Palo Alto Weekly

News - July 13, 2012

City set to rule on Professorville parking permits

Palo Alto City Council to consider pilot program for historic neighborhood with a parking shortage

by Gennady Sheyner

Professorville residents might soon get more muscle in their irksome tug-of-war with downtown workers over parking spots in the historic district — a parking-permit program that would limit visitors' stays to two hours.

The program, which the City Council will discuss Monday night, is the city's response to years of complaints from the residential neighborhood adjacent to the bustling high-tech scene in downtown Palo Alto.

Unlike in downtown itself, where parking is generally restricted to two hours, Professorville currently doesn't have parking restrictions. To make matters worse, most houses in the neighborhood are so old, they don't have garages. So when downtown employees park their cars on the Professorville streets to avoid time limits, residents find themselves without a spot.

Now, city staff is proposing to begin a trial permit-parking program in August that will cover an area roughly bounded by Addison Avenue to the north and Lincoln Avenue to the south, between Emerson and Bryant streets.

The city would give away one permit per household in Professorville and allow additional permits to be purchased for $50. The city would make two-thirds of the for-sale permits available only to residents, while the rest could be purchased by non-residents. The program would be in effect from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays. The results will be evaluated next spring.

Staff had surveyed Professorville residents last month and 83 percent supported the trial; 17 percent opposed it.

The trial will measure how many permits are sold, how adjacent neighborhoods are affected and the costs and revenue of the program, according to a report by Chief Transportation Official Jaime Rodriguez.

Some residents heralded the new program as a sorely needed solution.

"The parking crush from living in a neighborhood adjacent to downtown Palo Alto is — without question — the most negative factor in our daily existence in Palo Alto," Matt Mealiffe, who lives on Addison Avenue, wrote in a letter to the council. "It is also — admittedly — the only thing that drives us to anything resembling local political activism."

But not everyone agrees with the city's approach. Some area residents and employees complained in letters to the council that the permit area is too small and that the city's solution would only shift the parking problem to other areas. Donald Barr, a Stanford University professor and affordable-housing advocate who lives in Professorville, wrote to the council urging it to reject the proposal.

"It is clear that street parking during business hours has become a scarce commodity in many neighborhoods of Palo Alto, including ours," Barr wrote. "Parking on city streets is a common good, shared by residents and workers alike. I believe it is your job to develop a process that allocates that scarce good fairly and equitably. The current proposal does not do this."

The residential parking-permit program is one component of Palo Alto's broader drive to make downtown parking easier and more efficient — a plan that appears to be working. In recent months, the city revised its policies for downtown garages to encourage workers to park in these underused structures rather than on residential streets. Changes included converting the fourth floor of the Bryant Street garage to permit parking only and introducing a new monthly rate ($45) for parking permits. Previously, the city only offered annual or quarterly permits.

Since then, parking in garages during the noon peak period has increased an average of 20 percent among parking-permit holders, according to Rodriguez's report.

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