As costs grow, city may scale back garage plan | News | Palo Alto Online |


As costs grow, city may scale back garage plan

Palo Alto considers eliminating one of the basement levels at planned garage near California Avenue

The proposed garage on Sherman Avenue would include 636 parking spaces under a plan the City Council approved in April. Now, with costs rising, the city is considering scaling down the facility. Rendering by Ross Drulis Cusenbery Architecture.

With cost estimates rising dramatically, Palo Alto is considering scaling back its plans for the California Avenue area parking garage by removing one of the two planned underground levels.

The revision, which is proposed in a new report from the Public Works Department, would reduce the cost of the garage by between $6 million and $8 million at a time when the city's overall infrastructure plan is facing a funding gap of about $50 million.

If the council approves this proposal on Monday the city will move ahead with a five-story garage that would have one basement, four above-ground levels and 542 parking spots.

The prior design, which the City Council approved on April 3, included two basement levels and 636 parking spots. At the time, staff had pegged the garage cost at $34.8 million. Now, the estimate is $40.4 million, according to the report.

The garage, which is planned for Sherman Avenue, is neither the first nor the last infrastructure project to fall victim to the vagaries of Bay Area's construction market, which continues to sizzle.

Last year, the council reluctantly agreed to simplify the design of a proposed bike bridge over U.S. Highway 101, largely in response to escalating costs. Even with the revised design, the cost of the project is now estimated at $16 million, well above the $10 million that officials had initially intended to spend.

Similar issues are almost certain to emerge in the coming year as the city moves ahead with other big-ticket infrastructure projects, including a new public-safety building, a new garage on Hamilton Avenue and replacement of outdated fire stations near Rinconada and Mitchell parks.

For the public-safety building, the costs are rising particularly rapidly, fueled by both the construction market and the project's expanded scope. In 2012, when the council was putting together its infrastructure plan, officials were expecting to spend $47 million on construction and another $10 million for land acquisition.

Now, city engineers believe the new police headquarters could cost as much $91 million. Using a projection of construction-cost escalations, Public Works staff believes the price tag would rise to $74 million by 2021, when construction would take place. The remaining $17 million balance would result from policy choices, including the decision to build two underground levels to accommodate parking and program space, according to the report.

The council's decision on the California Avenue garage could have a significant impact on the police building, and vice versa. The two projects are being designed in tandem and, once completed, they will occupy lots on 350 and 250 Sherman Ave., respectively.

Two parking lots that the structures would replace currently have 310 spaces between them. To limit the loss of parking spaces during construction, the city plans to complete the garage before commencing work on the public-safety building.

The symbiotic relationship between the garage and the police building is underscored in the environmental analysis that the city released last week for the two projects.

The Environmental Impact Report analyzes four alternative scenarios, two of which involve building the police headquarters elsewhere and one that would feature a smaller garage, with 300 parking spaces (the fourth would leave things as they are today). The document determined that an alternative with a 300-space garage would be the "environmentally superior option." The report also concluded, however, that the project would not cause any "significant and unavoidable" impacts even with the larger structure.

The proposal to eliminate one of the underground levels brings the project garage closer to the council and staff's original vision. A year ago, staff and consulting architect Michael Ross presented to the community three different options; two of them included retail on the ground floor and two levels of underground parking; the third didn't have any retail and had one level of parking. During the public outreach process, area merchants lobbied for the city to scrap the retail component and create as many parking spots as possible.

Owners of businesses, including La Bodeguita del Medio, The Counter, Molly Stone's and Izzy's Bagels, also submitted a letter, calling for the city to go big. While they acknowledged in the letter the significant cost of the new structure, they called the project a "one-time opportunity to help alleviate the parking demand and make a forward-thinking capital investment in the future and continued success of our community and business district."

The council largely agreed, resulting in the four-story garage with no retail and with two levels of underground parking. Then-Mayor Greg Scharff said that building a larger garage addressed the concerns of the merchants and residents in nearby neighborhoods.

Councilman Eric Filseth agreed, saying that even if digging the added basement level would cost $4 million more, "In the long run, we'll find that (it's) money that's spent well."

The idea of eliminating an underground level isn't sitting well with some area merchants, a group of whom attended the Thursday meeting of Architectural Review Board to express their discontent (the board discussed and generally lauded the design, though it deferred its decision until March 1).

Former Councilman Jack Morton, president of the California Avenue Business Association, lauded the latest design of the garage but said the new proposal to reduce the parking capacity isn't sitting well with area businesses.

"From merchants' point of view, this project now looks beautiful above ground, but it sorely underperforms what the expectation of the community was," Morton said.


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27 people like this
Posted by Norman Beamer
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 19, 2018 at 7:27 am

Should be paid for via business tax, not by residents.

22 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 19, 2018 at 9:13 am

Online Name is a registered user.

Excellent point. What -- if anything -- is the City Council doing to make businesses pay their fair share??

12 people like this
Posted by Moderate Change
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 19, 2018 at 10:54 am

I'd vote for adding the level back at the top to make up the lost parking. Having 94 more spaces is well worth the slight increase in height. The arbitrary 50' limit is causing us to cripple our ability to create the best use of land. We need to just raise the maximum to 60' so an extra level can be created. At this location the visual, shadow, and density impacts will be so minimal that it just makes sense. So much less expensive to build above ground rather than digging deeper anyway! Honestly, we should do this for new housing projects too!

8 people like this
Posted by Scale it back more.
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 19, 2018 at 10:56 am

Scale it back more. is a registered user.

Scale it back more. Why are we spending tens of millions on housing for cars when we have a terrible shortage of housing for humans? What are local businesses contributing toward parking their cars and reducing their car trips?

27 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 19, 2018 at 11:02 am

Perhaps if they hadn't spent all that money on needless work on Ross Road the money could have been spent on the second underground level.

11 people like this
Posted by chris
a resident of University South
on Jan 19, 2018 at 12:02 pm

The Palo Alto dilly-dally is very expensive. If these structures had been built 5 years ago, they would have cost much less.

Thanks residentialists for for your ill-advised delaying tactics.

18 people like this
Posted by KOhlson
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 19, 2018 at 1:25 pm

KOhlson is a registered user.

The article mentions that construction costs are rising, and cites the cross-101 bridge as an example at $16M. Yet in the very same paper is an article that EPA will build a cross-101 bridge for under $9M. What the ...!

27 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 19, 2018 at 1:37 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

Why blame the residentialists and not all the developers, commuters and big businesses?

16 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 19, 2018 at 2:36 pm

Posted by Norman Beamer< a resident of Crescent Park

>> Should be paid for via business tax, not by residents.

Posted by Online Name, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland

>> Excellent point. What -- if anything -- is the City Council doing to make businesses pay their fair share??

(etc from several posters)

When you folks say "business", what type(s) of business(es) are you talking about? It appears to me that growth in office workers in the area has caused the parking shortfall. To me, that says that office space should be taxed, not necessarily the retail businesses that many are trying to encourage in the area.

11 people like this
Posted by Don
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jan 19, 2018 at 2:47 pm

>> Excellent point. What -- if anything -- is the City Council doing to make businesses pay their fair share??

If you impose additional burden on local retailers... say goodbye to more local retailers.

23 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 19, 2018 at 2:58 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

@Anon, agree with you that retail and professional services businesses should not be taxed because they are serving the community. It's a real shame that our office-development friendly city staff and council keep denying them the parking permits THEY need while making the doctors, dentists, nurses, opticians, accountants, insurance folks and their staffs BEG to be considered for parking permits when they -- as long-standing businesses -- should have had FIRST shot at those permits.

Where's the accountability from the city? We've got several highly paid parking "experts" and their parking consultants who ignore OUR concerns.

(I've lost too many long-time personal services people in the past few years because they're tired of getting ticketed and I resent their loss AND the time / expense of seeking out their replacements.

16 people like this
Posted by Jane
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jan 19, 2018 at 5:13 pm

Residents have paid for and are expected to pay huge amounts for garages for the occupants of offices, fund expensive parking permit programs, and pay for the (unproven) "Transport Demand Management" program, to solve the parking problems of commercial property owners. The system is so rigged that developers can game the parking requirements by not even having to provide the allocated one parking space per 250 sq ft of each new office space.

Meanwhile developers continue to build and lease intensively used office space, with the encouragement of our current development friendly council majority and the majority of past council members. Facilitated by our city manager and his staff who (as I've heard stated by them) see their job as advising developers as to how to maximize each development, and go out of their way to do so.

Meanwhile, residents who pay about 2/3rds of the property tax revenue, are expected to bare the cost of parking for these office occupants. (And remember that unless these office tenants produce a product for which sales tax can be charged, they are pretty much only bringing lunch money to the city, if their employer doesn't offer them a free restaurant.)

Meanwhile, a few people are making huge amounts of money, or lining campaign coffers past and future. And, while the owners of these office properties are benefiting from the enormous leases they can now charge, many don't even live in Palo Alto. Talk about outsourcing.

9 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 19, 2018 at 5:20 pm

I would still like to see many, many more 30 minutes only parking spots near downtown, Cal Ave and similar business districts. Trying to run a few errands in the lunch hour and perhaps needing to drive between both areas to drop off documents or pick up an item is just not easy.

Get all day parking off the streets and into garages and lots. Leave some 30 minute spots so that we can get our business done rather than spend precious minutes circling looking for a quick stop spot. I don't mind walking a block, I just want to be able to park for an errand at lunch time.

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