Proposed downtown garage sparks debate | News | Palo Alto Online |


Proposed downtown garage sparks debate

City Council to consider approving environmental analysis for 324-space parking structure

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Palo Alto's debate over whether the city should build a new downtown garage will resume on Monday night, when the City Council considers approving the environmental analysis for what has become the most divisive project on its list of infrastructure priorities.

If approved, the 324-space garage would go up on a city-owned parking lot at 375 Hamilton Ave., near Waverley Street. The 56-foot-tall structure would add 238 spaces to the downtown area and include retail space on the ground floor.

But while the project aims to address widespread frustrations about downtown parking, some on the council and in the greater community believe it might do more harm than good. Critics contend that at a time when Palo Alto is trying to discourage solo driving and promoting its new nonprofit, the Palo Alto Transportation Management Association (TMA), a new downtown garage sends — at best — a mixed message.

Neilson Buchanan, a downtown resident who was part of a stakeholder group that established the downtown Residential Preferential Parking program, is among the skeptics. In a memo to the council, he argued that the new garage "could be in conflict with the city's intention to reduce traffic/congestion and to increase housing."

"The garage is being built on city property under an "old" presumption that a new garage is highest and best use of city property," Buchanan wrote.

He also noted that with this project, downtown property owners who have not been building enough parking for their developments "may be getting benefit on city finance structure and land."

The $29.1 million that the city plans to spend on the new garage "could be diverted to pressing 2019 needs such as traffic mitigation or pension funding or a properly funded Downtown Coordinated Area Plan," Buchanan wrote.

Resident David Coale is opposing the new parking structure, one of two that the city is now preparing to build (contractors last month began work on the future site of the new garage at 350 Sherman Ave., in the California Avenue business district). For more than a year, he has encouraged the council to drop the project from its 2014 list of nine infrastructure priorities (the list also includes a new police headquarters, two fire stations, a new bike bridge, streetscape improvements on the Charleston-Arastradero corridor and various other bike- and park-related projects). Coale, who has been a proponent for the council's adoption of "climate change" as a 2019 priority, argued that city should instead spend the garage money on expanding the Palo Alto TMA, which offers transit passes and carpooling incentives to downtown workers with incomes under $70,000.

The garage, Coale argued in a Weekly guest opinion piece last month, would "encourage more auto use and likely be underutilized as our transportation modes continue changing."

"Increasingly, the younger demographic is shying away from car ownership, choosing instead to use company buses/shuttles, public transit, ride-sharing services and other modes of transportation," Coale wrote. "Ride-sharing services and self-driving cars will become very important to our aging population as well, enabling safe and reliable mobility as driving becomes more difficult."

The council, for its part, has been split on the project. Greg Scharff, the biggest proponent of the downtown garage, is no longer on the council, having termed out in December. So has Councilwoman Karen Holman, who last year made the case for removing the garage from its priority list. Councilman Cory Wolbach, who concluded his first and only council term last year, also opposed the project.

For the current council, opinions about the new garage range widely. Vice Mayor Adrian Fine has been a persistent opponent of the new garage. Others, including council members Greg Tanaka, Lydia Kou and Alison Cormack, had suggested that the city needs to do a better job prioritizing its infrastructure priorities.

That said, the downtown garage is included on the list of projects that the council presented to the community when it asked residents to support raising the hotel-tax rate in 2014 and in 2018. And in recent discussions, council members have routinely noted downtown's parking problems. In December, the council acknowledged the problem when it abolished for one year an ordinance that allowed commercial developers to pay "in-lieu fees" rather than build parking on-site.

"We have pretty significant parking issues now and we're making it worse," Mayor Eric Filseth said at the Dec. 3 discussion.

The debate will return to the council on Monday, when members will consider certifying the Environmental Impact Report for the project and approving a $352,977 design contract for the new garage with the firm Watry Design Inc.


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41 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 10, 2019 at 10:17 am

We agree that building more subsidized parking for solo drivers will just bring more traffic and congestion and pollution into town. We need to invest in projects that reduce traffic, not make it worse.

58 people like this
Posted by Bob Harrington
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 10, 2019 at 10:23 am

It has been obvious for over a decade that electronic signage listing spaces available floor by floor, like public garages all over the Bay Area, would be a wise low cost feature for Palo Alto garages.

Now, with smartphone parking apps, drivers could instantly see exactly where free spaces are available. Less frustration, less driving around, less CO2.

So far, it hasn't happened in Palo Alto garages.

10 people like this
Posted by Paul C.
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 10, 2019 at 11:15 am

Do not make Palo Alto an ordinary subpar place.

Please don't spend on backward ideas in Palo Alto. A city spends 20% of land for parking is doomed and out of touch with the environment and uprising trends among young of sharing of ride, bike & scooter. Palo Alto should act as a thought leader as time changed.

If you really really really need to build a garage, build an "EV only" garage (or Tesla only if Tesla sponsors that :) with charging stations in every spot. That's the way we set an impressive example to lead the rest of the country!

50 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 10, 2019 at 11:41 am

EVs are still mostly single-occupancy vehicles that create just as much traffic and congestion as gas guzzlers. I would rather see a carpool-only garage. Also a greatly expanded bus system with better connections to our neighboring cities.

61 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 10, 2019 at 11:53 am

One obvious way to reduce traffic is to oppose the CC's latest attempt to reduce and/or eliminate the office cap this Monday. We don't need more commercial space and more commuters over-running us.

We had the ballot initiative last year to reduce the office cap but yet again the City Council's back trying to add -- not reduce -- office space. Please write to them AGAIN and tell them no.

7 people like this
Posted by Tired of This Parking Issue
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 10, 2019 at 12:10 pm

There are already too many parking garages in Palo Alto & they are nothing but an eyesore.

To hell with those who clutter up the city with their cars.

Make them park further & further away...maybe even into EPA or Mountain View & then they can take transit or walk to where they are headed. Who cares at this point?

This parking clutter is getting ridiculous as it is not the residents but the out-of-towners (workers/shoppers) who are contributing to this ongoing mess.

[Portion removed.]

14 people like this
Posted by Fairmeadow
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Feb 10, 2019 at 4:51 pm

We need more parking spaces to accommodate people sustaining downtown businesses, the reality is people will continue driving in town regardless of the vocal proponents of alternative transportation.

27 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 10, 2019 at 5:59 pm

If downtown businesses and landlords think they need more parking, why are they not building it themselves? Should the city really be using public money to subsidize businesses? I can think of a lot of city services that could use that money, like the police and schools.

19 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 10, 2019 at 6:46 pm

I have almost stopped going to downtown Palo Alto to meet people for lunch because of parking problems.

The real problem is find a vacant spot. We have been promised electronic signage, but it isn't happening. We have been promised that the City will get workers to stop solo driving with incentives, but it isn't happening.

We need to get the workers into lots at the ramps and efficient shuttles to places where they work. They are the ones who should be dissuaded from parking in downtown, not those of us who are making occasional trips that are going to take more than a couple of hours. We are not going to buy permits. We are not going to even know more than a day in advance that we are going.

The commuters are the ones who are clogging up the streets for those of us who live here. For a change, please think of the residents, not the commuters coming in from afar.

7 people like this
Posted by Give the money back then
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 10, 2019 at 7:48 pm

A fair chunk of the money paying for this proposed garage is coming from ‘parking in lieu’ fees. That means there were projects that can’t provide enough spaces for their own use, so they pay fees into a pot to create new garages like this. If the City isn’t going to use that money for new parking spaces, give it back to the developers. That’s actually the law. I’ll gladly take my fees back.

3 people like this
Posted by Paul C.
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 10, 2019 at 8:33 pm

Ride sharing is here already and some such as Lyft Commits to Full Carbon Neutrality and 100% Renewable Energy.

Web Link

Maybe Palo Alto should work with such thought leaders to do good instead of mediocre work for residents and generations to come.


33 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 10, 2019 at 10:07 pm

Single passenger Uber/Lyft is no better than single occupancy private cars. Same number of cars are on the road, maybe more if the Uber/Lyft constantly circles around waiting for new fares. They are essentially creating moving parking lot congestion into traffic on the streets.

21 people like this
Posted by MP Resident
a resident of Menlo Park
on Feb 11, 2019 at 7:08 am

Build the garage, and get rid of street parking on University. Replace it with bike lanes and intelligently configured rideshare drop-off and pick-up points. Now you have a much more functional downtown.

7 people like this
Posted by Peter R
a resident of Palo Alto Orchards
on Feb 11, 2019 at 8:17 am

they already took out the trees....Urban Forest Management in Palo Alto is BROKEN...very sad

17 people like this
Posted by Allen Akin
a resident of Professorville
on Feb 11, 2019 at 8:57 am

Allen Akin is a registered user.

@MP Resident: Good idea, but better yet: Don't build the garage until we have a plan for reconfiguring downtown and have modeled the resulting traffic and parking changes. We could call it a North Palo Alto Coordinated Area Plan.

13 people like this
Posted by Rick
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 11, 2019 at 9:59 am

Build the garage. Now, please. The CC has caused traffic to fester with it's unfettered subservience to developers. Build the garage to help fix that imbalance then cut off and eventually reduce development to bring occupancy back in to balance with our infrastructure. This isn't Manhattan. We are a car-centric region and will remain so into the foreseeable future. Built transit first and the traffic will take care of itself. Road diets == road rage. Stop it now!

25 people like this
Posted by Restore Civic Life
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 11, 2019 at 9:59 am

I don't want to see any more discussion about spending this money to build a parking garage while our retail areas are being turned into glorified office parks, paid for by the public. Stop it. Enforce the zoning downtown and on Cal Ave. You will not be able to persuade companies to leave voluntarily who have turned downtown into their own little playground, complete with the destruction of vibrant longstanding retail areas in just under 10 years. But I do not want to pay for parking when residents have basically been pushed out. The parking will become office parking. No, no, no. Enforce the zoning FIRST, show that you care about our civic life first.

And yes, we should beef up shuttles, however, if there is nothing but gyms for office workers sprinkled with storefronts turned into company spaces and cafeterias, it won't be as successful. First rule of getting out of holes: stop digging.

28 people like this
Posted by John
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Feb 11, 2019 at 10:00 am

Please stop making parking free in downtown! You will have much less people taking their car, much more people using public transportation, more money for the city, and less pollution!

5 people like this
Posted by Paul
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 11, 2019 at 10:27 am

Let's not to build the garage which is an old inadequate idea. Do something relevant to the future, carbon free and bike sharing, partner with eager vendors and build something we can be PROUD of.

Web Link

21 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 11, 2019 at 10:30 am

Other cities along the peninsula have installed parking meters to help control their parking problem. Why is Palo Alto so intent on taxpayer subsidized downtown parking?

9 people like this
Posted by done
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 11, 2019 at 10:45 am

Build Build BUILD this town right into the ground, so that millionaires who don't even live here can become billionaires. Let us deal with the traffic and ugliness.

3 people like this
Posted by Samuel Y
a resident of Menlo Park
on Feb 11, 2019 at 1:01 pm

A surface parking lot in a downtown area is one of the biggest waste of space. This lot currently has 86 parking spaces. This project would increase parking by 377% (to 324 spaces) and also add ground floor retail. Sounds like a winning proposal to me.

3 people like this
Posted by chris
a resident of University South
on Feb 11, 2019 at 3:01 pm

Build the garage NOW. With the new streamlined CC, there should be no more PARALYSIS BY ANALYSIS. Most of the posters here are victims of that syndrome.

However, the people parking in the garage and the other garages should pay for them.
It should not cost the city a cent.

If CC gets the variable pricing right, there will be no need for any more parking garages in downtown.

But for Pete's sake, GET THIS ONE built before construction costs skyrocket further.

4 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 11, 2019 at 4:49 pm

"If CC gets the variable pricing right, there will be no need for any more parking garages in downtown."

This illustrates a common advocacy fallacy--the naive presumption of unlimited demand for one's pet project. Variable pricing will only incentivize money-challenged commuters to find free parking elsewhere, and the garage will go underutilized. Let's just put up a sign listing the exorbitant varying prices a garage would be charging at each instant if it existed and avoid the expense of building a garage that would stay empty.

11 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 11, 2019 at 4:55 pm

"Other cities along the peninsula have installed parking meters to help control their parking problem. Why is Palo Alto so intent on taxpayer subsidized downtown parking?"

Because six decades ago a starstruck city council authorized Stanford to build a shopping center that virtually killed downtown retail. Free parking was/is a necessary response to entice customers to the few remaining stores.

17 people like this
Posted by Another Giveaway
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 11, 2019 at 6:42 pm

Palo Alto's pro-growth council members and their fellow travelers on city staff are locked in a viscous race to the bottom with SF, SJ, and nearby cities to court real-estate developers and their "generous" campaign contribution.

6 people like this
Posted by Housing for humans.
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 11, 2019 at 11:28 pm

Housing for humans. is a registered user.

I'd support funding housing for humans, not for cars, downtown.

2 people like this
Posted by KC
a resident of another community
on Apr 7, 2019 at 3:48 pm

I work in retail in downtown Palo Alro.

The many hard-working and pleasant people who work in Palo Alto making the downtown retail area the wonderful community it is mostly do not live in Palo Alto, nor any nearby community. My coworkers live in places like Daly City, SF, East San Jose, Cupertino, Morgan Hill, Milpitas, Hayward, Livermore, Union City, Vallejo, and in two memorable commutes, Vacaville and Modesto.

Our shifts are not all 9-5. We may start as early as 5 am, and work until nearly midnight. These shifts make working with whatever local transit agency we live within near impossible, as trains or buses have often stopped running when we need them.

Our shifts are often irregular. We work different days each week, and different times of day each day. This makes arranging carpools, even through services, difficult at the very best.

And that’s not even addressing the number of people who work with mobility or handicap issues (there is 5 at my work alone).

I believe we need a better mass transit in, the entire Bay Area. It’s a laudable goal. But the reality is that mass transit does not fill the needs of the often low-income individuals. Other than buses for 9-5 employees, there are zero mass transit lines to the east bay. For Caltrain or BART, stations have limited parking, often filled and unavailable for mid-day shifts, and buses do not go to all the neighborhoods where we live.

Those who can use mass transit, do. Those who can’t, we have to drive. And we pay out the nose, and Palo Alto CC does not allow businesses to buy parking for us.

Unfortunately, saying “We don’t need cars” is not going to fix the problems. Palo Alto alone cannot fix these problems. They need to be addressed at regional levels. They are not, and I wish they were. I support that entirely.

But the less parking that is available for the low-income people who work in Palo Alto, the less that people will be able to come into this city to work. More will choose to work elsewhere. And I have seen many people, beloved by local residents, leave due to this.

The reality is that if there is not an infrastructure to support the downtown you love (or miss) will lose it, and see more of the office buildings for whom mass transit in it current state works for.

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