The debate over who should be entitled to park in residential neighborhoods adjacent to business districts will be renewed Monday night when the City Council is set to decide on whether to approve a new restrictive parking program for the neighborhoods north and south of the California Avenue business district.
The arguments are mostly the same as those made when the controversial parking program was finally implemented in downtown but with a few twists that add complexities and potential problems that have gone unaddressed by the city staff.
The primary goal, as it was downtown, is to reduce the number of employees of nearby businesses parking in the neighborhood and ensure that residents are able to park near their homes.
We supported the creation of the downtown parking program as necessary to solve this problem and we support implementing a similar program for the California Avenue area (where the Palo Alto Weekly's offices are located).
But the plan recommended by the city staff is flawed and needs revision in several important respects.
First, the recommendation that only 125 employee permits be issued for parking in the entire Evergreen Park neighborhood is apparently based on a false assumption that residents' cars that are parked on the street do not leave during the day. A city survey found that there are 655 on-street parking spaces in the neighborhood, of which approximately 300, less than half the capacity, are utilized at night by residents, leaving 355 open. Limiting the number of employee permits issued to only 125 during a one-year trial period is too conservative and runs the unnecessary risk of pushing employee parking into the Old Palo Alto neighborhood, which lies at the eastern end of the California Avenue pedestrian tunnel, among other problems.
Second, the staff recommendation makes no mention of the more restrictive College Terrace residential parking program, which currently prohibits all employee parking. Those rules long ago pushed employees of businesses located west of El Camino to parking in the Evergreen Park neighborhood. This raises a critical question of why College Terrace should be entitled to protection from all employee parking, effectively imposing it on another neighborhood. Some number of employee permits need to be available to those employees for parking in the close-in portions of the College Terrace neighborhood.
Third, the staff acknowledges that an unknown number of cars parking in the neighborhoods surrounding California Avenue are Caltrain commuters but offers no solution for where they will go. With plentiful unregulated street parking available east of Alma Street, expect an immediate problem in that neighborhood and a request by residents there to restrict parking.
Finally, the recommendation fails to include needed reforms to the current permit system for area's city parking lots and garages intended to serve employees. The city reports it currently has a waiting list of 250 seeking parking permits for these lots, yet except for the lunch hour there are plenty of empty parking places in the two garages and the many parking lots. This would be a good time to experiment with having no cap on the number of permits issued for the garages and lots, doing away with the waiting list entirely.
It would also benefit employers if the city issued transferable permits that can be passed from one employee to another. Currently, when employers attempt to obtain permits for new employees, especially low-wage, high-turnover service workers, by the time the employees get to the top of the waiting list they have left their job.
There is much good to build on in the current proposed plan. The reduced price ($50) for an annual residential parking permit for low-income workers and the inclusion of the Mayfield neighborhood south of California Avenue (to Page Mill Road) are important elements.
The generous availability of permits to residents, modeled after what has been successfully implemented downtown, gives needed flexibility for households with multiple cars, frequent overnight guests or service workers.
We are concerned about the low level of participation in the survey that led to the development of the plan. Only 11 percent of business owners, 13 percent of Mayfield residents and 32 percent of Evergreen Park households responded, and outreach to businesses lacked the details that would have encouraged more feedback and participation.
We urge the council to double the number of employee permits to be issued during the trial year to 250 each in Evergreen Park and Mayfield and establish a goal of total usage of neighborhood parking places during the daytime to no more than 75 percent. It should also direct the staff to develop a smaller parallel employee permitting program for College Terrace and conduct an outreach effort to residents living to the east of the California Avenue tunnel so they are aware of the program and its possible consequences.
We've learned a lot from what has happened downtown, and we should put that learning to good use as we implement a needed program for the California Avenue area.