When the residential-parking program kicked off in the Evergreen Park neighborhood last spring, it brought immediate -- if uneven -- relief to a residential area next to the California Avenue business district.
Now, with the pilot program approaching its one-year anniversary, city officials are preparing to make the Residential Preferential Program permanent and to remedy its most glaring flaws: the tendency of cars to "bunch" on the blocks closest to California Avenue and the relatively low occupancy rates in the more peripheral areas.
On Monday night, the City Council will consider two changes to the parking program, which began in March and established two-hour limits on cars that don't have an RPP permit. The program provided a permit to each resident (along with the option to buy three more stickers and two transferrable hashtags) and made 250 permits available for employees in the business district.
The biggest -- and most controversial -- change is adding 40 employee permits to the program, which includes Evergreen Park and Mayfield, the two neighborhoods adjacent to the commercial strip. The change is primarily intended to accommodate workers in the medical and dental buildings on El Camino Real -- businesses that are outside the California Avenue Parking Assessment District and that are thus ineligible for permits for public garages and lots.
In October, when the first six-month period of the program elapsed, some employees in those buildings reported that they were unable to purchase permits because of limited supply -- a predicament that left them with few good options.
A new report from the Department of Planning and Community Environment argues that the program can accommodate these new permits and points to occupancy data for evidence. An October survey by city consultants showed occupancies in the three zones of the program ranging from 36 percent to 60 percent, depending on time of day. Only Zone C, in the Mayfield area, reached 60 percent, and this was between noon and 2 p.m. -- the lunchtime rush.
The survey also showed that only about a third of the employee permit holders, which equals to 80 employees, actually use the permit at any given time. With a "show rate" of 32 percent, staff estimates that the 40 additional permits will result in about 13 new employees parking in the Evergreen Park area at any given time.
The city's survey also highlighted another shortfall in the Residential Preferential Parking program. While each of the three broad zones usually has a parking occupancy rate below the target of 60 percent, the rates vary greatly on a block-by-block basis. In the current Zone A, which is just north of California Avenue, cars tend to park on College Avenue and segments of Birch and Ash streets. Go a few blocks north, past Stanford Avenue, and you encounter blocks with just a handful of cars.
According to the city's survey, this area -- which includes Oxford Avenue, between Park Boulevard and El Camino -- had an occupancy rate of just 19 percent.
To disperse them, the city plans to redraw the map to create six zones. This would allow some permits to specifically apply to the peripheral zones. The two zones north of California Avenue, now known as Zone A and Zone B, would be broken down to Zones A, B, C and D. All 40 of the new employee permits would be distributed in this area.
The Mayfield zone, which today is known Zone C, would be split into Zone E and Zone F.
Earlier this month, the city held a meeting to discuss the proposed changes for parking programs at Evergreen Park and at Southgate, which saw its own program debut last fall. Transportation Planning Manager Philip Kamhi said that when it comes to increasing the supply of employee permits, he's heard both sides. Businesses have requested that the city increase the number of employee permits, while residents expressed some concerns about doing so.
Some residents voiced concerns about the process. Christian Pease, who lives in Evergreen Park, said that when the program was implemented, residents were assured that there would be a one-year trial, after which time the program would be revisited for possible modifications. Instead, staff appears to be "pushing forward" with modifications without input from residents and commissioners, he said at the Jan. 10 meeting of the Planning and Transportation Commission.
"We're wondering what happened to the process," Pease said. "The process has not been smooth and entirely friendly."
Some in Southgate have similar feedback. There, staff is proposing to raise the number of employee permits from 10 to 25. Another proposal is to establish a two-hour parking limit along two segments of El Camino Real, near Churchill Avenue and near Park Avenue.
The new permits at Southgate are intended to accommodate the only two commercial properties in the residential district at 1515 El Camino Real and 1681 El Camino Real. Between them, they have about 70 employees, according to a staff report. A survey of the neighborhood conducted on Jan. 10 and 11 showed an average parking occupancy of 22 percent.
Former mayor Nancy Shepherd, a Southgate resident, was one of more than 20 residents who attended a meeting on Jan. 10 to hear about the proposed changes for her residential neighborhood. She and others were surprised that the city is moving ahead with the changes so early in the process, Shepherd told the Weekly.
Unlike the Evergreen Park program, which began in March, the one in Southgate made its debut in October (enforcement began in November).
"We didn't expect to see any changes to the district map and the permit process until after the first year," Shepherd said.
Southgate resident Keith Ferrell, a member of a neighborhood group that has been vetting the proposed changes, said residents believe adding more permits will worsen the situation at streets closest to the El Camino businesses, which he says have only seen "mild improvements" since the RPP was implemented last fall.
Ferrell told the Weekly in an email that the neighborhood had asked for but never received a "true stakeholders" meeting during the application process.
He also noted that the staff recommendation is based on a show rate of 30 to 40 percent, even though nine of the 10 employee permits currently get used before 9 and 10 a.m.
"If their recommendation is based on this showrate, then their recommendation is faulty and should be rejected," Ferrell wrote.