Southgate's drive to ban Palo Alto High students and staff from parking on its narrow streets finally crossed the finish line Monday night, when the City Council voted to create a Residential Preferential Parking program in the residential neighborhood next to the school.
By a 7-0 vote, with Mayor Greg Scharff and Councilman Adrian Fine absent, the council agreed to make Southgate the latest residential neighborhood to adopt a program that limits parking for nonresidents. Under its provisions, cars that don't have permits will be limited to two hours of parking on the weekdays. Because permits will only be distributed to Southgate residents (with the exception of 10 permits allocated for the two businesses in the neighborhood), the days of Paly cars taking over the streets should come to an end in October, when the program is scheduled to take effect.
Much like in downtown, Evergreen Park and Mayfield, the Southgate program was sparked by a petition from residents, who launched the effort about two years ago. Since then, planning staff had issued its own survey to the neighborhood, which showed 74 percent support for the program among respondents.
Transportation staff also conducted its own occupancy studies, which confirmed what the residents have been saying for years. During lunchtime, 89 percent of the parking spots in Southgate get filled up, said Joshuah Mello, the city's chief transportation official.
Unlike the downtown and Evergreen Park programs, which the council crafted after extensive discussions and numerous public hearings featuring crowds off concerned residents, the Southgate program was approved relatively quickly and with little fanfare. Only two people spoke in favor of the program and no one opposed it.
In many ways, the program mirrors the other two. Each residence will get a free permit, along with the option of buying up to three more for $50 each. Residents will also have the option of buying up to two transferrable hangtags for $50 each and up to 50 daily passes for $5 each over the course of the one-year pilot program.
In advocating for the program, Southgate residents argued that the parking problems aren't just a matter of convenience but also of public safety. Jim McFall, one of the leaders of the effort, noted all streets except one are 24-feet wide or narrower. When cars park on both sides of the street, they effectively create a one-way street -- creating hazardous conditions for bicyclists and making it hard for first responders to reach their destinations.
Southgate resident Keith Farrell said the neighborhood had approached Paly to discuss the problem a few years ago. According to Mello, the school responded in 2016 by revising its policy on parking permits to give preference to those who live farther from campus rather than issuing them on a first-come, first-served basis. This is meant to encourage those who live near the school to find other modes of transportation.
But Farrell said the school made it clear that the most suitable way to address the problem of Paly students and faculty occupying Southgate during the day is through a parking program. He concurred that the narrow streets make the program more imperative.
"We have many years of losing rearview mirrors and sideswipes," Farrell said, noting that his car had sustained between $3,000 and $4,000 in damage from these incidents.
For the council, the decision was never in doubt. Members affirmed their support for a Southgate parking program last fall, when they directed staff to start crafting such programs both at Evergreen Park and in Southgate. The Evergreen Park program kicked off in the spring.
Councilman Eric Filseth agreed with residents that Southgate's narrow streets make it particularly suitable for a Residential Preferential Parking program. Councilman Cory Wolbach concurred and said approving Southgate's request is "the right thing to do."
Mello, however, noted that narrow streets have one big advantage: traffic calming.
"They may be inconvenient at times, but the fact is the travel speeds on those streets are very, very low and they're probably much quieter than other streets around Palo Alto," Mello said.
Vice Mayor Liz Kniss noted that narrow streets "are neighborly as well."
"It's easier to run across the street when the street is 24 feet," she said.
She also took heart in the fact that there was no public opposition to the permit program.
"I think the neighborhood is probably pleased," Kniss said.