Palo Alto Weekly

News - January 31, 2014

Residents to get parking-permit program

Downtown employers fume as Palo Alto moves forward with framework for citywide program

by Gennady Sheyner

After years of dire warnings, angry complaints and impassioned pleas from downtown residents about their once-quiet streets transforming into parking lots for area employees, Palo Alto officials on Monday introduced a powerful, controversial and long-awaited tool aimed at providing relief.

By a unanimous vote, the City Council directed staff to draft an ordinance that establishes a framework for a citywide "residential parking permit program," which would allow participating neighborhoods to create parking restrictions on their residential blocks. The program will allow residents to purchase permits and establish time limits for all parked cars that don't display permits.

Now with the first step out of the way, the city faces the uphill task of hashing out all the details and convincing the clamoring parties that this tool will serve as a palliative to the pesky problem of parking congestion and not a Trojan horse that will make a bad situation even worse.

The council's decision on Monday means that the days of free, unrestricted parking for employees on residential blocks may soon be coming to an end.

Though the details of the parking program — including the number of issued permits and their costs — will be hashed out, the staff proposal that the council endorsed on Monday sets most of the major parameters. The program does not limit itself to downtown but would become available to any residential neighborhood that meets the threshold of congestion.

The plan evoked plenty of feedback, with dozens of representatives from business and residential communities offering a wide array of strong opinions. The most passionate criticism came from the downtown businesses, with some property owners and employers blasting the proposal as grossly unfair to workers and others saying they are open to the permit program, but only after the city puts forward other initiatives that boost parking supply or offer other transportation alternatives.

David Sass, a general manager at Lyfe Kitchen, said he was "almost offended" by his employees being characterized by residents as "intruders" into neighborhoods. They are using public spaces, he noted, and they constitute a valuable part of the community.

But residents countered that they've waited long enough and that the dire state of their streets begs for urgent action.

Eric Filseth, representing a group of residents, said that the conversation about parking should not be about how to divide a neighborhood between workers and residents. Rather, it should be about reducing the number of cars on the streets and restoring the quality of life that has been degraded by parking problems.

"It's time to disentangle the residents from this process and protect the neighborhoods from commercial zones," Filseth said.

The cost of parking for employers, he said, should be treated as the "cost of business" and should not be paid for by residents.

Both residents and employers will have a chance to provide further input on the ordinance as part of a new stakeholders group that the council formed on Monday as part of its discussion. City staff and the stakeholders will work out the specifics of the program in the coming months.

A longer version of this article was posted on Jan. 27 on PaloAltoOnline.com.

Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be emailed at gsheyner@paweekly.com.

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