Evergreen Park and Southgate will soon join the growing ranks of Palo Alto neighborhoods where residents and visitors will need parking permits to leave their cars on the street for longer than two hours.
The two adjacent neighborhoods -- one near the California Avenue Business District and the other next to Palo Alto High School -- were selected by the City Council on Monday night to be the next two areas where the city will develop a Residential Preferential Parking (RPP) Program akin to the one that premiered in downtown last fall. Following in the footsteps of its Planning and Transportation Commission, the council voted 8 to 0, with Councilwoman Liz Kniss recusing, not to prioritize either neighborhood but to pursue programs for both concurrently.
Once the programs are in place, parking will become restricted for cars that don't have permits. If they end up like the downtown one, permits would be sold only to residents and employees. In the coming months, it will be up to stakeholders, planning staff and, ultimately, the council to decide what proportion of the permits (if any) should be allocated to drivers who don't reside in these neighborhoods.
Despite their geographical proximity and shared misery over parking, Evergreen Park and Southgate took different routes to their respective parking crises. In Evergreen Park, which is bounded by El Camino Real, Cambridge Avenue and Park Boulevard, the parking congestion is caused in large part by area employees, including office professionals, merchants and restaurant workers around California Avenue (Full disclosure: The Weekly's office is located a block away from California Avenue). In Southgate, it is mostly Paly students and faculty that are filling up the parking spots.
In both cases, residents organized, signed a petition and applied for a "residential preferential parking program." Another proposal came from a three-block section of Crescent Park, which is next to the existing downtown parking-permit district and which, as a result, has no parking restrictions. Residents of the three blocks (1000 and 1100 blocks of Hamilton Avenue and 500 block of Chaucer Street) now find their spaces filled with cars belonging to commuters seeking to avoid time restrictions and parking costs.
Also applying is the small area near Edgewood Plaza, by Greer Road, Channing Avenue and St. Francis Drive. According to planning staff, residents in this area have been complaining about a "parking intrusion" from East Palo Alto residents and from the newly renovated plaza.
The council agreed that the Crescent Park and Edgewood Plaza proposals should be studied and accommodated in due time. It also agreed that staff should start with the two larger proposals and to try to form both programs concurrently, even if it means adding more resources to the effort. Establishing a parking program in just one of these neighborhoods would be ill-advised, the council reasoned, because it would merely exacerbate the problem in the other, a game of whack-a-mole that downtown areas are all too familiar with.
It was also an easy decision politically. Dozens of residents from each of the two neighborhoods packed into the Council Chambers, many waving signs calling for annexation (most left by the time the council made a decision, well after midnight).
Evergreen Park residents were particularly adamant, with one resident arguing that commuters are "stealing" street parking from residents and another complaining about cars that block driveways and the noise impacts of late-shift workers retrieving their cars from the residential streets in the wee hours of the night.
David Schrom claimed that the neighborhood has seen increased crime, lower property values and more strangers in his neighborhood. Residents, he said, "have a reasonable expectation as homeowners that we'll be able to park in front of our homes and our guests will be able to park in front of our homes."
"That's being taken away from us and it will be taken away from us more," Schrom said.
Unlike the other neighborhoods, Evergreen Park was requesting a program like the one in College Terrace, just across El Camino Real. Under that program, only residents are allowed to buy permits that allow all-day parking. Everyone else is subject to a two-hour limit (in downtown, by contrast, the city alloted 2,000 permits for area employees). The request initially won favor with four City Council members, who penned a colleagues memo in February supporting a College Terrace-style program for Evergreen Park. The memo also suggested, as another option, a program in which merchants and personal-service employees would get a "small number" of permits in the residential area.
On Monday, however, the council agreed to pursue a more inclusive process and directed staff to move ahead with a "stakeholder process" that will determine how many permits would be sold to California Avenue employees.
Southgate, which has famously narrow streets, will also get a stakeholder process. In addition to evaluating permit sales, the process would also evaluate traffic-calming alternatives (including red curbs to improve sight lines for bicyclists) and transportation-demand-management strategies aimed at shifting students and faculty from cars to other modes of transportation.
In addressing the council, residents from both neighborhoods made a case for new parking restrictions, while also urging the council not to force them to compete against one anther.
Christine Shambora, one of the leaders of the Southgate effort, asked the council to visit her neighborhood so that members can see just how badly a solution is needed.
"The situation has reached a crisis, both in terms of safety and quality of life," Shambora said.
The council agreed that each neighborhood made a compelling case and directed its Finance Committee to consider a funding allocation that would make both parking permits possible. The council also agreed that California Avenue employees -- particularly those in the retail and personal service industries -- should be considered in designing the program.
"I want this to be expedited and happen quickly," said Vice Mayor Greg Scharff, who made the motion to proceed with both parking programs. "But at the same time I do think we need it to go through the stakeholder process, and we need to include the merchants in the stakeholder process."
Councilman Marc Berman concurred. The council can't say "we want a parking plan that allows no workers," Berman said, and then talk about how it wants to protect area merchants. Many retail workers live so far away, he noted, that public transit isn't an option for them.
"I'm not saying you should have free parking in the neighborhood," Berman said. "I think we have to implement RPP but we have to be realistic about the fact that (employees) exist."
Though the council generally agreed that Evergreen Park needs and deserves help, not all arguments from residents were equally persuasive.
Mayor Pat Burt took issue with the Schrom's notion that employees who park on public streets are committing "theft," though he agreed that it's reasonable for residents to expect parking somewhere close to their homes. He also said that the notion that California Avenue workers are "criminals" is a "disservice."
"It just reminds me of the kinds of arguments Donald Trump would make and I find that really inappropriate," he said.
Burt was more receptive to the argument that the city's Comprehensive Plan (its land-use bible) supports protecting residents from the impacts of commercial development. For that reason, Burt said, he supports creating new parking programs for Southgate and Evergreen Park.
In addition to directing staff to initiate the two parking programs, the council also took a step toward addressing Crescent Park's new parking issue.
Following the advice of Chief Transportation Officer Joshuah Mello, the council agreed to add the three blocks to the "eligibility area" of the downtown parking district. Blocks that are in the area can petition to join the parking-program district through an administrative process, without the need for additional council reviews or public hearings. The Edgewood Plaza application, meanwhile, was placed in the fourth spot on the priority list.