Seeking to bring some stability, simplicity and sanity to the city's complex patchwork of residential parking programs, the Palo Alto City Council embraced on Monday a new report that urges significant reforms.
The report, developed by transportation consultant Wayne Tanda, recommends 35 actions for the council, city staff and the broader community to revamp the city's existing system of Residential Preferential Parking (RPP) programs, which create parking restrictions on neighborhood streets for cars without permits. The report also recommends moving ahead with a new parking program in a section of Old Palo Alto, near the California Avenue Caltrain station.
The report's recommendations include creating a comprehensive parking management system to consolidate the five existing RPP programs; adding staffing to the city's overburdened parking operation and adopting "parking availability standards" to help gauge the success of each program. Tanda also recommended creating a new website for all parking programs and raising permit prices for employees so that they would have an incentive to park in garages rather than on neighborhood streets.
The council unanimously accepted the report and directed staff to develop a work plan to implement Tanda's recommendations, which they hope will make the programs more user-friendly and easier to administer. The existing program, Tanda said, presents a "high degree of difficulty for staff," resulting in high staff turnover.
"It's almost like everything is being customized," Tanda said.
City Manager Ed Shikada said about half a dozen employees had come through the office in the last few years, largely because of the complexity of administering the program.
"It's one thing to battle the commute to get here, which all our employees can relate to," Shikada said. "It's another thing when you get to the workplace and you get ground down. That is literally the impression that employees working in this area felt."
Tanda highlighted in his report some of the flaws of the existing RPP system. Residents who live next to the commercial cores of downtown and California Avenue continue to see their blocks fill up with commuter cars and see the program as ineffective (many have suggested that the council reduce the number of employee permits, or stop selling these permits altogether). Employees often have a hard time buying a permit, while for visitors the system is "perplexing."
Even so, such programs remain popular. Residents in Old Palo Alto and in Green Acres are both trying to adopt new programs and council members indicated on Monday that it plans to address the parking problems in both neighborhoods. Vice Mayor Adrian Fine called the programs "a huge success."
"I think everyone on the council supports them, even if we have some disagreements about standards and overall objectives," Fine said.
Creating new parking availability standards for the two programs in commercial areas would address the disparity between the programs by giving the city a way to measure success. The standards will be developed in the coming months by the city's Planning and Transportation Commission.
Mayor Eric Filseth said he was delighted about the plan to adopt "parking availability standards," which would clearly define the acceptable parking vacancy rate in residential neighborhoods.
"I actually believe that if we can establish that, that will resolve most of the customizations that ripple through from that and will dramatically simplify the difficulty of the program," Filseth said.
Councilman Tom DuBois suggested that the city consider limiting the programs exclusively to residential permits and noted that the council's original intent in establishing the recent RPPs have been to gradually reduce employee permits as new parking facilities get built and as employers add "transportation-demand management" measures to steer employees away from cars and toward other modes of transportation.
His colleagues, however, rejected this idea and supported the report's recommendation not to make any further adjustments until the big-picture issues with the parking districts are resolved. In the meantime, Palo Alto will be recruiting for a new parking manager and setting up programs in Old Palo Alto and, after that, in Green Acres.
The Planning and Transportation Commission had already supported address the problems in both neighborhoods, with Old Palo Alto as the top priority. That district would be bounded by Washington Avenue, Oregon Avenue, Ramona Street and the rail corridor. Residents in this area have long complained about Caltrain commuters using their streets for long-term parking to avoid paying lot fees.
Councilwoman Alison Cormack suggested that the council also move ahead with a parking program in Green Acres, where parking is currently restricted on the weekdays between 9 and 10 a.m. The restriction, which was put in place to ward off Gunn High students, has been frustrating residents.
Janeen Nammar, who lives in the area with the parking restriction (the area includes parts of Georgia Avenue, Donald Drive and Hubbartt Drive), said the existing rule has penalized the neighborhood. Some neighborhoods, she wrote in an email, have widened their driveways so that they can park three cars in a row, while others park on their lawns to avoid the restriction.
"We have gotten many, many tickets," Nammar wrote to the council. "We also have to micromanage our behavior in ways inappropriate for a city to request. We cannot park in front of our homes at night, unless we are sure we will move the vehicle in time the next morning."
While the council did not delve into the specifics of the proposed Green Acres program, Councilwoman Alison Cormack suggested that the city should support the residents' bid for a parking program. She alluded to the program recently created in Southgate, where residents petitioned to create a parking district to ward of Palo Alto High students.
"It is equitable for both neighborhoods that are near the high schools to be treated similarly," Cormack said.