News

Editorial: A parking strategy drowning in complexity and frustration seeks a lifeline

Yet another study grapples with a system that is driving staff to leave

Each time a study or staff report is prepared to try and address the multiple problems with the parking challenges facing Palo Alto residents, employers, employees and visitors alike, the solutions seem more elusive.

But at least the latest report, prepared by a consultant whose work follows another consultant's effort just two years ago, makes clear that if the city does not invest the resources necessary to properly staff, simplify and manage its complex system of residential preferential parking (RPP) districts, the whole program is in danger of collapse.

On that, we agree.

Here is how the report describes the current state of the city's RPP program:

"For residents who still find their street occupied by parked vehicles, the system seems ineffective. For employers unable to obtain permits, the system seems flawed. For visitors who are not familiar with the city's zones, the system is perplexing. And for staff responsible for the administration of parking services, the workload of the RPP program is, at times, overwhelming."

With more than a quarter of the city's households currently in one of our five RPP districts and with two applications for new districts pending, this may be the city program with the most direct and regular interaction with individual residents, employers and employees. Almost 8,000 households and 1,000 employees have permits entitling them to park without time limits in a specific zone within an RPP district.

Each of the five districts — downtown, Crescent Park, Southgate, Evergreen Park-Mayfield and College Terrace — has different rules and pricing, and in the case of downtown, Southgate and Evergreen Park-Mayfield, employees are also entitled to limited numbers of neighborhood parking permits. That's in addition to the traditional permit system for employees wanting to buy permits to park in city's lots and garages.

With the best of intentions, over the last 10 years the city has tried to meet the needs and desires of residents and employees by crafting unique policies for each of these areas. That has left an understaffed transportation staff barely treading water in a morass of confusing and sometimes illogical policies and a bad online system that makes good customer service almost impossible to achieve.

Unfortunately, other priorities and staff shortages allowed the excellent 2017 study — focusing on downtown parking strategies — to languish after the Planning and Transportation Commission decided to largely reject its recommendations and have staff develop an alternative. That study was spot-on, in our opinion, and focused on installing high-tech parking meters now common in other cities and a dynamic pricing model that would eliminate the incentives for employees to game the system by moving their cars every two hours.

The new report takes a broader look at the operation of all five RPP districts. It also looks at the need to set "parking availability standards" that would determine how many employee permits should be issued in the downtown and California Avenue residential areas to achieve an appropriate number of open parking spaces during peak hours for residents. It also recommends standardizing the fees across the various districts and providing for automatic renewals for employee permits to avoid the current chaos of six-month renewal cycles.

Unfortunately, this new report is vulnerable to the same fate as the 2017 report — failure due to the lack of stable and adequate staff resources. It calls for extensive outreach to residents and the business community and the establishment of a working group to seek consensus on how to balance the interests of residents and employees, but to be successful that will requires strong leadership and support from the top — and adequate staffing.

The City Council was united Monday night in supporting the recommendations in the report and, as it did two years ago after the previous report, directed the staff to develop a work plan to implement them. Only this time it agreed to add the necessary staff to the budget, as urged by City Manager Ed Shikada.

Today's RPP system, with all its administrative flaws, has been largely successful at improving neighborhood parking conditions. The challenge ahead is making it a rational, manageable and modern system that doesn't create endless frustration and aggravation for those that are in it or responsible for running it.

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Comments

4 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 17, 2019 at 8:28 am

The RPP is a game of musical chairs. It doesn't stop parking, it just moves it. Parkers will move just outside one of these areas and then use bikes, scooters, skate boards, etc. to get to where they want to go.

As far as I can see it, the only thing that will stop this is parking lots at the off ramps with dedicated shuttles to the business areas.

For people who car pool, people who only want to park a couple of days a week, or those who need to use a loaner car, or a spouse's car for a time, the RPP does not work.

More innovation please, and BTW, why not use technology to do this. Parking apps on phones, sites that rent driveway parking spaces for daytime use, and of course those electronic space available signs at garages which were promised but haven't arrived, are all suitable solutions that should not take parking officials much effort since they all exist and are used well elsewhere.


8 people like this
Posted by NeilsonBuchanan
a resident of Downtown North
on May 17, 2019 at 11:17 am

NeilsonBuchanan is a registered user.

Problems will be eased slowly with adequate financial and human resources to address fundamental flaws in management of commercial core parking. This must be coupled with the overdue improvements in the RPPs.

All of this effort to "improve" is moot until the new operating and capital budgets are approved in June for the next five years. New FY20/21 budgets are not the final answer. The final answer is when City Manager and Council actually release the funds.

What is the timeline for the Planning Commission to hold hearings on dozens of parking issues and send recommendations to Council? Are these recommendations in sync with the budgeting process coming to close in June 2019? Or are we in limbo until FY21/22 budgets and staffing are reasonably aligned? I honestly dont know. And I dont know who knows.


11 people like this
Posted by Evergreen Park Resident
a resident of Evergreen Park
on May 17, 2019 at 3:09 pm

I am very disappointed to see the Council walk away from its prior commitment to residents. Namely, the Council has said, as part of our overall strategic plan, that the goal is to reduce commercial parking in residential areas. The reason residents supported paying for a new public garage in the California Ave area out of tax dollars (not private funds contributed by the business community) was the commitment that such a garage would be used to reduce the commercial parking in Mayfield/Evergreen Park. Now, the Council refused to affirm this policy and to direct the PTC to operate to implement this policy. Bait and switch is a term some might use for this process.

Second, one of the reasons why the RPP system is so complicated is that (1) the City walked away from the simple model used in College Terrace where no commercial/employee permits are sold, and (2) they have failed to adopt a new computerized system that could handle all of the various requirements. I participated in sessions where firms were interviewed, and at one of the firms was quite capable of creating an effective system for us. Months later, apparently nothing has happened to get this project moved forward. With no budgetary or other support, how do you expect anything to get done?

The City Council has continued its refusal to institute a business tax that could be used to fund projects such as this that must be done to solve the problems that businesses themselves have created by building businesses that do not provide enough parking for their employees. They wish to reduce the costs of their facilities, and then foist those costs back onto residents.
The City Council apparently believe this is appropriate. I do not.

Finally, I am a bit tired of being treated if I were simply another "stakeholder" on par with developers who do not live, vote, or pay taxes in Palo Alto. Those who live here should decide how they wish to accommodate businesses that they want to have in their community. The residents need to be driving this bus.


7 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 17, 2019 at 4:41 pm

>> Finally, I am a bit tired of being treated if I were simply another "stakeholder" on par with developers who do not live, vote, or pay taxes in Palo Alto. Those who live here should decide how they wish to accommodate businesses that they want to have in their community. The residents need to be driving this bus.

"Here, here!" or, ++

Palo Alto has too much office space. The result is all the other Weekly/Town Square headline topics: too much traffic, not enough parking, not enough affordable housing, public services: teachers, firefighters, police, all cost too much and yet they can't afford to live here, all the real people from student to elderly are just scraping by because housing and services cost too much, a big surge in homeless people, not nearly enough BMR housing, and, $9M for an empty residential lot. Just read the topical headlines.

Back in the 70's -- that is 1970's for all you youngsters under 40, housing was actually affordable and available for people who didn't have much money-- me at the time. Gentrification is now creating constant social dislocation and pressure on so many areas. We have to stop building more office space and have to stop adding white-collar jobs-- this has become a negative-sum game.


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