Palo Alto's effort to drive downtown employees' cars out of residential neighborhoods appears to be gaining momentum, with fewer workers now purchasing parking permits, according to a new report from the Department of Planning and Community Environment.
The Residential Preferential Parking program, which established two-hour parking limits for cars without permits, saw a 22 percent drop in employee permit sales between September 2016 -- when the program began -- and September 2017. In the program's first six months, the city issued 1,335 employee permits. The number went down to 1,155 for the second six months and to 1,090 for the period that began last September.
And with the whole program now up for renewal, city planners are citing this declining permit sales as evidence that the program is working and should be maintained as is. Fewer employee permits, they note, coincides with fewer cars parked on blocks that had been packed with cars before the permit program was implemented. A survey taken last November showed blocks that were between 21 percent and 60 percent parked up.
The survey also indicated that even though the city has sold more than 1,000 worker permits, only about 271 employees use them on an average day.
Even so, the program is not without its problems. The downtown RPP district is divided into 10 zones and, much like in Palo Alto's other residential parking programs, cars tend to bunch in areas closest to the commercial core.
These areas include Zone 1, which is just north of Lytton Avenue; Zone 5, which is just south of Forest Avenue; and Zone 6, which is just south of Zone 5. In all three zones, parking occupancy climbs to above 60 percent (65 percent in Zone 1) around noon. At other times, the parking occupancy ranges between 52 percent and 65 percent. (View a map of all the zones here).
Recent surveys also suggest that downtown employees actually account for a relatively small percentage of the cars parking in the neighborhood zones. In Zone 1, only about 7 percent of parked cars belong to employees with permits, the report states. Furthermore, the parking percentage remains at about 63 percent after 6 p.m., when the permit program is no longer enforced.
Given the survey results, staff concluded that decreasing the number of employee permits in this zone is not expected to reduce the parking percentage in this zone.
Similarly, while zones 5 and 6 exceed 60 percent occupancy during the lunchtime hours, most of the people using the neighborhood spots aren't employees but visitors parking for two hours, the staff report states.
"The City could potentially reduce the number of employee parking permits available ... and/or establish an annual rate of reduction without adversely affecting employee permit holders," the report states. "However, the declining number of permits sold every six months suggests that a forced reduction in the number of employee permits is not necessary to see continued progress."
But while staff is recommending the continuation of status quo, some downtown residents point to the decreased demand for employee permits as evidence that it's time to start decreasing the supply. John Guislin and Neilson Buchanan, residents of Crescent Park and Downtown North, respectively, have called on the council to reduce the number of permit sales to 1,000. Both served on the stakeholder committee that crafted the downtown RPP.
In an email to other neighborhood residents and stakeholders, they noted that the Bryant and Cowper/Webster garages are underutilized and can easily accommodate another 100 employees' vehicles. Thus, enacting the 1,000-permit limit in the neighborhoods will not threaten the well-being of University Avenue and downtown's commercial core.
Staff's proposal to retain the 1,400-permit limit, despite falling demand, "effectively declares that residential neighborhoods should serve as an overflow tidal basin for commercial parking."
"This is unacceptable and violates the problem-solving process previously agreed upon and the goal of reducing the traffic and parking burdens on residential streets," they wrote.
Guislin and Buchanan this week submitted to the council a "residents' proposal." They suggest reducing the number of non-resident permits to 1,000 starting April 1; putting out a request for proposal to create a new management system for all of the city's RPP programs, garages and parking lots; prioritizing non-residential permits such that neighborhood-serving businesses would get preference; and allowing the city manager to release up to 100 temporary employee permits (with terms not exceeding 90 days) if the city determines that there is a "severe shortage."
"(The) residents' proposal is presented to foster continuous improvement of RPP programs and to give clarity to merchants, office tenants, property owners and residents," Guislin and Buchanan wrote.