Palo Alto Weekly

Spectrum - June 21, 2013

On Deadline: Downtown 'parking overflow' could double/triple within four years

by Jay Thorwaldson

Overflow parking into neighborhoods flanking Palo Alto's commercial areas could double or triple within the next three or four years, according to preliminary projections being developed by a group of residents.

And that's even including adding some new parking and increasing the number of employees using alternative transportation — if that's even possible.

The projections, carefully drawn and conservative, are stark: A current "parking deficit" of 901 spaces for downtown Palo Alto alone (meaning people park in neighborhoods) could explode to 2,390 by the end of 2016, according to the projections.

That is well above city staff projections in a March 18 report that foresee an increase in the deficit by 665 spaces for a total of 1,566 (available at www.cityofpaloalto.org/civicax/filebank/documents/33531).

The new estimated impacts are based on some limited city studies and on a survey of parked vehicles in the neighborhoods that was done in April.

Developing the cumulative projections is still a work in progress, according to Neilson Buchanan, one of several residents involved in raising the concerns. He says the projections are flawed but on the conservative side. He has used 20 percent as an estimate for alternative transportation usage, for instance — well above estimates of actual use.

The residents are pushing for direct city participation in developing a cumulative model for growth in downtown that would also serve as an approach for other business districts, such as California Avenue and some major thoroughfares. A partnership, in other words.

There are three neighborhoods most impacted: Downtown North, University South and Crescent Park. North and south residents have experience heavy overflow parking for decades, but the problem is relatively recent for the upscale Crescent Park area.

The impact reaches well beyond the neighborhoods themselves. It is actually part of a broader issue of traffic — a political bugaboo in town for more than a half century.

The overflow also impacts the several thousand employees who work in downtown Palo Alto and the thousands of persons who head there to dine, shop or do business with the attorneys, financial institutions and other enterprises.

The fact that Palo Alto and Silicon Valley communities (from Cupertino to Menlo Park) seem to be leading a national economic recovery doesn't help with the parking problems, according to the residents. Downtown Palo Alto is one of the hottest points of the growth-demand surge, with several large and medium-size developments working their way through city reviews and expected approvals, in one form or another.

Representatives of all three neighborhoods met with City Manager James Keene May 31 to outline concerns and try to get a stronger city commitment to looking at the cumulative impact of new developments and increased intensity of use for downtown Palo Alto.

Developing cumulative projections is a huge challenge for city planning staff, usually neck-deep in keeping up with day-to-day demands. The pending retirement of Planning Director Curtis Williams at the end of June just adds to the overload on remaining staff, especially on Acting Planning Director Aaron Aknin. A national search for a new "permanent" director will continue the overload.

But the absence of a cumulative approach to planning and growth has been a frustration both to journalists and residents for decades. And it's no longer good enough for Palo Alto to bounce along from project to project, according to Buchanan, who once was chief administrator at El Camino Hospital in Mountain View.

He and Ken Alsman, a former planning official in Mountain View and Downtown South resident, and others want to develop a partnership approach with the city to come up with a solid projection that would lay the groundwork for specific steps to alleviate the overflow.

The draft of their preliminary document cites 25 specific actions by city staff that would increase parking intrusion into neighborhoods versus five actions that would reduce the parking-space demand.

The bottom line, it states, is: "Downtown neighborhoods are being harmed from profound spillover of commercial vehicles unable to park in the downtown commercial parking areas. It is a clear finding of fact that commercial enterprise is being promoted by city policy and practices to the severe detriment of three city residential neighborhoods for the next three years."

And beyond, presumably.

In addition to specific development or redevelopment projects, two factors are expected to boost the deficit: (1) increased density of employees in existing buildings due to the high cost and shortage of office space downtown, increasing the deficit by 120 spaces (if 20 percent of employees use alternative transportation); and (2) an increase in the "development cap" for downtown that could add 320 to 400 spaces to the deficit (again depending on use of alternative transportation).

A half dozen large projects and several smaller developments are listed with estimated deficits, including: (1) a hotel at the old Casa Olga site at 180 Hamilton Ave., adding 73 spaces to the deficit; (2) an office/retail project at 500 University Ave., adding 66 spaces to the deficit; (3) an office/retail project at 278 University, adding 55 spaces; (4) an office/retail project at 135 Hamilton, adding 46 spaces; (5) a new skilled-nursing unit to Channing House, adding 40 spaces; (6) a general increase in retail and restaurant employees downtown, adding 40 spaces.

Lesser sources of increased deficit include opening a community history museum at 300 Homer Ave.; reconfiguring the former Apple Computer store at 451 University; additional outbound Caltrain passengers; re-use of the historic post office at 380 Hamilton; office/retail at 101 Lytton Ave.; and even the office towers and homes proposed in Menlo Park by developer John Arrillaga.

The question of whether the city staff can, or will, collaborate with the residents to develop a solid, confirmed base of information remains to be seen. Such joint efforts are rarities, locally and elsewhere. They can be significant time sinks.

But having a firm foundation of fact on which to build community decisions might be well worth the effort.

Former Weekly Editor Jay Thorwaldson can be emailed at jthorwaldson@paweekly.com with a copy to jaythor@well.com. He also writes regular blogs at www.PaloAltoOnline.com (below Town Square).

Comments

Posted by Do no harm, a resident of University South
on Jun 22, 2013 at 12:40 am

Regardless of the inadequacy of the numbers, the undercounting of the deficit, we need an immediate moratorium on any construction that is not fully parked. It's a scandal.
We need to stop the bleeding. We need to stop giving the developers millions in land value by permitting underparking, so that the residents are subsidizing the developers.


Posted by resident, a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 22, 2013 at 8:57 am

The city cannot afford to keep building these $100 million parking garages, especially if they are only charging token parking fees that never pay back the building costs. Even if these garages were built, there is no space on our roads for all the cars heading to and from the garages and widening existing roads is even more expensive than $100 million.

If the city wants to keep encouraging employment growth in the city, we have to encourage non-car methods of commuting. Improve public transit, both around town and connecting to other towns. Build really safe bike routes that connect to neighboring cities. Encourage local businesses and services to be more friendly to customers who arrive on foot or by bicycle. No more fortresses that are surrounded by concrete walls with very limited access to non-car customers.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 22, 2013 at 9:19 am

Get parking lots in the Baylands and use the shuttle. Make downtown parking pay per hour.

Start thinking outside the box on this parking issue. The cars will have to park somewhere and residential parking permits won't make the cars go away, they will still need to park somewhere.


Posted by thing high of yourself?, a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 22, 2013 at 10:44 am

"But the absence of a cumulative approach to planning and growth has been a frustration both to journalists "

"A frustation to journalists"....hmmm.


Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 22, 2013 at 10:47 am

Has anyone ever determined the actual number of public and private parking spots in Downtown PA? I have a friend who lives in SF and, as part of his lease, is a basement level parking slot. He does not own a car, and only uses public transportation, thus he leases out his space, and makes decent money doing so. To the extent that Palo Altans give up their cars, in favor of public transportation, would it not be desirable for them to rent out private parking spaces, thus getting Downtown employee cars off the street? The concept would be that the employers subsidize their employees for parking rental fees, and book it as a cost of doing business. Such a scheme might incentivize Palo Altans to give up their cars, and support public transportation.

BTW, I am a big fan of residential parking permits...our neighborhoods need to be preserved. We might want to consider an "employee parking permit system", where the permit requires them to park in public lots, for a substantial yearly fee, large enough to pay for the structure and its upkeep), or to demonstrate that they are paying for private slots.

I also support the concept of parking in the Baylands, with shuttle buses, especially on that undedicated 10 acre parcel, currently targeted to the anaerobic digestion fiasco. Parking meters, especially smart meters, also make a lot of sense.


Posted by Not an issue, a resident of Community Center
on Jun 22, 2013 at 2:21 pm

Craig-- you are in favor of residents renting out their private parking spaces but you are against residents renting out their private rooms ( via Airbnb)?
Many of the people employed downtown do not make large salaries ( wait staff, busboys etc)- a substantial yearly fee is not feasible or fair to them.


Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 22, 2013 at 3:14 pm

>Craig-- you are in favor of residents renting out their private parking spaces but you are against residents renting out their private rooms ( via Airbnb)?

Many of the people employed downtown do not make large salaries ( wait staff, busboys etc)- a substantial yearly fee is not feasible or fair to them.

Not, try not to compare apples to oranges. I specifically mentioned released car slots, due to Palo Altans abandoning their cars, for public transportation...and making some money, and helping to solve a current critical issue (Downtown employees parking on neighborhood streets).

The employees would need to be subsidized by their employers. I agree that it should not be taken out of their personal pockets. It is a cost of doing business in Downtown, and the employers need to face it, head on. The employee parking permits would need to be purchased, thus assuring that funds are collected to support the enterprise.

The Airbnb issue is a different beast, a real threat to our tax base, due to a diffuse hotel model, which does not pay taxes, and upsets neighborhood quality of life.


Posted by Not an issue, a resident of Community Center
on Jun 22, 2013 at 3:22 pm

I agree with you Craig about the fact tht the employers should foot the bill for any parking charges for employees.
Will not reopen our airbnb discussion except to say that it is hardly a threat to our tax base. But what about the renting of private parking spaces, that would be direct threat to our revenue base and also a problem with regard to taxes due to the city or these rentals.
Clearly our city has no clue how to deal with parking issues-- but that's a common thread-- cluelessness.there are plenty of good suggestions out ther , which our council ignores ( probably because they figure they know what is best and we should all just shut up and let them lead)


Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 22, 2013 at 3:38 pm

>But what about the renting of private parking spaces, that would be direct threat to our revenue base and also a problem with regard to taxes due to the city or these rentals.

Now, I don't see it that way. There is a major parking issue in the Downtown neighborhoods. The issue needs to be solved in the most efficient way. Allowing private replacement parking to Downtown employees, by private owners, who agree to give up their cars, is a solid approach, IMO. It does not solve the entire issue, but it should be part of the piece. I fail to see how it would be a direct threat to our revenue base, because it reduces the demand for new parking structures. Please tell me what I am missing.


Posted by Not an issue, a resident of Community Center
on Jun 22, 2013 at 4:11 pm

I am not sure how many people will give up their cars. How would we monitor if a renter really has given up his car? That would introduce another layer of beurocracy and mnitoring-- which would cost the city money. Anyway there is talk about metered parking, charging for garage parking and I believe the city sells day permits. If we allow private space rental, that revenue would be lost to the city.


Posted by Do no harm, a resident of University South
on Jun 22, 2013 at 4:50 pm

>Clearly our city has no clue how to deal with parking issues--
I do not agree. No one even on this thread thinks the developers have any responsibility. Don't want to irritate those Billionaires?
REQUIRE adequate parking spaces in all construction. What's so mysterious about that?
And charge the proper value for In lieu parking. The system is set up to cheat the city and subsidize the developers.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 22, 2013 at 5:09 pm

Do No Harm

Your comment about the developers may well be right (I think you are), but that won't help the problem we already have although it is definitely something for the future.

What we have to do is sort out the mess we already have. Then we need to prevent it getting worse in the future. Therefore suggestions for our present problems need to discussed.


Posted by common sense, a resident of Midtown
on Jun 22, 2013 at 8:54 pm

Resident@another Palo Alto Neighborhood writes: "What we have to do is sort out the mess we already have. Then we need to prevent it getting worse in the future"

1) Do not re-elect the current city council members who are up for re-election. The are making the problem worse by the continued granting of variances & accepting inadequate "in-lieu" fees for very high density development

2) Assess a parking tax on every commercial property, $100/square foot/year, all to go into a fund to build parking structures. Deduct 100 square feet of tax for every employee who has a parking permit or a yearly Caltrain pass.


Posted by curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 24, 2013 at 9:50 am

"Get parking lots in the Baylands and use the shuttle. Make downtown parking pay per hour."

Finally a proposal that makes sense and could be effective. Close the airport and repurpose those 100+ acres to benefit the community.


Posted by SJ to PA Caltrain Commuter, a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 27, 2013 at 11:14 am

You can't build your way out of this situation just like you can't build your way out of freeway congestion. As new parking garages or traffic lanes are added it brings with it additional cars and trips. The only real soultion is to pursue alternatives to single occupant vehicle trips.


Posted by Do no harm, a resident of University South
on Jul 2, 2013 at 4:30 pm

In Mountain View real estate developers Boyd Smith and Lund Smith are developing a 3-story office building similar to their even more monstrous building at 101 Alma now under construction.
Anther similarity, it is UNDER PARKED by FORTY ONE spaces.


Posted by Do no harm, a resident of University South
on Jul 3, 2013 at 11:34 pm

The MtnView City Council approved the 68,000 sq.ft.project last night (July 2).
The Smith developers are buying a city-owned parking lot to use for the project. Sound familiar? And it's 41 parking spaces short.
Do they have coffee with Chop Keenan and the other developers? The similarity in what they all do is striking. And their disregard for the public's objections.
Boyd Smith made a fuss about the old oak tree they are saving.
Hint: When a developer becomes emotional about trees, look out, you're about to be screwed.


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