News

To ward off commuters, Old Palo Alto seeks parking limits

Neighbors win planning commission's support to launch city's next Residential Preferential Parking Permit district

Fed up with Caltrain commuters and California Avenue employees who use their streets for free, all-day parking, residents in a section of Old Palo Alto have launched an effort to establish a Residential Preferential Parking program in their neighborhood.

The effort gained some traction on March 27, when the city's Planning and Transportation Commission evaluated three different proposals it had received from various parts of Palo Alto for new residential parking programs and designated the Old Palo Alto proposal as a top priority. Even so, the program could face significant delays due to a staffing shortage in the city's recently created Office of Transportation, which is hindering the City Council's ability to launch new initiatives.

If approved, the new parking-permit district would be located across the Caltrain tracks from the California Avenue business district, an area bounded by Washington Avenue to the north and Oregon Avenue to the south, between the train tracks and Ramona Street. Chris Robell, who is one of the leaders the organizing effort, told the planning commission that the parking situation in the neighborhood has gotten so dire that there are virtually no spaces left on the streets for residents.

Many Caltrain commuters have apparently realized they can park their cars in the residential neighborhood for free rather than paying $5.50 to park the Caltrain lots, Robell said.

"The cost savings and convenience afforded to Caltrain commuters, coupled with the lack of ability to park in Evergreen-Mayfield residential streets (which now have two-hour parking restrictions for cars without permits) means we have become the de facto Caltrain parking lot," Robell told the commission.

Many neighbors appear to share his frustrations. Kurk Buecheler, an Emerson Street resident, told the commission that Caltrain parkers have become "a pain, to put it bluntly."

"It's also simply transferring maximum convenience and minimum cost for the Caltrain person to other people," Buecheler said. "But we're the ones who have to bear that inconvenience for our own selves.

Robell said 44 residents signed the petition for an RPP district that was submitted to the city last August. Since then, 13 more people have signed in support. Another six people indicated they are not interested in an RPP district and 24 could not be reached, Robell added.

The commission also indicated that it supports creating a new RPP program in Old Palo Alto, voting 5-0, with Asher Waldfogel and Giselle Roohparvar recused, to prioritize it over two other proposed RPPs (one was for a portion of the Green Acres neighborhood, near Gunn High School; the other for the 800 block of San Antonio Road, down the street from the Oshman Family Jewish Community Center in the Charleston Gardens neighborhood). The council is expected to follow suit and likewise approve the creation of the new program, much as it did after similar petition drives in downtown and the Evergreen Park-Mayfield area on the other side of the tracks from the proposed Old Palo Alto district.

Commissioners Ed Lauing and Doria Summa both said at the hearing that Old Palo Alto's proposal merits support. Lauing called the parking situation a protracted and "serious problem, justifying the study to do the RPP."

While the commission's endorsement makes it likely that Old Palo Alto will eventually get its parking-permit program, timing remains a major wild card. A report from Planning Director Jonathan Lait notes that the demands for parking services "have continued to grow and now far exceed the staff resources available for these services."

"The expansion of Residential Permit Parking districts adds to this demand," Lait wrote. "In addition, the complexity of developing and operating customized and unique Residential Permit Parking districts places a significant strain on city resources, including city staff and its contractors."

The Old Palo Alto petition is just the latest instance of residents seeking relief from commuter parking. Wayne Tanda, the city's transportation consultant, said almost 30 percent of the city is now covered with RPPs, some of which have a really high "degree of difficulty" because of the need to balance competing interests. The outreach component alone takes significant staff work, he said, and the city really doesn't have the staffing in place to make that happen for new programs.

It also doesn't help that each RPP program is tailored to the particular district, which makes the process of setting up a new program particularly labor intensive.

"As practiced in Palo Alto since 2009, there is no uniform RPP program," said Sylvia Star-Lackey, the city's transportation planning manager. "Each of the five RPP zones is unique and that adds an administrative burden for staff."

Robell said he and his neighbors are conscious of the fact that setting up an RPP takes significant resources and are happy to defer to staff's best judgment about the most expedient way to solve the neighborhood's parking problems. This could mean simply annexing the neighborhood to the existing program at Evergreen Park and Mayfield, he said.

"We just want relief as soon as possible. ... We just don't want it to be a commercial parking lot like it is now," Robell said.

The commission was largely sympathetic. Lauing suggested that staff explore "efficient, creative ways" to solve the problem without the need to create a full-fledged RPP program. He also, however, recognized that City Hall's staffing shortage remains a formidable barrier to creating the new program.

"I think the biggest problem in the city of Palo Alto is lack of staff in the city of Palo Alto," Lauing said.

Under the best-case scenario, staff estimates that the program could be implemented in November. That, however, will likely require the council to budget for more staffing in the Office of Transportation, which today has one employee devoted to parking programs and which continues to operate without a director.

Despite the prospect of delay, Robell expressed some optimism this week after speaking to City Manager Ed Shikada and after reaching out to members of the City Council, who he said supported the Old Palo Alto proposal.

Robell asked the City Council on Monday to ensure the city stays on track with the Nov. 1 implementation date.

"It does create safety issues for our neighborhood, as well as quality-of-life issues," Robell said.

---

Follow the Palo Alto Weekly/Palo Alto Online on Twitter @PaloAltoWeekly and Facebook for breaking news, local events, photos, videos and more.

What is democracy worth to you?
Support local journalism.

Comments

12 people like this
Posted by Amused Observer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 4, 2019 at 9:53 am

They should wait until that new giant parking garage is finished before starting this new RPP. Cal Ave will be a disaster if this happens before the parking supply is expanded.


23 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 4, 2019 at 11:16 am

You don't have to go to old PA for these problems - they are city wide. In our area we have people who are employed by the JCC that park in residential R-1 streets so that the garage can be used by "visitors". Same cars every day and they park on the side-walk - that is a traffic violation. And no front license - that is a traffic violation. The street has no signs for street cleaning on Thursday so our street which has major tree issues is a mess. Our street has the sewers at the main corner juncture so keeping the sewer inlets clean and picked up is important. Any changes to city streets which includes the influx of residents or employees of companies who use the R-1 streets as a parking lot needs a universal policy throughout the city. Note the East PA has signs for the street cleaner throughout the city so they are more on top of this then we are.


9 people like this
Posted by A senior who worries about the high costs of driving..
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 4, 2019 at 11:30 am

A senior who worries about the high costs of driving.. is a registered user.

The high costs of driving are hidden in so many places: the cost of land needed to park cars, the cost of land used to develop extensive street systems to accommodate large numbers of motorized vehicles, the environmental cost of greenhouse gas emissions (Don't kid yourself, electric cars contribute to emissions too), the cost of managing traffic congestion caused by cars, the cost of injuries caused by errant drivers, the cost of managing RPP systems and time battling over them. The cost of gasoline today is trivial in comparison, though burning gasoline will cost our kids in a big way.

What if we worked harder on developing transportation systems that reduce the need for so many cars? More Shuttles with better connections to high volume destinations like train stations, more bikes (for shorter trips).

Is it Palo Alto residents who are parking in these neighborhoods in order to use Caltrain? Why don't they just ride a bike? There is no home in Palo Alto that is more than a 25 minute bike ride from any station, and most homes are closer than that. I guarantee you won't even break sweat. Let's get serious about reducing our reliance on fossil fuels. Transportation is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the Bay Area. We can see the effect of our stubborn resistance to change on our climate now.

If you love your children and grandchildren, help defend a planet that can sustain them in the future instead of defending your right to a parking place on the street. Housing for cars is no way for a community of this generation to be spending money. It's time for change...for our kids and grandkids.


4 people like this
Posted by It's less expensive tA senior who worries about the high costs of driving..
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 4, 2019 at 11:45 am

It's less expensive tA senior who worries about the high costs of driving.. is a registered user.

I forgot to mention one of the biggest costs of driving--the cost of construction and maintenance of road systems, traffic signals, parking garages and all of the other facilities cars require. Heavy motor vehicles are very hard on streets. They drive up construction and maintenance costs. This is a HUGE annual expanse in our city budgets.

In all of these ways, drivers are being subsidized by the state. I'm not arguing against public streets or even against cars, I am suggesting that drivers might recognize that they are getting the lion's share of transportation dollars which makes it very challenging to develop alternatives to driving.

Some say driving is more convenient and then complain that they hate congestion and the lack of parking caused by OTHER PEOPLE'S cars. We create congestion and parking problems by choosing to drive for every trip. We simply do not have the public street right-of-way to accommodate all of the cars if everyone chooses to drive for every trip. Try doing something different--when you can. You might find that you like the fresh air, exercise, connection with your community. You might also get there faster. You might find you want to do it more often. It's just not that hard...and we will leave a healthier planet for our children.


21 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 4, 2019 at 11:46 am

Let's do it citywide. This is a problem in many neighborhoods, so, instead of doing it piecemeal, let's do it for all neighborhoods in the entire city.


4 people like this
Posted by dtnorth
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 4, 2019 at 1:52 pm

Be careful what you wish for. Speaking from a resident who didn't want the parking permits and now stuck with playing car roulette. They set up a time from 8-5 and then change it to 8-6 with no explaining. I think you also see the influx as they just took away a whole block of parking so where else will employees of the area to park. Also the caltrain parking is not large enough. Our streets should be public not restrictive.


9 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 4, 2019 at 2:24 pm

Posted by dtnorth, a resident of Downtown North

>> Be careful what you wish for. Speaking from a resident who didn't want the parking permits and now stuck with playing car roulette.

I'm not sure what you mean. $50/year is a very small price to pay for having a place to park.

>> as they just took away a whole block of parking so where else will employees of the area to park.

I don't follow you.

>> Our streets should be public not restrictive.

Sure, as long as there aren't too many cars. Which there are, almost everywhere. Wishing away the cars doesn't help.


17 people like this
Posted by John
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 4, 2019 at 3:31 pm

John is a registered user.

If the city decides that we really need a simplified city-wide ordinance in order to streamline the costs and administration of RPP programs, then we should all get the parking program that is currently in effect in College Terrace where permits are resident only. This is the model followed by most municipalities.

Businesses must provide private parking for employees of their private enterprise - it is part of the cost of doing business.

The high number of jobs in Palo Alto is the root of many issues (traffic, parking, etc.) and it appears the tax revenues from these businesses are insufficient to address them.


11 people like this
Posted by @A senior who worries too much
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 4, 2019 at 3:39 pm

> Transportation is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the Bay Area.

Landfills, fireplaces, and wastewater treatment plants are the largest sources of Bio-CO2 emissions in the Bay Area.

Source: Web Link


3 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 5, 2019 at 1:30 am

^ Source says: "Bio-CO2 emissions are a subset of total CO2 emissions which are emitted from materials that are derived from living cells, EXCLUDING FOSSIL FUELS ... "

I.e. excluding transportation.


15 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 5, 2019 at 11:57 am

Annette is a registered user.

Excerpt: A report from Planning Director Jonathan Lait notes that the demands for parking services have continued to grow and now far exceed the staff resources available for these services.

The above should give everyone pause. Compared to grade separation, RPPs are relatively straightforward and simple. If this city does not have the staffing depth to handle parking permit programs it is ludicrous to think that it can handle more complex issues or the demands of a significantly larger population. And if this city's parking problems are bad now with our current population (day and night) it is ludicrous to think that adding significant amounts of housing with relaxed parking requirements is going to do anything but make the problem worse.

Staffing is part of infrastructure. And staffing requires money for comp and benefits and future pension obligations. It does no good to solve problems with only the immediate and near terms in mind, as I think Scott Weiner and our own Vice Mayor are doing. Palo Alto needs to reassess its growth plan and deal with facts rather than theory. We cannot afford to focus solely on fixing the self-inflicted ever-growing housing shortage w/o addressing the myriad related shortages.

Or without a moratorium on commercial development.

Or without factoring in that Stanford's planned growth alone will put Palo Alto on tilt.

What in the heck is being taught in the college and grad school programs that award degrees in planning? Must be theory only b/c California is pretty much a planning debacle that overlooks reality. Cars are an inconvenient truth that aren't likely to become extinct anytime soon - especially not in a robust economic environment. And there's no reasonable alternative that works for the majority of commuters. There should be, but there isn't. And we should plan around what IS, not what we WISH.


10 people like this
Posted by The Public Interest
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Apr 5, 2019 at 6:41 pm

And how will SB 50 affect this neighborhood? Even less parking?


4 people like this
Posted by TimH
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 6, 2019 at 2:09 pm

I grew up in "Old Palo Alto" and even in the 1960's-1970's residents took issue with what was then the issue - "overnight guest" cars parked in front of homes. It was generally accepted that residential street parking after 5pm belonged to the residents, for better or worse. Since that era, Palo Alto's neighborhoods are less provincial, but at what cost? The amount of careless inconsideration has risen in its place. Since moving to Menlo Park, the ongoing issue is with people from outside of town, sometimes even East Bay, parking their cars for sale on residential streets. It may not be an attractive idea, but neighborhood parking permits would likely remove the issue and provide an extrinsic substitute for good manners.


4 people like this
Posted by Commuter
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 6, 2019 at 9:45 pm

I've been a long time fan of reporter G. Sheyner, but she totally missed the mark with this article. We've been long time commuters to San Francisco, parking for free along the huge parking lot at Jerry Bowden park (over a block and a half long) for over ten years, and then walking thru the tunnel to catch the train to San Francisco. There was never a problem as parking there was bountiful. Come this January as we attempted to park there, lo and behold the city had placed two hour parking limits on this huge parking area. So all of us now park on the neighboring streets. The parking along Jerry Bowden park is now empty, as the only people that are now parking there are the occasional Nanny's bringing toddlers to play in the tiny playground there. The parking lot is EMPTY all day long, and the neighborhood streets are now filled with the 50-60 cars that have been parking there for decades. I don't know what city bureaucrat came up with this solution looking for a problem but everything was fine here for the last decade until the change in parking policy. So everybody loses. The parking lot is empty through the day, the commuters have a longer walk after street parking and the residents now have the commuter cars parking in front of their houses. That's what happened. Hey Gennady, how about telling us why they did that?


3 people like this
Posted by More parking?
a resident of Los Altos
on Apr 7, 2019 at 8:01 am

I sympathize with the neighbors and I think CalTrain and Cal Ave need to add more parking. We've added too many jobs in this area without investing in infrastructure.
To accommodate demand, Cal Train has added more trains and the trains are far more crowded than in the past. But parking has not increased. What is being done to expand the CalTrain parking lots? The PA stations serve EPA, Los Altos, LAH, and other communities besides PA, from which shuttles/biking/walking are not great options.
Also, why is the assumption that this parking is only from CalTrain commuters? Parking in the neighborhoods seems like a great way for Cal Ave employees to save on parking fees as well.


1 person likes this
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 7, 2019 at 9:03 am

We are in that transit hell that is between a suburb and a city. Too many people to be able to rely only on cars but not dense enough for decent public transportation network coverage.

If there were only enough people *that live near each other* in Palo Alto that commute by Caltrain to support shuttles or a VTA bus during rush hour. But we don't have enough density for that.

We can't turn the clock back to become a leafy suburb that we haven't been for 30 years. And there's enough public backlash to not have more residential development.

So here we remain. I'm not advocating for either approach. Just making an observation.


3 people like this
Posted by Commuter
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 7, 2019 at 9:05 am

@musical Stay on topic. Google map Jerry Bowden Park and go to satellite view and count the parking spots that now sit empty. I said 60 spots but on review I’ll say 90-100 parking spots there. I’ll clue everyone in, those spots are not for playground parking, they were always for Caltrain parking. Someone on the Parking Commission screwed up and made a mess by turning this commuter lot into short term parking, resulting in it sitting empty throughout the day. As a long time Palo Alto resident and commuter I can assure you that the vast majority of the parking there was used by commuters and not by Cal Ave workers. The main point is that the 100 car lot now sits empty and we have been pushed into the neighborhood by a bureaucratic SNAFU.


17 people like this
Posted by Red Tape Measure
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 7, 2019 at 9:13 am

Is it OK to plant a highly visible strip of red tape on the curb in front of my house?

It is removeable and while not enforceable, this measure might discourage outsiders driving down the street looking for a parking space.


Like this comment
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 7, 2019 at 11:00 am

"I’ll clue everyone in, those spots are not for playground parking, they were always for Caltrain parking."

Have something that backs this statement up?

Maybe if you work in SF and rely on Caltrain, maybe Duveneck was not such a great place to choose a place.


8 people like this
Posted by Yellow Tape
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 7, 2019 at 1:05 pm

> Is it OK to plant a highly visible strip of red tape on the curb in front of my house?

> It is removable and while not enforceable, this measure might discourage outsiders driving down the street looking for a parking space.

Great idea! I have some yellow 'crime scene' tape that I bought off the internet awhile back as a novelty gift. I can probably string some between the two trees in front of my house to prevent cars from parking in front. Nothing illegal about it as no crime actually took place.




8 people like this
Posted by Yellow Tape/Another Idea
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 7, 2019 at 3:18 pm

My 9 year-old daughter just came up with another bright idea...

(1) Use the 'red tape' to discourage people from parking in front of the house.

(2) And then offer the parking spot to someone for $25.00 @ 10 hours maximum time.

I told her she could keep the money in addition to her weekly allowance of $25.00.
Doing the math, that's $125.00 (5 weekdays) + $25.00 = $125.00/week OR roughly $600.00/month. Not bad for an enterprising little pipsqueak.

She's now working on a weekend fee structure.


1 person likes this
Posted by Commuter
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 7, 2019 at 11:36 pm

Heh. 100 free parking spots across the street from the California Avenue Caltrain station and we have some NIMBYs protesting that they shouldn't be used for PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION parking. Somebody from that neighborhood complained and got that lot converted to 2 hour parking and now they are whining that people using public transportation are parking in front of their house. You live next to a train station. I guess Duveneck is a pretty good place to live if you don't want to hear train noise and have people parking in front of your house after you got the parking lot closed. This was a solution looking for a problem. There was always ample parking at this location. Now it sits empty and the 80 plus cars are parking on the public streets in front of your house.


Like this comment
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 8, 2019 at 5:22 am

So no, I presume?


7 people like this
Posted by Rick
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 8, 2019 at 11:36 am

This entire discussion is a result of the Palo Alto City Council and City Manager(s) having worked to destroy community, in favor of developers, over a period of years. Rents and housing costs are out of sight. Service workers cannot afford to live here and are forced to live inhumanely in trailers and motor homes parked where they hope no one will notice. Community College students are promoting legislation to allow themselves to sleep in cars on campus parking lots. Come on people! Is this what you want? We need to return Community to our community! One solution is to build a high-speed rail connection to the Central Valley, perhaps over the old Dumbarton rail bridge. I'm sure there are others and better, but solve the d*mn transit problem before selling out our community to developers. Vote in the next election!


1 person likes this
Posted by Ha
a resident of another community
on Apr 8, 2019 at 2:51 pm

Palo Alto, OMG, why bother anymore?


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

All your news. All in one place. Every day.

After experiencing harassment, owner of Zareen's restaurants speaks out about Islamophobia, racism
By Elena Kadvany | 28 comments | 6,305 views

Don't Miss Your Exit (and other lessons from an EV drive)
By Sherry Listgarten | 12 comments | 2,110 views

Goodbye Food Waste!
By Laura Stec | 5 comments | 1,989 views

"Better" Dads and "Re-invigorated" Moms: Happier Couples
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 1,449 views

The kindness of strangers
By Cheryl Bac | 0 comments | 621 views

 

Register today!

​On Friday, October 11, join us at the Palo Alto Baylands for a 5K walk, 5K run, 10K run or half marathon! All proceeds benefit local nonprofits serving children and families.

Learn More