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Palo Alto to restrict parking permits for downtown workers

City Council agrees to reduce the number of employee permits to be sold as part of downtown Residential Preferential Program

Seeking to reach a truce in downtown's battle over parking spots, the Palo Alto City Council moved on Monday night to reduce the number of parking permits that could be sold to employees and to give city staff the power to release more permits, should circumstances require.

By a 5-3 vote, with Councilman Greg Scharff absent and Mayor Liz Kniss and councilmen Adrian Fine and Greg Tanaka dissenting, the council agreed to stick with its previously stated goal of gradually reducing the number of permits allotted to employees in the downtown Residential Preferential Program. The council's action takes the number of annual permits from 1,500 to 1,000 -- a reduction that the dissenters thought was too severe and potentially harmful to downtown businesses.

To date, the program has been a mixed success. It provided instant relief to downtown neighborhoods such as Downtown North and Professorville, where residents have long complained about seeing their residential streets taken over by commuters during weekdays.

Yet the relief has been uneven. According to planning staff, the zones in the parking district that are closest to downtown's commercial core continue to see high occupancy rates and high demand for employee permits. In Zones 1 and 2 (north of University Avenue) and in Zones 5, 6 and 7 (south of Hamilton Avenue), every available employee permit has been sold. But demand has been lackluster for permits in the more peripheral zones. Zone 4, in Crescent Park, saw 99 out of 136 employee permits sold, while Zone 8, in southernmost Professorville, saw 78 employee permits sold out of the 137 available.

The program has also made life more difficult for downtown employees who work close to the commercial core but who have been unable to buy the permits. Councilwoman Karen Holman said Monday that she has heard from various workers who park near Gamble Garden on Embarcadero Road and then run to their place of employment closer to University Avenue.

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"Getting those permits closer to the place of employment is a big deal, (as is) support for low-income employees and local retail and services," Holman said.

At the same time, the council majority agreed that the reduction in employee permits is long overdue. The council had consistently discussed the prospect of reducing worker permits in conjunction with a ramp up of the Palo Alto Transportation Management Association, which is charged with reducing car trips and promoting alternate modes of transportation.

Recent statistics from transportation staff suggest that bringing the number down to 1,000 wouldn't make too dramatic a difference. To date, the city had sold 830 permits out of 1,000 in its inventory (staff also had the option of releasing up to 100 permits that are being kept in "reserve" and that it hasn't had to use).

Some downtown business owners, including a group of dentists, restauranteur Rob Fischer and Watercourse Way owner Susan Nightingale, urged the council on Monday not to create any new parking restrictions for downtown employees.

Fischer, whose restaurants include Reposado and Peninsula Creamery, said the city's restrictive parking policies and clunky permit-purchasing system have made it harder for businesses like his to retain workers.

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"We have the most talented tech people here and (yet) we make it difficult for employees to get parking permits," Fischer said. "Instead of reducing employee parking, let's increase it! Let's make this a better place for people to work."

Chris Joy, president of the Mid-Peninsula Dental Society and a dentist with a practice on Homer Avenue, also pleaded with the council to not reduce employee permits.

"Please leave the number of parking permits for sale at 1,500 or 1,400 unless you can guarantee medical, dental, Channing House service personnel, Watercourse Way and all the other folks who serve the residents the ability to purchase annual permits," Joy said.

Kniss, who sympathized with their plight, suggested that the cut in employee permits is too deep. Staff had proposed 1,500 employee permits and the council had "just cut it by a third," she said. Kniss said her recent experiences with having an intern look for parking have convinced her that the current system isn't working all that well.

She proposed a compromise -- bringing the number down to 1,200. Councilman Fine supported her proposal.

But others, including Councilman Tom DuBois and Vice Mayor Eric Filseth, argued that the city needs to stay the course and move ahead with the deeper reduction. Filseth said the city needs to honor its promise to provide parking relief to residents.

"We promised them a roll-down (in employee permits); we promised them a reasonable number," Filseth said. "Yes, we made progress, but we still have impacted streets."

Faced with two different views, Councilman Cory Wolbach proposed a compromise: bringing the number of permits down to 1,000, but give staff a larger reserve of 200 permits to address any unexpected problems that may emerge as a result of the drawdown. The council majority accepted his proposal.

"I'm not eager to have it come back to us in the immediate future," Wolbach said. "I'm much more eager to give staff the opportunity to work with what they see as emerging challenges to achieve what they understand to be our policy objectives."

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Palo Alto to restrict parking permits for downtown workers

City Council agrees to reduce the number of employee permits to be sold as part of downtown Residential Preferential Program

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Tue, Jun 26, 2018, 12:17 pm

Seeking to reach a truce in downtown's battle over parking spots, the Palo Alto City Council moved on Monday night to reduce the number of parking permits that could be sold to employees and to give city staff the power to release more permits, should circumstances require.

By a 5-3 vote, with Councilman Greg Scharff absent and Mayor Liz Kniss and councilmen Adrian Fine and Greg Tanaka dissenting, the council agreed to stick with its previously stated goal of gradually reducing the number of permits allotted to employees in the downtown Residential Preferential Program. The council's action takes the number of annual permits from 1,500 to 1,000 -- a reduction that the dissenters thought was too severe and potentially harmful to downtown businesses.

To date, the program has been a mixed success. It provided instant relief to downtown neighborhoods such as Downtown North and Professorville, where residents have long complained about seeing their residential streets taken over by commuters during weekdays.

Yet the relief has been uneven. According to planning staff, the zones in the parking district that are closest to downtown's commercial core continue to see high occupancy rates and high demand for employee permits. In Zones 1 and 2 (north of University Avenue) and in Zones 5, 6 and 7 (south of Hamilton Avenue), every available employee permit has been sold. But demand has been lackluster for permits in the more peripheral zones. Zone 4, in Crescent Park, saw 99 out of 136 employee permits sold, while Zone 8, in southernmost Professorville, saw 78 employee permits sold out of the 137 available.

The program has also made life more difficult for downtown employees who work close to the commercial core but who have been unable to buy the permits. Councilwoman Karen Holman said Monday that she has heard from various workers who park near Gamble Garden on Embarcadero Road and then run to their place of employment closer to University Avenue.

"Getting those permits closer to the place of employment is a big deal, (as is) support for low-income employees and local retail and services," Holman said.

At the same time, the council majority agreed that the reduction in employee permits is long overdue. The council had consistently discussed the prospect of reducing worker permits in conjunction with a ramp up of the Palo Alto Transportation Management Association, which is charged with reducing car trips and promoting alternate modes of transportation.

Recent statistics from transportation staff suggest that bringing the number down to 1,000 wouldn't make too dramatic a difference. To date, the city had sold 830 permits out of 1,000 in its inventory (staff also had the option of releasing up to 100 permits that are being kept in "reserve" and that it hasn't had to use).

Some downtown business owners, including a group of dentists, restauranteur Rob Fischer and Watercourse Way owner Susan Nightingale, urged the council on Monday not to create any new parking restrictions for downtown employees.

Fischer, whose restaurants include Reposado and Peninsula Creamery, said the city's restrictive parking policies and clunky permit-purchasing system have made it harder for businesses like his to retain workers.

"We have the most talented tech people here and (yet) we make it difficult for employees to get parking permits," Fischer said. "Instead of reducing employee parking, let's increase it! Let's make this a better place for people to work."

Chris Joy, president of the Mid-Peninsula Dental Society and a dentist with a practice on Homer Avenue, also pleaded with the council to not reduce employee permits.

"Please leave the number of parking permits for sale at 1,500 or 1,400 unless you can guarantee medical, dental, Channing House service personnel, Watercourse Way and all the other folks who serve the residents the ability to purchase annual permits," Joy said.

Kniss, who sympathized with their plight, suggested that the cut in employee permits is too deep. Staff had proposed 1,500 employee permits and the council had "just cut it by a third," she said. Kniss said her recent experiences with having an intern look for parking have convinced her that the current system isn't working all that well.

She proposed a compromise -- bringing the number down to 1,200. Councilman Fine supported her proposal.

But others, including Councilman Tom DuBois and Vice Mayor Eric Filseth, argued that the city needs to stay the course and move ahead with the deeper reduction. Filseth said the city needs to honor its promise to provide parking relief to residents.

"We promised them a roll-down (in employee permits); we promised them a reasonable number," Filseth said. "Yes, we made progress, but we still have impacted streets."

Faced with two different views, Councilman Cory Wolbach proposed a compromise: bringing the number of permits down to 1,000, but give staff a larger reserve of 200 permits to address any unexpected problems that may emerge as a result of the drawdown. The council majority accepted his proposal.

"I'm not eager to have it come back to us in the immediate future," Wolbach said. "I'm much more eager to give staff the opportunity to work with what they see as emerging challenges to achieve what they understand to be our policy objectives."

Comments

Resident
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 26, 2018 at 1:25 pm
Resident, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 26, 2018 at 1:25 pm

So where will these employees park?

Will they park in ever increasing circles outside the parking zone areas and bring a bike/skateboard/scooter to get them to their place of employment?

Will they park on a street near a shuttle stop?

Will they decide that working in Palo Alto is too difficult so we will lose all our dentists, restaurants, grocery stores because they can't hire workers?

Or will someone at last have the sense to do something about finding parking for our workers? Will we at last get some parking lots at off ramps with dedicated shuttles to bring these workers who live in the East Bay, in Cupertino, on the Coast, and other places beyond transportation and biking distance, in to their jobs?

Because if we don't, we might not like the results.


Anon
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 26, 2018 at 2:41 pm
Anon, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 26, 2018 at 2:41 pm

Here we go again. The bridges, freeways, and expressways are jammed with commuters at rush hour, Caltrain is SRO at rush hour, El Camino traffic is moving at a snail's pace at rush hour, we don't have enough parking spaces in our residential neighborhoods to go around, and yet, we keep building more and more and more office space. But, not to worry. If we add a few hundred BMR apartments here and there, and re-allocate parking permits, surely that will solve the commute traffic and parking problems.

Are there really that many people who find pleasure in sitting in traffic and hunting for parking?

Here's the thing: either the developers and their political supporters are dumb, or, we voters are dumb.


Who should pay
Midtown
on Jun 26, 2018 at 3:52 pm
Who should pay, Midtown
on Jun 26, 2018 at 3:52 pm

If the major corporations and tech companies who are creating the parking shortage would pay for the mitigations, we wouldn't have to agonize so much.
I don't feel that I should pay for parking for their workers.
Palantir, Stanford, Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon could, if they wanted to, use some of their BLLIONS to work on this.

They can fund buses, garages, permits, flextime, etc.,etc.


Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 26, 2018 at 4:09 pm
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Jun 26, 2018 at 4:09 pm

The council should always give preference to employees of businesses that serve residents (restaurants, retailers, dentists, doctors, opticians, accountants, etc.) rather than the office workers at big companies like Palantir, Amazon, Visa, etc. that can well-afford to provide shuttle /bus service for their employees.

We really need to reduce the number of office workers and "fake retail" workers and not penalize residents and the businesses who serve us.


Permits are Available
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 26, 2018 at 6:29 pm
Permits are Available, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Jun 26, 2018 at 6:29 pm

There appears to be 170 permits available downtown. So why would businesses request a larger reserve or more permits? Seems like a redistribution, if it's possible, would be a first step.

Permit program's goal is to reduce parking in the neighborhoods. Isn't this where the bike share program, shuttles, etc... need to be utilized?

And the council can't be surprised that the downtown area is congested, just look at the changes in the make up of the downtown businesses. How many small retail shops have been converted to three-story office buildings? Does the city have any idea how many people worked in the area 2, 5 or 10 years ago vs. today?


Resident
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 26, 2018 at 6:46 pm
Resident, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 26, 2018 at 6:46 pm

I think the situation is dire. If you didn't read my post (the first one above).

We are in danger of losing our dentists, our grocery clerks, our restaurants and who knows what else if employees are not able to find parking for work.

We desperately need satellite off ramp parking lots at our highways. This is crucial to our way of life otherwise we will not have any resident service providers because they won't be able to find employees.

The only public transport is north/south. This is not acceptable to those who need to get here to work in our service jobs.


NeilsonBuchanan
Registered user
Downtown North
on Jun 27, 2018 at 11:28 am
NeilsonBuchanan, Downtown North
Registered user
on Jun 27, 2018 at 11:28 am

Important facts must be noted.

1. The demand for non-resident permits is less than 900 since April 1 commencement of sales.
2. The businesses are complaining about parking locations within neighborhoods. It is impossible for city to provide neighborhood parking close to hundreds of businesses. This would be overwhelming negative saturation of commercial parking in prime residential neighborhoods.
3. Businesses have a legit complaint that the "computerized" process to obtain a permit is difficult but permits are available....and unsold. Permits are easily obtained from staff in city hall lobby.
4. Substantial unused capacity is available in Bryant and Cowper/Webster garages. Furthermore, city staff has not implemented long-promised valet parking. Highly successful daily valet service has been available at the High Street garage for many years.
5. I can provide more information. Email me at [email protected]


Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 27, 2018 at 11:31 am
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Jun 27, 2018 at 11:31 am

It was reported elsewhere that the Chief Transportation Officer says he doesn't have the staff to update the business registry. Really? Out of a budget of tens of millions of dollars he can't come up with a few hundreds or thousands of dollars to hire some data-entry temps to protect our retail and service businesses?


chris
University South
on Jun 27, 2018 at 11:33 am
chris, University South
on Jun 27, 2018 at 11:33 am

Parking lots by 101 is no solution. Try getting the land and the freeways will still be clogged. You need buses from the neighrboods to downtown PA. VTA has a number of them to Stanford Research. Dumbartonhas buses from the East Bay to downtown PA, Stanford, and Stanford Research. That service needs to be improved on both sides of the bay, with more routes and subsidies. Stanford pays for their employees.


NeilsonBuchanan
Registered user
Downtown North
on Jun 27, 2018 at 12:08 pm
NeilsonBuchanan, Downtown North
Registered user
on Jun 27, 2018 at 12:08 pm

to Online Name and Chris

Thanks. Josh Mello is quite capable in my opinion. We are lucky to have him in charge of parking and traffic. However, he is helpless without substantial funding, staff and technology. He should be thanked for his honest appraisal of failed systems such as the business registry.

The city council urge for development has dug a deep transportation hole. In the best of circumstances it will take a couple of years to see meaningful change. The new budget for transportation section is not clear to me. New resources are flowing but who knows if the overall hole is getting deeper or not.

Chris, Nobody has a handle on buses, shuttles, etc. The Downtown TMA is a start and deserves a year to get to organized with new staff/budget. But it is a quaint, small town concept with its limited geographic scope. I attend meetings regularly and even donated small $s. But it requires scale by morphing to Calif Ave and at least one nearby town such as Menlo Park.


Bicycle Budget Funds?
Registered user
Evergreen Park
on Jun 27, 2018 at 2:24 pm
Bicycle Budget Funds?, Evergreen Park
Registered user
on Jun 27, 2018 at 2:24 pm

Why not redirect a few hundred thousand dollars from the tens of millions of dollars bicycle improvement budget and set up an efficient IT program for buying parking permits? Speakers from businesses that serve residents (medical/dental offices, Whole Foods, etc etc) spoke to the difficulty and in some cases impossibility of their workers getting parking permits. Yet we learn that not all the parking permits have been sold!


@Fund guy
Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 27, 2018 at 3:47 pm
@Fund guy, Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 27, 2018 at 3:47 pm

Please show why a few hundred thousand would be needed. Details, not pipe dreams. Would the system be cloud based or on-site. If cloud based, which vendor, and how much ongoing costs would be involved. If on-site, which HW vendor are we going with and which new machines and SW will be needed and updated regularly. What costs would be involved there? Just ballpark.

Have ya really thought this though, or did you really just want to bike gripe?
(Yes, I fed him...couldn't resist)


Curmudgeon
Downtown North
on Jun 27, 2018 at 4:36 pm
Curmudgeon, Downtown North
on Jun 27, 2018 at 4:36 pm

We need to follow Stanford's example: Solve your parking problems by dumping them onto the neighbors.

Here's the plan. Palo Alto implements its own equivalent of the Stanford Marguerite shuttles, with fleets running from downtown and Cal Ave to Menlo Park, East Palo Alto, Mountain View, and Los Altos.

Presto! Parking problem exported, and we collect awards and endorsements like Marguerite got for doing the same thing.


Tom DuBois
Registered user
Midtown
on Jun 29, 2018 at 12:22 pm
Tom DuBois, Midtown
Registered user
on Jun 29, 2018 at 12:22 pm

It was clear during the discussion that the issue isn't the number of permits but the clunky process for allocation and purchasing. There are currently 270 unsold permits, so increasing from 1000 back to 1500 wasn't the issue.

We need to implement a new permit system that will allow for easier purchase, transferring permits when an employee leaves a company and other features like that. City staff is working on it and I hope we'll see these improvements soon. These improvements will help our businesses the most.


NeilsonBuchanan
Registered user
Downtown North
on Jun 29, 2018 at 2:18 pm
NeilsonBuchanan, Downtown North
Registered user
on Jun 29, 2018 at 2:18 pm

Thanks Tom. I dont agree with you completely. 1200 non resident permits is too many non-resident permits when demand is proven to be 870. The overall goal is to determine demand and match the supply of non resident permits with the demand.

City Council is investing hundreds of thousands of dollars in mitigation of parking demand. Leaving the barn door wide open is counterproductive to the difficult mitigation process. I think we all have a lot to learn about managing scarce resources.

One component of Monday night Council meeting was legit needs of neighborhood serving businesses. Those business should have higher priority for permits. Neighborhoods should not responsible of office workers whose employers fail to provide parking. Those workers can have the lowest priority. Remember Facebook and College Terrace. Thankfully the low wage workers do enjoy highest priority.

Online discussion is not effective way to discuss more effective way to solve problems. The staff recommendation unfortunately was a knee jerk, political solution necessitated by lack of staff and planning. Josh and Mark are the only two people available to work on neglected permit parking principles. They need much more support that I see in pipeline.

Residents in the one square mile Downtown Permit Parking District reluctantly accept Council shallow discussion and decision. We can do better. This will be an active issue at the next Council meeting.

An easier issue will be the schedule to purchase and implement the new permit issuance and management system. We must not rush staff with system design/implementation. Residents just want an estimate on how long business community and residents have to live with the current system. Estimated project dates can be part of the City Manager's report.


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