Downtown Palo Alto's shifting parking landscape will undergo another tremor on April 1, when the new phase of the city's Residential Preferential Parking (RPP) program takes effect, bringing with it new parking restrictions for both residents and employees.
For residents, the biggest impacts will be felt in the newly annexed sections of Crescent Park and Professorville. A dozen blocks in these two neighborhoods will now face the same type of restrictions that kicked in last September in downtown's other residential areas: a two-hour limit on all cars that park on residential streets without permits.
Those blocks that are located in the annexed zones but that haven't requested to join the district will not see the restriction just yet. They will, however, be eligible to join by submitting a petition and receiving an approval from the director of Planning and Community Environment.
For employees, the second phase of the program will usher in the era of distribution. Unlike in the first phase, employee vehicles will now be assigned to one of 10 zones, with the goal of keeping cars from saturating those coveted blocks right next to downtown's commercial core.
The new phase also means that all existing permits expire on March 31. All cars parking on residential downtown streets for more than two hours after that date will need new permits to avoid citations. Permits for Phase 2 can now be purchased here.
To prepare for these changes, about 70 downtown residents attended a public hearing on the new parking program that the city hosted Tuesday night at the Downtown Library. Sue-Ellen Atkinson, the city's parking and transportation-demand management lead, went over the changes and answered questions about parking zones, decal sizes, enforcement tactics and the permit-purchasing process.
Another session, geared toward employees, is scheduled for 9 a.m. on March 16 at City Hall.
The goal of the RPP program is to solve a problem that has been frustrating residents and befuddling the City Council for the past decade: the daily transformation of residential streets into commuter parking lots. Last month, a short-handed City Council voted 5-0 (four members were recused because they own property within or near the permit zone) to support the proposed changes.
So far, the program has been seen as a limited success. Residents whose blocks had been fully congested for years suddenly started seeing open parking spots outside their homes. A few thanked the council for the "miracle."
Yet the relief has been uneven. Some downtown blocks remain saturated a problem that the new zoning system is expected to solve. More troublingly, the creation of the permit district has pushed some commuters to simply park their cars just beyond the district's border, to a section of Crescent Park that up to that point didn't experience the spillover parking.
To address that problem, the permit program will now spread to the 12 new blocks that had recently petitioned to join: 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.
Next month, new signs will go up on these blocks, Atkinson said. This week, staff has been doing field work in Crescent Park and marking areas where the signs will be installed with white rectangles.
"Once the signs are up on the annexed streets, those are the places where people will be able to park with permits," Atkinson told the residents Tuesday.
In many respects, the second phase of the program will be much like the first. Each household will still be allowed to get one free permit, with an option of buying up to three more for $50 each. Each household will also be able to buy up to two hangtag permits, which could be transferred between vehicles and would thus be particularly suitable for caretakers, babysitters and other frequent household visitors. Residents will also be able to buy up to 50 daily permits annually for visitors for $5 each.
Employee rates will once again come in two tiers, with low-income workers charged $100 for the annual permit and other employees charged $466. Each employee permit will be limited to one of the 10 new zones. Employers would also be able to purchase hangtag permits, which would be transferable among employees (like the regular permits, these would be zone-specific).
Employees, meanwhile, would have the option of either buying daily-scratcher permits (with a maximum of four per months) or a five-day scratcher permits (one per month). These permits target those workers who typically carpool or take transit but occasionally need to drive.
The changes have already caused some tension between downtown employers and residents, who packed into the Council Chambers on Feb. 23 to offer contrasting viewpoints on the new parking program. Workers, property owners and Chamber of Commerce leaders protested the city's decision to limit the number of employee permits to 2,000 this year and to reduce this amount by about 10 percent every year. It's premature to limit permits, they argued, without providing workers other transportation alternatives.
Numerous Crescent Park residents maintained that their permit program should resemble the one in College Terrace, where only residents can buy permits. Others supported the proposed ordinance, for all of its perceived imperfections.
Phillip Salsbury, a resident of Crescent Park, told the council that when he moved to the neighborhood 38 years ago, no one anticipated that the area would be seen as a solution to downtown's parking problem. Having more non-residential parking in the neighborhood, he said, will bring more congestion and litter at the expense of safety and security. He called the plan a "compromise a lot of us don't like it, but it's better than nothing."
"A key part of the compromise is phase-out reduction," Salsbury said. "I think it's critical. It keeps pressure on all of us to seek better solutions."
The Tuesday meeting focused less on the policy debate and more on the details of the ordinance. While one resident complained about the fact that he now has to pay to park his second car on the street, most people asked practical questions about permit policies and program timelines.
When asked whether the first phase of the program can be considered a success, Atkinson noted that the program had helped remove between 300 and 400 cars off the residential streets daily.
"This is still a pilot program. We're figuring out what works and we can make changes," Atkinson said. "We're looking at it as a success so far. But Phase 2 implements some changes that we hope will make it more successful."