Higher parking-permit fees draw sharp reactions | News | Palo Alto Online |


Higher parking-permit fees draw sharp reactions

Palo Alto workers unhappy with proposed 60 to 300 percent increases in permit prices

Palo Alto employees and businesses responded mostly negatively Wednesday to the city's proposal to significantly increase parking-permit fees, with one banker calling it "absolutely outrageous" and others saying the move would cause financial and logistical hardships.

The City Council is set to approve on June 27 a 2017-18 budget that would shift transportation costs to employees, raising annual parking-permit fees for California Avenue lots and garages from $149 to $365 and for downtown Palo Alto's garages from $466 to $738. The cost for a day parking permit in the California Avenue district would also increase from $8 to $25.

In addition, new permit programs in downtown and California Avenue's adjacent residential neighborhoods — which eliminated the free, all-day parking that workers enjoyed until recently — would also see fee increases.

The additional fees for downtown would be used to support the Transportation Management Association (TMA), a nonprofit aiming to reduce the number of solo drivers commuting to work. It is unclear how additional fees for California Avenue would be allocated.

Currently, some businesses are covering permit costs for their employees; others aren't. Many of the employees who choose not to pay for parking permits themselves instead move their cars every two or three hours in accordance with parking time limits.

Didem Kurt, events coordinator at furniture store West Elm in downtown, commutes from south San Jose and said that she and most of her colleagues, excluding managers, constantly move their cars throughout the day.

Similarly at The Counter, a diner on California Avenue, employees who aren't assigned designated parking spaces have to "run out" during lunch hour, manager Janice Faso said.

"It hurts business," she said.

Some of her employees attempted to buy reduced-price permits for low-income workers to park on neighborhood streets, but only two out of six received them before the city closed applications due to a limited number of permits. She fears that increased fees will also discourage potential employees.

Other employees who cannot afford permits park farther away and arrive earlier at work, said California Avenue Subway employee Dominga Gonzalez. Getting to work 30 minutes early is no good, she said. To ensure a parking space in the section of Stanford Avenue that doesn't require a permit, she must get to work at least 40 minutes early.

Kurt, of West Elm, said that increasing parking-permit fees is ridiculous.

"The retail business employees — I don't think anyone can afford it," she said.

Stephanie Wansek, general manager of Cardinal Hotel in downtown, agreed.

"An employee who makes minimum wage or $15 an hour cannot pay for that," Wansek said. "And the process for an employee to get a reduced (price) permit is very intensive. Employees, especially with language barriers, cannot accomplish that without assistance, and it's too much for a small business owner or manager to take on, all of the employee paperwork and online requirements."

Some small businesses, like the Cardinal Hotel, are covering permit costs for employees who can't afford it. But at $466 a pop — let alone the proposed $730 — Wansek said it's already a "big expense."

ZombieRunner on California Avenue has not had to subsidize employees' parking, but "we might need to now," said Gillian Robinson, co-owner of the outdoor-gear store.

On the plus side, Robinson noted that if permits are more expensive, "maybe fewer people will get them, so it may make it easier to get one."

For many local employees, the aims of the Transportation Management Association — promoting alternative forms of commuting — may be laudable but are just not feasible.

Tarna Rosendahl has worked at Bell's Books in downtown for 10 years and commutes "a 15-mile drive up in the mountains" to and from La Honda, where there is no bus.

"There's no way I can take other transportation here, so I basically have to bring my car," she said. "There are a lot of people who don't have access to public transit who have to come into work."

If she lived closer, she said, she'd be happy to take public transportation, bike or walk. But she doesn't.

Her employer currently pays for her parking permit, but she said there is no guarantee that this will continue if parking-permit fees increase.

If her employer decides that the cost is too much to cover, she would not pay for a permit herself.

"It'd be too much of a percentage of what I make," she said.

The option to carpool or use public transportation is also unavailable to Robyn Del Fierro, director of downtown's Citi Private Bank, because of the nature of her job, which requires out-of-office visits to her clients at various times throughout the day.

"This increase hurts the working population who not only pay the parking permits each year but also support the local businesses with our discretionary dollars," she wrote in an email, describing the proposal as "absolutely outrageous."

Driving a car, said Faso, is not just about commuting. She uses her car to run various errands throughout the day.

If the city increased parking-permit fees by 5 or 10 percent at a time, allowing workers to adjust, maybe they would be more receptive, said Devin Blake, employee of paint store Benjamin Moore on California Avenue. But as the fees are, they just cost too much for workers.

"We get paid a certain amount, and that's to live," Blake said. "Not to park."

Though Del Fierro may be forced to pay the increase, she said she will make a conscious choice to spend her discretionary dollars elsewhere and will encourage her company to do the same.

"For those of us who have the privilege of working in Palo Alto, this announcement definitely does not feel like we are valued by this city but rather penalized without much representation," she said.

Tyler Hanley, administrator at downtown bath-house spa Watercourse Way, hopes the city will push for a solution that benefits both residents and businesses.

"Continuing to raise permit costs for employees could force people to find jobs elsewhere, negatively affect an important and vibrant downtown area and, ultimately, make employees feel unwelcome in downtown Palo Alto," he said in an email.

Related content:

Rate hikes aim to shake up Palo Alto's parking scene


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13 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 23, 2017 at 9:10 am

This is a sad and sorry state of affairs.

Here's my post from the other thread. It is relevant here too.

Making parking more difficult and more expensive is not going to help people park, just make it more difficult to get downtown unless people have no alternative.

We have one parking lot on the periphery, at 280, for carpoolers, but none at 101 and no shuttles serve that parking lot. Why not?

Parking permits are linked to a car, what happens to someone who needs to use spouse's car, a loaner while car is in shop, or if the car pool driver goes on vacation?

Why can't occasional permits be bought for those who only need them a couple of times a week? Some might use Caltrain or carpool, if they could buy a permit for several days.

Why don't we have more technological solutions have been talked about but nothing has been done. Instead it is easier to put prices up without any ease of service.

2 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 23, 2017 at 9:22 am

If the parking lots are full at the old subsidized prices, why not raise the prices to market levels and use the extra money to provide alternatives ways to get to California Ave? Like shuttle busses or a bike bridge over the train tracks from Midtown to California Ave?

18 people like this
Posted by Honor Spitz
a resident of another community
on Jun 23, 2017 at 12:23 pm

Would it be possible for some of the highest paid City employees (department managers for instance) to dial down their generous salaries a bit in order to allow business owners and their hourly paid workers a realistic opportunity to park in the area? Making money or trying to make up a monetary deficit off of the backs of minimum paid workers seems rather draconian.

19 people like this
Posted by Chrissy
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 23, 2017 at 12:32 pm

As senior residents of a CCRC, we are dependent on services of low-paid workers for daily activities and care. Most of these workers have to commute long distances to work in Palo Alto. Many have to move from one job to another during the day to make ends meet. The senior population of Palo Alto is increasing and will continue to do so. Increasing parking fees and increasing resident parking zones is only ok if it is compensated by equivalent other forms of transportation solutions for commutes from the East Bay and South Bay from which most of our workers come. These forms of transportation do not exist for the most part. The comments from "Resident" are right on. We need to stop thinking only of fees and permits and combine these with equivalent alternatives such as shuttles, additional parking lots, etc.

13 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 23, 2017 at 8:52 pm

What is being forgotten is that people who drive from the East Bay or the Coast have no alternatives to driving. These people work in our retail and serve and cook in our restaurants.

What will happen is that we will have no service workers able to afford to work in Palo Alto.

This is a joke.

12 people like this
Posted by @Resident
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 23, 2017 at 10:40 pm

"What is being forgotten is that people who drive from the East Bay or the Coast have no alternatives to driving. These people work in our retail and serve and cook in our restaurants."

Exactly. This is very prevalent in Los Altos. Many have lost their jobs and cannot commute long distances to work for these hourly wages. Executives on the other hand have 2-10 million dollar salaries and often go on vacation. It just doesn't make sense.

15 people like this
Posted by Where's The Creativty?
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 23, 2017 at 10:44 pm

@Resident's first post and most recent posts are so true. They ask the questions that our over-paid bureaucrats should have considered when crafting the parking program. PA's wasted a fortune "revitalizing" our downtown areas only to destroy them. This lack of creativity and/or plain common sense shows how out-of-touch they are with our small local businesses, medical offices and residents.

Unfortunately, it's a bad joke that we'll soon have to no restaurant and service workers who can afford to work in, park in, commute to Palo Alto.
Many restaurants are closing because they can't keep workers and the restaurant industry is being split into very high end and low-end as the middle vanishes.

The city's been penalizing Cal Ave employees for years. My wonderful eyeglass person got tired of being tickets even when her parking permit was displayed and left, as have other nurses, dental techs and personal service people I used for years. I'm furious that PA ignored the needs of the medical professionals and their patients and that I have to waste my time fimding new replacements.

Don't they ever go to the dentist?? Are our bureaucrats so tone-deaf and clueless about real community needs? They ignore substantive complaints and recommendations. That they miss so many "outreach" notifications can't be coincidental.

5 people like this
Posted by Cynic
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 24, 2017 at 11:04 am

City Council and staff again demonstrate their ideological bias against cars - at least, visitors' cars. Personally - and I live in the Downtown RPP area -I'm OK with these fees as long as everyone - residents and all City employees - must pay the same rates. It makes some sense to use pricing to manage congestion and the finite parking resource. But residents contribute to congestion and should have an incentive to get their cars off the street. And these dollar amounts go way beyond management.

On the plus side, the four parking permits which downtown residents can buy for $150 are now worth $2,952 - a month's rent! A sensible government assistance scheme for that very needy population.

10 people like this
Posted by realtor
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 26, 2017 at 12:19 pm

I work as a realtor, and can not park outside the city, or have my car a 20 minute bus ride away. I remember reading that the city employees all have free parking. To me this looks like the usual predatory government, the same that is constantly trying to tax businesses, block roads by "traffic calming" and on. Time to fire 80% of these high pay busybodies and have them find real work, work that benefits citizens.

4 people like this
Posted by Free Lunch
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 26, 2017 at 1:20 pm

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]

4 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 26, 2017 at 5:10 pm

[Post removed due to factually incorrect information.]

4 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 26, 2017 at 5:34 pm

If I was factually incorrect, humble apologies.

Please provide the correct information for the cost of the 11 roundabouts and/or tell the other local newspaper that its front page story today was incorrect.

2 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 27, 2017 at 6:02 pm

Now that there is news of a new grocer at Edgewood, it will be interesting to see where the East Bay commuters carpool park? They can't afford the astronomical parking prices in downtown so will have to park on the residential streets and carpool.

I suspect Edgewood will be the next area for parking permits.

After that, no retail or restaurants in town.

Unless of course carpool parking lots are built near 101 and 280.

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