Palo Alto looks to fine developers who fail traffic-reduction goals

City Council to consider adding penalties for violations of 'transportation demand management' conditions

Trust but verify.

The dictum, made famous by Ronald Reagan in discussing Soviet arms control, is gradually becoming Palo Alto's unofficial stance toward "transportation-demand management," the idea that developers can reduce the traffic and parking impacts of their new projects by equipping occupants with transit passes, bicycle amenities and shuttles.

In recent discussions of proposed housing projects, whether it's the 60-unit development on the corner of El Camino Real and Page Mill Road or the roughly 40 units of affordable-housing that the nonprofit Palo Alto Housing hopes to build next to the California Avenue Caltrain station, traffic-reduction measures have become a critical factor. Proponents of these projects claim that thanks to "transportation demand management" (TDM) programs, new developments don't need as much parking as the zoning code requires and that they won't cause as much traffic congestion as neighbors often fear. Skeptics, of whom there are many, counter that these programs are unproven and that allowing more density and less parking is a recipe for worsening conditions on neighborhood streets.

TDM programs have become a standard part of Palo Alto's development process. The new mixed-use development at 441 Page Mill Road, which the council approved last fall, includes transit passes for all office workers and residents, as well as bike lockers.

Similarly, the mixed-use project that the council approved in May for the former Olive Garden site on El Camino Real, includes a plan that would reduce anticipated traffic levels by 20 percent. The council voted to approve it only after Vice Mayor Greg Scharff suggested raising the requirement to 30 percent, which his colleagues agreed to do. In making the case for the project (which was approved by a 5-4 vote), Scharff pointed to its "robust TDM program" as a positive feature of the new development.

Yet because these programs are new, no one really knows whether the stated goal will be achieved. There hasn't been any official verification by City Hall as to whether any of the recently approved developments had actually met their traffic-reduction goals. And for council members and candidates with slow-growth leanings, this breeds mistrust.

That, however, may soon change. On Monday night, the council will consider a new penalty for projects that fail to meet their conditions of approval. This would specifically apply to "planned community" projects like Edgewood Plaza, where residents have been crying foul for months over the developer's failure to fill a required grocery store (the store site has been vacant since Fresh Market moved out in April 2015). Under the new proposal, fines for violating "planned community" zoning conditions would be initially set at $500 per day, though they would go to $2,000 per day after six months, if the violation is still in effect.

Perhaps even more significantly, the new penalty schedule includes a similar fine for developers who fail to meet "transportation demand management" conditions. Again, the fine would start at $500 and then escalate to $2,000 "beginning the 181th day following notice of violation," according to the proposed fine schedule. While the "planned community" fine would apply exclusively to developments that already exist (the city has effectively killed the "planned community" zoning process), the new TDM fine could effect just about every new development going in front of the council.

The council will also have a say in how large the fines should be. A new report from Department of Planning and Community Environment notes that the council will "retain discretion on whether and how frequently to apply these penalties depending on the nature of the violation, the responsiveness of the party involved, and the potential for the penalties to spur compliance."

Hillary Gitelman, the city's planning director, told the Weekly that fines for TDM violations would work similarly to the fines for PC-zoning violations. The city would first work with the property owner to address the issue and come into compliance, Gitelman said in an email.

"If the property owner is uncooperative, in the first six months, we would be able to apply standard penalties for zoning violations of $500 for the first citation, increasing up to $750 and $1,000 for subsequent citations."

But if the violation persists for longer than six months without progress, the city would now have the ability to issue a citation with a $2,000-per-day penalty, increasing up to a maximum of $4,000, Gitelman said.

As with any code enforcement case, she said, the city's ultimate goal is compliance and penalties are only one tool for achieving that.

The penalty schedule isn't the only realm where TDM plans are taking on greater stature. The planning department, Gitelman said, is now working on code changes to require TDM plans for some projects. Currently, the code allows developers to use these plans if they seek parking reductions. The code changes will also allow the city to "update the required contents of TDM plans, and provide for regular monitoring and reporting."

"These code changes will assist us in assessing compliance and identifying violations," Gitelman wrote.


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19 people like this
Posted by A great leap forward
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 2, 2016 at 1:47 pm

This is great news. Now we just have to make sure the TDM numbers can be independently verified.

16 people like this
Posted by Portola Al
a resident of Portola Valley
on Nov 2, 2016 at 2:11 pm

What about dealing with the real elephant in the room? Stanford University and the Stanford Health Medical center.

18 people like this
Posted by um...yes
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Nov 2, 2016 at 2:18 pm

First of all, who's going to follow up and enforce. Second of all, all you need to do it ride with a Palo Alto mom who has multiple kids of all ages who has to bike or drive back and forth everywhere all day and she'll tell you...the traffic is horrible. Building more (not to mention the congestion caused from the project) is only gonna make it worse. This town is lead by a bunch of nimrods.

12 people like this
Posted by Priced Out
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Nov 2, 2016 at 4:23 pm

Excellent news! I was worried that some foolhardy residential developers might still be tempted to propose new housing on one of the under-used sites around the city, but thank goodness the Council has the courage and vision to put the final nail in that coffin. Long live planning from the ivory tower! Now if we could only get staff to further reduce the carrying capacity of the streets with some more road diets...

30 people like this
Posted by mauricio
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 2, 2016 at 4:46 pm

I'm all for fining developers, but there is only one method that's guaranteed to curb the ever increasing traffic nightmare: stop developing. This town is already overpopulated and too many people from other areas drive in and use the roads and streets, largely to get to Stanford University, which does nothing to curb the traffic, quite the opposite.

17 people like this
Posted by Mike
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 2, 2016 at 9:59 pm

No wonder developers and out-of-towners are donating significantly to Fine, Tanaka, Kniss, and McDougall. They are hoping for a more accommodating city council that will remove the office cap, eliminate the building height limit, permit major under-parking of new developments, and build more, more more! Go pro-growth candidates!

7 people like this
Posted by Plane Speaker
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 3, 2016 at 11:15 am

Quit talking and do it !!!!!!
$500 a day is nothing to these guys who are personally worth tens or hundred of millions ... even $2,000 is going to be barely noticeable.
Get a supermarket at Edgewood or make them rebuild it with parking on the roof like the Mountain View Safeway.
And by the way it was not a great idea to try to save as some kind of heritage building the old Eichler Lucky supermarket, not that it doesn't look nice, it is just too small. This is a decision a dispassionate person with a brain could get right in 1/2 hour or less ... why does Palo Alto constantly get it wrong?
Developers are not going to take a thing the city says seriously until they actually have to deal with something real.

4 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Nov 3, 2016 at 11:44 am

Regarding the city direction to the "residents" that we accommodate the street sweeper on the appointed days raises a number of questions. I live on a cul-de-sac that is very popular for employees of a large organizations at this end of town. The employees have been directed to locations on residential streets where they should park. They obviously did not plan for enough employee parking during their planning and approval process with the city. Question to the city is it providing approval to companies to provide that direction to it's employees? Does the city know during the planning and approval process that the parking is insufficient and will overflow onto residential streets? Does the commercial organization receive direction that their employees will not be able to park on the residential streets during the appointed street sweeper cleaning days? I get concerned about this because we now are expected to pay for a storm drain maintenance and we have extreme leaf drop on the street with two storm drains at the end of the street. It is disheartening when a car is sitting on a pile of leaves and the driver tells you that they will park there because there is no signs to indicate otherwise. This whole process has a lot of loose threads that do not connect anywhere. Suggest that:
1. The city provide signs throughout the city regarding street seeping - as does the city of East Palo Alto;
2. If the city is in discussion with any outside agency regarding the use of residential neighborhoods for employee parking that it be coordinated with that neighborhood organization. The neighborhoods do not appreciate unknown people roaming the streets for no apparent reason.
3. The designation of residential parking stickers is not uniform throughout the city. Is that due to any agreements the city has made with the commercial organizations?
Bottom line - the city residents are responsible for the cleanliness of the streets and the safety of the residents on the street. We need to make sure the city management is working to that end.

2 people like this
Posted by NeilsonBuchanan
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 3, 2016 at 11:59 am

NeilsonBuchanan is a registered user.

Finally our outgoing City Council is matching realism with it past idealism. TDM has been under-managed and neglected by both staff and Council.

TDM and TMA are long term investments with real potential, but the TMA for small employers by definition has slower ROI. Council must provide seed funding, require matching funds from the business community and be patient. Larger employer TMAs such as Stanford and the Research Park have faster ROIs due to advantages of scale.

The acid test is to follow the money. Skeptics have every right to speak up. TDM and TMA are broken promises due to willful lack of enforcement and funding. It is apparent that carrots have not and will work in Palo Alto, so the logical step is impartial enforcement with teeth.

The burden on the next Council early in 2017 is to jump start the small employer TMA with seed funding and force immediate matching funds from the businesses who will benefit from the TMA. Surely the Chamber of Commerce will exhibit its considerable leadership for renewed TDM effort.

2 people like this
Posted by NeilsonBuchanan
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 3, 2016 at 12:05 pm

NeilsonBuchanan is a registered user.

Dear Resident of Charleston Meadows,

Resident leaders in the following neighborhoods have lots of experience with commercial parking spillover onto residential streets:

Crescent Park, College Terrace, Downtown North, Downtown South, Professorville, Evergreen Park and Ventura

Dont try to re-invent solutions without consulting other citizens with years of experience. Contact me for referrals to active, informed leaders.

2 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Nov 3, 2016 at 1:06 pm

My location is in South Palo Alto and the organization is the JCC. I have already been over there to talk to them as well as coordinating with the City agency that is in charge of street sweeping and road signage. I suspect that any agreements with the city regarding parking on residential streets was already cleared by the city and JCC. The JCC individual I discussed this with indicated that for their personal home area they got signage in the Gunn High School area so that students could not park there - the students need to remain on campus parking areas. The JCC will and can exert their own requirements in this area. I am already in the mix here with my area problems. And our neighborhood organization is also working this issue. If any donations by any of the organizations are to candidates that are giving the green thumb to easy access to residential parking then that is going to be part of the package when any additional new building is evaluated.

Like this comment
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 3, 2016 at 2:21 pm

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

It sounds like a good attempt at first glance, but I have many concerns and questions about it. I, in fact, have proposed to let that VTA parking lot project go thru, as is, as a minimal test case (an experiment of sorts, that, if it fails, would cause minimal damage) on underparked projects. There would be conditions, however:

Leases should be given first to those people who swear, and can prove, they don't own a car and won't for...fill in the blanks...months/years, some period of time. That will identify how many parking places won't be used/needed.

Then lease to those who own a car, but only one.

But, here's the critical part. Provide constant surveillance that will catch scofflaws, and enforce evictions, with no grace period for allowing them to sell their car if they violated the agreement. They're out on the spot, now...period.

Code enforcement is also my big concern with ADU's and other grand idealist proposals. We don't have enough code enforcement officers now and it would only get worse if many idealistic ideas are adopted. Let's stay within the bounds of what we can handle now.

If you've followed my posts you know where I stand on many of the big issues. I don't like to have to repeat myself...but I will just for a few..."no" on ADU's, "yes" on raising the height limit, and "yes" on higher density housing, knowing it will only serve the younger group of highly paid workers, mostly in tech industries. That's only to, hopefully, ease our traffic congestion and parking problems. Other than that they probably don't add much to our community, and when they get to be in their 40's and 50's will they still have jobs in today's companies? I only see 20-30 year olds when I drive down to my Life Stories class at Avenidas.

I think one of the mistakes we make is...we try to plan and take care of our current and seemingly important and immediate problems...some real, some imagined, and we don't think about the future. Do we really understand how we should deal with today's problems to satisfy the millennial's needs and how it will affect the next generation, yet to be named?

7 people like this
Posted by Palo Alto Council of Real Estate Developers
a resident of another community
on Nov 3, 2016 at 3:52 pm

It is not fair to change the rules during the game! For decades we have accepted the TDM's City Hall pushed on us because it quietly assured us they would never be verified or enforced. Our parking garages could be reserved for clients and our employees could park all day free in any open spot they found in the nearby streets. Then the City first took away the free employee parking, now it wants us to take those silly TDMs seriously. It is time for us to build elsewhere! Sorry Liz. Sorry Adrian. Sorry Greg.

2 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 3, 2016 at 5:07 pm

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

And "just one more thing (or ting)" ala Peter Falk as Columbo.

Additional enforcement would be required for the Airbnb rental units.

It sounds like developers are backing off in proposing developments in PA. Is that good or bad for us? I vote for 'good'. If it's only about revenue to support our budget, then I say let's do it another way but not relying on overdevelopment to dig us out of that hole. Let's enjoy the quality of life we have even if it means higher taxes to accomplish that.

3 people like this
Posted by Ed
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 3, 2016 at 8:04 pm

Apparently the city collected some fines from the developer of Edgewood Plaza in 2015 Web Link but have they collected anything in 2016?

7 people like this
Posted by Chip
a resident of Professorville
on Nov 4, 2016 at 12:30 am

The cozy crowd at City Hall who so love developer money for their campaigns should be voted out a.s.a.p. For years, developers have been able to "buy down" required parking. The best thing that can happen here is that corporations set up their offices elsewhere. Try Fresno or Turlock.

Transit-based housing is a fantasy because we haven't got efficient public transit. Even if people can go from town to town via train, they can't get across town to the final destination without a car unless it's within a very short distance of a station. If PA were a real city, there'd be delis, butchers & green grocers scattered about within walking distance of most residents. I can't bike or walk with 4-6 bags of groceries.

Stanford Shopping Center contributes severely to road congestion from mid-November until January 1, as many shoppers come from the east Bay, Sacramento, & Monterey areas. Sand Hill Road traffic becomes ridiculously immobile with mostly out-of-towners, judging from the license plate frames. It is the only place besides San Francisco & Southern California which has Neiman Marcus, Bloomingdale's, Wilkes-Bashford, Shreve, Louis Vuitton, Nordstrom & Macy's all together with free parking, no less. The next closest American Girl store is in Los Angeles. Must Palo Alto be the deluxe retail destination for most of California & much of northern Nevada?

Please, develop a new communities in the San Joaquin Valley & fill them with office parks. Bishop Ranch is a good example. Palo Alto is overbuilt & unless road widths can be doubled, further commercial construction should cease.

1 person likes this
Posted by Wow, Just Wow
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 4, 2016 at 12:50 pm

Ms. Johnson: Your plan sounds perfect for Soviet era East Germany or Mao's China. It's downright scary that you are seriously proposing this in the United States of America.

Like this comment
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 4, 2016 at 1:16 pm

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

Candidates I like: Those who take the approach of analyzing and gathering data first, before launching off into new untested programs/projects based solely on a good feeling they have, vibes, and maybe some loose anecdotal input as well.

The data gathering can be done. How has the RPP worked out so far? What are the results of our TMA program so far? Is Scoop being used and if so how much? How many of the downtown tech workers really want to live in PA at the rent rates they know will be asked for in new high density housing projects? How many seniors would want to live in a complex mainly inhabited by 20-30 year olds?

I think too many of the candidates think only about what they would like, how they envision what they think our city's future should be, without regard to what the current residents of PA think. The residents are their constituents and they should be heard, and votes on CC should reflect that and be made accordingly. They are our representatives. They should vote for what we want, not necessarily what they want.

I was expecting a lot more coffee meetings in the Midtown area with the mayor and other city officials in attendance. I attended several of those in the past, going back to Mayor Dena Mossar's term, and I had my chance to listen, then speak out and ask questions. I miss those.

Based on what I've just said, I'll let you guess at whom I'll be voting for. I'll never tell, and I won't promote one candidate over the other, but I will encourage one candidate, Greer Stone, to try again. I liked the way he was poised in the online interview. Let's face it...our future is in the hands of the young people running for office. We'll be gone, so we'll never know if they messed it up more or if it got better.

I will never see the city again the way it was, the way we liked it, when we moved here. That saddens me, but, I am okay with change and there's not much we can do about it. So I'll be left with my great memories of my town, and I've written several stories about that for my Life Stories class at Avenidas.

If anybody is interested, I can email as attachments those stories.

1 person likes this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 4, 2016 at 1:25 pm

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

@Wow, Just Wow

What did I say that scares you so much that you would compare me to those evil dictators?

1 person likes this
Posted by Higher Edgewood Penalties Long Overdue
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 4, 2016 at 1:54 pm

Minor adjustments to the penalties at Edgewood Plaza likely just delay the day that the owner, Sand Hill, is finally willing to offer a rent subsidy big enough to attract a grocer. A penalty of $2,000 a day is peanuts to Sand Hill, which reportedly is spending millions to defeat a citizen's initiative in Cupertino. See Web Link and Web Link.

Our City Council should set the penalties high enough once and for all so Sand Hill gets the message and provides the public benefit it promised to our community.

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

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