Parking, infrastructure problems to loom large in 2013 | December 14, 2012 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - December 14, 2012

Parking, infrastructure problems to loom large in 2013

Current issues likely to become official Palo Alto 'priorities' in January

by Gennady Sheyner

The glaring problems of insufficient parking downtown and decaying city infrastructure will likely tower over other Palo Alto issues in 2013, according to a list of proposed priorities that each member of the next City Council has recently submitted.

The two broad problems, which have dominated council meetings throughout much of 2012, were the clear frontrunners on lists submitted by the seven returning council members and two newly elected ones as part of Palo Alto's freshly revamped priority-setting process. The two were followed by "technology," with different council members offering different takes on what that means.

The new process, which the council adopted this year, also invited residents to recommend their preferred priorities. In the past, selecting the council's priorities has been accomplished less formally, with council members gathering on a Saturday morning in January, brainstorming possible priorities and taking a series of votes before selecting their list of three to five items.

The results have been all over the map, ranging from the concrete (a new police building) to the abstract ("civic engagement for the common good"). The only constants in recent years have been finances and environmental sustainability. At times, the process has been an anticlimactic affair. Last January, for example, the council decided to simply carry over into the new year all of last year's priorities — city finances, emergency preparedness, environmental sustainability, land use and transportation planning and youth well-being.

Now, however, the council is looking to overhaul how it chooses priorities and to take a closer look at what exactly it means for something to be a priority. Earlier this year, the council defined the term as "a topic that will receive particular, unusual and significant attention during the year."

The issue of parking has been particularly hot in recent months, with many downtown residents decrying the loss of parking spots on their streets and with proposed office developments threatening to make the problem worse in the coming years. Infrastructure, meanwhile, was the hot-button word at the beginning of the year, when Mayor Yiaway Yeh declared 2012 the "year of infrastructure renewal and investment."

The two issues were the constant threads running through the otherwise varied lists submitted by current and future council members. Both newly elected members, Marc Berman and Liz Kniss, included it on their priority lists (Berman wrote, "Land use and transportation, with emphasis on parking," while Kniss went with "traffic and downtown parking issues"). Councilman Larry Klein listed "downtown" as one of his priorities, along with infrastructure and technology. Klein also specified in his description that downtown's parking problem should be one of several issues that the city should consider in the coming year on this broad topic.

Councilwoman Karen Holman also took the broad approach and listed "Downtown/commercial development" as one of her proposed priorities, along with "Healthy City/Healthy Community" and "walkable streets, livable neighborhoods"). Vice Mayor Greg Scharff was more concrete, listing "build a parking garage" as one of his proposed priorities. He also included technology and "increase resident and visitor enjoyment of our commercial areas" on his list.

"Infrastructure" earned a spot on the lists of Klein, Berman, Scharff, Gail Price and Nancy Shepherd. Last year, the city commissioned a report from a citizen panel that studied the city's infrastructure backlog and offered recommendations for funding the items on the list. This year, the council plans to plow ahead with its plan to place a revenue bond on the 2014 ballot to fund some of the items.

Other suggested priorities include "investigate the impacts of rapid commercial growth" (Greg Schmid), "misuse of PC" (planned-community zoning, which allows developers to exceed zoning regulations in exchange for negotiated public benefits) (Kniss) and "public-private partnerships" (Shepherd).

The council's Policy and Services Committee discussed at length Tuesday evening the process that the council would follow at its retreat early next year. The committee unanimously decided that each council member will have six minutes to make a case for his or her priority, after which time the council will spend about an hour refining these items and coming up with specific actions the council could take in 2013 to further these priorities. The council would then vote on which to adopt, with the goal of limiting the number to three this year.

In years past, council members proposed a list of priorities and then simply placed stickers next to the items they supported.

The priorities themselves are also likely to be different in character this year, with a greater emphasis on "actionable" items.

"We want to get away from this sort of feel-good idea," Klein said.

He cited "balanced budget" as an example and noted that this is an annual objective and doesn't work as a priority.

Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be emailed at


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 12, 2012 at 8:42 am

Parking should start with a simple change. Make all city lots and garages pay per hour and get rid of all the silly color zones which is nothing more than confusing. Allow cars to park for more than 2 hours at a reasonable fee by paying at a nearby machine. Allow parking permit holders to park also but the only advantage being that they get a slight discount and avoid the necessity of the necessity of buying a ticket at the machine and walking back to the car.

Infrastructure is a more difficult topic to define. We have various types of construction all over the city, causing traffic problems and they should be expedited as quickly as possible.

Sort out the traffic mess at T & C, one method maybe to redesign Alma/SandHill/ECR intersection to enable traffic to move where it needs to go and remove much of the traffic needing to turn at ECR/Embarcadero and ECR/Churchill.

Expand the shuttle around town to serve all areas, particularly in getting students to the secondary schools and charge a fare rather than making them free. This will get more traffic off the roads in school commute time.

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 12, 2012 at 8:43 am

Finally, stop wasting time debating non-city issues and plastic bag bans.

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Posted by Fixitt
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Dec 12, 2012 at 9:04 am

The T&C problem is a glaring mess that needs to be addressed immediately. It is causing rampant anger and frustration. Whoever designed this mess should be held responsible for all the fender benders it has caused in and around the shopping center.

Infrastructure needs to take priority over downtown parking, though, because decay is a safety issue.

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Posted by Garrett
a resident of another community
on Dec 12, 2012 at 9:27 am

Erect Parking Pass machines, you put in you bills or credit cars, you can buy a all day parking pass for garages and lots. Parking on the streets will be for 2 hours, you will get a ticket, triple the cost of a all day parking pass.

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Posted by Donald
a resident of South of Midtown
on Dec 12, 2012 at 9:43 am

"The T&C problem is a glaring mess... Whoever designed this mess should be held responsible..." Nobody "designed" this mess. It came about over time with stages of growth at T&C, changes by Paly, Stanford traffic patterns, unwillingness of Caltrans to allow coordination with their signals on El Camino, etc.

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Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Dec 12, 2012 at 10:25 am

> decaying infrastructure.

It's not clear that the Palo Alto "infrastructure" is actually "decaying" so much as "aging". The so-called "infrastructure commission" failed to do the job of actually accounting for all of the City's infrastructure, since it didn't look at the assets of the City's Utility--which runs into the billions--all buried underground, and more-or-less out-of-sight.

The Utility has for some time now been replacing its buried working stock, but it does not generally publish this information. Safety issues associated with gas transport is something that few in the public know anything about, and it's clear that the City Council also knows nothing about this matter. Additionally, the loss of power for a day when the Tesla employee crashed his plane into a high tension power feed to the city has not been addressed--either by the Utility, or this "infrastructure commission". Having a secure power feed would seem to be one of the highest priorities of a City-owned Utility--but it is not!

Even though the City spent eighteen months on this "commission", we still don't have a good idea of what the state of all of the City-owned assets might be. Because far too much money has been spent on recreational activities in this town (over $20B tied up in parks and open space), the true costs of operating the City is generally not known, and there doesn't seem to be any interest in actually calculating these costs. (Keeping in mind that the PAUSD also needs to be added into these calculations).

Claiming the infrastructure is "decayed" is probably very inaccurate, and hard to prove at the current time. It is not hard to show that some of the City-owned assets need refurbishment, and possibly replacement. (Cubberley, by the way, is not a City-owned asset.)

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Posted by Road warrior
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 12, 2012 at 10:56 am

Roads, roads, roads...I rarely drive and when I do my little car falls in the various potholes with a jarring thud. However, I mostly bike and Palo Alto roads are a serious hazard to bikers. It is embarrassing to have out of town guests who remark on how awful the condition of the roads are in such a clearly fortunate City. Shame, shame and do not give me the "well, we will fix it when the construction stops. That has not happened in the past 50 years, and we need solutions now. This is not rocket science although we may have more qualified people for that than for fixing the streets! Please.

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Posted by Kate
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 12, 2012 at 11:19 am

Kniss and Berman join Price and Sheppard as labor shills who are completely unwilling to tackle the elephant in the room: Pension Reform. Hopefully the other five will have the courage to stop the bleeding.

Our city is government is bloated and wasteful. They are certainly not adding so much value to the world that our children should pay the bill, yet that is how our current unsustainable city benefits are structured.

And why are we still paying six figures to our streetsweeper drivers? The job could be put out to bid and done for 1/2 the cost. Same goes for many of the unionized bureaucrats in City Hall and especially our bloated, slow, perpetually underperforming planning department whose incompetence is on display regularly. How about some real financial responsibility for a change?

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Posted by Palo Alto Architect
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 12, 2012 at 11:52 am

Speaking of parking, have you seen this parking garage in Miami by Architect Herzog and de Meuron? Amazing! Web Link Maybe we can combine parking into Palo Alto in ways that are beyond simply "parking."

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Posted by Neilson Buchanan
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 12, 2012 at 11:52 am

Let's think twice about repairing the holes, bumps and cracks in Everett and Hawthorne Avenues. These three "problems" are the best way to encourage cross town commuters to take another route or, at least, slow down!!

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Posted by Fixitt
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Dec 12, 2012 at 1:06 pm

Donald: the parking lot at T&C is a huge mess, and someone designed that...they removed dozens of parking spaces and replaced them with landscaping, then added more shops requiring more parking. Many times I have tried to go to Peet's, ot Trader Joe's, or Athleta, but no parking became available even after twenty minutes of circling the lot, so I gave up and left.n A lot of the traffic on Embarcadero is due to people just waiting to get into the parking lot!

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Posted by A
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 12, 2012 at 1:10 pm

Several cities in Europe have a system where the spaces in each lot and garage are monitored. The number of free spaces in each lot are displayed on electronic signs at the entry points to downtown. This saves a lot of traffic as people do not need to crawl around looking for spaces.

As for employee parking. Allow 10 hour parking on the top floor of the high-rise garages. There are almost always empty spots there. Have employers in the downtown area (particularly non-retail employers) pitch in for a shuttle bus to remote lots.

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Posted by mea
a resident of Woodside
on Dec 12, 2012 at 1:51 pm

I take exception with the first sentence of this article. "Decaying Infrastructure." I don't think so, I've been doing work in Palo Alto for twenty-five years, I don't see much in this City that is in "decay." Beware of declaring things as emergency issues, like downtown parking. They are issues worth talking about especially in light of new large-scale developments being planned. Palo Alto citizens should be talking about the type of City they want. However, the way its being handled its as if we need to stop everything until we get all our community issues figured out. Good luck.

The City is sending a terrible message to the development community that you can't trust the rules and that they can change at any point no matter where you are in the process. Just as we are digging out of years of financial morass, which would of been a good time to talk about parking, we raise this issue up as needing immediate resolution. I was on the Historic Resources Board when the City passed the "emergency" historic ordinance that inflamed the citizenry. City Governments should avoid "reacting" and turning things into a crisis. I rarely have an issue parking downtown except at the holidays. I do understand and sympathize with the residents, my own offices were located adjacent to Professorville and my employees parked in the neighborhood. But parking isn't an emergency issue, the lot under City Hall always has space available as do other downtown garages. I'm downtown ten times a week on business and never have parking issues. Informed decision making and actual planning should trump knee-jerk reactions that throw everything into crisis moments that generally don't end up solving the actual problem.

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Posted by Jeez
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 12, 2012 at 3:54 pm

Infrastructure, parking, etc. Same issues the city manager and city council have appointed numerous "blue ribbon committees" dealing with all the problems they complain of now and for the past 10 years. The problem is we have an inept city manager who is unable to make a decision on his own (thereby hiring numerous repetitive management personel who are basically yes men) and has no vision or leadership skills. City Councilmembers then blame non-management city staff for council's own inability to make necessary decisions. The City of Palo Alto's problem is very basic, they have no management leadership and a city council who are incapable of making any informed intelligent decisions. It becomes very clear why the City of Palo Alto has had a deficit budget for the past 10 years. What a pity!

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Posted by mea
a resident of Woodside
on Dec 12, 2012 at 4:52 pm

I've worked extensively with the City and City staff for decades. I couldn't disagree more with your assessment of staff, council or the city manager. I find them unilaterally engaged in furthering the greater city's interest and they dedicate a huge amount of time to serve our needs as citizens. It's always easy to stand on the sidelines and lob grenades "Jeez," but it's not really helpful to the conversation.

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Posted by complaints either way
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 12, 2012 at 5:39 pm

And them when we do get repair work going, we get complaints (i.e. Paul losch started a thread going with his complaints about storm drain work being done on his street). So what she the city do?

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Posted by Louie
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 12, 2012 at 5:54 pm

Yes, we need downtown parking. Yes, we should not approved huge downtown developments that increase traffic. Yes, the Charleston Street nightmare is a nightmare that simply reroutes the burden to other crosstown streets.
Our ability to complain in THIS forum is a question.
Tell me, Palo Alto Online. Do ANY of the City Council members read our responses? Why don't YOU do a survey and let us know whether or not our comments to you are futile?

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Posted by Steve
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 14, 2012 at 6:53 am

I always get a spot downtown. Do we really have a parking problem, or do people object to walking a couple of blocks? It would be great to be able to obtain a day pass without going to city hall, tho.

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Posted by Anon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 14, 2012 at 1:07 pm

There are situations where it is a problem for some to people park too far away from where they are doing their business. If you have to buy something large or valuable and carry to back to your car it's a bit of a problem to park across town up in a parking structure ... BUT, in general I agree, I have had very little problem parking in downtown Palo Alto for the most part.

I have found situations where the Cambridge Ave. parking structure was full, or the parking garage between Alma and High. That's just been my experience - which does not mean full parking garages does not happen - it just has not happened to me but very rarely.

Posted by Name hidden
a resident of Ventura

on Jun 5, 2017 at 4:24 am

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?

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