The causes are different, but the problem facing the four Palo Alto neighborhoods seeking help from the city is the same: a worsening parking shortage that is leaving residents fuming.
And on Wednesday night, as the Planning and Transportation Commission weighed the four applications for new residential parking programs, commissioners agreed that each makes a compelling case for restricting parking for non-residents. To that end, the commission voted to recommend that the City Council increase the transportation division's budget and staffing so that it can accommodate the growing pile of requests for parking relief.
The city currently has a process in place that effectively forces neighborhoods to compete for restricted-parking programs by setting an application deadline -- March 31 -- and empowering the Planning and Transportation Commission to prioritize which program would be pursued this year and which would be deferred.
That doesn't sit well with Evergreen Park neighborhood resident Lucinda Lenichek and others who spoke to the commission.
"I think it's criminal to pit resident against resident," Lenicheck said. "All of our needs need to be met in a thoughtful fashion."
Of the four requests, the two largest ones are from Evergreen Park and Southgate. The other two concern a small section of Crescent Park and the streets near Edgewood Plaza in the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood.
Evergreen Park and Southgate garnered the most support from the commission. The adjacent neighborhoods, located between California Avenue to the south, Churchill Avenue to the north, El Camino Real to the west and Alma Street to the east, have each been inundated with cars in recent years. Evergreen Park's streets fill up with cars belonging to Caltrain commuters, Stanford University students and area employees (full disclosure: the Weekly's office is a block away from California Avenue). Southgate, located near Palo Alto High School, gets filled with cars driven by students and school faculty, residents have said.
Of the two, Evergreen Park has a slight edge as a result of a colleagues memo that City Council members Tom DuBois, Eric Filseth, Karen Holman and Greg Schmid penned earlier this year. The memo, which the council is set to discuss on May 2, recommends that Evergreen Park get a parking program similar to the one in College Terrace, which restricts non-resident-parking to two hours.
Given the council's support for the Evergreen Park effort, Commissioner Michael Alcheck said Wednesday that he would favor prioritizing the neighborhood's request over the other three.
Commissioner Kate Downing, by contrast, gave the slight edge to Southgate. Because Southgate's streets are particularly narrow, residents testified, the parking congestion creates a safety hazard and makes it difficult for emergency vehicles, delivery trucks and construction vehicles to access homes. In their petition, residents wrote that they are losing their ability to "make normal residential use of our neighborhood streets."
Downing said she supports Southgate's proposal more than others because of the safety concerns.
"If fire trucks can't come through when there's a fire, it's clearly a safety issue," Downing said.
Meanwhile, the Crescent Park application pertains to three blocks just outside the existing downtown residential permit-parking district. Because these blocks -- the 1000 and 1100 blocks of Hamilton Avenue and the 500 block of Chaucer Street -- are not eligible to simply join the district with a simple petition (an option that's available to the blocks within the established district boundary), they had to apply for a new program.
For residents of Crescent Park, the parking congestion is a relatively recent phenomenon. When downtown adopted new parking restrictions, some commuters started to park outside the zone in residential areas where free all-day parking is still available. In other words, Crescent Park.
Also applying for a parking program is the area near Edgewood Plaza, where residents complain that visitors to the recently redeveloped shopping center and residents of East Palo Alto are parking on their blocks.
On Wednesday, the commission members generally concurred that choosing among the four neighborhoods is, in some ways, a false pressure generated by the city itself. The council has budgeted about $300,000 for new parking districts, Interim Transportation Planning Manager Sue-Ellen Atkinson told the commission. Implementing all four would cost more than $700,000, she said.
Rather than prioritizing one petition over others, planning commissioners are appealing to the council to add more money and staffing to the process of creating parking programs.
"I find it somewhat striking that for a council that has talked many, many times about parking -- and council members who made parking the primary issue of their campaigns -- that we find ourselves in the position where we can only approve one parking district," Downing said.
Commissioner Asher Waldfogel made the motion calling for all four applications to receive the needed budgeting and staffing. Within the four, Evergreen Park and Southgate would be addressed first. The commission voted 5-0, with Chair Adrian Fine and Commissioner Greg Tanaka absent, to approve the proposal.
In a separate vote, the commission also requested that the council consider objective criteria that could be used for future evaluations of parking applications. This would include a discussion of how high of an occupancy rate the city should encourage and/or tolerate in different residential areas. It would be helpful, Rosenblum said, to have more direction about "what the ideal parking situation is." The commission voted 4-1, with Waldfogel dissenting, to request that the council set a "capacity goal" for parking.