This week, a coalition of downtown business leaders and property owners submitted a petition to the city arguing that a residential parking-permit program would come at a steep economic cost. The group, which includes developer Chop Keenan, Whole Foods, Watercourse Way, Peninsula Creamery and Ko Architects, stated 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 the gradual decline of downtown Palo Alto.
City staff and residents have discussed numerous versions of a residential parking program over the past three years, each with differing boundaries and rules. The first staff proposal limited the permit parking to the Professorville neighborhood, south of downtown, but was rejected by the City Council last year. Several council members argued it would merely push the parking to another neighborhood. The council directed staff to pursue broader solutions to downtown's parking woes.
But even as staff studies various ideas, including building new parking garages and using a valet program in the High Street garage, the permit program remains in the city's toolkit. Currently, cars can park downtown for two hours before needing to be moved. As a result, many downtown employees park all day in University South, Professorville, Downtown North and other areas with no time limits.
Among the options under consideration is 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 cars without permits.
None of the proposals, the petition argues, considers the needs of downtown businesses. While residents have long maintained that the influx of office workers parking on their streets is damaging the quality of life in their neighborhoods, the business leaders assert 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.
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, "will be a greatly less successful and less vibrant downtown in our city."
The decline of downtown 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."