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Guest Opinion: Put parking costs where they belong — on businesses

Drivers head down Bryant Street towards Addison Avenue on Nov. 24, 2014, past neighborhood streets that are filled with parked cars. Embarcadero Media file photo by Veronica Weber.

Palo Alto is again dealing with Residential Preferential Parking Programs (RPPs), energized this time by our new public parking garage near California Avenue. If you live far from any commercial areas, you may not know why these programs exist or the history of their long and difficult gestation. I've been working on parking and traffic issues with city staff for more than a decade, including serving on the Downtown RPP Stakeholder Group, and offer my perspective.

Historically, many of our neighborhoods that are within a mile of commercial enterprises found their streets overrun by all-day commercial employee parking. After decades of effort, the City Council was pushed by residents to provide some relief via RPPs so that visitors, caregivers and tradespeople can park near the residents they serve. We currently have RPPs covering all or parts of College Terrace, Downtown North, Professorville, University South, Old Palo Alto, Crescent Park, Southgate and Evergreen Park/Mayfield.

John Guislin lives in Crescent Park, is actively engaged in efforts to reduce traffic and parking impacts and serves on the Palo Alto Police Department Chief's Advisory Group. Courtesy John Guislin.

While these programs have reduced the overcrowding, they have not eliminated the problems (see exception below for College Terrace), and their design fails to put the costs of the programs where they belong: on the dense office businesses that are the source of the problem.

It is alleged by some that RPPs privatize a public resource, i.e., street parking. In fact RPPs do the exact opposite; they stop business employees from all-day monopolization of parking spaces, reducing availability for all others who are blocked from accessing on-street parking.

Ending all-day business parking in all residential neighborhoods is a straightforward goal that contributes to making our streets safer, reducing single-occupancy vehicle (SOV) trips, reaching our CO2 emissions goal and protecting residential quality of life (which is prioritized in our Comprehensive Plan). Our state Legislature is pushing to eliminate single-family zoning and dramatically increase the density of residential neighborhoods, while at the same time reducing the amount of parking required from new construction. On-street parking is going to be the only option for most new residents. Giving that parking away to commercial interests guarantees it won't be there for a growing population. We need to make the commitment, now, that the costs of commercial parking will fall squarely where they belong, on businesses.

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Why has our council talked for decades about the problem and not been able to address it? Because the business community employs a paid lobbyist with local government connections, Judy Kleinberg from the Chamber of Commerce, whose sole purpose is to deliver benefits to the business community. For decades, the Chamber's tactics have been delay and denial. While residents have struggled to get RPPs in place, the business community has done nothing to address their parking needs other than lobby our City Council. Even with the new publicly funded garage for California Avenue, the Chamber still lobbies to retain all-day commercial parking in adjacent neighborhoods. It is past time for businesses and landlords to address their parking deficits and bear all the costs.

An effective model exists today in College Terrace where there are no all-day commercial parking permits issued. It is successful and warmly endorsed by residents. Why is it not available to all neighborhoods? Because of intense lobbying by the business community and some disingenuous City Council members. These council members clamor for reduced SOV traffic, reduced CO2 emissions, increased funding for the Transportation Management Association (which provides no meaningful metrics or enforcement) but refuse to reduce the number of all-day commercial permits available in our residential neighborhoods — the simplest and most cost-effective way to reduce the number of cars coming into Palo Alto. One council member lives in College Terrace, where this rule is currently implemented. There is no legal or moral justification for denying this benefit to all other neighborhoods.

A new parking garage in the California Avenue business district is set to open this month. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

For the about-to-open California Avenue garage, some council and Chamber of Commerce members are trying to rewrite history by claiming that the garage was built solely to provide additional parking for businesses. This is a fiction. Residents supported building this garage, funded by public dollars, to provide parking for local-serving retail and to remove all commercial parking from nearby residential neighborhoods. Mayor Adrian Fine acknowledges this at 6:40:40 in the recording of the Nov. 9 council Meeting: RPPs were designed to "Get the employees out of the RPPs and to provide additional parking for visitors and businesses in that district."

It is important to note that residents have consistently supported small business owners by endorsing high-priority and low-cost permits for local-serving businesses and low-wage workers. Council can also demonstrate its support for these groups through three simple actions:

1. Give local-serving businesses priority for purchasing permits in public garages, including a streamlined renewal process.

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2. Make reduced cost permits for low-wage workers available in all public garages.

3. Support the city's SOV and CO2 reduction goals by ending the sale of all-day commercial permits in residential neighborhoods.

Finding a lasting solution to this problem is important for the environmental and quality of life benefits it will bring. But in economic terms there is also an important opportunity cost. I want our city officials to be addressing the safety and traffic congestion issues we face. The recent traffic death of a pedestrian in a downtown crosswalk is a tragedy that we cannot afford to ignore. Let's put our resources to work on making our streets, sidewalks and crosswalks safer for pedestrians and bicyclists. Let's reduce traffic and return our public streets in residential neighborhoods to what they were designed for, residential activities.

We all deserve no less.

John Guislin lives in Crescent Park, is actively engaged in efforts to reduce traffic and parking impacts and serves on the Palo Alto Police Department Chief's Advisory Group.

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Guest Opinion: Put parking costs where they belong — on businesses

by / Contributor

Uploaded: Fri, Nov 20, 2020, 6:52 am

Palo Alto is again dealing with Residential Preferential Parking Programs (RPPs), energized this time by our new public parking garage near California Avenue. If you live far from any commercial areas, you may not know why these programs exist or the history of their long and difficult gestation. I've been working on parking and traffic issues with city staff for more than a decade, including serving on the Downtown RPP Stakeholder Group, and offer my perspective.

Historically, many of our neighborhoods that are within a mile of commercial enterprises found their streets overrun by all-day commercial employee parking. After decades of effort, the City Council was pushed by residents to provide some relief via RPPs so that visitors, caregivers and tradespeople can park near the residents they serve. We currently have RPPs covering all or parts of College Terrace, Downtown North, Professorville, University South, Old Palo Alto, Crescent Park, Southgate and Evergreen Park/Mayfield.

While these programs have reduced the overcrowding, they have not eliminated the problems (see exception below for College Terrace), and their design fails to put the costs of the programs where they belong: on the dense office businesses that are the source of the problem.

It is alleged by some that RPPs privatize a public resource, i.e., street parking. In fact RPPs do the exact opposite; they stop business employees from all-day monopolization of parking spaces, reducing availability for all others who are blocked from accessing on-street parking.

Ending all-day business parking in all residential neighborhoods is a straightforward goal that contributes to making our streets safer, reducing single-occupancy vehicle (SOV) trips, reaching our CO2 emissions goal and protecting residential quality of life (which is prioritized in our Comprehensive Plan). Our state Legislature is pushing to eliminate single-family zoning and dramatically increase the density of residential neighborhoods, while at the same time reducing the amount of parking required from new construction. On-street parking is going to be the only option for most new residents. Giving that parking away to commercial interests guarantees it won't be there for a growing population. We need to make the commitment, now, that the costs of commercial parking will fall squarely where they belong, on businesses.

Why has our council talked for decades about the problem and not been able to address it? Because the business community employs a paid lobbyist with local government connections, Judy Kleinberg from the Chamber of Commerce, whose sole purpose is to deliver benefits to the business community. For decades, the Chamber's tactics have been delay and denial. While residents have struggled to get RPPs in place, the business community has done nothing to address their parking needs other than lobby our City Council. Even with the new publicly funded garage for California Avenue, the Chamber still lobbies to retain all-day commercial parking in adjacent neighborhoods. It is past time for businesses and landlords to address their parking deficits and bear all the costs.

An effective model exists today in College Terrace where there are no all-day commercial parking permits issued. It is successful and warmly endorsed by residents. Why is it not available to all neighborhoods? Because of intense lobbying by the business community and some disingenuous City Council members. These council members clamor for reduced SOV traffic, reduced CO2 emissions, increased funding for the Transportation Management Association (which provides no meaningful metrics or enforcement) but refuse to reduce the number of all-day commercial permits available in our residential neighborhoods — the simplest and most cost-effective way to reduce the number of cars coming into Palo Alto. One council member lives in College Terrace, where this rule is currently implemented. There is no legal or moral justification for denying this benefit to all other neighborhoods.

For the about-to-open California Avenue garage, some council and Chamber of Commerce members are trying to rewrite history by claiming that the garage was built solely to provide additional parking for businesses. This is a fiction. Residents supported building this garage, funded by public dollars, to provide parking for local-serving retail and to remove all commercial parking from nearby residential neighborhoods. Mayor Adrian Fine acknowledges this at 6:40:40 in the recording of the Nov. 9 council Meeting: RPPs were designed to "Get the employees out of the RPPs and to provide additional parking for visitors and businesses in that district."

It is important to note that residents have consistently supported small business owners by endorsing high-priority and low-cost permits for local-serving businesses and low-wage workers. Council can also demonstrate its support for these groups through three simple actions:

1. Give local-serving businesses priority for purchasing permits in public garages, including a streamlined renewal process.

2. Make reduced cost permits for low-wage workers available in all public garages.

3. Support the city's SOV and CO2 reduction goals by ending the sale of all-day commercial permits in residential neighborhoods.

Finding a lasting solution to this problem is important for the environmental and quality of life benefits it will bring. But in economic terms there is also an important opportunity cost. I want our city officials to be addressing the safety and traffic congestion issues we face. The recent traffic death of a pedestrian in a downtown crosswalk is a tragedy that we cannot afford to ignore. Let's put our resources to work on making our streets, sidewalks and crosswalks safer for pedestrians and bicyclists. Let's reduce traffic and return our public streets in residential neighborhoods to what they were designed for, residential activities.

We all deserve no less.

John Guislin lives in Crescent Park, is actively engaged in efforts to reduce traffic and parking impacts and serves on the Palo Alto Police Department Chief's Advisory Group.

Comments

Michael H
Registered user
Professorville
on Nov 20, 2020 at 11:06 am
Michael H, Professorville
Registered user
on Nov 20, 2020 at 11:06 am
21 people like this

A key quality of life question that has never been adequately adressed is, "Why are any permits for commercial businesses to park in adjacent residential neighborhoods issued as along as ample space is available in nearby parking garages?"


paul
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 20, 2020 at 11:21 am
paul, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Nov 20, 2020 at 11:21 am
15 people like this

In the Palo Alto I knew residents and local serving businesses supported each other. This is why many residents backed the new garage. Sadly some businesses and landowners no longer believe in this idea. They view their adjacent neighborhoods as a parking resource.


Palo Alto Resident
Registered user
Evergreen Park
on Nov 20, 2020 at 12:42 pm
Palo Alto Resident, Evergreen Park
Registered user
on Nov 20, 2020 at 12:42 pm
21 people like this

Thank you for stating the issues so clearly.

When large under-parked commercial developments are approved by the City, residents are told not to worry about any parking deficits because this area is so "transportation rich". Yet those same property owners and certain City Council members go into an absolute state of "the roof is falling" when their demands for additional parking spaces in the new garage and in the residential areas (as happened in 2018) are met with resistance.

As the City staff admitted in the Council meeting on November 16, the City has little information about parking demand in the Cal Ave commercial area, and the parking policies in this district are a mess. Given the surfeit of parking in the area now (and perhaps in the future) due to Covid, we have a wonderful opportunity to sort this mess out. It is time to get the employees out of the neighborhoods and have a new plan for dealing with the traffic and parking problems along Cal Ave in place when and if workers come back to their offices in large numbers. Evergreen Park deserves the same protections from all-day employee parking that College Terrace and Old Palo Alto -- neighborhoods that are also adjacent to Cal Ave.


Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 20, 2020 at 1:39 pm
Resident 1-Adobe Meadows, Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Nov 20, 2020 at 1:39 pm
4 people like this

There is a problem with employee parking in South PA due to both employees and visitors at the Oshman Center / JCC. They park in residential areas like they have assigned themselves spaces on streets. They leave fast food wrappers, plastic bottles, paper trash, and expect the neighbors to pick up after them. Worse is when the street cleaner comes and the street is filled up and the street is not picked up.

When they were in the building mode the residents were told there would be no overflow parking. Now we find that the employees are told to park outside the facility so there is more room for the visitors.

I went over to talk to the management and was told that the residents surrounding the Gunn campus asked the city to put up signs restricting parking so the kids would park on campus. That is one resolution to the problem - restrict parking. But that did not help in this problem.

These type problems arise when any organization has a growth plan to add more programs and limited space to house those programs. Suggestion - put some of those programs over at CHS which has extensive parking space. Another is to pay for part of the parking lot and run a shuttle between CHS and JCC.

What I tell people now on the street is that their license number is filmed with any trash left and will be reported to the police as a littering issue. And any litter will not be picked up by the residents. Oshman/JCC has opportunities to lease more parking space from the company parking lots. That reduces the walk for the employees.

For future organizations that plan on building in the area on San Antonio there has to be available parking for the tenets.

The city cannot approve projects for any location which has not addressed the issue of parking. Any business on San Antonio will need cars to get there so there is no avoiding the issue.

Next issue is that Mountain View is getting funding to build a homeless shelter on the city border across from the Green House. That could get dicey if not dome right.


jc
Registered user
College Terrace
on Nov 20, 2020 at 2:03 pm
jc, College Terrace
Registered user
on Nov 20, 2020 at 2:03 pm
10 people like this

The question is, why is there an assumption that city hall staff assume responsibility for providing parking for landlords who choose to lease office space to companies whose employee count exceeds the parking provided.

The answer is, if a company's employee commute needs can't be met by their landlord, then it is time for the company to move to office space that can.




NeilsonBuchanan
Registered user
Downtown North
on Nov 20, 2020 at 2:35 pm
NeilsonBuchanan, Downtown North
Registered user
on Nov 20, 2020 at 2:35 pm
6 people like this

The next city council has at least 6 to 12 months before economic recovery commences and office workers and other commerce picks in the Univ and Calif Ave commercial cores. What is city staff doing during the lull?

Our current Mayor, City Manager and Office of Transportation could be spending time planning how to refill residential neighborhood with non-resident vehicles. This first impulse seems to be pushing the low-wage workers out of the commercial core public parking to accommodate the highly paid tech titans. This is ironic because there are hundreds of vacant public parking spaces for the next 6-12 months

Or will the new mayor, current city manager and Office of Transportation commence serious engineering and problem solving to fit the commercial parking demand into the parking space supply within the commercial cores. Implement all the past lofty transportation demand management agreements signed by developers, if staff can find them. Install technology so customers and workers can find vacant parking space. Convene Council Study Session to understand what the $500,000/yr Palo Alto Transportation Management Association has been doing and could be doing in the covid recovery cycle. Stop creating parking shortages with developers who benefit from parking exceptions, exemptions, variances and lost agreements.

Modernize creaky city process in file cabinets with proven technology in use throughtout the world. Palo Alto city government claims to be a center of the technology universe....NOT!


jc
Registered user
College Terrace
on Nov 20, 2020 at 2:54 pm
jc, College Terrace
Registered user
on Nov 20, 2020 at 2:54 pm
11 people like this

The only group of employees that the city should be helping solve parking issues for are businesses that are open to and serve the public. In other words, those low wage employees we depend on. To help every local business survive and come back after this catastrophic economic downturn is over.


Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 20, 2020 at 4:57 pm
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Nov 20, 2020 at 4:57 pm
12 people like this

Good piece and good points about only giving permits to workers at resident-serving businesses. Remember the long-running battle the poor doctors and dentists with offices near downtown and Cal Ave waged to get ANY parking permits for their workers?

The conduct of the Chamber of Commerce, other business lobbying groups and our city staff and "leaders" has been shameful as they allow all the under-parked hotels and companies based on the car-light fairy tales while opposing all attempts to impose a business tax. It shouldn't be rocket science to create, maintain and update a business database and note which businesses serve residents and which are simply offices located here.


Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 21, 2020 at 8:52 am
Resident 1-Adobe Meadows, Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Nov 21, 2020 at 8:52 am
8 people like this

I was on San Antonio yesterday at commute time. In the area where they are building a hotel and project to build a new residential area the traffic was up to it's pre-covid norm.

The city put in a planted medium which boxes the cars in so there is no room for bikes In the section leading up to Middlefield.

The city controls the approval process for any new building. The city does control the end product to a degree - but it obviously in the past has granted waivers and waived their hands around saying commercial transit is the key to the solution.

WE do not see any commercial transit so forget that spin. What we see is people buying older cars to just get around.

So that is where we are at - we all know it and see it.


Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 21, 2020 at 10:36 am
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Nov 21, 2020 at 10:36 am
6 people like this

Re parking garages, why aren't employers required to buy their workers permits for the garages rather than pushing those workers into neighborhoods? Seems like a simple enough solution. What am I missing? We know the workers don't want to pay for the parking permits but the city does -- or should -- have some leverage.


jc
Registered user
College Terrace
on Nov 21, 2020 at 12:16 pm
jc, College Terrace
Registered user
on Nov 21, 2020 at 12:16 pm
Like this comment

My understanding is that the downtown garage(s) do or did have a problem with emloyers buying up multiple parking permit reserved spots and not using them. Which resulted in multiple unused parking slots in the parking permit reserved sections of the garages.


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