Palo Alto officials on Monday reaffirmed their commitment to building new parking structures downtown and near California Avenue, despite concerns from some critics who argued that these facilities will encourage more driving and exacerbate the city's parking woes.
By a unanimous vote, the council approved two design contracts, one for a public-safety building and a new parking structure on city-owned parking lots near Sheridan Avenue and Birch Streets and another for a new downtown garage on a lot at Hamilton Avenue and Waverley street. Both facilities were included in the infrastructure plan that the council approved in 2014, when it asked voters to approve a hotel-tax increase to pay for infrastructure improvements.
In making the case for the new garages, city officials characterized them as one leg in a “three-legged stool” that also includes transportation-demand management (policies that provide incentives for people to switch from cars to other modes of transportation) and technological improvements that increase the capacity of existing garages.
Several residents urged the council on Monday to reconsider its plan for new parking structures and to focus its energies on finding ways to discourage driving. Neilson Buchanan, a long-time proponent of protecting residential neighborhoods from commercial intrusion, asked the council to hold off on the approvals and to hold a more in-depth discussion about housing policies and ways to reduce traffic problems by narrowing the city's famously large ratio of jobs to housing.
“Spending more money on parking garage to house a horseless carriage seems to me make no sense at this point in time,” Buchanan said. “Now is the time to turn your priorities to housing and traffic situation.”
Michael Hodos, a resident of Professorville who like Buchanan served on the stakeholder group that helped design the downtown Residential Preferential Parking Program, told the council that there is a range of opinions in his neighborhood about the proposed parking structures, with some people worrying that more parking will encourage more traffic and others feeling like it's a good idea.
Hodos told the council that garage projects are much more likely to get support from adjacent residential neighborhoods “if those parking elements are used to reduce the amount of non-resident parking in those neighborhoods.”
The council, for its part, agreed on to stay the course. While acknowledging the residents' concerns, council members agreed kept the contracts on its “consent calendar,” a list of items that get approved by a single vote without discussion.
City Manager James Keene made the case for moving ahead with the parking structures, noting that downtown's parking-permit program has drastically reduced the number of all-day parking spots available to non-residents.
“We're not talking about building three of five or 10 parking structures. We're talking about one with 300 spaces, when we lost 1,600,” Keene said of the downtown structure.
He also noted that the city has made a commitment to further reduce over the next few years the number of employee cars that park in residential neighborhoods. The city's program calls for the number of permits sold to non-residents to go down by 10 percent every year.
“We have to realize that the parking still has to go somewhere and this garage provides that opportunity,” Keene said.
The council agreed and swiftly approved a $1.9-million contract with Watry Design, Inc., for design and environmental-assessment services associated with the new downtown garage. Council members were also unanimous in approving on consent a $7 million contract with RossDrulisCusenbery Architecture, which is charged with designing and performing environmental analysis for the city's proposed public-safety building and parking garage near California Avenue.