City may build two downtown garages
Publication Date: Wednesday Apr 2, 1997

DOWNTOWN: City may build two downtown garages

If both are built, Palo Alto would gain 729 spaces, but would have to relocate teen center.

Planning officials have identified two possible locations for new parking garages downtown, and city staff is recommending that Palo Alto build both of them at a cost of about $20 million.

But the plan would require finding a new home for the popular teen center on Bryant Street.

The two proposed sites are Lot R, located between Alma and High streets behind the Blockbuster on University Avenue, and Lots S and L, which are located next to each other across from the Senior Center on Bryant. Lot S is where the city has been experimenting with a pay lot. The lots would be paid for through the formation of a parking assessment district.

The proposed structure on lots S and L would provide seven levels of parking--four elevated decks, one at ground level and two below--at a cost of $14.4 million, based on 1996 costs. The Lot R structure would have three elevated decks and one at ground level and would cost $4.7 million.

The two sites were recommended in a consultant's report by the Watry Design Group. City staff has recommended that the city go ahead with building both. The decision now rests with the City Council.

The council's Policy and Services Committee discussed the report last week and recommended going forward with both structures. The committee also specified that the teen center, known as "The House" and located between lots S and L, should be relocated in the downtown area.

"There's some reluctance to rely so much on structured parking because very few of us have ever seen a parking structure that we love. and we all prefer to park on the street or on surface lots," said Council member Sandy Eakins, a member of the committee.

But she said the structures should keep some cars from overflowing into residential areas, particularly the Downtown North neighborhood.

The council's Finance Committee was to discuss the issue Tuesday night, after the Weekly went to press. The committees will each make a recommendation to the full council on whether to proceed with one or both structures.

To address another pressing need, city staff has recommended that public restrooms be provided at each of the structures. At Lots S and L, the inclusion of a small retail center at the corner of Bryant and Lytton Avenue is also recommended.

Constructing new parking structures downtown is part of the 13-point parking plan that was developed with the Chamber of Commerce and approved by the council in March 1994. The plan included the creation of the color-zone parking system.

If the structures aren't built until the year 2000 the costs are presumed to rise to $16.3 million for Lots S and L and $5.3 million for Lot R, or $21.6 million for both structures. They would provide a total of 729 more parking spaces than the 180 spaces that currently exist. The cost per added space would be a hefty $29,600.

Based on 1996 costs, downtown property owners would pay an additional 80 cents per square foot per year (the current rate is 34 cents per square foot) over a period of 20 years for both structures, which is feasible, according to the consultants. That would rise to 90 cents per square foot if construction doesn't occur until 2000.

Patrick Siegman, a transportation analyst with Stanford Transportation Programs, believes downtown merchants could better spend their money. When the cost per stall is over $20,000 its cheaper to pay people not to drive, he said. Businesses could offer employees transit passes or cash to bike or car pool.

"It's cheaper to pay an employee $60 a month to leave his car at home than $200 per month to build and operate a parking space," Siegman said. "An assessment district is ultimately funded by the merchants so they end up paying either directly or indirectly."

(According to the city, in 1995 the total cost of each new parking space in a parking structure averaged $160 per month).

"Downtown parking structures are on a collision course with the Comprehensive Plan, which calls for reducing emphasis on cars," Siegman adds.

However, while it is true the new Comprehensive Plan scheduled to be adopted this year calls for less reliance on autos, it also specifically calls for building new parking structures downtown as part of implementing the 13-point parking plan.

Still, it casts doubt on the amount of parking relief this will provide.

"In 1995, there was a shortage of approximately 1,500 parking spaces in downtown Palo Alto," the draft Comp Plan states. "If one or two new parking structures were to be built in the foreseeable future, about 600 to 800 new spaces would be created. However, the costs to local business owners would be substantial and the number of spaces provided would still not be enough to eliminate employee parking on nearby residential streets."

--Peter Gauvin 

Back up to the Table of Contents Page