As workers return to offices, city plans parking shake-up | October 8, 2021 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - October 8, 2021

As workers return to offices, city plans parking shake-up

New policies aim to drive employees away from neighborhoods, into city lots and garages

by Gennady Sheyner

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic dramatically altered local commute patterns, Palo Alto's parking policies were in flux as the city launched new residential parking programs, adopted new data-collection technologies and advanced a plan to build a large new garage near California Avenue.

Now, with businesses slowly coming back and some employees returning to the office, Palo Alto is eying another major shake-up with significant ramifications for workers in downtown and around California Avenue. Under the new plan, which the City Council Finance Committee endorsed on Tuesday night, permit prices for lots and garages will go up, and employees in the California Avenue area will no longer be able to purchase parking permits in the residential neighborhoods of Evergreen Park and Mayfield.

Instead, workers in the California Avenue business district will be eligible to buy permits in the new 626-space garage at 350 Sherman Ave., a facility that staff is confident can more than accommodate the influx of cars that will shift there from residential streets.

Concurrently, the city plans to lower the number of employee permits that it will be selling in the downtown Residential Preferential Parking (RPP) district. When the city launched the downtown RPP in 2016, it capped the number of employee parking permits at 2,000. It subsequently lowered the number to 1,000. Now, staff plans to offer only 580 worker permits.

Even as it aims to steer more employees away from residential streets and into parking facilities, the city also is preparing to raise prices for parking permits for lots and garages in the California Avenue area and downtown, a move that Office of Transportation staff say will bring the city into closer alignment with nearby jurisdictions.

In the downtown area, the annual cost of parking will increase from $806 to $900, while in the California Avenue area it will go from $403 to $650. The city also plans to offer some permits at lower rates for employees with qualifying income. These permits will be sold for $225 in downtown and for $162.50 in the California Avenue area.

Parking on residential blocks also will become more expensive for those employees with permits. The new plan calls for raising rates. In the downtown RPP district, permits will go up from $806 to $1,050 for most employees. Low-income employees will be eligible for $262.50 permits, up from the current level of $100. In the Evergreen Park/Mayfield and Southgate parking districts, permit costs for most employees will be raised from $403 to $750, while those with qualifying incomes will see their rates go from $50 to $187.50.

For residents in each RPP district, the cost of the annual permit will remain $50, though households will no longer be eligible to receive one free permit.

In making the case for the changes, Chief Transportation Official Philip Kamhi underscored the fact that, for most people, parking in Palo Alto garages remains a fairly cheap proposition when compared to commuting by transit. The monthly costs of parking in Palo Alto currently range from $33 to $67, according to staff. By contrast, in Mountain View, drivers pay $61 and in Redwood City, they pay between $40 and $100. The new pricing structure for garages and lots would bring Palo Alto into the $54 to $84 range.

"Parking in Palo Alto generally is severely underpriced compared to our peers and compared to, quite frankly, transit," Kamhi said. "If transit is significantly more expensive than parking, which it currently is, people will opt to drive."

In approving the latest suite of changes, city staff and Finance Committee members acknowledged that more changes will inevitably follow. Kamhi noted that the city's recent adoption of new parking technology — including a license plate reader and guidance systems in garages that track occupancy levels — will allow his office to track parking rates and adjust policies as necessary. The city's existing demand models, he said, "are correct in a world that we don't live in currently."

A report from the Office of Transportation notes that reducing employee parking throughout most of the Evergreen Park/Mayfield RPP district, leaving just 40 permits, is "in line with expectations of residential stakeholders." Staff also believes the new garage at 350 Sherman provides a sufficient number of spaces to accommodate the roughly 250 cars that currently rely on permits to park in the Evergreen/Mayfield district. (Editor's note: The Weekly's parent company, Embarcadero Media, is located in the California Avenue district and some employees purchase passes for the RPP district.)

While parking is poised to get more expensive, staff believe it also will become more convenient. Next year, the city will be making the switch from hangtags and decals to virtual permits, which will be available to residents and employees by online purchase. Nathan Baird, the city's parking manager, said that once this change is made, the city will be able offer monthly permits rather than require employees to commit to six-month permits.

Council member Alison Cormack, who chairs the Finance Committee, supported the various changes proposed by staff but suggested that the city will likely need to make further modifications once it gets a better idea of what the parking landscape looks like post-pandemic.

"Perhaps we'll have to change those prices and those numbers more than we had before because we're not in a stable situation," Cormack said.

Both of her committee colleagues, Vice Mayor Pat Burt and council member Eric Filseth, agreed. Burt warned, however, that by essentially driving commuters entirely out of the Evergreen Park RPP, the city may be setting an expectation for residents that this will be the new permanent status quo. Some residents have urged the city for years to stop selling residential permits to employees and to adopt a residents-only program modeled after the one in place in College Terrace.

City leaders are confident that the new California Avenue garage creates an opportunity to do just that. Under the new proposal, the only employees who will remain eligible for permits in the Evergreen Park and Mayfield neighborhoods are those who work on El Camino Real, who will be restricted to the parking zone close to their workplaces.

The new price structure also seeks to steer drivers toward garages. RPP permits currently cost as much as permits to park in city lots and garages — $806 in downtown and $403 in the California Avenue area. With the newly approved changes, it would cost more to buy a permit to park in the RPP districts than to park in public lots and garages.

Carol Scott, who lives in Evergreen Park, told the committee that she welcomes the change, which she says is consistent with the city's Comprehensive Plan policy of promoting business but "not at the expense of residential quality of life." She lauded staff for working with residents to make the changes to the parking program.

But Burt suggested that the elimination of all but 40 employee permits in residential districts near California Avenue may not be a permanent move.

"I think it's entirely reasonable that these neighborhoods get what we committed to — that we ratchet down the number of permits in the neighborhoods. This basically goes to eliminating it," Burt said. "I don't want to set an expectation that we're going to struggle with."

Email Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner at [email protected]


Posted by CC
a resident of University South
on Oct 6, 2021 at 10:29 am

CC is a registered user.

So once again, they say they will only sell a set number of employee permits.

But places like Channing House are abusing this already. They give their employees and construction workers residential hanging tags everyday. Taking up all our parking!

So if it’s that easy - and they have a lot of the hanging tags, why even bother with a parking permit program.

Or please enforce the rules and cite abusers!

Posted by Local Resident
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 6, 2021 at 10:53 am

Local Resident is a registered user.

Thank you. One of the goals of the California Garage was to move day commuter office workers out of parking in nearby neighborhoods. Palo Alto is one of only several cities in the entire Bay Area that allows this.

Posted by Carol Scott
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Oct 6, 2021 at 10:56 am

Carol Scott is a registered user.

The title of this article suggests that great, and perhaps unpleasant changes for employees will occur due to the acceptance of the City staff's proposals to the Finance Committee. This is hardly the case. Instead, it should be viewed as a win-win for residents AND employees.

First, the residents of Evergreen Park and Mayfield finally will be treated the same as residents of the two other neighborhoods that are adjacent to the Cal Ave commercial area -- College Terrace and Old Palo Alto. Neither Evergreen Park nor Mayfield have commercial businesses within the residential areas except for those businesses that are located along the El Camino Real commercial corridor. The only reason for selling employee permits in EP/M is to use the residential areas as an overflow parking lot. I am surprised that Councilman Pat Burt continues to think that is appropriate. That viewpoint ignores the health and safety risks that accompany the daily traffic, pollution and accident risk that accompanies 250 cars into the neighborhood. Garages and lots are parking lots. Residential streets are not. I am happy to provide photos if further proof of that is needed.

Office and retail workers that work along California Ave. will find parking closer to their work. What waiter in a restaurant on California Ave really wants to park 6 blocks away on Stanford or Park Blvd -- where they were required to park previously because no discount permits were sold in the garages and lots? Lower waged workers will be able to purchase discounted price permits. High tech office workers will surely not be terribly affected by the small price increase. If they are, then perhaps they will begin to use some of the transit options. After all when a developer wishes to build a large office building or a large housing complex with little to no parking, we are always told that this area is "transit rich."

Posted by Bystander
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 6, 2021 at 11:01 am

Bystander is a registered user.

I think this is a backwards policy. If parking was cheaper in the garages than the lots than the permits on the streets then more people would park in the garages. QED. People will part where it is most convenient or where it is cheaper. What the City doesn't appear to understand is that people do not always park on a daily basis for work, but often only a couple of days a week, or for 4 hours including lunchtime. People like to carpool, or like to switch vehicles some days and perhaps even ride bikes somedays. Paying for monthly permits makes little sense to someone who will only use it 8 or so days a month.

Redwood City has meters that cost 25c an hour. They have a vibrant downtown. People drive there for dinner or for lunch appointments. It is much easier to park in Redwood City than it is in downtown Palo Alto.

Palo Alto still does not even have electronic signs on garages to show if parking is available or where. Why can't we have better methods of paying for parking or being able to find it by using apps on our phones?

Silicon Valley invents all these high tech things, Palo Alto doesn't use them. Crazy!

Posted by Carol Scott
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Oct 6, 2021 at 11:06 am

Carol Scott is a registered user.

When the EP/M RPP was approved on January 23, 2017 , Councilman Filseth stated: "Between Cal train, the Marguerite, El Camino and VTA and so forth, this is about as transit rich as it gets. If we can't get it to wrok here, we ought to throw in the towel and build giant garages everywhere" (as quoted in the PA Weekly 1/24/2017).

It would be disingenuous for businesses along California Ave to complain about requiring employees to park in the new and very expensive parking garage that the City (i.e., taxpayers) built at no charge to them. They must not be concerned about parking because they have taken out over 100 spaces by closing California Ave and some side streets to parking and have converted their own parking lots to non-parking uses. Reporter Shenyer neglects to mention that he had to purchase a permit in Evergreen Park because his employer, the PA Weekly, is using parking spaces in its own lot of storage. Again, I am happy to provide photos to demonstrate this. He should be happy that he can now purchase a permit in the lot closer to his office that has open spaces.

Residents have taken their own time to measure the utilization of parking capacity in the City-owned lots and garages, and we have consistently shown that their is plenty of parking available even during the busiest times of the day. Even before the pandemic, these lots and garages operated at around 67% capacity except for a two hour window around the lunch hour.

There is no need to offload employee parking into the residential neighborhood. And, we will continue to oppose selling employee permits in the neighborhood until the businesses along California Ave use all of the capacity at their disposal AND demonstrate that they have made maximum use of all of the "transit-rich" alternatives.

Yes, Councilman Burt. We do expect this to be the status quo.

Posted by Banes
a resident of Greater Miranda
on Oct 6, 2021 at 11:38 am

Banes is a registered user.

Free park n rides seem only available to those who utilize the big corporate white vans.
Why not create more park n rides to encourage commuter traffic that would use public transportation. Seems the big corps not only get the tax breaks but force everyone else to pay for parking, unable to utilize public transit systems. Not everyone lives near a transit terminal. Some workers must drive part of the way. What about the low wage earners coming from Tracy & Livermore & beyond.

Posted by Alice Smith
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 6, 2021 at 11:43 am

Alice Smith is a registered user.

Shouldn’t the public policy be to get people out of their cars and into public transportation? What we need is cheap public transportation and parking for use of the public transportation and expensive monthly parking.

Posted by DTN Paul
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 6, 2021 at 12:13 pm

DTN Paul is a registered user.

The part where they ask employees to not park in the neighborhoods, but raise the prices for employee permits in the downtown lots makes zero sense. Penny wise but pound foolish. Classic Palo Alto.

Posted by Barron Park dad
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 6, 2021 at 12:43 pm

Barron Park dad is a registered user.

This is great news. Raising employee parking prices to 'market rates' of nearby towns is absolutely the right thing to do.

Posted by Julian Guiterrez
a resident of another community
on Oct 6, 2021 at 12:45 pm

Julian Guiterrez is a registered user.

Public parking like everything else, should be on a 'first come, first served' basis' with no no special privileges or exceptions for anyone regardless of socio-economic status or employment.

Palo Alto has become far too elitist in its perspectives and priorities. It is in essence, a privileged community mentality posing as 'blue.'

Real people are not fooled by this charade.

Posted by jguislin
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 6, 2021 at 12:48 pm

jguislin is a registered user.

Wonder why people lose faith in government? "Pat Burt suggested that the elimination of all but 40 employee permits in residential districts near California Avenue may not be a permanent move." That just keeps the door open for lobbying by business to provide them low cost parking at the expense of residential neighborhoods and means that residents must be ever vigilant.
There has never been a valid explanation why some neighborhoods are protected from commercial traffic and parking (College Terrace) and others (Downtown) have to endure 800 or more commercial parkers everyday. We have so many complex, critical challenges to deal with (i.e. climate, housing, homeless, etc.) we need to embed protection for residential neighborhoods from commercial parking in the city's charter and focus on the harder issues.

Posted by Eric Filseth
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 6, 2021 at 3:20 pm

Eric Filseth is a registered user.

“The part where they ask employees to not park in the neighborhoods, but raise the prices for employee permits in the downtown lots makes zero sense”

Under the proposed Plan, employee permits in downtown neighborhoods will cost about 15% more than employee permits in downtown garages and lots. The same 15% difference applies to discounted lower-income employee permits, which will become available in garages as well as neighborhoods - an important step.

Posted by Carol Scott
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Oct 6, 2021 at 4:18 pm

Carol Scott is a registered user.

Mr. Sheyner also neglected to mention that residents in Downtown and EP/M will no longer receive their first permit free of charge. Instead, they will pay $50 for any permit they apply for. This change is being made in EP/M in order to pay for the services of RPP enforcement since the City no longer will make money selling employee permits there.

Since Downtown still will have over 500 employee permits sold in their neighborhoods, I don't understand why they will no longer receive a free, first permit.

Posted by Rose
a resident of Mayfield
on Oct 7, 2021 at 1:46 pm

Rose is a registered user.

In addition to the problems we've had with parking in the residential neighborhoods next to Cal Ave (e.g. Sunrise Senior Living's employees park on the street because they can't be bothered to park in their building's underground parking lot!), we need the City's help to reduce the traffic on Sheridan Avenue. Whose idea was it to put arrows on Birch Street that funnels speeding cut-through traffic from Oregon Expressway (with its noise and air pollution)down Sheridan Avenue to El Camino. Sheridan Avenue is a residential street! With Cal Ave closed to traffic Sheridan Avenue now has the VA BUS coming down our street. It took years for Evergreen Park to get the City to block off some streets in order to reduce the cut-through traffic with its noise and air pollution. We need help here on Sheridan Avenue. Having Cal Ave closed might be popular with the restaurants and their patrons, but it is causing problems in the adjacent neighborhoods and it makes it harder for commuters to get to the train. We shouldn't wait until June 2022 to open Cal Ave to traffic. And we need help with the Birch and Sheridan intersection. It should be closed to turning west on Sheridan during morning rush hour. Help make our street safer for the elders, children, Stanford grad students and regular average citizens who want safety, peace and quiet on Sheridan.

Posted by Cat
a resident of Mountain View
on Oct 13, 2021 at 9:54 pm

Cat is a registered user.

The city still hasn't addressed a huge issue with parking (especially in downtown) which is the large quantity of hourly shift work employees keeping the retail and restaurant sector of University Ave running. Given that there are no parking limits on Saturday or Sunday, many of those employees are only parking in the lots or on the street for 2 days during the week. This makes the permits insanely expensive and means that permits will be going unused. It would be much more practical to give businesses that have hourly employees a set number of hangtags based on the size of their staff and allow businesses to allocate those daily. Right now, hourly workers are having to move their cars multiple times per shift, which is a hassle and a major time-waster that means they lose their break time. There's still a ton of empty parking and I don't see that changing anytime soon, so allowing people to park for their entire shift seems like a common-sense move. There are hundreds of hourly workers downtown at any given hour but all the policies seem entirely focused on 9-5 M-F workers.

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