News

Planning commissioners slam approval process for residential parking programs

Despite reservations, panel recommends new pilot in Old Palo Alto

Palo Alto's recently implemented residential parking programs faced withering criticism Wednesday from the city's Planning and Transportation Commission, which blasted the city's process for implementing the programs just before voting to approve a new one in the Old Palo Alto neighborhood.

After expressing their reservations, the commission voted 4-2, with Chairman Billy Riggs and Commissioner Michael Alcheck dissenting, to approve a one-year pilot program in a section of Old Palo Alto near Bowden Park and the California Avenue underpass. Much like recently established Residential Preferential Parking (RPP) programs in downtown and the Evergreen Park/Mayfield area, the program would allow residents to purchase parking permits and restrict all cars without permits to two hours of parking.

Unlike the two other programs, the Old Palo Alto one would not sell any permits to area employees. Residents, meanwhile, would be able to buy up to five permits per household, with each costing $50 per year.

The parking restrictions would be in effect Monday to Friday, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

While planning commissioners in March designated the Old Palo Alto area a priority for the next residential parking program, on Wednesday some chafed at the details. The proposed program, Riggs and Alcheck argued, isn't based on any broader vision for traffic circulation and parking. Both favored having staff come back with additional information, including the program's goals, evaluation criteria for the pilot program and justification for giving each household five permits.

Alcheck said it's critical to understand the city's goals for neighborhood streets before approving new programs.

"Is the purpose of the RPP to make this asset — this parking asset — exclusive to the residential neighborhood? Or is our purpose to make it easier for the residential parcels to enjoy the public parking asset in conjunction with their neighboring businesses' employees?" Alcheck asked.

Riggs agreed and said the commission appears to be making a decision "in a vacuum." He pointed to the requirement in the city's RPP ordinance that the city exhaust all other alternatives to alleviating parking before creating such a district. In this case, the city didn't do that, Riggs said.

He also requested more data about parking occupancy in the proposed district, which is roughly bounded by Washington Avenue, Oregon Avenue, Alma Street and Ramona Street. Staff from the city's Office of Transportation said some of the blocks near the California Avenue underpass, including along High Street and North California Avenue, have parking occupancy rates of 95% and even 100%. Other blocks, however, have occupancy rates closer to 75%, according to surveys that the city conducted in April.

"The data doesn't illustrate in my mind an endemic need to have policy action," Riggs said. "It basically needs a creative and tactical solution for an acute issue for a couple of blocks."

The proposed program almost faced an unexpected defeat, with the commission voting 3-3 on a motion by Commissioner Doria Summa to approve the staff recommendation and establish the program. Alcheck, Riggs and Commissioner Giselle Roohparvar all dissented.

Roohparvar ultimately voted to support the motion, but only after her colleagues agreed to direct staff to revisit the number of parking permits each household would be allowed to buy. She noted that many residents also have garages and parking spots in driveways.

"We're talking seven to nine parking spaces per household. It doesn't make sense," Roohparvar said.

Chief Transportation Official Philip Kamhi said the number of permits per household was set at five to make the Old Palo Alto program consistent with the RPP programs in downtown and the Evergreen Park/Mayfield area. It is also based on feedback from residents, he said.

Alcheck didn't buy this explanation.

"It's not a fair question to ask a resident, 'How much do you want to be impacted by this highly restrictive policy?' The answer is going to be zero. ... What in our Comprehensive Plan suggests that we want the residents of Palo Alto to park five cars on the street?" he asked.

Those who supported moving the program ahead agreed with Alcheck and Riggs that staff should present the council with further details about the programs. They also argued, however, that the residents in the Old Palo Alto area have followed all the rules in the RPP ordinance that the City Council passed in 2014. The law allows residents to petition to form new parking districts.

"There may be no one in the room that thinks our RPP ordinance is perfect," Summa said. "But the public has the right to come forward and request it."

Delaying the approval process would push the implementation date from November to March, according to staff. As such, it would be "punitive" to the residents.

According to the city, the program has broad support in the Old Palo Alto area. Earlier this month, the city had sent out surveys to the 93 households in the area and received 55 back. Of those, 49 said they supported the new program, giving it an 89% approval rate.

Chris Robell, an Old Palo Alto resident who is one of the organizers of the effort to create the new parking district, told the commission that he and his neighbors have been working on the program since 2017 and urged the commission to approve the program without further delay.

He and others spoke about the dearth of parking in the neighborhood, which they say is caused in large part by Caltrain commuters who prefer to park for free on the streets rather than pay for a spot in the Caltrain lot.

"We really need to get parking relief. ... There's (an) extremely strong and consistent desire (in the neighborhood) to get this done," Robell told the commission.

The program now heads to the City Council, which is scheduled to take it up in late September. If approved, the program will launch in early November.

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Comments

2 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 29, 2019 at 9:41 am

So which household will be first to sell their parking spots on the driveway or their permits to the highest bidder? Sounds like it could be quite lucrative to me.

On the other hand, it is just moving the parking problem elsewhere. Those with bikes and skateboards will just find somewhere else to park in another neighborhood.

It is about time that the parking problem was taken more seriously. Off ramp satellite lots with dedicated shuttles, and parking meters with apps on phones to pay for all day parking for those who need to park occasionally all day or use a different car once in a while.




2 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 29, 2019 at 9:48 am

Quick google and I discovered that on Web Link a driveway can go for anything from $4 to $10! I am sure there are many others out there.


53 people like this
Posted by Parking Relief is ong Overdue
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 29, 2019 at 9:56 am

City staff have been approving underparked buildings for years, creating the parking mess we have.

It's shameful that residents besieged by commercial parking in front of their homes neighborhoods have had to wait so long to get the City to provide some relief.

Is it a coincidence that Commissioners Alcheck and Riggs, put on the Planning Commission by the pro-office growth majority on the City Council, are now voting against providing parking protection to residents --- and thus helping the office developers?

If you care about protecting neighborhoods, please help elect better Council members next year.


13 people like this
Posted by Barron Park dad
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 29, 2019 at 10:58 am

Why FIVE spots?! Seems excessive.


20 people like this
Posted by Allen Akin
a resident of Professorville
on Aug 29, 2019 at 11:30 am

Allen Akin is a registered user.

Five is the maximum number allowed under any circumstances. The commissioners chose not to ask how many are actually issued in the other districts (most of which also have a limit of five).


28 people like this
Posted by What Will They Do Next
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 29, 2019 at 2:18 pm

Alcheck loves to hear himself talk, and yes, he is part of the pro-office growth majority on council. He went on an even more inane rant during the council meeting on granting the First Baptist Church of Palo Alto a conditional use permit, taking everything city staff worked on for months and turning it upside down. Fortunately, council didn't buy into his lunacy and when the decision was made modify the CUP in favor of the neighbors, Alcheck sunk into his seat, defeated. The look on his face was priceless.


2 people like this
Posted by Midtown Local
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 29, 2019 at 8:28 pm

Midtown Local is a registered user.

Are they planning to include the parking at the park (what's shown in this article's picture) in the permit zone? If so, that's quite a bonus for the residents -- lots more spaces than normal residential street parking.

The residents seem to resent Cal Ave employees using the park's parking (which is waaaay more than the park itself needs or ever uses) as overflow from the too-restricted parking west of the tracks. I'd be ok with the residents having the parallel parking on the street, but at least give other folks a shot at the park's parking bounty.


3 people like this
Posted by High St Resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 30, 2019 at 8:25 am

As for the parking at the park... one of the many reasons we started the petition was due to the safety hazard caused by commuters parking in the open spots at the park. There are many bike riders that have to share the street and commuters are busy looking for an open spot instead of bikes. We originally proposed to allow ~20 business employee parking for those spots. The city for some reason turned this request down, and left those spots open and are not part of the proposed RPP. It appears that the city seems to ignore safety issues, as there are also numerous complaints filed with the underpass that also get ignored.


6 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 30, 2019 at 10:34 am

Posted by High St Resident, a resident of Old Palo Alto

>> we started the petition was due to the safety hazard caused by commuters parking in the open spots at the park. There are many bike riders that have to share the street and commuters are busy looking for an open spot instead of bikes.

I don't really understand what you are getting at. Why would a Caltrain commuter be a particular hazard as opposed to a business employee (or customer) or park user? In particular, are you -sure- you want to add those people to the jammed Oregon/Page Mill underpass at rush hour, to get to the Caltrain lot on the other side? To me, it makes perfect sense for there to be Caltrain parking on both sides of the tracks so that Caltrain users don't have to get through the underpasses at rush hour.

>> We originally proposed to allow ~20 business employee parking for those spots.

>> there are also numerous complaints filed with the underpass that also get ignored.

This could mean a number of things. Can you please be more explicit?


5 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 30, 2019 at 10:51 am

I concur with the observation of commuters causing a safety issue when parking. We have had already been two incidents in the neighbor with cars colliding with bikes in the last 6 months. Commuters are quickly looking for parking spots and not paying attention to things around them. High Street is particular dangerous. It's a dead end street and requires a u-turn when there is no parking. With the cars and bikes coming off Oregon, it makes for a dangerous situation. Having businesses parking instead, allows the city to reduce the likely hood of not finding a spot and generating some much needed revenue to offset the costs of enforcing the RPP.

Maybe a better way to deal with the issue is to allow a fixed number of commuters to PURCHASE a parking pass. We need to limit the people parking in residential neighbor hoods. Just take a look at the picture posted with the story. Would you like to live and/or have your children play in such an area???


3 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 30, 2019 at 10:56 am

I agree with Anon (from another neighborhood) above. We need to be able to help those who need to park to find parking, not make it more difficult. We also need to reduce the need for so many cars to cross the tracks making more congestion at all the crossings. Here is my post from the other thread.

I think a couple of commenters have mentioned that getting to the Caltrain lot by car is horrendous and parking to use the pedestrian tunnel makes a lot more sense.

If we have a serious aim to reduce traffic and increase public transport usage, then providing parking for Caltrain as well as for those who work in the Cal Ave area East of the tracks makes sense.

We are continually talking about restrictions on our grade crossings. If Churchill is closed, if we have more trains with grade crossings being closed longer, then it is going to make the Oregon/Embarcadero busier. Getting cars to park East of the tracks makes a great deal of sense. There are lots both sides of the tracks at University, and the same should be done for Cal Ave.

It is now time to put serious thought on how these Caltrain riders can access the station without using Oregon tunnel.


8 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 30, 2019 at 7:02 pm

Please do not write someone “slams” someone or something. This is in vogue for clickbait and it’s an awful and silly expression.


6 people like this
Posted by CA love
a resident of Atherton
on Sep 1, 2019 at 10:39 am

San Francisco’s new residential parking permits allows one permit per resident, two permits max per household. Perfectly reasonable. Cars being stored on the street is a nuisance vs cars in-use for household duties is a necessity


7 people like this
Posted by Room mates & adult children
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 1, 2019 at 10:49 am

Room mates & adult children is a registered user.

2 per household? Even if three or four adults are sharing a house? Or your adult child is living with you? The nanny?


2 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Sep 1, 2019 at 11:44 am

^ That's why you have a two-car garage and a two-car driveway. Isn't there a law in California that you cannot register more cars to an address than you have off-street parking? If not, why not?


4 people like this
Posted by Room mates & adult children
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 1, 2019 at 12:43 pm

Room mates & adult children is a registered user.

Yes, newer subdivisions and new builds have two car garages. Older houses sometimes don't have a garage, or like mine only a single one.


14 people like this
Posted by Here is the Truth
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Sep 3, 2019 at 8:23 pm

Too many homeowners have too much junk in their garages to park a car, or are too lazy to pull into a garage, or are too lazy to even pull into their own driveway, so they just park on the street in front of their houses because that's easiest.


5 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 4, 2019 at 8:14 am

Although I still don't see why Caltrain commuters, typical from the other side of Middlefield I would -guess-, are such a nuisance compared with anyone else who might park. Perhaps we can just agree to disagree about that one.

Regardless, I see parking issues all over the city. I think we just need a citywide program that will have the effect of charging commuters to park within the city in the daytime, and, charging residents to park cars on the streets at night, and, completely banning oversize vehicles (dirt hauling trucks, RVs, you name it) from parking on the streets at night. Personally, I would be overjoyed to pay $50/year to get rid of all the RVs.


12 people like this
Posted by Commuter
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 4, 2019 at 4:42 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.


12 people like this
Posted by Externalising the cost
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 4, 2019 at 7:06 pm

Externalising the cost is a registered user.

Commercial property owners have been building offices for decades with insufficient parking by design, and it's come home to roost. Why should those who live here (and pay 75% of the property taxes that maintain our streets) be expected to turn their neighborhoods into parking lots for the owners of commercial buildings and their tenants because there is more profit to be made by not providing tenant parking?


3 people like this
Posted by Commuter
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 5, 2019 at 9:10 am

People that live across the street from CalTrain Stations shouldn't throw stones.


4 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 5, 2019 at 10:22 am

Posted by Commuter, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis

>> 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.

Speaking for myself only, of course, I can say that as a non-rich person who parks in front of my dwelling frequently -- I would be perfectly happy to pay a modest fee, e.g. $50/year, towards the end of ending free on-street parking for all the office/business interests that abuse the free on-street parking. Maybe not on your street, but, there are problems almost everywhere in the city. To make it simpler, let's make it city-wide, and, simultaneously, get the RVs off the public streets as well-- also a problem in many neighborhoods. "Tax and Spend"? Ask yourself why all of us taxpayers are paying property taxes so that some private interests can avoid providing for their own parking?


Like this comment
Posted by Kenny
a resident of University South
on Sep 5, 2019 at 10:40 am

Why not just scrap the parking tax program and build new parking garages? More parking taxes won't fix a shortage of parking spaces, adding additional parking spaces will. Or just build lots of additional affordable housing near Downtown and Cal Ave. Then people won't have to drive to work.


2 people like this
Posted by Commuter
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 5, 2019 at 12:00 pm

Its Palo Altans commuting to San Francisco that are using that 82 space parking lot across the street from the California Ave Caltrain station. All this blathering about downtown office buildings and safety issues while parking is just a red herring. People with houses along the parking lot across from the train station are complaining about train commuter's parking in a commuter parking lot. The city turned the parking lot into two hour parking this January, after these neighbors complained, and forced commuters out into the neighborhood to park. A classic case of a solution in search of a problem, causing a bigger problem. The streets of Palo Alto do not belong to you. They belong to everyone. Remember the "You didn't build that"speech, from our hero. Move to a gated community if you want a private neighborhood. Hypocrisy at it worst.


2 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 5, 2019 at 12:29 pm

Posted by Commuter, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis

>> Hypocrisy at it worst.

Commuter, I mostly agree with you. I think your argument would be more effective without the invective.

You are correct that the silly 2-hour time limit had unintended consequences. If that is the only reason for the proposed RPP, it would not be a rational proposal. My take on it is that the RPP has a lot more constituents than that but, I may be wrong.

In any case, those of you who live near the Caltrain station: it is very reasonable for someone who lives on the Bay side of Middlefield and who commutes via Caltrain to park on the Bay side (northeast) of the tracks rather than cross through the gridlocked underpass at rush hour. I should also say that the parking area has been used that way as long as I can remember and I don't see why it is suddenly an issue. And, I'm glad people use Caltrain to commute.


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