As downtown residents continue to clamor for the city to do something about the recent disappearance of parking spaces on their blocks, business owners are lining up against the most commonly proposed solution -- a permit program that would limit the time non-residents can park in residential areas.
This week, a coalition of downtown business leaders and property owners have submitted a petition to the city arguing that a residential parking-permit program of the sort favored by many residents would come at a steep economic cost. The group, which includes developer Chop Keenan, Whole Foods, Watercourse Way, Peninsula Creamery and Ko Architects, claimed in its letter to Chief Transportation Official Jaime Rodriguez and Acting Planning Director Aaron Aknin that limiting the time downtown workers can park in residential areas would lead to a gradual decline of downtown Palo Alto.
The residential parking program has been a subject of dispute in Palo Alto over the past three years, with staff and residents considering numerous proposals with varying boundary areas and rules. The first staff proposal, which limited the permit area to the Professorville neighborhood, was rejected by the City Council last year, with several council members arguing that it would merely push the problem to another neighborhood. The council directed staff to pursue broader and more universal solutions to downtown's parking woes.
But even as staff is in the midst of studying various solutions, including new parking garages and a valet program in the High Street garage, a parking program remains a tool in the city's kit. Currently, downtown's commercial streets are limited to two-hour parking, which pushes many employees to park in Professorville, Downtown North and other areas with no such restrictions. Among the options under considerations in creating a hybrid program in which one side of the street in the residential neighborhoods remains open for all-day parking and the other one has a time restriction for those without permits.
None of the proposals, the petition argues, consider the needs of downtown businesses. While residents have long maintained that the influx of office workers parking on their streets is damaging their neighborhood, the business leaders claim in their letter that the changing habits of the residents are as much to blame for the scarcity of parking. The signatories argue that many in the South of Forest Avenue (SOFA) area have garages but choose to use them for storage. As a result, many prefer to leave their cars on the street. In addition, most families now have two or more vehicles, which further exacerbates the problem.
"These factors have increased the resident demand for on-street parking from historical levels," states the letter signed by 16 business and property owners. "Even though most homes in the SOFA area have driveways and garages, for convenience purposes many residents choose to park their multiple cars on the street."
Restricting parking in the residential areas would worsen the parking shortage for offices and service businesses and would drive many businesses out of downtown, the letter states. The result, the letter states, "will be a greatly less successful and less vibrant Downtown in our City."
The decline of downtown, the letter warns, will be "slow and not noticeable in its initial stages."
"As employee parking becomes difficult and office building leases expire, office/technology companies will leave the Downtown one-by-one for more attractive areas," the business owners wrote. "This, in turn will reduce the supply of customers for restaurants, retail and service businesses. By the time the economic effects of the exodus are noticed, it will be too late to reverse."