With plans for a new downtown garage now in limbo, Palo Alto officials are looking to boost capacity at existing parking structures by hiring valets to park people's cars during busy lunchtime hours.
That's the direction the City Council took on Monday, when it voted 6-1, with Councilman Greg Tanaka dissenting, to approve a $900,000 contract with SP Plus, the company that has been providing valet services at the Alma/High Street garage (also known as Lot R) since early 2015. City officials say the valet program has allowed an additional 50 vehicles to be parked per day at the garage.
The new three-year contract will allow SP Plus to continue its valet work at the prominent downtown garage while also potentially expand it to the Bryant/Lytton garage and the Cowper/Webster garage. The expansion to the two garages would be based on need and occupancy, according to a report from the Office of Transportation. Staff estimate that stationing parking valets at the three garages between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. would boost each garage's capacity by about 75 cars, or 150 cars total.
The program can also be spread to other garages and surface lots in the future, if needed, the report states.
Under the existing program, three valet attendants are stationed at the third floor of the Alma/High Street garage, which according to staff is usually at capacity during the lunchtime hours. When the structure fills up, signs direct drivers to park in the garage's drive aisle and leave their key with an attendant.
Since the program was introduced, the program "has been successful in increasing the number of permitted vehicles parked during the day," the report states.
The contract that the city approved also requires SP Plus to staff each garage with at least one full- or part-time valet per week and to have an additional manager who will provide oversight for the entire program.
Because the valets will increase the capacity of the three garages, the city will be able to sell more parking permits. Releasing up to 150 additional permits would result in a revenue increase of up to $112,500, the staff report states.
The council approved the contract with SP Plus on its "consent calendar," with no debate or discussion. The only objections came from City Councilman Greg Tanaka, who said he wanted to see more data on how many cars actually get parked through the valet services and how much the city is paying for each parked car.
"I don't know how much the pilot actually costs," Tanaka said, in explaining his vote of dissent.
The council's approval of the valet contract comes less than two months after members voted to put on hold the city's plan for a new parking structure on Hamilton Avenue and Waverley Street. At its Feb. 11 meeting, the council balked at approving the proposed design contract for the six-story, 324-space structure. Instead, it directed its Policy and Services Committee to hold a broader discussion about downtown's parking problems, which will include a fresh discussion about whether the new garage is necessary.