Since it rolled out a year ago, Evergreen Park's new residential parking program has more or less achieved its goal: providing parking relief for residents whose blocks have long served as weekday lots for workers in the California Avenue Business District.
While cars still bunch on blocks closest to California Avenue and El Camino Real, a recent survey by the city showed most blocks having ample parking, with occupancy rates ranging between 31 and 39 percent. In the Mayfield neighborhood just south of California Avenue, which is also part of the district, the curbs are a bit more congested, though the only time they reach 60 percent occupancy is during the lunchtime rush of noon and 2 p.m.
That's a far cry from the pre-permit days, when the two neighborhoods had 21 blocks with 85 percent rates on a typical day.
On Monday night, as the City Council was preparing to turn the pilot program into a permanent one, Michael Eager joined other Evergreen Park neighborhood in declaring the new Residential Preferential Program a "success." The program established two-hour parking restrictions for all cars without permits, which were only sold to residents and area employees.
"It reduced parking density in the neighborhood," Eager said. "We had a lot of people who were parking and getting on Caltrain, parking and going over to the Stanford campus. They have mostly moved out of the neighborhood."
The council agreed that the program, which launched last spring, should be made permanent and voted 8-0, with Liz Kniss recusing, to make it so. But in a nod to concerns from businesses along El Camino Real, the council also agreed to increase the number of employee permits from 250 to 290, with the 40 new permits allocated specifically for this group. Unlike other California Avenue employees, these workers are not eligible to buy permits for the district's garages and lots, which makes residential permits a particularly lucrative commodity.
The council's discussion Monday mirrored in many ways a similar debate that occurred a week ago over Southgate's parking program. In both cases, employees had a hard time buying permits and, as a result, beseeched the council to increase the supply. In both cases, the council approved selling more employee permits. And in both cases, the council directed staff to expand the Residential Preferential Program district by annexing the east side of El Camino Real -- a move that would have to get approval from the state Department of Transportation.
In approving the extension of the program, the council also made some modifications. When the next phase begins in April, there will be six zones in the parking district rather than three. The move is meant to scatter cars more evenly throughout the area (Full disclosure: The Weekly's office is located in the California Avenue district).
The council also directed staff to explore ways to give preference to certain types of employees -- namely, workers in retail and other neighborhood-serving business -- over office workers whose companies serve a regional or global clientele. This direction was proposed by Councilman Tom DuBois and approved by a 6-2 vote, with councilmen Greg Scharff and Adrian Fine dissenting.
Shortly before the vote, Vice Mayor Eric Filseth called the latest changes a "pragmatic step forward."
"Parking is a scarce resource and we need to manage it," Filseth said. "And the reality is that either today or in the future there may not be enough supply no matter what we do to meet all potential demand for it.
"At same time, we need to recognize that a neighborhood is a neighborhood and not just a parking resource."
Though a handful of residents argued Monday that all employees should be barred from Evergreen Park streets -- low occupancy rates notwithstanding -- most said they support staff's proposal to extend the existing program with the slight modifications.
The two business owners who addressed the council on Monday did so as well. Tim Mulcahy, a dentist on El Camino, told the council that it's really important that the businesses get the additional permits, for which he said there is heavy demand.
"My hope is we can get this thing together, and we can find a solution and go forward," Mulcahy said.
The council directed staff to reach out to Caltrans to get approval for the El Camino expansion -- a process that officials believe could take up to six months. Until then, the city will distribute the permits among the four parking zones in Evergreen Park.
While the addition of 40 permits will give employees some immediate relief, council members also acknowledged that some problems with the RPP will take much longer to solve. The permit-selling process for employees remains a somewhat chaotic first-come, first-served affair that Eager and several council members referred to as a "land rush."
This becomes particularly problematic when some employers buy up their maximum allocations (each can get up to 10 permits), leaving others without any permits at all. Unlike the Downtown RPP, where employee permits don't sell out, the one at Evergreen Park is filled to capacity.
"This is the first district where we've run out of inventory, but I think it's an issue that will come up in other RPPs," DuBois said.
Councilman Adrian Fine had a broader frustration. He pointed to the council's discussions of RPP districts in recent weeks and suggested that each is becoming "too customized."
"If we want to protect our neighborhoods from parking intrusions from commercial impacts, we might need to think about better, more holistic and systemic solutions," Fine said.