worker
a resident of Menlo Park
on Feb 19, 2016 at 11:56 am

@mutti - All the big tech companies (Palantir, SurveyMonkey, RelateIQ, A9) offer the choice of free garage parking passes or free Caltrain GoPass to their workers. Also (maybe because of the free transit passes) only about a third of their workers drive according to the city's commute study.

Like this comment
Posted by Guy_Fawkes
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 19, 2016 at 4:29 pm

Guy_Fawkes is a registered user.

Simplicity is good.

What do other cities do?

1 person likes this
Posted by Marc
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 19, 2016 at 4:35 pm

@DW I believe one of the recent surveys found that most of the employees parking in neighborhoods were not from big companies (Palantir, SurveyMonkey, RelateIQ, A9) that offered transportation benefits but all the other businesses (Whole Foods, all the restaurants, shops, etc) that DO NOT offer any transportation benefits.

Lots of people only focus on the hi-tech and forget all the other people that work downtown. Those are the people that public transit ignores and they have to use cars.


Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 19, 2016 at 5:07 pm

My suspicion is that if these lower income workers are unable to get parking at a reasonable price within walking distance of their jobs, that many of them will decide to quit.

I think this, plus the increases in the minimum wage are going to hit retail and restaurants in downtown.

Get some serious parking sorted, no more parking difficulties.

Like this comment
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 19, 2016 at 5:54 pm

Build new parking garages at Hamilton/Waverley & 400 block High to Emerson, and pay for them with a special pro-rata tax on the businesses that generate employee auto trips.

Alternative: Use the airport runway for parking on weekdays between 6:30 AM and 11:00 PM. Allow airplane use other hours.

Like this comment
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 19, 2016 at 5:56 pm

"Also (maybe because of the free transit passes) only about a third of their workers drive according to the city's commute study."

How many drivers is that?

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

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