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Editorial: Posturing on parking

Original post made on Aug 9, 2013

The last thing the downtown business community or nearby residents need is a debate over who is to blame for the parking problems in downtown Palo Alto.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, August 9, 2013, 8:37 AM

Comments (35)

Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 9, 2013 at 10:10 am

Keenan is merely expressing his customary contempt for Palo Alto residents. But he has a point: there would be no parking problem if uppity residents didn't insist on parking their own cars on the neighborhood streets which they pay their taxes for.

Posted by MadamPresident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 9, 2013 at 10:54 am

taxes, what taxes? those dismal taxes they pay thanks to California Proposition 13 (1978)

Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 9, 2013 at 10:57 am

>> Using Palo Alto's special planned community zoning, many have redeveloped their properties with greater density than normally allowed by offering so-called "public benefits."

Can you give an example of this please?

Posted by David Presotto
a resident of University South
on Aug 9, 2013 at 11:06 am

I live 3 blocks from downtown. Every night the street clears out to the level of about 1 car for every 3 spaces. During the day, no space stays open for more than a few minutes. In the morning I watch the spaces fill up and people either walk into town or to one of the never ending construction projects (more the former than the latter). Its rare to see anyone actually going to a house, though the number of overnight cars has definitely increased. Every house that gets torn down and replaced by 2 or 3 others seems to require more street parking because 2 (often 3) car families move into each new unit. Its clear that there is no single culprit except a general lack of parking spaces.

During the afternoon University Ave is a slow moving parking lot, congested from cowper to el camino. The surrounding blocks are filled with cars going around the blocks looking for parking spaces. If I want to know how far I am from University, I can do it just by smelling the density of car fumes (and cooking oil :) ).

Yes, I'm bothered by people parking across my driveway, the narrow streets becoming narrower with cars parked on both sides, and the constant sound of engines, slamming doors, and car radios. But I'm more bothered by the pollution that all this extra driving is causing. We need more downtown parking. We can't let businesses or residences be built without providing more than enough parking to cover their expected car footprint; they need to be syncs, not sources.

Discouraging parking with permits will indeed help the current congested neighborhoods but the problem will just move to other neighborhoods or, as the shop owners contend, business will go elsewhere. I like living next to a lively downtown with shops I can walk to. Getting rich people to park their cars at satellites and shuttle into town would require much more attraction than we currently offer. If that's the model we're looking for we would have to make the experience much more attractive like closing University to traffic and providing a commercial promenade. Otherwise they will go elsewhere to shop, we just aren't that unique - mountain view, los altos, menlo park provide much the same fare. If we're not willing to do that then the only solution is more parking structures. Since we don't like tall buildings, they'll have to be under short buildings like the parking across from Coupa Cafe. If we have that, we can then introduce permit parking in the neighborhoods.

Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 9, 2013 at 11:29 am

"Can you give an example of this please?"

390 Lytton. Its silly doorway frieze is a "public benefit."

499 University. The apartments on the top floor of this oversized office development were its promised "public benefit" as a mixed-use building, a concept which totally dazzled City Hall when it was approved. Except the "apartments" have always been used as offices.

101 Lytton. A grossly oversized building by an influential developer--and generous campaign contributor--that was quickly and dutifully approved last year. Its main "public benefit" is its lack of adequate parking, plus the money its developer gave the city to study the effects of that parking deficit on the neighborhood.

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 9, 2013 at 11:34 am

Tough to be harsh on those businesses for signing the petition. If you look at most of them, Keenan's their landlord. What were they going to do, say no?

Downtown developers want a healthy business community, how about some rent relief.

Posted by JerryL
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 9, 2013 at 11:57 am

I do not equate a high density of office buildings with "a vibrant downtown". I judge Mountain View's as far more vibrant than ours.

Developers will always fight to provide an inadequate number of parking spaces whether the development is an office building or apartments or condo complex. It is supposed to be the job of GOVERNment to curb their excesses and fight back for the good of the whole.

Our problems have resulted from decades of failure of our city government leaders and staff to perform their proper function.

I agree with Mr. Presotto. No one gains by turning the city into a mass of circling or idling cars hoping to pounce on the rare parking space that might open up within walking distance of their destination. It does raise pollution levels, discourages customers from adding to the "vibrancy" of downtown and is very irritating to long time citizens of our once wonderful town.

Posted by AR
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 9, 2013 at 12:00 pm

Like it or not, Chop's right. Driving and parking downtown is absurdly difficult and if something isn't done soon there will be an impact on business. Not to mention safety. Good luck to anyone on University Ave who might need ambulance service. On the other hand, if I lived in one of the surrounding neighborhoods I'd be looking for relief b/c not being able to park at least somewhat close to home would be very annoying. Maybe new developments that do not include adequate parking should be automatically rejected. Maybe a shuttle service to take downtown employees from remote parking to downtown would help.

Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 9, 2013 at 12:13 pm

I'll say it again...huge opportunity to develop downtown parking at the CalTrain parking lots.

Posted by Chris
a resident of University South
on Aug 9, 2013 at 1:08 pm

Why not look across El Camino at Stanford?

Palo Alto requires Stanford to provide transit passes and limit traffic trips by running shuttles and charging high fees for parking.

Why is this good enough to impose on Stanford, but not good enough for Palo Alto residents, workers, and visitors.

Some Palo Altans have an unbecoming sense of entitlement.

Posted by Resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 9, 2013 at 1:22 pm

The traffic situation and lack of parking is already affecting business. I avoid University Avenue like the plague due to the congestion and lack of parking. It will only get worse if more parking structures aren't built.

Posted by Concerned Retiree
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 9, 2013 at 1:44 pm

Are we really expecting a developer named "Chop" to do the right and worthy thing? How did he get is nickname in the first place?

Posted by anon
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 9, 2013 at 1:56 pm

Thank you Weekly for yet another on point editorial!!! please keep publishing more such
articles; they are of great benefit to the public!

Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 9, 2013 at 2:03 pm

Chop grew up in Crescent Park, attended Paly. Nickname goes way back. Move on.

Posted by Resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 9, 2013 at 2:32 pm

"Vibrant" is a word that City Hall folk use to describe something they want, but can't think of a good reason for actually having.

It's what you get when they're jackhammering the street to start a big Planned Community building with a sculpture as its public benefit.

Posted by PA resident
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 9, 2013 at 5:15 pm

Downtown Palo Alto is turning into one big office park. It is very unappealing and does not make for a healthy, vibrant and interesting downtown.

Posted by resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 9, 2013 at 6:46 pm

Anybody ready to link the proliferation of dead/dying Magnolias
on University Ave to the auto emissions at least as a contributing factor? Probably. In any case the CO2 along University Ave is not a good thing. It seems that the Council's and City Manager's frequent self-congratulations for environmental leadership needs a second look as it is quite the opposite.The destruction of Palo Alto
being carried out by the Council/staff has many facets- you can
see the impacts everywhere.

Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 9, 2013 at 9:59 pm

I thought plants thrive on CO2. Must be something else.

Posted by resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 9, 2013 at 11:12 pm

Pollutants from the traffic like carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, are probably harming the trees. The harmful effects of greenhouse gases emitted like CO2 increase as the urban forest, the trees along University die off.I would appreciate more insight on what is going on from anybody out there. Clearly the trees are under stress and dying. Soil conditions and drought may be the biggest factors. Magnolias have a life span of over 100 years. The dead Magnolias along University look to have a wide range of ages.It does seem that the increasing stress and die-off of our trees has corresponded with the increase in traffic along University Ave in recent years.Clearly
the back-up of traffic and emissions are environmentally harmful and that is what our land use policies have done.

Posted by Richard C. Placone
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 10, 2013 at 5:10 pm

Richard C. Placone is a registered user.

I am posting this message on several topics in order to get this message to Palo Alto residents. Richard C. Placone
Fellow posters/concerned citizens,

I recently sent a copy of the OnLine Express to all council members in which the lead story was about council deliberations re possible new ways to increase revenue - taxes, bonds, etc. I did this because I have heard several times that council members do not read these blogs or the comments made by citizen responders, characterizing such posters as mostly "Nay Sayers". In my personal view, I think most posters are thoughtful, have good ideas, and are on point in their comments. As you will see from the response to me below, only one Council Member responded and does not agree with me. You should draw your own conclusions about the comments to me and my response back. However, I urge everyone who comments on this site to:

(1) Email your comments to [email protected] and sign your name and address. This is apparently the only way we can be heard – and taken seriously. Such communications go into the council meeting packet.
(2) Phone one or more council members and set up an appointment to “enter into a dialogue with them directly” at a local coffee shop or restaurant. You could also go to council meetings and speak for 3 minutes, but we know that there is no “dialogue” from council members during those periods. The following information is from the city website if you wish to communicate directly with an individual council member:

Patrick Burt (650) 388-8639 [email protected]
Marc Berman (650) 329-2480 [email protected]
Karen Holman (650) 444-4017 [email protected]
Larry Klein (650) 323-0780 (h) (650) 330-4744 (o) [email protected]
Gail A. Price (650) 856-6260 [email protected]
Gregory Scharff (650) 868-9303 [email protected]
Greg Schmid (650) 444-6313 [email protected]
Nancy Shepherd (650) 326-6452 [email protected]
Liz Kniss (650) 888-8671 [email protected]

As far as newspaper reports “marginalizing” the issues, it’s my opinion that the Weekly does the community a great service in providing analysis of the many issues facing the city.
Here is Council Member's reply to my e-mail to all the council:

Sent: Thursday, August 8, 2013 6:05 AM
Subject: RE: Express: Today's news, sports and hot picks

Dear Richard,

I do read them from time-to-time. They are difficult to take seriously for two reasons 1) typically the information used to base opinions comes from the news report which gives sketchy background for deliberations therefore the full robust issues are marginalized, and 2) only a few, if any, sign their name. Council members are accountable for their thinking, the blogs are not. It is especially difficult to see conclusions which skip over facts, and use inaccurate assumptions. It's best to receive responses from community members who can enter into a dialogue with council directly so that members can respond and explain their thinking if interested.

I read these blogs quickly last night and found the discussion omitting facts from the deep considerations only council is responsible for matching between the crumbling needs of our capital infrastructure with revenue streams based on deep research the city has from a few community studies. Thankfully the discussions don't villanize council members personally, which is never fun to read, but easy to write when posting anonymously. If I got to be selective with my facts, then I could make make everyone happy.

I know you don't trust our thinking, or staffs and I am sorry for that. Council members have a wide range of decisions to make,and we need to become knowledgeable on all levels of civic life unlike most other cities on the peninsula, and more like San Francisco and San Jose. Palo Alto is a thriving community when measured by a reliable ability for homeowners to experience escalating house values even with the crushing traffic and parking problems and in the middle of one of the worst financial crises in the history of our country. We are struggling with our success and being a global "it spot" of where everyone wants to be, and other city's want to replicate. While neighboring cities struggle with subprime mortgage disruption, we struggle with exponential business success.

I pick our "problems" any day! I know it's gotten too much for some in our community--it always does. I'm losing my best friend to Austin next month because she wants to try something new. So, they are renting their modest 3-bedroom house for $7,000 month to finance their new life in Texas. There are not many areas of the country where homeowners can do might even be safe to say "only in Palo Alto". Opportunities here seem unlimited.

Take care,
Here is my reply:
Dear (Council Member),

I am disappointed in the elitist tone of your reply. You seem to think that Palo Alto is superior to Menlo Park or Atherton or Mountain View or any of our neighboring cities and towns.

You also seem to think that council members are smarter and wiser than ordinary citizens. Do you really think that all residents writing on the blogs reach “conclusions which skip over facts, and use inaccurate assumptions.”? How about the city council pushing for High Speed Rail several years ago? What about Council’s recent belated realization that new buildings are ugly and over sized and too close to the sidewalk? Aren’t these the very same buildings you all approved?

What about the city manager’s admission to the Weekly that “staff reports on proposed PC projects are not intended to identify conflicts between Comprehensive Plan policies, but are meant to provide the findings needed for the council to adopt the staff's recommendation.”
Or is this one of those cases where the press got it wrong?

Do you really think that only council members are “knowledgeable on all levels of civic life”? We live in a city of highly-educated people, many of whom have jobs with extensive responsibility. And we have many engaged residents who study the issues carefully, even going so far as spending their own money for reports and studies when they don’t trust staff’s presentations.

You write, “It's best to receive responses from community members who can enter into a dialogue with council directly so that members can respond and explain their thinking if interested.” Just how much dialogue do we get from Council when we come before you to speak for 3 minutes? How much dialogue does the average person get when sending emails? You are one of the few who ever responds.

It is frustrating for me and many other residents to be so readily dismissed – and disrespected. It is my opinion that Council does not like to hear criticism. You all live in a sealed environment where you feed each others’ beliefs that you are all right all the time and anyone outside the circle is uninformed, cranky or (the favorite term lately used by one council member in particular) vitriolic.

It would be refreshing to have council members – and staff – occasionally step up and say, “We made a mistake. Thank you for bringing it to our attention.”
Richard C. Placone

Posted by PA
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 10, 2013 at 7:29 pm

I counted 10 construction vehicles parked in my Downtown North neighborhood on Friday,
due to one ongoing project behind my house. The project has been ongoing for more than
a year! Funny the people building the new big houses in my neighborhood are the ones
most vocal about the parking problem.

Posted by resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 10, 2013 at 7:43 pm

The one response you received which is so arrogant,so uninformed,
so misguided, and the lack of response from the others, just proves
why our city has sunk to these depths and that we are truly in a crisis here. I thought we were approaching rock-bottom for some
time- we have hit it. This Council/staff are destroying the City
and they gauge their performance on economic gain. To understand
what is happening to our City is beyond their comprehension. They
don't see the big picture. They have no value system to guide decision-making or measure success.

Posted by Intemperate response
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 10, 2013 at 7:46 pm

Mr.Placone, I tend to agree with your postings most of the time, and I agree with the specific criticisms of the staff and council.
However, you wrote to nine councilmembers and ONE responded. You in turn insult that person and post their letter calling them names, "elitist' etc. I think you are out of line. You could have responded in substance without the insults. You also blame this person for the acts of the group.
The response reads like a personal note to you. I wonder did you have permission to broadcast it here?

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 10, 2013 at 7:57 pm

I can understand the frustration why Richard Placone has acted the way he has done.

The Council seem to snub all sensible ideas that have been mentioned and paint everyone on this forum with the same brush.

They think that studies, surveys and throwing money at problems is the only way to do things. Instead they should use their ears (and eyes) and listen to some of the good ideas that residents of this city have.

Never in the time I have been taking an interest in Palo Alto affairs have I heard why we don't have parking meters in downtown or pay per hour machines in every lot and garage. I have never understood how visitors to Palo Alto are able to understand that they need to go to City Hall before they park to pay for all day parking. Do the Council ever consider how difficult it is for those of us who occasionally need to park all day to do so. They hear downtown residents, or College Terrace residents make a lot of noise and consider residents parking permits, or employees parking permits for those who park all day every day. But they think that everyone else will only park for a couple of hours. Or they think that traffic will magically go away if they make it difficult to park.

When will they realize that traffic in Palo Alto is not going away and instead of making it harder to park, when will they start making it easier for people to park? Instead of prohibiting parking they should be finding a way for these people to park at reasonable costs.

Make all city lots and garages pay per hour. Put parking meters in downtown streets. Put parking lots in the Baylands and use the frequent shuttles to get people from the lots to downtown.

Start paying attention city council members, when you hear some good ideas. Start explaining why you don't think these ideas are viable. Then we might be less critical.

Posted by justtired
a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 10, 2013 at 8:02 pm

Not directly related to parking, but to congestion.
Making Hamilton 1-way from High to Webster (or Middlefield) and Lytton 1-way in the other direction between the same streets. Then TIME the traffic lights to 23 mph on those streets in the direction of traffic flow so that cars can move smoothly if they stick to the speed limit.
Unfortunately people and businesses are fiercely opposed to 1-way streets. So maybe just try the traffic light timing. Get cars going toward Middlefield onto Hamilton and get cars flowing toward Stanford onto Lytton. Let's see what happens.

As to parking. True, I do not drive downtown a lot. However, I have rarely not been able to find a parking place when I do. Of course, I am only parking for 60-90 minutes because that is all the shopping I'll be doing. When I worked downtown 7 years ago (on Hamilton) I usually found a spot on Bryant or Homer. I would have been happy to pay a reasonable fee to park in a garage, but there were 'hassles' getting it done (sorry, I cannot remember what they were) and it did seem expensive when there also seemed to be plenty of spaces available. (I rode my bicycle to work when possible)

If the downtown PA garages are not currently full most of the day, then why not allocate more spaces at cheap(er) rates for monthly passes for business employees? Make them cheap enough so that those employees *do* buy them. Then if there are not enough spaces for customers to park the businesses will feel the problem from reduced income.


Posted by resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 11, 2013 at 3:16 pm

Let me try to simplify this for the City Council.It's not that
complicated. A friend of mine who is a prominent techie from New
York was in Downtown Palo Alto for a high-tech conference. He saw
The Cheesecake Factory on University Ave and said to me "I thought
a place like Palo Alto would have design review". What he saw of
course is just the tip of the iceberg. He didn't see the parking
overflow into the Downtown neighborhoods, the traffic backups through
Crescent Park etc. but CAKE on University is symptomatic and was a
precursor of all the rest. So in a sense my techie friend really
nailed it. But our City Council still can't figure it out. Let's do
some more studies.

Posted by In charge of Ugly
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 11, 2013 at 11:33 pm

The Architectural Review Board approved that awful 375 University Ave.structure on Thursday, March 6, 2003.
Members of the board at the time were Lee Lippert (Chair) Drew Maran(Vice Chair), Kenneth Kornberg, Judith Wasserman, and Susan Eschweiler.
Staff:Steven Turner, Planner and Amy French, Current Planning Manager
Property owner: Roxy Rapp
It's not the only monstrosity that board approved.

Posted by resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 12, 2013 at 8:34 am

@in charge of ugly
Good post. The approval of an unfettered Cheesecake Factory on University Ave ten years ago was not a one-off event, but indicative of a completely dysfunctional government which set the table for all that we are dealing with now. CAKES preceding Palo Alto were in malls and the next 50+ CAKES following it were in malls- not on street fronts let alone a University Ave in Palo Alto.

Posted by another concerned resident
a resident of Community Center
on Aug 12, 2013 at 9:21 am


sorry what does CAKES mean?

I'm otherwise another resident concerned with the dysfunctional design review process. City government seems completely out of touch.

I'll just throw this out there, but has anyone else seen the CIty of Palo Alto flags/banners advertising I think a concert event, which says "Cargo pants, cold beer, and tech moguls"

Is this the City vision?

"Cargo pants, cold beer, and tech moguls"

Posted by In charge of ugly
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 12, 2013 at 9:40 am

By Cakes he means the Cheescake place. It is a restaurant, not a cake store.
Where are the banners?
We need to NAME those who vote for oversized and ugly, not just throw out vague insults. It isn't everyone in city government, we need to know who.

Posted by another concerned resident
a resident of Community Center
on Aug 12, 2013 at 9:40 am

correction, the ad I mentioned in previous post goes

"Cargo shorts, Cold beer, Tech Tycoons"

it's an ad for Palo Alto Downtown. "Summer in Downtown Palo Alto"

Posted by another concerned resident
a resident of Community Center
on Aug 12, 2013 at 9:43 am

the banners are still flying by the post office, corner of waverly and hamilton

Posted by voter
a resident of Professorville
on Aug 12, 2013 at 1:05 pm

I have learned to park all of my cars in front of my house rather than in my garage as a defensive measure, not because I am 'uppity'. If these spaces are left open then the cars that park there are usually a terrible eyesore, they often don't leave for days (people park, take their suitcases out of their trunks and walk to the train station, presumably to go to the airport!), trash is left in my flower beds (soda, beer cans and candy wrappers dumped in the bushes . . . stems of my flowers torn off) and cigarette butts litter the side-walk. The good news is that it can't get any worse than it is in Professorville as parking is at 110%+ - with cars parked well beyond the stop signs and visibility is impossible . . . serious accidents waiting to happen. It is a disaster.

Posted by You can't build your way out of it
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 12, 2013 at 3:29 pm

Building additional parking structures is not a soultion (unless they are pay to park/market based). The solution is to charge for parking instead of giving it away for free. As long as parking is free downtown there will always be a "shortage." Also the strees downtown aren't getting any wider. If you think downtown streets are a "parking lot" now think about what it would look like with anothe 3,000-5,000+ parking spaces in garages downtown! It is ludicrous! Have any of you seen the pictures of the freeway in China that has 10 lanes in each direction? It is just as congested and slow as if there were only four lanes in each direction. You can't build your way out of this. The solution is to make walking, biking, and taking transit to the downtown easier and to charge market rate for parking.

Posted by The city made me do it
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 16, 2013 at 6:23 pm

Building bigger buildings downtown means there will be more cars downtown. Any new construction must provide enough parking for the users of the building.

It is surely easier to sell/lease a commercial building if the city provides free parking for the buildings users. There isn't anything new about trying to get someone else to pay the bill.

Concerning new houses downtown I have first hand experience with the city requiring that the garage not be located at the front but be located behind the house. The lot isn't wide enough to build a two car wide driveway going to the back of the lot. A one car wide driveway pretty much guarantees a car will be parked on the street. The reason for the requirement: the neighborhood doesn't have garages at the front. Actually none of the houses the city review considered as being part of the neighborhood have garages.

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