City plots next steps for new downtown garage | News | Palo Alto Online |


City plots next steps for new downtown garage

Palo Alto council considers five-story structure on city-owned Waverley Street lot

Days after they agreed to "go big" and "dig deep" on a new garage near California Avenue, Palo Alto officials are preparing to consider a similar move in the downtown area, where staff is banking on a new five-story structure to help solve the area's dire parking problems.

Just like the earlier proposal, which the council approved on April 3, the new one could pit the City Council's desire to boost parking supply against its commitment to zoning laws and height restrictions. The council is scheduled to weigh in Tuesday on a garage that would occupy what is now a city-owned parking lot on the corner of Hamilton Avenue and Waverley Street. All three of the options proposed by Watry Design, Inc., the city's consultants, call for a five-story structure. Two of the options wouldn't have any basements; the main difference between them is that one would include retail space and the other wouldn't.

The option without retail would have 303 spaces, for a net increase of 217 (the existing lot has 86 spaces). The one with retail would have 291 spaces -- a net increase of 205. This includes, however, the 16 spaces that would be required by law to support the new retail establishment.

The third and most ambitious option would have one underground level and a capacity for 351 spots, for a net increase of 265.

Much like with the California Avenue garage, more spots would necessarily mean more city spending. In this case, the basement option would push the price tag for the new garage to $22.5 million, according to city staff's projections. The other two options carry price tags of $18.4 million (without retail) and $19.3 million (with retail).

No matter which option is selected, the downtown garage would add a bulky, 50-foot-tall structure to one of the city's most bustling and economically vital areas. The garage, like the one planned for the California Avenue area, will exceed "public facility" zoning designations by exceeding requirements for lot coverage, density and setbacks.

But while the council has traditionally opposed development proposals that conflict with the zoning code, the council agreed during its California Avenue garage discussion on Monday night to make an exception for parking structures. There was some debate about the best way to do it, with Council members Tom DuBois and Karen Holman favoring granting exceptions for specific projects and the rest of the council supporting changing the "public facility" zone to accommodate garages on a citywide basis.

Holman argued that changing the zone for a particular project is "a really bad precedent and a really bad concept." DuBois agreed and said the city hadn't evaluated all the "public facility" zones throughout the city and thus does not know the impacts of the change.

"We don't know what we're zoning for," DuBois said.

Mayor Greg Scharff took the opposite view and noted that garage constructions are relatively rare (there hasn't been one on more than a decade). At the same time, the council has often spoke out against granting variances for private developments.

"What we're saying is that we're going to want to zone for what we want -- parking garages," Scharff said, shortly before the council voted 7-2 to revise "public facility" zoning.

One issue that could divide the council on the downtown garage is mechanical lifts, which create more parking spaces by using platforms that stack cars vertically. For the California Avenue facility, staff did not recommend installing lifts, stating that they would add both cost to the project and inconvenience to future users. Vice Mayor Liz Kniss, the council's chief proponent of mechanical lifts, argued that more should have been done to analyze the technology and directed staff to fully study this option for the downtown garage.

A new report from Public Works suggests that adding mechanical lifts may not be the best fit for the downtown garage either. The cost to provide a small incremental parking increase (about 27 extra spots on the ground floor) is high, the report states, and the technology would require training for users.

"Parking demand typically peaks around lunchtime and dinner time and is short term," the report states. "Mechanical parking does not accommodate this type of peak demand very well. Building height restrictions also limit the efficiency of most mechanical and robotic parking concepts."

Both the downtown and California Avenue garages were included on the council's 2014 infrastructure plan, which is largely funded by proceeds from the city's hotel tax.

Related content:

Editorial: Return of the parking meter


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18 people like this
Posted by Mama
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 7, 2017 at 11:22 am

The city and its residents should NOT pay for a parking structure downtown. This problem was caused by developers allowed to build structures without adequate parking and by businesses locating in our city without any regard for parking or housing for employees. The developers and large employers should pay for parking. Unfortunately we have no way of also making the City Council members who allowed this to happen pay except at the ballot box or through shaming or recall.

Like this comment
Posted by Worker Bee
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 7, 2017 at 11:41 am

Residents are NOT paying for the new garage. The bulk of the money is coming from the increased hotel tax (the TOT) and, in prior years, from parking assessment dollars where businesses and property owners "tax" themselves through paying back a City bond.

In 2001, the City issued $9,135,000 in Limited Obligation Improvement Bonds for the Palo Alto University Avenue Area Off-Street Parking Assessment District. The 2001 Bonds were issued for two purposes: 1) to finance the acquisition and construction of the High/Alma South Garage (R) and the Bryant/Lytton Garage (S/L); and 2) to refinance the City’s University Avenue Area Off-Street Parking Assessment District

The 1989 bonds were issued to finance the acquisition of the upper parking level of the underground parking structure at 250 University Avenue Garage and to refinance the City’s University Avenue Lot J Parking Garage Assessment District Bonds of 1984 which had been issued to finance the Webster/Cowper Garage.

In 2002, the City issued a second series of bonds in the amount of $35,460,000 to finance the construction and completion of Garages R and S/L. The garages were built to accommodate growing demand for parking in the downtown area and to promote the City’s ability to manage public and residential parking. In addition, the new garages were built to ensure the vibrancy and economic vitality of the downtown.

12 people like this
Posted by margaret heath
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 7, 2017 at 1:49 pm

A large part of the office parking problem is that there appears to be no fire/safety code to limit the number of employees tech companies want to cram into their offices. The Planning Department formula for new build is 250 sq ft per employee, which has been wildly outdated for at least 15 years. Also, I heard the developer sympathetic city manager tell the council a few years ago there is no data to support increased employee counts.

Even without a single new office building, the turnover of old leases to new tech companies results in a continued increase in the number of tech employees in around University Avenue and California Avenue where parking is such a problem. Even if 50% of their employees take the train, ride company buses to San Francisco, use rideshare, Uber or Lyft, or can afford to live near enough to walk of bike, there is still going to be an ever increasing number of employees driving into Palo Alto. And Uber and Lyft don't solve the traffic congestion problem as they are back and forth on the road all day.

Unfortunately, lack of parking disproportionally affects the traditional small businesses that benefit the public. The landlords who complain that lack of public parking is a deterrent for some companies they would like to lease to which may affect their profit margin is not the city's problem.

15 people like this
Posted by Cube Farm Haven
a resident of Green Acres
on Apr 7, 2017 at 2:33 pm

@Worker Bee, residents are certainly paying for the new garages many forms: parking metering fees, congestion, parking permits fees, gridlock, loss of personal freedoms, neighbors adding ADUs, loss of retail and medical professionals who are pushed out, small start-ups being pushed out, extra time needed to get anywhere, more govt workers to plan these programs and lots of quality-of-life ways -- all so big companies can flood our streets and neighborhoods and dominate govt. committees while cramming in more and more cube dwellers.

Small startups that made this valley great, not billion-dollar companies like Visa, American Express and Palantir.

10 people like this
Posted by margaret heath
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 7, 2017 at 4:00 pm

@ Cubef Farm Heaven: Don't forget the cost of the parking permit program. The fines won't come anywhere near the cost to residents for employees patrolling the parking permit areas.

8 people like this
Posted by impacts growing
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 8, 2017 at 10:50 am

Underparked buildings like 611 Cowper and 524 Hamilton are outside the Downtown parking assessment district (I'm still trying to figure out what Epiphany Hotel paid in assessments to the parking district). Disastrous, reckless office development policies have put the City in a box and the impacts keep growing. Somebody should ask Kniss
if she herself has ever used a parking lift and how
it is working out at 537 Hamilton before advocating
lifts for the new Downtown garage.

Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 8, 2017 at 1:15 pm

You'll hear that the 537 Hamilton example is not applicable.

11 people like this
Posted by Allen Akin
a resident of Professorville
on Apr 8, 2017 at 1:38 pm

I live on Waverley. Currently about 5100 cars pass my house every day. It's been increasing at about 10%/year since 2013. One effect of this project will be to add several hundred more trips each day on Waverley, because that's the site of the garage and the least-resistance path in downtown between Embarcadero and University. It would be nice to see some effort to mitigate the traffic increase, but I'm sure we'll learn that this project isn't subject to CEQA review because it obviously has no environmental impact.

4 people like this
Posted by Rational
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 8, 2017 at 3:47 pm

Add public transit.
Dissuade use of cars.
Build garages on the edge of town.

4 people like this
Posted by Professorville Resident
a resident of Professorville
on Apr 9, 2017 at 10:12 am

Another way to handle it is to make the parking available for only a few hours a day.
That way it would actually serve community needs w.r.t. retail/dining.

As in shut down the parking structure/disallow cars to enter all but lunch time and dinner time.

If folks don't agree to that, then why are we building the structure?

12 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 9, 2017 at 7:20 pm

The motivation here is for Palo Alto taxpayers to subsidize developers who underparked their erections to maximize profits, by providing the missing parking at public expense.

Privatize the profits, socialize the costs. Suckered again.

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