Palo Alto Weekly

Spectrum - September 16, 2011

Editorial: A muddled approach to downtown parking

Lacking consensus and hearing the concerns of some businesses, City Council puts off relief for downtown residents

Despite the clear evidence before them that 1,200 or so of the city's 3,000-plus downtown parking spaces are vacant much of the time, the City Council and some local business owners were all over the map this week during a discussion of the downtown parking issue.

The political hot potato bounced between Professorville residents, who want to rid their neighborhood of employees who flood their streets during the day, and downtown business leaders, who fear a neighborhood permit system would result in downtown employees using two-hour spaces intended for shoppers. Both have valid concerns, but this is an old problem that demands new ideas, not the kind of posturing that was evident at Monday night's council meeting.

Business leaders who suggest downtown neighborhoods have a duty of sorts to absorb the employee parking generated from businesses because it is essential to maintaining the downtown's vibrancy and viability are not going to win over public support.

Some council members are understandably hesitant to support a permit system for Professorville for fear it simply would move the day-parking problem to other neighborhoods. That's a risk that any good solution must address and prevent.

But the Council and downtown business community should, at a minimum, be able to agree that neighborhood parking by employees will not be tolerated until garage and other permit parking spaces are being fully utilized. Recent studies show that the problem isn't so much a lack of available permit parking spaces for employees, it is that workers and their employers have been unwilling to pay for permits given the availability of free parking in the neighborhoods. The large number of restaurants and retailers with low-paid employees undoubtedly aggravates the problem.

Professorville residents came to Monday's council meeting expecting a much warmer reception to their long-standing quest for a parking permit system that would effectively push out the day parkers. Instead, while some council members are sympathetic to the residents' concerns, others are taking a wait-and-see approach.

We believe this situation is ripe for some innovative solutions. For example:

• The city should set a goal to sell permits for 600 of the current 1,200 vacant slots in the downtown garages, perhaps by using a low introductory rate.

• Downtown businesses could chip in to help their employees purchase the already inexpensive garage permits, which now cost $45 a month, or just $2.25 a day for a 20-day month. Who wouldn't jump at the chance to lock up a parking place in a covered garage for less than a latte?

• During this experiment, the city should monitor the Professorville neighborhood to assess whether day parkers have at least partially disappeared. If not, the city should move toward implementing a permit system.

• If other neighborhoods, like Downtown North, are impacted by these changes, permits systems should be considered.

With 1,200 vacant parking spaces and many more during some parts of the day, the city should not be in this predicament. There are adequate spaces to accommodate most city workers and shoppers, if managed properly. Surely the city staff and its consultants, working with the neighbors and business leaders, can find the incentives needed to move employees into these available downtown spaces and provide relief to the residents.

Amazon caves on taxation

Local merchants will have to wait a year for online giant to pay taxes

After applauding when the Legislature finally acted to force Amazon to collect California sales tax on products it sells over the Internet, local small businesses now will have to wait until next year to see the online giant compete on an equal footing with brick and mortar stores in the state.

The change of course came last week when the Legislature struck a deal with Amazon and many of the state's large and small retailers who agreed with a legislative majority to delay the tax for one year in return for Amazon dropping its misguided effort to kill the earlier tax measure by referendum.

The resulting deal may not please everyone, but it will require Amazon to collect state sales taxes by next September. The company also has promised to create jobs by building large distribution centers in the state, which could help economies in some areas.

A few weeks ago in this space we castigated Amazon for unfairly taking advantage of a loophole in California law which allowed them to pass responsibility of paying sales tax on its merchandise to the purchaser. But consumers rarely paid the tax, while Amazon enjoyed a huge tax advantage over its primary competitors, including many small businesses.

Providing Gov. Brown signs the measure as expected, local merchants will have to wait another year until Amazon and other online retailers are held accountable to collect the state sales tax, but at least an end of this unfair tax advantage is in sight.

Comments

Posted by svatoid, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Sep 16, 2011 at 6:31 am

Regarding the editorial:

Too bad the editor did not mention the ridiculous 2 hour parking limit and the lack of a pay parking option and the difficulty in obtaining an all day garage parking permit.

"Local merchants will have to wait a year for online giant to pay taxes"

It is amazing that the editors of the Weekly can still not get this issue right. Amazon does pay taxes--right now it does not collect taxes from California residents.
You would think that after so long someone on the editorial staff would understand the difference!!!
I also hope that NO online firm will be exempt from collecting tax from CA residents. There was a recent bill pending in the legislature that would have exempted businesses that do less than $1 Million in business from collecting taxes.
This would provide them with an unfair advantage and that is what Faith Bell, the bike shop and the other local merchants were whining about. Personally, I do not see people flocking to those stores next year after Amazon starts collecting the sales tax.

This editorial is poorly written and fails to address all the issues.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 16, 2011 at 8:20 am

just $2.25 a day for a 20-day month.

Fine for those who work five days a week, but what about those who work 3 days a week?

What about those that ride share or use a different vehicle some days?

What about those who only occasionally park for more than 2 hours?

Your editorial forgot to mention that pay per hour machines would make it much simpler for anyone who frequently or occasionally needs to park in downtown for more than a couple of hours to buy the parking they need without a trip to City Hall.

The present system is so pathetic and the answer is so obvious. We don't need more signs, but we do need an easier user friendly system.


Posted by Barista Mom, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 16, 2011 at 11:10 am

My daughter works at one of the chain coffee store on University. She receives minimum wage, works part time, and and often has four hour shifts. To her, the $45.00 parking charge is a lot, considering she has to pay for her car, gas, books, etc. The two hour limit for parking is also very hard for these employees who only have a 15 minute break to move their cars. Many of the downtown businesses only employ part timers to avoid paying benefits. I would like the out of touch editors and merchants to address this problem.


Posted by Ray, a resident of Professorville
on Sep 21, 2011 at 11:03 am

Quoting from the article: "Business leaders who suggest downtown neighborhoods have a duty of sorts to absorb the employee parking generated from businesses because it is essential to maintaining the downtown's vibrancy and viability are not going to win over public support.." As a Professorville resident, I don't feel that i have a duty to absorb employee parking any more than i expect a business to have a duty to absorb any of my costs of living. That's a ridiculous claim to make. It's not even my duty to support downtown business; it is the "duty" of business to produce usable goods and services at competitive price and there are many, many wonderful businesses that do just that. Further, as Professorville residents, my wife and I do support those businesses that do.. We are two of about 500 residents who are tiring of nearly three years of trying to get the city to provide relief by solving this challenging problem.


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