From Caltrain passes for daily commuters to nimble shuttles for local residents, city leaders in Palo Alto have no shortage of ideas for moving people out of cars and into other modes of transportation.
Money, however, is a different matter. Though the city is banking on getting significant proceeds from the transportation-tax measure that the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority is preparing to place on the November ballot, these dollars are expected to support regional infrastructure projects like submerging the Caltrain corridor under crossing streets (or vice versa) and adding a lane to Page Mill Road. Local projects, city officials recognize, will likely require local funding sources.
Where will the money come from? That's the question the City Council will wrestle with Monday night, when it considers the growing list of pending "transportation-demand measures" (incentives for changing people's commute habits) currently being pursued and evaluates the city's funding options. The menu includes a new city tax on businesses, a local sales-tax measure, a new assessment district and various public-private partnerships between the city and local businesses, according to a new report from the Department of Planning and Community Environment.
Some of these partnerships are already taking shape as part of the city's new Transportation Management Association, a newly incorporated nonprofit that aims to slash the number of downtown's solo drivers by 30 percent. A similar effort is also coalescing at Stanford Research Park, where a consortium of large employers is working with Stanford University to solve the area's traffic problems by offering shuttles, transit passes and other incentives to employees to get them to stop driving to work solo.
As for the city's new traffic-fighting nonprofit -- modeled after similar associations in Contra Costa and San Mateo counties -- its board of directors will consist of six members: the City, Google, Palantir, the Garden Court Hotel, IDEO and Philz Coffee.
According to the rules that the TMA established for itself, board members from the three larger employers (the City, Google and Palantir) will make annual contributions of $10,000, according to a report from planning staff. Medium-sized employers on the board (Garden Court and IDEO) will pay $2,500 annually, while the single small employer on the board (Philz) will contribute $1,000.
In addition to the board member fees, all businesses that wish to participate in the new association and take advantage of its services will be assessed membership dues, which the board will set in the next few weeks, according to the new report.
The organization is rolling out at a time when the council is paying particularly close attention to traffic, having called it a top priority for 2016. It was also one of the major themes of Mayor Pat Burt's "State of the City" speech last month. Burt pointed to other communities that have had success with transportation-demand-management strategies and cited the willingness of Stanford Research Park businesses to step up.
"They explained that they're moving in that direction because the businesses in the Research Park see traffic congestion as the biggest threat to their businesses that they have," Burt said in the speech. "The very thing that we as residents see as a problem, businesses see it as their biggest problem as well. We have an opportunity together to really address this and solve it."
Voluntary partnerships are not, however, the only option on the table. The city could raise the impact fee it charges developers of new projects to help support transportation initiatives. It could pursue a business tax with proceeds allocated directly to transportation, an idea that Burt has previously proposed. It can even put its own sales-tax measure, dedicated entirely to city transportation initiatives, on the November ballot, alongside the countywide measure.
Developers will also be expected to participate in the city's battle against traffic by offering tenants incentives to commute without cars. As part of Palo Alto's ongoing update of its Comprehensive Plan, a document that will guide the city's growth policies until 2030, planners are evaluating a range policies that would restrict new traffic during peak commute hours.
One bold measure that the city is considering as part of the update is a goal of "no new increase" in car trips during peak hours from new developments (with exceptions for developments that "directly contribute to the neighborhood character and diversity of Palo Alto," such as affordable housing and ground-floor retail, according to the Environmental Impact Report for the Comprehensive Plan update). The program would, at a minimum, require developers to prepare and implement transportation-demand-management plans, which will include enforcement and penalties if they fail to reduce traffic adequately.
Each district under this strategy would have its own goal for traffic reduction, with the Downtown area aiming for 45 percent and California Avenue shooting for 35 percent. Stanford Research Park and the El Camino Real corridor would each have a target of 30 percent; while other areas of the city would have a target of 20 percent.
Developers would also be able to bend those traffic-reduction rules by paying an annual fee to the City or contracting with another property owner or organization to reduce trips there. The fee, according to the environmental study, would be used to reduce motor-vehicle trips "to the extent feasible through the provision of transit services, carpool/rideshare incentives, bicycle lanes, and other similar programs and improvements."