News

Council backs shift to downtown parking meters

Palo Alto council members to explore different technologies, policies for paid parking

Seeking to bring some order to downtown's chaotic parking scene, Palo Alto officials signaled on Tuesday night their intent to abolish the existing system of color zones and to bring back paid parking.

The details of downtown's new parking program are yet to be hashed out, but members of the City Council indicated Tuesday that they generally support the recommendations of a newly released study, which surveyed downtown's parking landscape and urged a switch to paid parking.

By a unanimous vote, the council directed planning staff to begin laying the groundwork for a revamped downtown program that will likely include some combination of parking meters, pay stations and new price structures at city-owned garages and parking lots. In the coming months, planning staff will be conducting public outreach and establishing the new program with feedback from the public, the Planning and Transportation Commission and the council's Finance Committee.

The council also directed planning staff to return with different options for a paid parking program, with financial projections and an implementation plan. Councilman Adrian Fine, who crafted the motion, echoed the prevalent sentiment when he characterized paid parking as a critical measure to complement the other parking programs now in the works.

These include downtown's evolving Residential Preferential Parking program, which limits parking on residential blocks to two hours for cars without permits; the recently launched Transportation Management Association, a nonprofit that offers incentives for drivers to switch to other means; and a new five-story downtown garage with 339 spaces, which the council approved earlier in the evening.

Free parking, Fine argued, undermines these efforts.

"This is a vital parking-management piece that I see as needed as a centerpiece to hold all the other pieces," Fine said. "The RPP (Residential Preferential Permit) doesn't work if we have free two-hour parking downtown. Our TMA (Transportation Management Association) doesn't offer much incentive because people don't have incentive to take transit when they can drive downtown for free."

While his colleagues agreed that paid parking makes sense, they offered a variety of opinions about what kind of system to implement. Should on-street parking feature parking meters at every space or a few pay stations per block? Should customers on University Avenue be offered a brief period of free parking before charges kick in? Which options will generate the most revenue? On all these questions, they landed on the same answer: to be determined.

If the council opts to follow the recommendations of the report from Dixon Resource Unlimited, downtown would have parking meters in its core area, around University and Hamilton avenues, and pay stations among the more peripheral blocks. Downtown would also be split into three tiers that would would generally charge between $1.50 to $2.50 per hour, with the more central areas charging a higher amount within that range.

The report also recommends having a lower rate for garages and off-street lots than for on-street parking, thus providing an incentive for people parking long term to use these structures; making parking meters compatible with cellphones and credit cards; and replacing today's scattered system of parking management (which involves at least four departments) with a unified Parking Division.

The council agreed that these recommendations, while sensible, require more exploration. Councilwoman Karen Holman was one of several council members who voiced concerns about the impact that parking meters would have on downtown retail. Councilman Greg Scharff said he was concerned about how much it would cost to install all the equipment and enforce the new restrictions.

"I'm not convinced that we're going to make money on it," Scharff said. "I'm concerned about the cost of infrastructure and I'm even more concerned about the cost of personnel."

The city would pay an estimated $1.2 million under the hybrid option that would bring parking meters and pay stations, according to the report. If it decided to only set up meters, the bill would come in at about $1.5 million.

The council didn't spend too much time on Dixon's recommendation that the city purchase license-plate readers to assist with enforcement (one of the many components that will be evaluated in the coming months). But Councilman Greg Tanaka offered additional enforcement ideas. One that could be explored, he said, is having drones track license-plate information (he noted that there are startups now offering the service). Another idea is sharply raising penalties to deter violations so that instead of a $50 or $100 fine, it would be about $400.

"You get nailed once, word would spread," Tanaka said, "While we're not catching you most of the time, when we do catch you, you're dead."

While neither idea gained much traction, the council was united in offering measured support for paid parking, which would replace the current system of four color zones, each of which offers free parking with a two-hour time limit. All nine council members also agreed that it's too early to make any decisions and that the city's Planning and Transportation Commission and the council's Finance Committee should each vet the new program before adoption.

There was less unanimity in the community, with several residents saying that paid parking would bring in much needed revenue to the city for traffic-reduction efforts simply deter people from coming downtown.

Bob Moss recalled the city's prior experiment with parking meters, which stretched from the 1940s to 1970s. The city ultimately scrapped the parking meters to make downtown more competitive with Stanford Shopping Center.

Moss called the return of parking meters "a lousy idea."

"We did it before, it hurt the city and it hurt the economy," Moss said. "It's going to be bad for business. Don't do it."

But Peter Stone, representing the Chamber of Commerce, said he's not terribly worried about the effect of paid parking on downtown retail. Other cities with meters -- including Redwood City and Mountain View (which actually does not have meters) -- seem to be doing fine, he said.

"What I'm looking for is to see some paid-parking revenues flowing into the TMA and trip reduction, which in the long term is the best way to make sure these problems get better and not worse," Stone said.

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Comments

6 people like this
Posted by stephen levy
a resident of University South
on Apr 12, 2017 at 5:21 am

stephen levy is a registered user.

Thanks to the council for approving the garage downtown and especially for moving forward non paid parking. Both are good moves at this time,

As Peter Stone from the Chsmber said, paid parking for customers will not harm merchants but will provide funding for trip reduction efforts. A win win result.

I would add that parking monies can be used to help low wage workers handle parking costs.

Well done and I look Forward to hearing more about the details.


52 people like this
Posted by Utter Idiocy
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 12, 2017 at 5:45 am

This is a horrible idea. It will push more cars into nearby neighborhoods, devastate resident-serving downtown retail stores, and of course help downtown tech companies by freeing up more spaces for them. Eventually what was once plentiful free parking for short-term trips to Downtown will be switched into full day permit parking so more tech company employees can pack into our city.

Small wonder that our "Chamber of Commerce" loves metered parking. The Chamber no longer speaks for small local businesses but instead only the big developers frantic to grab every parking spot they can. And those developers care not a hoot about local retail, given that tech companies pay so much more in rent.

The city can easily prevent people from parking day after day for free downtown if that were its true goal here. The study found that not many workers are even doing it. But those folks is just a ruse. The real story is that metered parking is just one more step in transforming our Downtown into an office park so developers can earn more.


31 people like this
Posted by Dan
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 12, 2017 at 8:49 am

Just a dumb idea, but I guess it works for people who think everyone is rich so they won't notice their pockets getting picked.


27 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 12, 2017 at 8:59 am

Parking meters in Mountain View? I don't think there are any.

Parking meters in Redwood City, yes, but they cost 25c an hour.

We need fee 30 minute parking outside retail, not more expensive outside retail. If you want to drop off dry cleaning or pick up a prescription you don't want to pay for an hour's parking.

Get the pricing right. First couple of hours should be reasonable then make it more expensive per hour. Don't discourage short parking, but discourage all day parking. Minimum wage workers should be given exemption stickers which they forfeit when they leave their jobs.

Next get some smart app to show where the empty spaces are.


33 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of University South
on Apr 12, 2017 at 9:26 am

I agree with Utter Idiocy that this is not a good idea because if people are going to lose the option of 2 hour free parking downtown, they will drive into residential neighborhoods to find it. That means neighborhoods will become a revolving 2 hour free parking lot.


28 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 12, 2017 at 10:11 am

"But Councilman Greg Tanaka offered additional enforcement ideas. One that could be explored, he said, is having drones track license-plate information (he noted that there are startups now offering the service). Another idea is sharply raising penalties to deter violations so that instead of a $50 or $100 fine, it would be about $400."

DRONES??? Oh, goody. More driver distractions. And larcenous fines?

Remember that we the residents will be paying to commuters to carpool to flood our city.


13 people like this
Posted by Let's get creative!
a resident of South of Midtown
on Apr 12, 2017 at 10:43 am

I usually bike downtown (from southernmost Palo Alto). It takes me about 25-30 minutes of very leisurely riding down Bryant Street Bike Boulevard. It's lovely, and I don't even break a sweat. When I drive, it can take me the same amount of time if I include parking time.

On occasions when I need to drive to carry unwieldy items that I can't carry easily on my bike or when I bring my dog, I really hate trolling for parking. I think paid parking would bother me less if it came with an app that enabled me to find an open, convenient parking spot quickly and easily.

Also, I think we should be able to pay with a credit card. When I do go to communities where there is paid parking, I frequently forget to bring the requisite change to feed the meter. (Sooooo annoying.)

Wouldn't it be nice if there were a way for downtown retailers to give their paying customers a UPC card for a meter refund on parking?

Let's get creative!




41 people like this
Posted by Onward
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 12, 2017 at 11:03 am



I won't pay for parking to pick up my dry cleaning or run into the beauty supply store. No way. I'll find a different dry cleaner and patronize a different beauty supply store. Lunch downtown, forget about it. It's always been a pita to meet friends and eat downtown, but I can meet my friends at the mall, in mid town, or at town and country and not miss a beat.

The goal is to deter driving. Consider this driver deterred.

Onward.


25 people like this
Posted by jim h
a resident of Community Center
on Apr 12, 2017 at 11:15 am

I really don't know how anyone could be proposing parking meters in 2017. They are ugly and expensive. If you are going to have paid parking, please at least use smart centralized payment stations.

$400 for a parking ticket? you must be insane. The premise is that people don't pay the meters because they are gambling on not getting caught. That's a false premise. Sometimes we just don't get back to the meter in time or forget to feed it enough.

Find me one city anywhere in the USA that gives a $400 parking ticket. San Francisco charges $78 for downtown core parking meter violation.

I would never ever again shop or use downtown with a possible $400 ticket. How absurd.


22 people like this
Posted by bill1940
a resident of Menlo Park
on Apr 12, 2017 at 11:29 am

Look at Menlo Park's solution: Short term free, Long term pay. So many people only wish to make a quite stop to CVS or the post office, the bank, etc ...

Palo Alto is somehow lost in the clouds again with those stupid drones. Ah, reminds me of Gulliver's travels ...


22 people like this
Posted by Bambi
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 12, 2017 at 11:31 am

I believe we did this years ago and it failed miserably as everyone went to Stanford Shopping Center and downtown suffered. How will this solve anything? Are our downtown merchants that are hanging on aware of how this will impact them? We can park and walk at Stanford Shopping Center all day if we wish- eat-shop-browse.

Old ideas - already tried and failed


25 people like this
Posted by Losing me to Downtown Menlo
a resident of Menlo Park
on Apr 12, 2017 at 11:42 am

I grew up in a Crescent Park and even though I live in Menlo Park now, my default is to head to downtown Palo Alto for a haircut or bite to eat or any number of small errands. (Hard to break 45 years of habit!)

Now, if I have to pay for the short stop (1 hr or less) to run a quick errand, or risk a $400 ticket, I'll recalibrate my thinking and go to downtown Menlo.

Downtown Menlo is what downtown Palo Alto was 40 years ago (free parking, unique stores, nice balance of different retail types). I should go there more, and now, with this parking nonsense, I will.


9 people like this
Posted by Scotty
a resident of Green Acres
on Apr 12, 2017 at 11:45 am

Money tends to go where it is welcome.


29 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 12, 2017 at 11:49 am

Annette is a registered user.

"You get nailed once, word would spread," Tanaka said, "While we're not catching you most of the time, when we do catch you, you're dead."

Wow. From the dais, no less. But he's right, such a fine would indeed keep people from returning. And word would spread. How, exactly, is that good for downtown retail?


24 people like this
Posted by Strange ideas
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 12, 2017 at 12:13 pm

"You get nailed once, word would spread," Tanaka said, "While we're not catching you most of the time, when we do catch you, you're dead."
and
Drones?

This council member sounds like a techie who relates to computers and machines, but not to actual human behavior. Really strange turn of mind.


32 people like this
Posted by Samuel L.
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 12, 2017 at 12:13 pm

Samuel L. is a registered user.

How did Tanaka get elected? What an idiot. $400 for a parking ticket? Yes, word will spread quickly. It will spread to avoid Palo Alto because it's run by idiots.

How about making sure that businesses provide adequate parking?

Of course this is also a person who wants to build more housing and thinks that it's possible to build housing that is "car-free". Would like to hear what percentage of PA homeowners/renters do not own a car by choice.


7 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 12, 2017 at 12:22 pm

I probably shouldn't comment because I've already solved my downtown parking problem. I just don't go there anymore. Years ago, when there was real retail, we shopped there regularly, at many of the great stores, Wiedeman's, Rapp's, book stores, florists, et al, even when the meters were there. The meters were taken out in an attempt to bring shoppers back, or at least to stem the tide of their exit, when Stanford Shopping Center grew and grew. That might have worked for a while but then the box stores and online shopping came along and destroyed it. What's left? Steve Levy, please define 'merchants' who won't be hurt for me. If you're talking about restaurants, salons, coffee shops, a couple pharmacies, and the Apple Store, then I get it, and they will survive with metering. What they offer can't be purchased online or in box stores, except maybe for the Apple Store, and people will go there anyway for their friendly service and 'genius corner'.

Restaurant goers can cut back on that 3rd martini or 4th glass of wine, or leave a smaller tip, that will cover the cost of metered parking. For most of them, however, a meter cost will be a non issue and won't affect them in any way. They are just out having too much fun and they make enough money coding all day to cover it.

So, let the grand experiment begin.


17 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 12, 2017 at 12:38 pm

Annette is a registered user.

@Bambi - I don't think there's genuine concern for downtown retail. If there were the 1st floor retail requirement would be enforced, under-parked buildings would not be allowed, and approval of more and more commercial space would not be the hallmark of City Council. Adding a garage (see related story) is an unfortunate necessity at this point and the fact that the City must pay for it is also an unfortunate necessity.

We really do need to vote more carefully. The alternative is to continue to accept wrong thinking.


15 people like this
Posted by Gertrude
a resident of Menlo Park
on Apr 12, 2017 at 12:50 pm

I'm on a super tight budget. When I travel to downtown University Ave. to eat it's usually at Pluto's or Pizza My Heart where I can get a good meal for under $10 and not have to leave a tip. If I have to pay for parking I'll probably start making my own lunch and stay away from Palo Alto.


19 people like this
Posted by Abitarian
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 12, 2017 at 1:05 pm

On the very same night, the City Council votes to implement parking meters to *discourage* driving and to build a parking garage to *encourage* driving.

What's the common thread?

That clinking clanking sound of money, money, money, money.


19 people like this
Posted by Anne
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 12, 2017 at 1:13 pm

I hate this. Another good reason not to frequent downtown.


37 people like this
Posted by Grumpy Old Guy
a resident of Palo Alto Orchards
on Apr 12, 2017 at 1:30 pm

Downtown was ruined long before this came up. It started when the City Council started to allow buildings to be developed without adequate parking space. And then it turned a blind eye to the number of employees hired for office spaces (cramming). And then to meet the needs of those crammed employees - the restaurants and high priced items came out.

The reality is that downtown is no longer a welcoming place for local residents. If you think about it, it's being 'evolved' into downtown market street (visit SF for an example) for commercial and business operations - not the local shopping for neighbors. Toy Store? Photo Shop? Florist? Deli? All gone.

City Council of the past opened the flood gates to this disaster.
The current city council is just sweeping the sand.
In effect, it's saying go to Mid-town, maybe California Street, or Los Altos if you want that 'small town' feel. Too bad if it goes by the name of another city.

My condolences to the neighborhoods surrounding University. The neighborhoods you know now will cease to exist in the next ten years because of rampart parking from the commercial district.

And here's a prediction, in the next economic downturn, where the office spaces are vacated, City Council will open up parking to everyone again so that it'll attract greater businesses.

Again, this is just greed by the property owners of downtown. They're asking the rest of us to pay for their infrastructure. Good gawd. . . . .


8 people like this
Posted by chris
a resident of University South
on Apr 12, 2017 at 1:40 pm

Do the outraged posting here realize that downtown PA had parking meters in the '50s and '60s? They were removed to better compete with Stanford Shopping Center and BEFORE restaurants were allowed to serve alcohol.

Now that downtown has reestablished itself and restaurants can serve ALCOHOL, paid parking is the only rational response. I do not have a problem if some spots are set aside for free 30 minute parking.


6 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 12, 2017 at 2:31 pm

I have already almost completely stopped going to downtown apart from a couple of essential errands that always cause problems finding parking. I never choose to meet friends there for lunch for that reason. Having to pay a couple of dollars and knowing that I can find somewhere to park just might make me choose to go back again if they put up decent signs of available parking in garages and/or apps to help me find a space.

For all those who say it will stop them going there, I suspect others will be pleased to return to downtown although it may make us think more about carpooling.

Comparing life today with 50s, 60s and even 70s life is not a good idea. The different lifestyles, price of gas, size of cars, styles of eating, working habits, shopping habits, even the style of clothing that was considered normal, all meant that driving everywhere was normal standard behavior and never questioned. Those days are long gone. Now carpooling, walking or biking for exercise, comfortable casual clothing and shoes, expensive gas, insurance rates and parking costs, all make us think a little differently about getting into the car and shopping is more of a hobby than a necessity.

We are also a well traveled and diversified population. We have used public transport and paid for parking in other places in the world so adapting to this for the population we have here now for the most part won't be the same as it was for those when it was tried before.


16 people like this
Posted by Marie
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 12, 2017 at 3:28 pm

Marie is a registered user.

And tell me again why Avenidas is planning to expand downtown Palo Alto when it is getting more and more difficult for its members to get there? Why doesn't it just relocate to Cubberley permanently?


10 people like this
Posted by dtnnorth neighbor
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 12, 2017 at 3:50 pm

Please no paid parking, this is just getting crazy. What about all of downtown workers. I have already heard from a local retailer person that it is hard to get help during the day as nobody can afford the parking permit or they are moving every 2 hours. They can simply go elsewhere and work during the day. Please we need to have our merchants be able hire people to work in our downtown. I am not talking about the huge companies but our smaller retail stores. PLEASE NO PAID PARKING


5 people like this
Posted by another worker
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 12, 2017 at 5:21 pm

I agree with dtnnorth neighbor. It's hard enough working downtown, for minimum wage, and having to move our car every few hours while working. Now we'll have to pay to park while at work? It'll hurt employers as less employees are willing to pay to park especially if they get busy on their shift and don't move their car in time before the $400 fine. Bad idea.


8 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 12, 2017 at 5:57 pm

Annette is a registered user.

The $400 fine is just Tanaka-speak. If you read further you will read that the idea didn't "get much traction". It is often difficult to decipher what he says.


14 people like this
Posted by ChrisC
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 12, 2017 at 9:40 pm

35 years here without paying parking. Yet another special thing about Pai Alto gone. I won't be going to downtown again. If Palo Alto spent half as much effort on enforcing traffic laws (zero now) as they do parking, there would be money flooding into the town from tickets. Boo hiss on Pslo Alto priorities.


19 people like this
Posted by Old Palo Altian
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 12, 2017 at 9:58 pm

Not sure about others that have been contributing to the City over the years but I think I should not have to pay for parking anywhere in Palo Alto. I believe that if this plan goes through, anyone living and owning a home in the city should get a sticker to park anywhere in Palo Alto for as long a they like.


16 people like this
Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 12, 2017 at 11:21 pm

This is a terrible idea.

It doesn't fix any problem -- no matter what the company that the city hired claims. I'd love to see real PROOF (from outside analysis) whether the Dixon Resources Unlimited plans actually solve problems or whether they simply alleviate some of the congestion while fattening their respective cities' coffers.

We should ask ourselves what the problems are and then address those specific issues.

If the problem is street parking issues in residential neighborhoods, then simply ban street parking for non-residents.

If the problem is that of office workers taking all of the parking, then force businesses (offices -- not restaurants, retail, health, etc.) to pay a fee and provide one assigned space per employee OR private bus service OR CalTrain fare.

There are other options that potentially addressed the REAL issues. Were other options considered by the city or their well-paid analysts who make $$$ from paid parking products and services?


14 people like this
Posted by Gordon Gecko
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 13, 2017 at 12:19 am

Since the city staff and city council thinks this is such a great idea, will losing their free guaranteed parking slots? If not, why not?

The TMA has already decided that we the taxpayers are already stuck paying for them to drive/carpool and for their other transportation expenses.

I'm also curious whether they did an Economic Impact Study on this and whether they projected lost sales tax revenue rather than just how much the city could make. I shudder to think what other brainstorms they'll concoct to offset the lost sales tax revenues.


9 people like this
Posted by Mike
a resident of University South
on Apr 13, 2017 at 8:09 am

Where's the map that shows where paid parking ends and free, 2 hour, parking starts? Since I live _near_ downtown, I suspect the meters will make it impossible to park anywhere near my home.


9 people like this
Posted by Mike
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 13, 2017 at 8:12 am

City staff and council need to develop solutions that maintain the ability to shop and eat and conduct quick visits downtown. And all solutions need to avoid parking meters which are both a blight and clutter on the landscape. Cities are moving to alternatives to individual parking meters, and there are many workable alternatives. Please at least use smart centralized payment stations.


5 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Community Center
on Apr 13, 2017 at 9:40 am

Don't you know that the downtown workers shouldn't be driving to their jobs? Driving is a privilege reserved for those with high income.
The low income workers better ride bicycles or waste 2 hours of their day using public transit.
Who cares about them anyways?
Oh but TRUMP wants them deported! Isn't he so mean and evil? Let's just blame this all on not-my-president and continue fighting for LGBLTBBQ rights (a much more pressing matter) to show how altruistic I am as I roll down the HOV lane in my Tesla while listening to KQED because the state of California gave me special stickers that prove my eco-friendliness.

Parking isn't free!


4 people like this
Posted by Chip
a resident of Professorville
on Apr 13, 2017 at 11:55 am

In the minority here, but I don't mind parking meters. Paying a dollar or 2 while I eat lunch or shop isn't a deal breaker for me, as I do that anyway in Burlingame, San Mateo & Redwood City. If it keeps office workers from hogging spaces, I'm all for it. And yes, pay stations on every block look better than individual meters.


8 people like this
Posted by Lazlo Toth
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 13, 2017 at 12:38 pm

Another great idea put forth by city manager Keene and his senior management staff to increase fees to pay for senior management salaries and benefits. He can be reached directly at 650-329-2392. As management staff salary and benefit contracts are coming up shortly we all need to find new revenue to pay the ever increasing need for contractual increases.
Drones, parking meters, additional staff and technical support to drive away small business revenues is a small price in the long run.


7 people like this
Posted by Send in the Drones
a resident of The Greenhouse
on Apr 13, 2017 at 1:44 pm

Maybe Mr. Tanaka's drones can hone in on City Hall and its spending and find some waste besides the waste they've laid to our quality of life and OUR pockets. Maybe they can find a single ineffective employee, outrageous benefit, laughable employee perk, over-paid consultant?

Surely the $4.5 million City Hall "way-finding" system can help.

Remember when they wanted to hire people to go through OUR garbage so they could fine US for misdirecting our waste? As if 25% of our utility bills wasted on absurd fees, taxes etc. isn't enough!

PS: The drought's officially over. Stop the drought surcharges. We can use the $300 a year more than the city needs another $8,000,000 of our money!


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