News

Palo Alto to shift to virtual permits for parking enforcement

City approves gradual switch away from hangtags and decals in residential neighborhoods

The College Terrace neighborhood is one of several where a Residential Preferential Parking program sets a two-hour limit on parking for cars without a permit. Embarcadero Media file photo by Veronica Weber.

As Palo Alto prepares to shift to automatic license plate readers to enforce parking regulations, hangtags and decals that signify ownership of a parking permit will soon be going out of style.

The city is turning toward virtual permits, which can be bought online and which city leaders believe will give them more flexibility to find and cite violators. The City Council endorsed this move on Monday, when it voted unanimously to amend the zoning code to make virtual permits permissible.

The process of rolling out virtual permits for residents and employees who park in Residential Preferential Parking (RPP) districts will begin next year, with the goal of having everyone transitioned to the new program by 2023, Nathan Baird, the city's parking manager, told the council Monday.

"This allows us to roll out and phase in virtual permits as we adopt the license-plate enforcement and other process improvements," said Nathan Baird, the city's parking manager.

The technological shift also will spell the end of the city's historic practice of having parking enforcement officers chalk tires. Chief Transportation Official Philip Kamhi said that with virtual permits and automatic license plate readers, the city's enforcement team will be able to do its work more quickly and more efficiently.

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"They don't have to slow down to chalk. It just becomes a more efficient enforcement tool," Kamhi said.

The council generally supported the move, though some members urged staff to make sure that residents and employees who aren't comfortable using technology have a way to get assistance in purchasing their permits. Mayor Tom DuBois also urged staff to clearly indicate how the city plans to use the data it gathers from the new license plate reader, consistent with the city's policy on surveillance technology. Otherwise, members agreed that the change will make the city's parking programs easier to use and to enforce.

"I think this is a common-sense cleanup and moving in a direction toward a more sustainable place, a better place," council member Greer Stone said. "Everything is moving into the direction of a more virtual world."

The shift to virtual permits in residential areas is just one small component of broader changes that the city plans to make to its parking regulations in the coming months. The council's Finance Committee will discuss tonight staff's plan to slash the number of permits that the city will sell to employees for parking in the Evergreen/Mayfield neighborhoods, restricting them to one small zone.

The city also plans to significantly raise fees for parking in city garages, including the newly built 636-space structure on Sherman Avenue, which more workers will now rely on as they lose their ability to buy RPP permits.

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Palo Alto to shift to virtual permits for parking enforcement

City approves gradual switch away from hangtags and decals in residential neighborhoods

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Tue, Oct 5, 2021, 8:45 am

As Palo Alto prepares to shift to automatic license plate readers to enforce parking regulations, hangtags and decals that signify ownership of a parking permit will soon be going out of style.

The city is turning toward virtual permits, which can be bought online and which city leaders believe will give them more flexibility to find and cite violators. The City Council endorsed this move on Monday, when it voted unanimously to amend the zoning code to make virtual permits permissible.

The process of rolling out virtual permits for residents and employees who park in Residential Preferential Parking (RPP) districts will begin next year, with the goal of having everyone transitioned to the new program by 2023, Nathan Baird, the city's parking manager, told the council Monday.

"This allows us to roll out and phase in virtual permits as we adopt the license-plate enforcement and other process improvements," said Nathan Baird, the city's parking manager.

The technological shift also will spell the end of the city's historic practice of having parking enforcement officers chalk tires. Chief Transportation Official Philip Kamhi said that with virtual permits and automatic license plate readers, the city's enforcement team will be able to do its work more quickly and more efficiently.

"They don't have to slow down to chalk. It just becomes a more efficient enforcement tool," Kamhi said.

The council generally supported the move, though some members urged staff to make sure that residents and employees who aren't comfortable using technology have a way to get assistance in purchasing their permits. Mayor Tom DuBois also urged staff to clearly indicate how the city plans to use the data it gathers from the new license plate reader, consistent with the city's policy on surveillance technology. Otherwise, members agreed that the change will make the city's parking programs easier to use and to enforce.

"I think this is a common-sense cleanup and moving in a direction toward a more sustainable place, a better place," council member Greer Stone said. "Everything is moving into the direction of a more virtual world."

The shift to virtual permits in residential areas is just one small component of broader changes that the city plans to make to its parking regulations in the coming months. The council's Finance Committee will discuss tonight staff's plan to slash the number of permits that the city will sell to employees for parking in the Evergreen/Mayfield neighborhoods, restricting them to one small zone.

The city also plans to significantly raise fees for parking in city garages, including the newly built 636-space structure on Sherman Avenue, which more workers will now rely on as they lose their ability to buy RPP permits.

Comments

Doug Kreitz
Registered user
Professorville
on Oct 5, 2021 at 8:59 am
Doug Kreitz, Professorville
Registered user
on Oct 5, 2021 at 8:59 am

I would like to know if hang tags (for occasional visitors who will be parking in front of my home) will still be issued once the electronic system is implemented.
Was this discussed?


Avery Logan
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Oct 5, 2021 at 10:12 am
Avery Logan, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Oct 5, 2021 at 10:12 am

Will this measure result in the termination of parking enforcement officers (aka meter readers)?


BobH
Registered user
Palo Verde
on Oct 5, 2021 at 10:42 am
BobH, Palo Verde
Registered user
on Oct 5, 2021 at 10:42 am

How does this work exactly? I have many questions:

Is a "virtual permit" you sign up for online that says that a car with a specific license plate number can park in a residential area or parking garage? Or is it some sort of RFID tag you add to your car? How does it work if you have two cars?

Will parked cars will be scanned periodically to verify they can park there legally? How is this data protected? There are many privacy concerns here, do we need the City tracking us where we park? How will they protect this data? Who will it be shared with? Immigration authorities? Will the location data be sold?


CC
Registered user
University South
on Oct 5, 2021 at 10:44 am
CC, University South
Registered user
on Oct 5, 2021 at 10:44 am

How are you going to address misused permits.

Currently Channing House is using the hanging tags for many of their employees and construction workers.

The resident tags are meant for our guests. By Channing House using these for their employees, we have no parking and the program is failing. They are abusing the program!

It was my understanding that employers were allotted a certain amount of employee permits. To limit their parking.

Well. Clearly not working now. So curious if the new virtual program will address this!


William Hitchens
Registered user
Mountain View
on Oct 5, 2021 at 12:07 pm
William Hitchens, Mountain View
Registered user
on Oct 5, 2021 at 12:07 pm

How will this affected cars with valid handicapped license plates or hang tags?


Paly02
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Oct 5, 2021 at 12:26 pm
Paly02, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Oct 5, 2021 at 12:26 pm

I, too, have privacy concerns and concerns about data security. Agree that we cannot share this data with immigration officers and we need safeguards so that people cannot use the system to stalk ex-lovers.


Bystander
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 5, 2021 at 12:49 pm
Bystander, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Oct 5, 2021 at 12:49 pm

Hmm. Lots of potential problems particularly for those who don't always use their own car but use another, or carpool, or even buy a new car.

From a city that can't even give us electronic signs for parking that we have been told are coming, I can't see this system being problem free.


Gennady Sheyner
Registered user
Palo Alto Weekly staff writer
on Oct 5, 2021 at 1:46 pm
Gennady Sheyner, Palo Alto Weekly staff writer
Registered user
on Oct 5, 2021 at 1:46 pm

Thanks for the great questions.

@DougKreitz: The report from transportation staff acknowledges that the issuance of residential guest permits "is of considerable interest to RPP customers" but doesn't detail exactly how this will be handled. The report states that "staff plan to phase in virtual permit options over the next two fiscal years to ensure the guest permit program meets customers’ parking needs." I should note that the Monday action was limited to changing the municipal code to make virtual permits legal. Now that this has been done, I presume staff will be hashing out details relating to guest parking in RPP zones. Stay tuned!

@AveryLogan. Currently, RPP parking enforcement is done by an outside company (in contrast to enforcement in city lots and garages, which is performed by PAPD). The new license plate reader will, according to staff, reduce costs because the city will no longer have to rely on an outside contractor for RPP enforcement. Staff estimates cost savings in RPP enforcement to be about $267,000 in FY 2022.

Regarding privacy concerns, the city had adopted a policy that calls for data from license plate readers to "only be utilized for legitimate parking management efforts, for parking enforcement efforts, to log parking stay information and data, to communicate parking availability, and to quantify parking occupancy rates." The city also has policies pertaining to retention of data (generally, a maximum of 96 hours for data relating to cars not cited and five years for records relating to citations). And while some data relating to parking occupancy will be made publicly available, that data will never include specific license plate numbers.

More information about the city's policies on license plate readers is available here:
Web Link


Carol Scott
Registered user
Evergreen Park
on Oct 8, 2021 at 10:34 am
Carol Scott, Evergreen Park
Registered user
on Oct 8, 2021 at 10:34 am

Mr. Sheyner: I believe you are mistaken about the enforcement with virtual parking permits. First of all, you are correct that the PAPD enforces parking limits in the City-owned garages and lots. But, the PAPD ALSO enforces parking limits in College Terrace. My understanding is that, because of union agreements, the enforcement in there areas will continue to be done by PAPD. Surveillance of the virtual permits will be done only for information collection purposes, and not enforcement.

Further, it is my understanding through OTT presentations and conversations, that enforcement in all areas will continue to be done by a contractor, i.e., Duncan Solutions, the same, generally inept contractor that has taken years to try to create an online permit purchasing system. It will be less expensive because it will be faster and easier.

There are other issues with the virtual permits that are not mentioned. The biggest for those of us who have been active in parking issues for the last several, tedious years, is that there will now be no indicator on a car as to whether it has a permit or not. So, if a car is parked in front of your house all day (or several days), you will have no idea whether it is there in violation of parking limits or not, i.e., residents will have no way of determining what is going on. Effective enforcement depends on frequent scans to determine whether or not a car has been parking longer than two hours. If only one scan a day takes place, or only one in the morning and one in the evening, there effectively is no enforcement. Lost in this debate is how frequently cars will be monitored. ‘The downside of almost continuous monitoring, of course, is that residents’ parking behavior will be recorded in quite some detail.

The City is determined to do this for cost reasons. Better data collection depends on frequency of observations. A better idea is an electronically readable tag that is visible. This would provide efficiency, but also some visible accountability.


Carol Scott
Registered user
Evergreen Park
on Oct 8, 2021 at 10:38 am
Carol Scott, Evergreen Park
Registered user
on Oct 8, 2021 at 10:38 am

For those of you who are concerned about virtual permits and the issues that need to be resolved, I urge you to write the Office of Transportation and Traffic (managed by Philip Kamhi), the director of parking (Nathan Baird), AND the City Council. Too often, no residents speak up, and thus the few activists are dismissed as luddites and cranks.


Virginia Smedberg
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Oct 12, 2021 at 3:09 am
Virginia Smedberg, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Oct 12, 2021 at 3:09 am

Just want to acknowledge a batch of VERY good comments and questions (my first reaction was - what about guests?!). Since I don't live in a affected area, I'm not a good person to speak out, having no experience. So I hope those of you who are affected, do as Carol Scott suggests.


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