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Palo Alto to cut funding for planning, transportation as revenues drop

Original post made on May 20, 2020

With the city's finances sputtering, Palo Alto plans to reduce planning staff, eliminate its shuttle program and turn to license-plate readers to enforce residential parking programs.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, May 20, 2020, 9:27 AM

Comments (26)

9 people like this
Posted by What Will They Do Next
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 20, 2020 at 11:51 am

Residential Parking Program should refund fees retroactive to when SIP became the rule. Streets are mostly empty because those who paid for permits are working from home.


2 people like this
Posted by nat
a resident of Midtown
on May 20, 2020 at 12:55 pm

Liz Kniss had a good idea, to see if the school district would be willing to share the cost of the city's shuttles.

I hope that the City will do that and restore the funding for the shuttles.


6 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 20, 2020 at 1:27 pm

Making any decisions at present about transportation when we have no idea what things will look like in 3 months' time, let alone 12 months' time.

Big tech giants are already saying that they will continue to encourage working from home at least until the end of the calendar year and some are even saying that employees can work from home forever.

Schools may be put on staggered times or even staggered days. What that will mean to traffic is unknown at least until such time as they have made a decision.

VTA has already stated that their routes in Palo Alto that are duplicating the shuttles will be reduced or eliminated. We have lost out already and VTA are unlikely to change their plans.

A free shuttle was never a good idea, in my opinion. A free service of anything is more likely to be abused and not valued than one that has a charge to it. A modest fare was always something that would have made sense. And now it makes even more sense.

Eliminating a shuttle is not good particularly as an either/or option. Keep the shuttle but charge those riding a modest fare.

We have to start looking for half way measures/compromises. We can't just say we have this or we have that. We must look for third options, particularly when there are so many unknowns for the future. For example, you want people to go to downtown or Cal Ave restaurants, then you need to give them options to get there and just as importantly to get back. Either that, or you need to improve parking in those areas for longer than 2 or 3 hours.

People cannot be expected to walk/bike, particularly in the dark or rain in winter, or in 90+ temps in summer. It just won't happen. Shuttles or parking are much better options than a 20 minute bike ride in full sun when temps are in the mid 90s in summer, or when it is dark at 5.00 pm, or when it is raining hard.

Yes our weather is good, but good weather is not always good biking weather in July or October. That is not something that is unknown as we go forward.




10 people like this
Posted by David Page
a resident of Midtown
on May 20, 2020 at 2:04 pm

Having the hundreds of city workers who currently work from home - remain doing so indefinitely - wouldn't save tons of money. However, it wouldn't cost any money either, and it would make big cuts to air pollution and traffic!


4 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 20, 2020 at 5:25 pm

Damn, and I was looking forward to my first Palo Alto bus ride ever, and I’m 83 years old and have lived here since 1961. Oh well, I’ll just keep driving my car, even after they won’t renew my drivers’ license anymore. Damn virus!


16 people like this
Posted by Allen Akin
a resident of Professorville
on May 20, 2020 at 5:28 pm

Check this out, from Staff's RPP memo to Council on May 13th:

"...it is also recommended that there are no more free annual permits. ... This policy would serve as a disincentive to parking on the street when off-street capacity exists. Though the purpose of this recommendation is to maximize street parking capacity, even a nominal fee would also generate significant additional revenue, supporting the RPP Fund’s solvency." (Web Link)

So, Staff believes the demand for parking in the neighborhoods is going to increase so greatly that allowing even one free street space per household will cause an unacceptable loss of capacity. Yet at the same time so little revenue is going to be generated that it's a good idea to tax residents a bit more to keep the fund solvent.

What does Staff know that it hasn't told us?


24 people like this
Posted by Resident in an RPP area
a resident of Evergreen Park
on May 20, 2020 at 6:37 pm

Regarding the proposal to eliminate the one free parking permit for residents in RRP areas., I find this astounding. First, some of us need protection from an overflow of employee parking because the City has refused to make developers and businesses bear the cost of the cars they bring to areas like Downtown and California Ave. When the residents can no longer park on their own street, then the City attacks the residents as ‘selfish’ — even though, the City and the Council are the ones that caused the damage. Next, they set the price of parking permits in residential neighborhoods BELOW the cost of permits in City lots and garages. So, now, if you live in certain areas, you will have to pay to be able to park on your own street for longer than 2 hours at a time, while businesses get away with dumping their externalities on residents.

Thanks a lot City! Way to go to serve residents who actually live here.


9 people like this
Posted by What
a resident of Downtown North
on May 20, 2020 at 6:56 pm

How do you make up for a $38.8 million budget gap with just $3.5 million in transportation budget cuts?

Some projects like bike bridges were drawn out and over budget. Delivering projects on budget and on time seem to be important now.


Like this comment
Posted by Oldster
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 20, 2020 at 7:55 pm

Resident, indeed, "We must look for third options."

How about some private sector and volunteer options? For example, instead of closing libraries or reducing hours, use library volunteers to keep the doors open and shelve books until the economy rebounds? For shuttles and other needed local street mass transit let's fast-track more autonomous vehicles from private companies. Instead of stopping pay to many building inspectors and thus gum up any hope of a quick recovery in construction work, allow builders to use third party private licensed inspectors if such people exist. Let our local residents hire a laid off City building inspector!


Like this comment
Posted by Oldster
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 20, 2020 at 8:02 pm

Resident, indeed, "We must look for third options."

How about some private sector and volunteer options? For example, instead of closing libraries or reducing hours, use library volunteers to help keep the doors open and shelve books until the economy rebounds. For shuttles and other needed local street mass transit let's fast-track more autonomous micro-buses from private companies. Instead of stopping pay to many building inspectors and thus gum up any hope of a quick recovery in construction work, allow builders to use third party private licensed inspectors if such people exist. Let our local residents hire a laid off City building inspector!

I'd gladly work shifts as a volunteer to keep the doors open at my local library and help with summer programs for local children and teens such as the community theater programs. If we all pull together, there is no reason we can't have a better summer than ever. We just need to get creative.


5 people like this
Posted by Librarian
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 20, 2020 at 8:03 pm

There’s more to being a librarian than shelving books.
There are professional librarians with master’s degrees, para-professionals, library clerks, sometimes volunteers and student temporary workers.


12 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 20, 2020 at 8:05 pm

"How do you make up for a $38.8 million budget gap with just $3.5 million in transportation budget cuts?

Some projects like bike bridges were drawn out and over budget. Delivering projects on budget and on time seem to be important now."

So it would seem but the CC's had bigger and more immediate priorities than tackling the big-ticket capital expenditure budget -- like banning vaping because of some illegal sales to minors even if it destroys adult-only businesses, the rights of adult customers and kills one of our oldest businesses.


2 people like this
Posted by Oldster
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 20, 2020 at 8:15 pm

Of course I respect professional librarians. But, volunteers can be used for "limited" rolls just as so many rural areas have only volunteer firefighters given funds available.

If not for the Palo Alto "volunteers" who raised private funds to rebuild Rinconada and Mitchell Park libraries instead of paid City staffers doing that sort of normal City Hall employees' "long range planning" duties we'd not have our largest libraries here suited for the Internet Age.

I am sitting on several library books I checked out months ago and am unable to return them since all libraries here are closed. San Diego just re-opened curbside service at its public libraries. Why can't we do that here with help from volunteers and some paid librarians, too, to supervise those volunteers? And also restart the library WiFi service so many depend on?


4 people like this
Posted by midtown2
a resident of Midtown
on May 20, 2020 at 8:24 pm

To those suggesting that the shuttles not be free -- it costs a lot to set up a system that enables riders to pay..

The free shuttles may have been a bad idea to the extent that they caused VTA to cut service dramatically here, and their ridership may be down, but I would hold off on eliminating them. They don't cost much and nobody has any idea what things will be like when this is "over," if it ever is. There's the fear that people won't go back to using public transit or ride-sharing: one's own car definitely seems a safe option in comparison. However, if the roads get too gridlocked...

Meanwhile, what about people in Stevenson House? I do see a lot of cars there. The Crosstown shuttle is supposed to serve them. Maybe they don't need it, but with the number of seniors increasing at a pretty impressive rate here in Palo Alto, it might be a good idea to try to save the shuttles.


9 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on May 21, 2020 at 8:57 am

Is the shuttle elimination temporary or permanent? Will the Tech shuttle continue?

People who ride the train and then shuttle to work at businesses located on the Baylands side of Embarcadero will now have even greater "last mile" challenges and this could result in more car trips, many no-doubt in single-occupancy. I understand the need to reduce the budget but wonder if the City has answers or suggestions for the displaced riders. And if this decision been assessed for its impact on greenhouse gasses?

Also, when I rode the shuttle I often saw Casti students on it. I think the shuttle factors into Castilleja's TDM program and is (oddly, I think) part of the school's justification for their growth and development plans. Obviously this decision impacts that. What's the alternate plan for getting the students who rode the train and shuttle to Castilleja? A private Casti shuttle? More cars? More vehicle impact on that neighborhood?


9 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 21, 2020 at 9:05 am

Posted by Allen Akin, a resident of Professorville

>> What does Staff know that it hasn't told us?

They know that pro-office-space forces have more political clout than residents and will succeed in keeping a majority on PACC voting their way.


8 people like this
Posted by Esther Granderson
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 21, 2020 at 9:09 am

In lieu of the community shuttle, can't people simply arrange to carpool their errands with neighbors?

I am 85 and still drive when needed. I also wear my facemask and combine shopping runs for my friends who either cannot drive or are immobilized at home.

It is no big deal. Just make some friends or ask relatives to pitch in. The community shuttle is a fertile nesting ground for spreading the coronavirus.

As for city planning & in life.... if you have no money to spend, there is no need to be making any unnecessary plans.


11 people like this
Posted by Tom
a resident of Greenmeadow
on May 21, 2020 at 10:08 am

The saving of $500k is not even able to cover the salary/benefits of one Palo Alto city manager.


10 people like this
Posted by John
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 21, 2020 at 11:17 am

It is unfortunate that folks believe that laying off city employees and cutting department budgets will be the cure as almost 99.9% of those jobs will be replaced by scab contract employees who have no connection or could care less about Palo Alto. As a former city employee I can attest that the best and most knowledgeable city employees have long since moved on. City management will hold tightly to their treasured six figure incomes with no fear of losing their jobs as they sell out employees who are the frontline servers. The city manager and city council have created a workplace that is unfortunately substandard in public relations and only shows their distaste for those folks who currently reside in Palo Alto.


8 people like this
Posted by renter
a resident of Midtown
on May 21, 2020 at 12:48 pm

How about enacting a foreign buyers' fee on residential real estate? This would kill two birds with one stone: increase housing stock for locals and increase revenue for the city. Unfortunately there are too many greedy homeowners and real estate agents that prevent this from ever being enacted.


Like this comment
Posted by Jeremy
a resident of Midtown
on May 21, 2020 at 5:23 pm

I see no sense in cutting a $500,000 free shuttle program which the Chief Transportation Official says could directly serve 70,000 people in the coming year, but then restoring $273,988 to long-term planning. Directly helping people get around in this difficult time would be a much better use of city funds than funding a long-range study that could easily be put off a year, and would likely not directly help a single person in the next fiscal year.


8 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 21, 2020 at 11:48 pm

@Jeremy,

How do you come up with the figure of 70,000 people being served by the free shuttle? Come on, Palo Alto's population is only about 65,000.

From the article:

"The proposed elimination follows several years of declining ridership, which has dropped from more than 150,000 trips in 2016 to about 100,000 in 2019, Kamhi said. The city will be "lucky" if it sees 70,000 riders this year, he added."

Transportation "officials" like Kamhi like to exaggerate the popularity of these fringe transportation systems by conflating trips and riders.

Most people who use the free shuttle make two trips per day, so 70,000/250/2 = 140 people served.


9 people like this
Posted by Cath
a resident of Evergreen Park
on May 22, 2020 at 10:24 am

Why do we need to maximize on-street parking in residential neighborhoods?

Is the city planning to flood neighborhoods with office worker parking because fewer of them will be taking public transport?

Is the City planning to flood the neighborhoods with cars because it is planning to close parking lots and garages to allow for on-street dining and shopping and these diners and shoppers have to park somewhere?

Is the City planning to flood the streets with cars from dense housing developments that do not provide sufficient parking for residents?

Is the city -panning this for all RPPs, or only some RPPs?

Is it possible for the City to be transparent for once? What exactly is it you are planning for residential neighborhoods? Why doesn’t the City ex-;ain’t their rationale and allow informed input before deciding these things?

Why is it that residents have to ferret these things out by spending hours reading the details of every proposal and asking questions? Wouldn’t it save time just to write this all out in the first place? Darn those pesky residents who want to know what their government is doing.


8 people like this
Posted by Cath
a resident of Evergreen Park
on May 22, 2020 at 10:29 am

Do you remember not so long ago when our Mayor and others on the City Council stated that soon no one would own a car because they would just summon a self-driving vehicle? When they suggested that garages would be empty albatrosses because no one would be driving?

I guess that isn’t happening exactly that way and now we need to maximize the parking in residential neighborhoods?


Like this comment
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 22, 2020 at 1:00 pm

According to this 2015 article, at that time, roughly 123,000 people were commuting in to Palo Alto on average.

"So how bad is it and why is it so bad? The numbers tell the story. On a typical day, people who live in, work in or come to Palo Alto drive (or ride on buses) 8.2 million miles, according to the city's Existing Conditions report. That's an average of 53.3 vehicle miles per person. The per-capita vehicle miles for the Bay Area as a whole is about 20, according to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, a regional planning group. About 6.6 million (or 80 percent) of the Palo Alto miles are for trips by people who live outside of Palo Alto and are coming to a destination — work or other — within the city. In other words, Palo Alto's traffic problem is caused largely by those who live elsewhere."

Web Link

I don't know what the numbers were before COVID-19, but, we all were trapped in the endless backups. (Anybody know where the 2019 numbers are?)

So, Cath, in answer to your question, you need to plan on using Uber so that outside commuters can park on your street.


7 people like this
Posted by Red
a resident of Community Center
on May 22, 2020 at 1:39 pm

I wonder, is the transportation dept. still planning on "improving" the Bryant bike Blvd. with more pointless traffic circles and other acts of resume puffing "street furniture" installations? If yes, there's some very expensive low hanging fruit that should have been composted a long time ago.


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