The program, launched in 2015, prohibits all vehicles that don't have permits from parking on residential streets for more than two hours. In this pilot phase of the program, permits have been sold only to area residents and employees. But as of March 31, those permits are set to expire, and the program is expected to become permanent, albeit with several refinements, including longer hours of enforcement and the introduction of a six-month permit.
The most controversial change, however, would be implemented over the next decade. Under the proposal the City Council will consider on March 6, the number of permits sold to employees each year would shrink by 10 percent (or 200 permits). Within a decade, no permits at all would be sold to employees.
For the council and many downtown residents, the drawdown gives employees time to adjust to the new reality. But for people like Christian Lee, a Palo Alto dentist with a practice on Middlefield Road, the new system spells disaster. In a widely circulated letter, he noted that the current proposal means that "eventually there will be no street parking for my staff and I."
"Many members of my staff must drive for over one hour to help me serve you," Lee wrote. "Most need to pick up their kids from day care right after work, so alternative means of transportation are not feasible."
More than 1,000 people have signed Lee's petition, which calls for the city to reconsider the reduction in employee permits. The petition calls the parking program "an existential threat to your local access to care."
"Taking (staff's) parking away without a functional mass transit infrastructure results in health care employee attrition and ultimately practice closures," the petition states.
Lee isn't the only dentist to speak out: Dentists from both downtown and California Avenue have appealed to city officials not to take away their street parking.
Now, other downtown professionals have joined the chorus of opposition. Susan Nightingale, owner of Watercourse Way and a member of the stakeholder group that helped craft the initial downtown permit program, argued in a letter that other transportation alternatives should be put in place before the city eliminates employee permits. Even if the nascent Palo Alto Transportation Management Association, a nonprofit tasked with getting workers to use alternative transportation, proves successful, some people will still need to drive — and park, she noted.
"Zero parking in the neighborhoods will not force people out of their cars," Nightingale wrote. "People will be parking in the neighborhoods and moving their cars every two hours."
For Jeff Selzer, general manager at Palo Alto Bicycles, the biggest challenge today is finding employees, he wrote in a letter to the council. With the new rules that reduce employee permits by 10 percent until they reach zero, employees will not be able to drive to work without risking parking tickets, he said.
"My ability to stay in business is being threatened on many fronts: Imagine my frustration when the threat comes from the very city that I collect taxes for," Selzer wrote. "This city is losing the businesses that have served it for decades. University Art: gone; Congdon & Crome: gone; Palo Alto Sport and Toy: gone; Gleim Jewelers, gone.
"I am left to question if the City Council realizes the devastating and lasting effect this decision will have on the businesses that are left to serve the community? I respectfully and passionately request that you reconsider the gradual elimination of employee parking in our community."
Judy Kleinberg, president and CEO of the Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce, made a similar argument in her letter to the council, which she submitted on behalf of the Chamber's more than 500 members.
The current RPP, which was formed through a collaborative process, is working well, she wrote. The proposed changes, however, are "not well-conceived, nor are they based on objective data."
The proposed restrictions "pose a potential threat to the viability of many Palo Alto businesses, especially small businesses and those retail businesses in older buildings with no on-site parking for their employees," Kleinberg wrote.
But while businesses are raising alarms, residents have been equally passionate in their calls for the council to get employee vehicles completely off the residential streets.
John Guislin, a Crescent Park resident who served on the stakeholder committee for the program, argued that business owners have been "granted time to develop parking solutions to support their businesses."
"Instead, some choose to complain that it is unfair to make them assume a standard cost of doing business by providing employee parking," Guislin wrote. "Thoughtful business owners will work to develop solutions, such as building parking facilities paid for by businesses, or they will find facilities that offer adequate parking. It is highly unlikely that dentists will abandon the desirable market Palo Alto represents."