In a bid to drive Caltrain commuters out of Old Palo Alto's residential streets, the City Council approved on Monday a new permit program that will limit all-day parking to those who live in the neighborhood.
The City Council swiftly and unanimously approved a proposal to add the neighborhood just east of the California Avenue underpass to the city's expanding list of Residential Preferential Parking (RPP) districts. Once the program takes effect, only cars displaying RPP permits will be able to park on residential streets for more than two hours. And unlike in similar programs in downtown and Evergreen Park, permits in Old Palo Alto will only be sold to residents.
The new district would be roughly bounded by Alma Street on the west and Bryant Street on the east, between Washington Avenue and Oregon Avenue. Several blocks just north of the proposed district, along Santa Rita Avenue and between Santa Rita and Washington, would become eligible to quickly enter the RPP district once traffic spills over to their blocks.
For the residents, the district represents a solution to a problem they have long complained about: Caltrain commuters who use their residential blocks for free, all-day parking. Earlier this year, they made their case to both the council, which signaled early support for the RPP, and to the Planning and Transportation Commission, which voted in August to prioritize Old Palo Alto over other areas that have asked for parking restrictions.
The program will require residents in the district to pay $50 for residential permits and allow them to buy up to five permits. And even though some aren't thrilled about having to pay to park in front of their homes, the vast majority strongly support creating the new restrictions. Of the 55 households that responded to city surveys, 49 said they support the new RPP — an approval rate of 89%.
Anne Protter, who lives on the block where parking-occupancy levels are around 100% during peak hours, said cars arrive at her block at about 7 a.m. and don't leave until 8 or 9 p.m. While supportive of the program, she argued that residents be given free permits to park in front of their homes.
"I don't think it's fair that we should be expected to pay when there's a parking lot for Caltrain that sits partially open every day," Protter said.
Council members also broadly supported the program and voted 6-0, with Councilwoman Liz Kniss absent, to launch it in November. Councilwoman Lydia Kou suggested that the city issue the first two permits for free. The rest of the council declined to accept her suggestion.
Even as the council approved the new district, transportation staff are preparing to revamp the entire RPP system, with the goals of simplifying and standardizing the five neighborhood programs. The council endorsed in May a report from transportation consultant Wayne Tanda that includes 35 recommendations on parking, including consolidating the five existing RPP programs and establishing a comprehensive parking management system.
Mayor Eric Filseth said he looks forward to the broader RPP review but argued that it should not delay the creation of the Old Palo Alto program.
"This is a good year for us to normalize these things and have a standard template for the whole city," FIlseth said. "But I don't think we should wait to implement this."
Vice Mayor Adrian Fine agreed, though he cautioned that restricting parking on one block could make the parking crunch worse on the next one. He pointed to the survey, which showed a block with 100% occupancy next to a block where the rate is about 20%. It's likely, he said, that the program will create a "whack-a-mole" situation where drivers simply park a block farther and walk.
Fine also observed that the RPP programs, which cost about $750,000 annually to administer, carry some unwelcome consequences. The new program, he said, makes it more difficult for visitors — including council members — to spend time in Old Palo Alto.
"We are effectively privatizing a public resource," Fine said.