Downtown Palo Alto's ever-evolving residential-parking program is about to undergo another gear shift, as city officials prepare to adopt a series of rule changes aimed at keeping local employees from parking on neighborhood streets.
The Residential Preferential Parking program, which limits street parking to two hours during weekdays for those who don't hold permits, has already gone through several iterations since the City Council adopted it in September 2015 in response to years of complaints from neighborhood residents about commuters' parked cars clogging their blocks during work hours. Last April, the city launched the second phase of the program, which adjusted the boundaries of the permit district, split the area into 10 zones and began selling zone-specific permits, with the goal of dispersing employees' cars throughout downtown.
Now, as the city prepares to make the pilot program permanent, officials are proposing a few changes, some of which will have a profound impact on downtown workers. The most significant of these is an overall annual reduction of 10 percent in the number of permits sold to employees, with the greatest reductions occurring in the zones closest to University Avenue's commercial core.
Last April, the number of employee permits was set at 2,000. The reduction is consistent with the direction from the council, which approved a list of changes to the program last September.
The City Council will consider the proposed changes on Feb. 13.
One way in which the new proposal veers from past direction is in how these goals will be achieved. Under the new plan, the zones closest to downtown would see 20 percent reductions in the employee permits every year. This includes the section of Downtown North between Lytton and Hawthorne avenues, from Alma to Webster streets; the blocks just east of the commercial core, from Webster to Guinda streets (between Lytton and Forest avenues) and the University South area that includes Forest and Homer avenues, between Ramona and Guinda streets.
Reductions would be smaller in areas more distant from the commercial core -- either 10 or 5 percent per year.
A new report from the Department of Planning and Community Environment indicates that curtailing worker parking permits aims to decrease the percentage of employees who drive alone to work and get more companies to participate in the Transportation Management Association, a new nonprofit that the city created and charged with achieving the aim.
"This reduction in permits is in support of the City Council's goal to reduce the downtown employee drive-alone rate by 30 percent by 2030 through the efforts of the Palo Alto Transportation Management Association (TMA)," the report states.
While the council had previously proposed requiring all companies that wish to buy permits to participate in the TMA, the new proposal omits that requirement. According to planning staff, such a requirement should be considered in the future, as the nascent organization expands its staff and acquires revenue streams.
"This requirement, if implemented today, would add additional administrative burdens to the fledgling organization, as its cooperation would be required to verify initial and continuing membership for business," the report states.
The new proposal contains several other changes. Hours of enforcement will be lengthened so that permit parking will be in effect from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays (currently, they are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.). This, according to staff, is to "better mitigate the impacts of employee parking on residential streets" and to make them consistent with the city's new Downtown Parking Management Study, which is now nearing completion.
According to planning staff, one of the study's recommendations will be to extend parking enforcement throughout downtown (including in garages and parking lots) to 6 p.m. so as to prevent drivers from parking in residential neighborhoods.
Another change will be the introduction of the six-month parking permit. Currently, employees can only buy annual permits at a rate of either $466 or $50, depending on income level. In the next phase, employees will be able to buy six-month permits for $233 or $25.
The change aims to address employee turnover and ensure that permits are being unused. According to staff, the city's recent parking survey counted only 436 employee permits on the street at one point, a mere 32 percent of the 1,335 employee permits that the city sold in the program's latest phase.
"Staff believes that this is the result of many Employee Parking Permits being withheld from circulation due to the one-year term and relatively high turnover in the retail and serves industries," the report states. "Reducing the term of the Employee Parking Permits to six months will allow unused permits to re-enter circulation more quickly and also reduce the upfront costs of an Employee Parking Permit."
The downtown program will also eliminate the five-day hangtag permits that the city had previously offered to employers. According to staff, only one such permit was sold since last April and the added administrative burden of offering this permit type is thus not justified.
In most other respects, the proposed rule change adhere to the council's September directions. The boundaries of the parking district will remain unchanged, though several blocks just outside the district will be given "eligibility" status so that they can easily enter the program through a petition on a block-by-block basis. If at least 50 percent of the households sign a petition for annexation, the city would send out a survey to all households on the block. Seventy percent must then reply positively for the annexation to occur.
Downtown isn't the only area about to be hit with new parking rules. The city is now preparing to launch a somewhat similar program in the Evergreen Park and Mayfield neighborhoods on either side of California Avenue. And later this year, another residential-parking program is set for a debut in the Southgate neighborhood.