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Palo Alto looks to overhaul parking programs

City prepares to upgrade downtown garages, revamp Residential Preferential Parking programs

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To address long-simmering frustrations of Palo Alto residents and workers, city leaders are aiming to accelerate reform of neighborhood and downtown parking programs, starting in August.

The extensive to-do list that the City Council and the Planning and Transportation Commission will consider includes moving toward a new pay-by-the-hour system for public garages, planning for a new guidance system at the City Hall garage that will identify available spaces to incoming drivers, and streamlining local neighborhoods' "Residential Preferential Parking" (RPP) programs while also adding new RPP districts.

Some of the initiatives in the city's ambitious parking overhaul are more than two years in the making. Implementing paid parking in downtown was one of the central recommendations of the City of Palo Alto Downtown Parking Management Study, which the consulting firm Dixon Resources completed in early 2017.

Dixon found in its survey of downtown that more than 80% of on- and off-street parking spaces were full, leading drivers to circle around residential streets, garages and parking lots to find a spot. This, the report states, creates further congestion and may deter some customers from visiting downtown.

Introducing paid parking, the study argues, would "ultimately save drivers time and reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions."

The Dixon report also noted that the revenue collected through parking can fund the Palo Alto Transportation Management Association, which works to convince solo drivers to use other modes of transportation.

To set the stage for paid parking, the city plans to approve a contract with Dixon for a Downtown Parking Operational Study, which will analyze plans to move from the current system that mixes free parking and pre-paid permits to one built around dynamic pricing based on usage.

The study acknowledged concerns of some business owners, who have chafed at the idea of paid parking and argued that parking meters would drive customers to other locations where parking is free. Indeed, when Palo Alto took down downtown's parking meters in the mid-1970s, the main concern was competition from Stanford Shopping Center, where drivers don't have to worry about meters.

Dixon, however, concluded that paid parking, while discouraging some drivers from visiting downtown, could attract others.

"There is a segment of the population that may be more likely to go downtown and pay for parking if it means that parking is easier and quicker to find," the report states.

The council has yet to decide exactly what the new program will look like. One option brought up Wayne Tanda, a consultant with the Municipal Resource Group (MRG), is to allow cars to park in downtown garages for free for the first three hours (much like they do today) and then charge a "reasonable fee" beyond that time. Today, by contrast, cars that need to park for longer than three hours must pay $25 for a permit, regardless of whether they are using the facility for four hours or 15 hours.

The idea of installing guidance systems and revenue collection equipment at the City Hall garage and potentially other downtown structures received a significant boost last month, when the council passed a capital budget that includes the parking equipment on its list of infrastructure priorities — the council's first addition to the infrastructure list since its adoption in 2014.

City Manager Ed Shikada proposed adding the garage technology, which would include signals marking the individual available spaces in a garage, to the budget partly in response to the council's decision in February not to move ahead with construction of a new downtown garage. (The city is, however, proceeding with a new garage in the California Avenue area).

According to the budget, the $2.8-million project will be completed by summer 2021.

The city is also moving ahead with plans to revamp the online system for buying permits and managing citations for all of the city's parking programs. At its final meeting before summer recess, the council approved a $627,000 contract with the firm Duncan Solutions to develop, implement and maintain such a system.

Tanda had recommended that the new system allow employees who buy six-month permits to automatically renew them — thus avoiding the need for the kind of "mad dash" that permit seekers experience every half-year under the current program.

RPPs and chalking tires

The council largely embraced the 35 recommendations in Tanda's report, including one that calls for establishing standards for how much parking should be available to the public in various Palo Alto neighborhoods. He recommended that the city eliminate the inconsistencies between the different RPP districts, which currently vary in terms of how many permits are distributed and how much residents and employees are charged for permits. He also recommended that the city realign renewal dates for parking permits and replace the existing payment system for employee RPP permits (which are sold for six-month increments) with one that allows for monthly permits.

The standards should consider "the residents' perceptions of the impact of parking availability on their quality of life," according to a plan that the Office of Transportation released in June.

During the council's May 13 discussion of parking reforms, Mayor Eric Filseth strongly supported establishing the new standards, which he argued will help simplify the program.

But even as the city is preparing to move ahead with most of the reforms proposed by Dixon and MRG, there is one area in which staff is clinging to the status quo: chalking tires. In April, a federal court concluded that chalking tires is unconstitutional because it violates the Fourth Amendment's ban on unreasonable searches and seizures. Though the decision from the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals only applies to the four states covered by the circuit court — Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee — it has prompted some cities to reconsider their chalking practices.

Even before the federal court had issued its decision, Dixon had recommended that the city move away from chalking and toward license-plate readers as an enforcement mechanism. Using the digital technology to track the location of vehicles is more efficient, Dixon argued, and helps cities provide "a more accountable and consistent approach to time limit management without having to invest in additional labor."

Tanda told the Weekly that the license-plate technology is in widespread use in Los Angeles and other cities. In Palo Alto, however, officials are not ready to abandon the quaint chalk system.

Shikada said he had spoken to Police Chief Robert Jonsen and City Attorney Molly Stump, who determined that because the decision does not affect California, the city will not be changing any procedures related to chalking.

Staff plans to discuss potential reforms to the parking programs with the Planning and Transportation Commission in the fall, before the issue moves to the council.

To help manage the growing workload, the new budget creates two new positions for the Office of Transportation: a parking manager and a transportation engineer. Shikada is also recruiting for a new chief transportation officer to lead the office, who may make further revisions to the work plan.

City staff is confident that once implemented, the changes will make a real difference on an issue that has frustrated residents and council members for years.

"Though it will take time to reorganize and scale all of the parking activities that will come in a parking work plan as a result of this report, the benefits to staff, customer service, public relations and the sustainability of the city's parking programs will be very significant," the new report from the Office of Transportation states.


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49 people like this
Posted by Norman Beamer
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 10, 2019 at 11:37 am

Bite the bullet and make all of Palo Alto a single RPP district. Resident only parking for all but areas immediately adjacent to retail and professional offices. No street parking for residents of the new "car-free" living units.

10 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 10, 2019 at 1:11 pm

I recently met a group of people for lunch and we went to Redwood City downtown as it is much easier to park. Two cars for the group, easy to find parking and it was $1 per hour. Redwood City will continue to get our lunchtime business because nobody knows how to find somewhere to park for lunchtime in Palo Alto. The garages and lots are full and there is no signage to say which garage has space before we enter.

Perhaps there should be an app to help people park, rather than all the difficulties to stop parking.pcVi6

21 people like this
Posted by John
a resident of Professorville
on Jul 10, 2019 at 1:24 pm

There's plenty of on-street parking. There really is. If PA is serious about congestion, it needs to reconfigure the intersections at Town and Country and Paly High. That is a self-inflicted wound, can't believe that no one has surfaced a better plan.

12 people like this
Posted by RV Dweller
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 10, 2019 at 1:27 pm

Agreed! Not a problem.

35+ RVs parked along ECR can't be wrong.

4 people like this
Posted by :-/
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 10, 2019 at 1:51 pm

I can't say I like the resident only parking on the streets idea.
I relocated to the city of Davis for this first half year... the most stressful aspect was that I had to circumvent the resident-only parking for community services (such as parking at my place of worship - I'm glad that the house of God was packed but I had to park further away where there wasn't permit/zoned parking!)

I hope that Palo Alto continues to be welcoming to those who visit or reside here temporarily.

Might I suggest into looking at how to solve the arteries (that are oft major gridlock problems) such as Embarcadero (Paly, T&C), Arastradero (Gunn side), Alma too?

24 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 10, 2019 at 2:42 pm

I don't believe in RPP. It is such an artificial restriction on space, and its also ineffective because people will simply park several blocks away and walk to their destination.
The recurring theme with Palo Alto governance is that they want to have it both ways. They want to have their cake and eat it too. They allow tech companies to dominate the area, hide their special interests behind feigned concerns about "plastic", and do nothing to maintain the plummeting quality of life even as the cost of living rises exponentially due to such a globalist influx. Their ability to put on a facade of immigrant-loving, environment-loving altruism which covers up their profligate human greed is the scam of a generation.

21 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 10, 2019 at 4:24 pm

Posted by Norman Beamer, a resident of Crescent Park

Preface: No on-street parking for RVs. I'm OK with the city charging each resident $N for each of the first two cars and $P for each additional car. Some way to pay for three when you don't know which one will be on the street. etc. It is a tax I don't mind paying to keep the RVs off the streets and make the ever-increasing commuters pay for parking on residential streets.

>> Bite the bullet and make all of Palo Alto a single RPP district. Resident only parking for all but areas immediately adjacent to retail and professional offices.

I'm just about there. I just want to make sure that (e.g. when relatives visit) there will be a way to get temporary permits for overnight guests, etc.

>> No street parking for residents of the new "car-free" living units.

Absolutely. If the developer says the residents don't have cars, they don't have cars.

21 people like this
Posted by Commuter
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 10, 2019 at 5:07 pm

If you don't like airport noise, don't buy a house next to the airport. The picture in Gennady's article of cars, legally parked in front of Bowden Park's 85 parking slots, across the street from the CalTrain California Ave train station is a perfect example of fake news.

The city built a very large parking lot (85 parking spots) for Caltrain passengers, commuters and Palo Alto residents to use next to Alma/Central Expressway. The fact that residents of the houses next to the parking lot are complaining about the parking makes as much sense as them complaining about train noise.

It is hypocritical to complain about the local traffic while at the same time complaining about people using public transportation ie riding the train. Similarly, protestors complaining about developers building new housing, have the audacity to rage against the high rents and real estate prices here.

They are all for open borders, but heaven forfend, if someone from outside their neighborhood parks on public parking streets and lots in their neighborhood. They have a neighborhood church two blocks away with a big sign promoting how they welcome ALL seeking sanctuary. Too funny. Its like an article from the Onion.

Talk about having it both ways. The lack of housing results in having someone park in front of your house for two weeks, living in the RV and car, while dumping their sewage in your area. We already have laws and regulations on the books to deal with that situation. Just enforce the law. We don't need NEW laws for that problem.

To complain about people parking in a public commuter parking lot across the highway from the train station is the height of arrogance and NIMBYism. That lot was built for commuters. It is not in the middle of your neighborhood, it is next to the train station. Jeez. Give these residents a finger, they want to take the whole hand. It's bad enough they want to ban public parking on public streets in their neighborhood, now they want to make a city commuter parking lot a neighborhood parking lot only. Ohhhh the humanity

23 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 10, 2019 at 5:29 pm

@Commuter: take a deep breath.

The parking next to Bowden park is for the park, not for Caltrain and not overflow for Cal Ave. If you want to commute to Cal Ave, take the train, ride your bike or pay to park. If you want to commute from Cal Ave on Caltrain, park in the Caltrain lot on the other side of Alma. See how easy that was?

Now exhale.

11 people like this
Posted by Commuter
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 10, 2019 at 5:47 pm

@NIMBY. ROFL. The tiny playground has a capacity for 8 kids if that. Jerry Bowden Park is a "park" in name only for the neighborhood. It already has 10 parking spots designated for 2 hour parking only, which is a waste of 10 spots since this January, and they are constantly empty. Because no one visits the park.

82 parking spots. Google map it.

I have a better idea. Leave the commuter parking spots as they were for the past 20 years. If you want to "visit" Bowden Park, as only a resident would waste their time doing so, WALK the 2 minutes.

We don't need fake solutions looking for a problem. College Terrace has a legitimate parking problem due to its location next to Stanford. Old Palo Alto, not so much. These complaints are strictly people next to the train station, complaining about living next to the train station.

Remember the first rule, do no harm.

Now wasn't that easier.

6 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Community Center
on Jul 10, 2019 at 6:13 pm

The problem with citywide RPP is that while many neighborhoods are experiencing severe commuter parking, most neighborhoods are not they are not willing to have RPP restrictions for no reason.
The issue around Bowden Park is not the that commuters are parking in the park spots, it is that they are now parking heavily on the nearby streets. That problem may soon be reduced for awhile when the new Cal Ave parking garage is completed, but it may return and broaden as new development on Park and the Cal Ave area is built and when Caltrain service to Cal Ave is increased in 2022 after electrification is complete.

3 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 10, 2019 at 7:00 pm

Bowden Park is a neighborhood park. Nobody needs to drive and park there apart from perhaps if you have a birthday party and need to take stuff. Otherwise people tend to walk to their neighborhood park. Mitchell Park, Greer Park, etc. need parking. Neighborhood parks do not.

I have used the parking for evening baseball and ice hockey games. People using Caltrain for evening parking should not be expected to pay the same rates as commuters. It is also useful parking for Cal Ave for lunchtime or even to drop documents at our tax providers. Cal Ave parking for short time parking in lunch hour is dreadful.

In fact, short term parking is terrible. Even Midtown gets busy at lunch times. It is time to get parking meters for street parking with perhaps exemption hangers for local residents. Otherwise, parking should be charged at the same rates as say Redwood City - 25c an hour in some areas, and $1 per hour elsewhere.

Let's solve parking problems, not move them on the ever widening circle.

12 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 10, 2019 at 7:38 pm

Just want to point out the grossly flawed and overly simplistic idea of supply and demand in local housing prices getting used in an argument above.

I recently commented to a friend about one of the big box housing developments (near the gargantuan oversized hotels going in across from the oversized Carmel Village). Given the “crises” it seemed odd that it has seemed empty for so long. I was told they release the new units in stages in order not to create a temporary distortion in the local housing market I.e to keep prices at peak.

Building more and building densely is what is raising prices and displacing existing residents. The demand side is not static. You can’t take anyone seriously who talks like it is.

2 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 10, 2019 at 8:47 pm


Do no harm. Leave your car at home. Ride your bike or take the little City shuttle bus from Duveneck to Cal Ave.

Inhale, exhale

There, wasn't that easy?

Peace out

10 people like this
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Professorville
on Jul 11, 2019 at 7:14 am

Neighbor is a registered user.

John is absolutely correct. It is relatively easy to park downtown during business hours for errands so charging for this seems unnecessary. The Paly/Town and Country intersection is just terrible and needs to be fixed. Apparently Palo Alto controls those traffic lights but not the light at the intersection of El Camino and Embarcadero so synchronization is difficult.

4 people like this
Posted by Other Tom
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 11, 2019 at 8:08 am

I love the double talk.

"there is a segment of the population that may be more likely to go downtown and pay for parking if it means that parking is easier and quicker to find."

They are saying: "Let's cater to the rich! They don't care. Let's make it easier for them to park"

Remember, we all paid for the parking structures.

9 people like this
Posted by chris
a resident of University South
on Jul 11, 2019 at 11:24 am


It makes no sense for the city to "provide" free parking for Caltrain commuters.
If you are parking the whole day you should be paying at least the Caltrain parking rate. It's that simple.

Like this comment
Posted by Paul C.
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 11, 2019 at 12:44 pm

~ 20% urban land is dedicated to parking and it's time to Bike, or Lyft, both are carbon neutral.

Web Link

12 people like this
Posted by senor blogger
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jul 11, 2019 at 1:12 pm

Above all, Let's install cameras in the parking structures. There are too many unsolved car break-ins.

12 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 11, 2019 at 2:55 pm

Posted by Resident, a resident of Community Center

>> The problem with citywide RPP is that while many neighborhoods are experiencing severe commuter parking, most neighborhoods are not they are not willing to have RPP restrictions for no reason.

It seems to me that almost every neighborhood has at least one of the problems of: 1) too many resident vehicles at night, 2) too many commuter vehicles in the daytime, 3) RVs. Sometimes two, or even all three. A successful approach will address all three problems.

13 people like this
Posted by yeah, really bite the bullet
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 11, 2019 at 7:26 pm

No overnight parking on any Palo Alto street! Works fine for Menlo Park and will sort out the abandoned cars and abuse of on-street parking.

1 person likes this
Posted by Moochie
a resident of another community
on Jul 13, 2019 at 3:29 pm

Maybe @Commuter needs to move closer to a Caltrain station.

Oh wait, she/he's probably enjoying that Prop 13 benefit in their house in Duveneck and doesn't want to lose it.

11 people like this
Posted by Jessie
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 13, 2019 at 3:32 pm

Employees of Palo Alto Commons, an Assisted Living Facility located at 4075 El Camino Way, Palo Alto, CA 94306, Park their cars in the neighborhoods of Charleston Meadows and Barron Park. There already is a lack of parking in these areas, and the added cars from the employees, make it more difficult for a homeowner to find parking.

What will happen when the office building is built that will replace the former location of Pizza Chicago on El Camino in South Palo Alto ?

3 people like this
Posted by Commuter
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 15, 2019 at 1:06 pm

It's very disappointing to see residents of Old Palo Alto, acting like they live in gated community.

The RPP was set up to address a unique and persistant problem that College Terrace was experiencing due a huge surge in Stanford University personnel parking in their neighborhood both daily and long term.

The program is now reaching its height of absurdity, with neighborhoods next to train stations complaining about commuters parking in train station parking lots in their neighborhood.

As if that was not bad enough, this particular Old Palo Alto neighborhood has a huge sign saying "ALL ARE WELCOME HERE".

The streets are public, the parking lots are public, the parks are public. We ALL paid for them. I understand drawing the line at having people living in their parked cars in front of your house but to ban ANYONE from parking on streets in your neighborhood is elitist as it gets.

If you don't want nonresidents in your neighborhood, move to a gated community, and pay for the privilege of keeping your fellow Palo Altans off of your streets there.

To live in a house next to the train station and complain about the train noise, the traffic, and commmuters using the 82 space parking lot across from you, is ridiculous. To ban nonresidents from parking in your neighborhood, is even more laughable. These are not the Palo Altans I know, protesting against the wall, and welcoming everyone from every religion, race and country to freely enter our country and to include I presume their neighborhood (provided they have a Resident Parking Permit).

I hope our city manager puts paid to this contagion, that unless you are a Palo Alto resident of the neighborhood, and have PAID for the privilege of parking in the neighborhood, you are not allowed to park there.

What a clever trick to get every single Palo Alto family to pay for the privilege of parking in front of their own house. What a great source of income. The Tax and Spend crowd must be over the moon with this idea.

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