Rule changes on the way for downtown's residential-parking program

Longer enforcement hours, fewer employee permits proposed for Residential Preferential Parking

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.


Follow the Palo Alto Weekly/Palo Alto Online on Twitter @PaloAltoWeekly and Facebook for breaking news, local events, photos, videos and more.

What is democracy worth to you?
Support local journalism.


9 people like this
Posted by dtnorth
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 9, 2017 at 10:29 am

So the city is implementing all these restrictions on the local employees to encourage them not drive in but to use public transportation but what is the city offering to its own employees so they don't drive in solo every day. The employee who work a more normal 8-5 makes sense for them to take public transportation but for the ones who only work 4-6 hours a day makes it harder. Can anyone tell me what the city is doing about its own employees?

11 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 9, 2017 at 10:35 am

These employee permits have many problems.

They do not suit people who carpool and want to alternate cars. They do not suit people who telecommute/carpool/use transit a couple of days a week and want to drive a couple of times a week. They do not suit people who are on short term contracts. They do not suit people who have to park for 1/2 day on a regular basis, say Tuesday afternoons, for a regular business meeting. They do not suit those that change jobs.

These permits are just too complicated and do not help infrequent all day parkers, or visitors to the area.

You can't just make parking more difficult and assume that they will mean no more cars in town.

2 people like this
Posted by Judy
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Feb 9, 2017 at 11:34 am

An idea. The apartments in the downtown area that have empty parking spaces due to their tenants driving to work should rent those spaces out during the day.

Like this comment
Posted by Joe M
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 10, 2017 at 11:14 pm

Please keep a pool of affordable permits for employees in the health industry (for example, doctors, dentists, their staffs) so that they are not driven out of the area by the dwindling supply of permits.

9 people like this
Posted by Arthur Keller
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 12, 2017 at 8:12 pm

The Council will be considering Residential Parking Permit program for the neighborhoods near Downtown on Monday. Here is my personal proposal on how these permits should be allocated in descending priority.

1. Residents of the RPP neighborhoods.
2. Businesses located in the RPP neighborhoods, which are not eligible for permits in the Downtown parking structures.
3. Low income retail and service workers of neighborhood-serving businesses located in the Downtown, who are now eligible for low-cost permits.
4. Other employees of businesses Downtown eligible for parking permits in the parking structures. These are the permits that should be phased out over ten years, not those in the above priorities.

This plan would retain parking permits for neighborhood businesses like dentists that are not now eligible for parking permits Downtown.

Finally, since new developments, such as 101 Lytton, 135 Hamilton, and 240 Hamilton, are supposed to be self-parked other than parking in the parking structures paid for by their assessments, no businesses located in these and new developments should be eligible for parking in the RPP.

As a data scientist and having taught systems analysis at UC Santa Cruz, I can say professionally that the contractor should be easily able to implement these priorities and restrictions given appropriate direction and support by Planning Staff and an appropriate RPP permit application form. If City Staff or its contractor cannot figure out how, I’d be happy to show them how for free.

4 people like this
Posted by off-stret parking
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 12, 2017 at 10:36 pm

On a related note: Adrian Fine posted on NextDoor today seeking off-street parking. This seemed odd to me as I was under the impression that College Terrace, where he currently resides, has one of the strictest RPPPs (no employee parking included).

4 people like this
Posted by JamesB
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Feb 13, 2017 at 9:33 am

The parking policy changes appear to be short-sighted. Palo Alto wants "it all", pushing out retailers to have more capacity for startups and professional medical and dental offices while also keeping up the image of downtown residence. Since most people who work downtown require auto transit (mass transit is not a viable option for many people), restrictions on employee parking have no upside. As a former downtown resident, I knew that parking was tight and basically packed during the day when businesses were open. Why does PA need this change now?

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

Stay informed

Get daily headlines sent straight to your inbox.

Gluten-free bakery Misfits Bakehouse is reborn in Palo Alto
By Elena Kadvany | 4 comments | 3,071 views

Premarital and Couples: The "Right" Way to Eat an Artichoke
By Chandrama Anderson | 1 comment | 1,980 views

What did you learn last week?
By Sherry Listgarten | 8 comments | 1,386 views

Some answers, please, PG&E
By Diana Diamond | 12 comments | 1,339 views

The holiday season
By Cheryl Bac | 1 comment | 394 views


Race Results Are In

Thank you for joining us at the 35th annual Moonlight Run & Walk! All proceeds benefit the Palo Alto Weekly Holiday fund, supporting local nonprofits serving children and families.

Click for Race Results