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Palo Alto eyes two new downtown garages

Original post made on Feb 6, 2014

With Palo Alto's commuters and residents battling over parking spots on downtown's increasingly congested residential streets, the city has stepped forward with a new proposal aimed at lessening the tension -- a pair of new garages that together would bring close to 500 new spots to the busy area.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Thursday, February 6, 2014, 9:49 AM

Comments (44)

Posted by Stop gross over-development, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 6, 2014 at 10:02 am

Palo Alto is so overcrowded that all these plans are optimizing past the point of being totally dysfunctional. Stop the development and stop the overcrowding!

You can't fix overcrowding by building more garages or moving cars to other neighborhoods. You just move the problems.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 6, 2014 at 10:06 am

Once again, I ask that they try to improve the parking we have.

I recently had to go to a different city and find parking mid morning. I drove in the nearby garage to my destination. There was no was to find where I, a visitor, should be able to park. I saw some empty spaces at a far wall and drove to that area of the garage only to find that they were all reserved for people whose names were on the wall. I then drove aimlessly looking for somewhere to park or someone to ask. I eventually saw someone walking across the parking lot to the pedestrian exit and asked where I could find parking. He told me where to find a ramp to a different level where I would find empty spots. That ramp was not easy to find, but with his help I saw it and yes there was a lot of space up there.

The point of this story is that is what it is like for visitors to Palo Alto. They have no idea where to go or how the system works. If they drive into the first garage they see and expect to park they could be well confused by the signs, the color codes, and have no idea where the spots for them to park will be. Then, if they happen to feel that 3 hours is not long enough for them to conduct their business (as I would have been in my story) then they don't know how to pay for more.

This is a big problem and could and should be alleviated by technology and pay per hour machines very quickly. If there is space somewhere in Palo Alto for a visitor to park, it is hidden from them. They need to make it easier to find parking, to pay for as long as the driver needs, and to know this as soon as the car starts hunting for a garage or lot. The present system is not only confusing, but makes it likely that people will not come to downtown Palo Alto ever again.


Posted by Mr.Recycle, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 6, 2014 at 10:29 am

@Stop gross over-development - I agree with you we should stop the development. But adding parking to deal with the existing over development makes sense, and would make downtown a nicer place. The problem will be if new garages become excuses to approve more crazy projects in the future. Can't trust the current council, so it is important to vote them out.


Posted by Silly, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 6, 2014 at 10:29 am

So they build an expensive garage to gain 100 spots but keep approving buildings with 100-space shortfalls each??? Yup. Sure makes sense.

Yesterday at 1:30 Emmbarcedero was gridlocked from El Camino PAST Newell, with cars blocking the Newell intersection for that extra congestion preventing turns onto Newell.

Yup, let's wait until at least 2015 for a few more traffic studies to fix change the traffic lights at Town & Country that have been creating bottlenecks since 2008.

Anyone here know math? Please teach our fine Transportation and Planning officials what 2015 minus 2008 is.


Posted by If you build it (parking garages) they will come (cars), a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 6, 2014 at 10:44 am

How about we build 3-5 story parking garages on all the surface parking lots downtown? Then everyone who wants to can drive and park single occupant vehicles in downtown Palo Alto (for free hopefully?). Never mind that all roads leading to downtown are already gridlocked during rush hour. While we are at it shouldn't we be planning to widen University Avenue and all other roads downtown so that cars can quickly drive and park downtown? It shouldn't be too difficult we just have to get rid of the bike lanes and sidewalks. Or better yet let's double deck the roads leading downtown like they used to build in the 50's an 60's! Now we are talking progress!


Posted by Follow the money, a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 6, 2014 at 11:17 am

Who makes money off of these plans? Doesn't Chop Keenan own the lot behind the Post office?
And Stanford owns the lot on Urban Lane.
Great! we can continue to make the rich richer!

Narrow lanes on Embarcadero? Why not put a toll booth there and give the proceeds to Chop Keenan.


Posted by anon , a resident of Evergreen Park
on Feb 6, 2014 at 11:21 am

among other things I am worried about this statement in the staff report:

" staff is proposing reaching out to private developers for help. If the council approves the staff recommendation, the city would solicit statements of qualifications from developers willing to help the city increase parking supply."

We simply cannot make deals with developers that include allowing more large dense developments in return for paying for parking lots.

We need a moratorium on downtown development now. Companies that occupy former low density retail spaces at a much higher density could be allowed but not the resulting worker parking that comes with that choice of work environment.


We need RPP in neighborhoods affected by parking intrusion very soon to ensure a return to an orderly use of the streets and quality of life for residents. This will put pressure on worker/parkers and their employers to find alternate ways to work. which will actually contribute to green house gas reduction.
Other measures such as increasing capacity in downtown garages etc…should be considered and put into place.

Only after we have done these things should we consider lifting a moratorium on building more office space near downtown.
From this moment forward all new buildings should be required to pan themselves 100 %.

Allowing more office developments before we have dealt with the existing backlog will only put us in an endless loop of playing catch-up and will surely fail.
Our City Council needs to take this very seriously and act before it is to late.


Posted by Robert, a resident of another community
on Feb 6, 2014 at 11:24 am

I read in another article that the current garages aren't full. If this is the case why on earth would spending millions of dollars on new garages even be considered?


Posted by Silly, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 6, 2014 at 11:39 am

Robert is entirely right that the current garages aren't full due to the vandalism, thieves, etc. Women especially are avoiding the garages downtown and at Stanford Shopping Center.

Re widening Embarcadero, really no need. The cars are creating their OWN lanes since they're so frustrated. Gridlock R Us.

But PLEASE, keep waiting to at least 2015 to fix the traffic lights near Town & Country. What's another 7 years of exhaust fumes in our oh-so-green city while we "study traffic light designs" and get input from those stakeholders we STILL haven't yet contacted.

Seriously, start emailing Gitelman (Planning), Rodgriguez (Transportation) and Keene (City manager) to read the comments here.


Posted by Mr.Recycle, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 6, 2014 at 11:42 am

@ Robert - two issues. They are full at peak times, so more parking will alleviate the peak problem. The other is that the nearby neighborhoods are better places for employees to park because there aren't time restrictions. So new lots with spaces dedicated to employees could help alleviate the residential parking problems.


Posted by Robert, a resident of another community
on Feb 6, 2014 at 12:11 pm

@Mr.Recycle

Do the employees pay to park in the neighborhoods? If not, why would anyone choose to pay in a garage over that? It seems like it would be orders of magnitudes cheaper to better manage capacity than to increase it, so that it can remain empty most of the time.


Posted by Rainer, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Feb 6, 2014 at 12:20 pm

Rainer is a registered user.

"Councilman Pat Burt said the city should see how its "transportation Demand Management" program is doing before it builds new structures"

It is understandable that developers like the concept of TDM: it does not cost much to invoke, it is sufficiently vague to not impact the bottom line since no real costs are happening, and it keeps the wolfs at bay because it has such great modern up-to-date connotations when quoted. Council members love to demand TDM! It sounds so expertly. And it takes many years before effects kick in.

But why does Councilman Burt wants to kick the can down the road? Beats me.

Time is not the friend of traffic solutions, and because traffic congestion is a non-linear process the time might be later than anybody at City Hall thinks. Palo Alto is suffocating itself.

The British Transport Research Laboratory (TRL), now a privatized but formerly Government entity puts, if anything, more emphasis on "Transportation System Management". Availability of parking and traffic flow is connected, in particular in inner city streets (around and around they go).

But that costs money now, money for parking garages, or money for a fast roundabout at Page Mill / El Camino, the bottle neck in Palo Alto proper, where one straight-through should go through a tunnel so that only left and right turners need to use the roundabout.

Clamoring for TDM is cheaper!


Posted by anonymous, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 6, 2014 at 12:46 pm

I am disturbed by the portion of the proposal involving the Palo Alto Baylands and Embarcadero Rd for "satellite parking lot" and on street angled parking and shuttles and lane narrowing. All these things are damaging to the Baylands, will wildly increase traffic Embarcadero/Highway 101 and are TERRRIBLE IDEAS.
BTW does anyone remember Ming's Restaurant there is already scheduled to become a large hotel with revamped restaurant??? We already have enough traffic in this area and narrowing lanes and damaging the Baylands and nearby neighborhoods is unacceptable.


Posted by commonsense, a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 6, 2014 at 1:07 pm

Not all but most of you are one negative bunch. You want more parking so it's less of a problem, the city proposes it and then you complain that it's too much parking. Quit whining, please. It's tiring and there is so much to be happy about in our downtown - it's great! By the way, the garages are NOT full at peak time - just drive up to the top level of any of the garages downtown at any hour and they are 50-100% empty. Cheer up! Maybe even offer solutions instead of sitting around your computer, complaining about your city.


Posted by curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 6, 2014 at 1:15 pm

Just convert some of those oversized office buildings on Lytton and Hamilton to parking garages. Voila! More supply, less demand.


Posted by southbayresident, a resident of another community
on Feb 6, 2014 at 1:22 pm

For all those people demanding all properties in downtown Palo Alto provide 100% parking on site and no deductions for being near transit remember that downtown Palo Alto is supposed to be an actual 'downtown'. It is not supposed to be a series of strip malls or a regional mall disguised to look like a downtown such as Santana Row.

The reason so many people like these old downtown environments is that they were built to a human scale at a time before all Americans swore 100% allegiance to the car as their natural birthright and purpose for living. I suggest someone do a conceptual study of what downtown Palo Alto would actually look like if it was 100% parked like a conventional suburban business district.

This conceptual study should suggest which buildings should be torn down to create new surface lots or parking garages. The small lot size of most properties in downtown Palo Alto makes on site parking impractical. The only solution would be to tear down an entire block of historic structures and replace them with single 'Super Block' structures with underground parking as originally proposed (and fortunately rejected) in the 1960's.

The problem with adding parking garages is that it's like adding lanes to a freeway. It only fixes the problem temporarily and you are back to the same old gridlock. Parking garages like freeway lanes are just encouraging a bad habit and increasing an addiction.

I am well aware that plenty of Palo Alto residents here suddenly think it's "in vogue" to ridicule the concepts of Transit Oriented Development but that really is the solution here. Development will happen in Palo Alto regardless so these people will have to make the following decision: would they rather see more pedestrians in downtown Palo Alto OR more pedestrians AND their cars?


Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 6, 2014 at 1:36 pm

@ SoBayRes. If the buildings were built with basement parking to cover the employees in each building, your problem is solved without the strip mall effect you claim. A great example is the new building that will go in at the corner of University and Cowper. Required to have 28 spaces, they will have 64 spaces...which will more than cover all the employees in the building.


Posted by curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 6, 2014 at 2:08 pm

"Transit Oriented Development ... really is the solution here"

TOD is an impractical fallacy used to justify overbuilding in designated "transit-oriented" zones. Its actual outcome is iron gridlock. In this region, TOD combines urban occupancy density with suburban driving necessities to create the perfect traffic storm.

Ironically, both existing PA downtown parking garages are within the designated "transit-oriented" zone. In fact, one is directly across the street from from the transit facility. A mixed message, I'd say.

The solution is to balance development with the available transportation resources to create the people-oriented environment that we once enjoyed here, but which our city government has gleefully trashed over the past 40 years.


Posted by chris, a resident of University South
on Feb 6, 2014 at 3:19 pm

Food for thought:

Why do so many Stanford employees take public transportation and so many Palo Alto employees drive? One mile should not make so much difference --
except for the entitlement mentality of Palo Alto employees and residents.


Posted by Tom DuBois, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 6, 2014 at 3:29 pm

Tom DuBois is a registered user.

Chris - I think that's a pretty easy one to answer. Because Stanford has a great and practical bus system (Marguerite Shuttle) that connects directly to the train. They also have financial incentives in place for people that use transit and bicycles as well as financial disincentives - there isn't free parking in Stanford, and the permits are cost discrimintated based on how close you want to park to the academic buildings. Stanford has actively managed car trips for a number of years, where the city is under-parked by a large number of spots.


Posted by southbayresident, a resident of another community
on Feb 6, 2014 at 5:38 pm

@ Crescent Park Dad

The proposed building at Cowper and University you reference will be located on what would be considered a large lot by downtown Palo Alto standards. Typical lot sizes along University vary in width from 25 to 50 feet wide by 100 feet deep. On lots that size by the time you factor in the driveway entrance and ramps to underground parking you have practically used up all ground floor area leaving little to no space for retail. Many lots on other streets are of a similar size.

I stand by my original claim. Trying to provide underground parking on lots that small is seriously impractical and harms the greater objectives of trying to maintain a vibrant downtown shopping district with street level retail.


Posted by Jeff, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 6, 2014 at 10:45 pm

An earlier estimate was $40k to $50k per parking spot. 166 parking spots will cost over $6.6M. The fees collected in lieu of building adequate parking are only an attempt to hide how much money is being given away to developers who do not provide parking.

Use the in lieu money to pay for a residential parking permit program and to make downtown parking pay per hour. That will help push the "free" employee parking problem back onto the developers (and their tenants) who created it.

@anon pointed out even more impending insanity... pay the developers to fix the problem they created and continue to make worse every chance they get.

The existing policy of making residents and long time businesses pay for what has been and is still being given away to developers is wrong.


Posted by Annette, a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 7, 2014 at 12:07 am

I'd like to see City Staff acknowledge that people in and around Palo Alto are not regularly abandoning their cars in favor of alternate means of transportation - if they were we wouldn't have such a mutant parking problem. So let's have reality-based planning, not ideals-based planning.

Also, describing the proposal to reduce Embarcadero to 2 lanes east of 101 as "thorny" is an understatement. There are at least 4 major projects either planned or underway in that area (Ming's hotel, golf course realignment, new athletics facility near the Little League field, the San Francisquito Creek Project) and Embarcadero is the only route for construction vehicles. And cars. And buses. And bicycles. And shuttles. And emergency vehicles. Last year there were temporary lane closures during the pipe replacement project and during that time it regularly took up to 4x longer to drive between 101 and the east end of Embarcadero - and that was before Stanford fully occupied the Tech Center. Unfortunately this proposed solution to the downtown parking conundrum brings a new set of problems for the City to address.


Posted by jaa, a resident of University South
on Feb 7, 2014 at 4:20 am

Please Please don't build that garage off Gilman. My home and little garden are right next door to that lot and until about year ago living downtown was cool. You're tearing away all the lovely buildings and putting up ugly ones. Bookstores, Art Supply, Office Supply, what's taking their place? The lovely old Varsity Theatre would make a wonderful Performing Arts Center. But no, just more wall to wall computer monitors will probably make their home there. My very own building is going through "rehabilitation" and the construction noise and fumes and demolition is downright scary to live through. This for a whole year and for what? Now I will have a view of a construction project across the street (one of several, I'm sure)and then an ugly garage and wall to wall computer monitor, downstairs. Why don't you just take all the buildings away and make Palo Alto one big parking lot of nothing for the almighty car. To heck with us pedestrians and cyclist, the Farmer's Market and artist and musicians and writers. Is their anything in Palo Alto to imagine, anymore. Note, I wrote, imagine. I guess that's just an old fashioned word.


Posted by Annette, a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 7, 2014 at 6:31 am

@Commonsense - I understand from others that while there are indeed empty spaces in the garages many of those spaces are reserved and therefore not a parking option for most cars. Perhaps those spaces could be part of the solution. As for Embarcadero east of 101, there are lots east of 101 that, while not large, could factor into the solution at least while all the construction is underway b/c they are usually nearly empty.

This problem was caused in large part by approval of developments w/inadequate parking. Perhaps some of the burden for the solution could be shifted back where it belongs by asking developers/owners of at least those buildings to give a rent credit to tenants who reimburse their employees for the cost of a parking permit. If too much of the financial burden for this falls on businesses an unintended consequence could well be the departure of smaller businesses. That would leave us with a boring, homogenous, over-developed downtown. Hopefully that is not in fact a goal. Council and City Staff can answer that.


Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 7, 2014 at 8:22 am

I don't disagree about smaller buildings...most that pre-date 1970. But the larger (new) buildings should have parking. Example, the new building at Lytton and Alma. The new building at Cowper and Hamilton.


Posted by Easy, a resident of another community
on Feb 7, 2014 at 10:34 am

Just charge for parking, people will carpool, and those that can will walk or bike. Problem solved.


Posted by resident, a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 7, 2014 at 10:43 am

I agree with @Easy. Charge enough for parking to pay for all downtown parking. No more taxpayer subsidies.


Posted by Palo Altan, a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 7, 2014 at 11:52 am

[Post removed.]


Posted by Kate, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 7, 2014 at 12:01 pm

Would the City please 'fess up' and tell us what managers, directors, planners in the Transportation Department even LIVE in Palo Alto. What they plan and execute doesn't affect them and their families someplace else. Utilities comes up with nitpicking rules for the residents - and few even live here. And meter readers seem to be AWOL. The$e high ranking manager$ and sub-managers have no stake in Palo Alto other than their vaulted paychecks and benefits, but as things 'crash', they also should consider their professional reputations as they continually mess up things. YES, fix the debacle on Embarcadero at PALY. Seven years in the fixing? Leave the Baylands alone. The golf course disaster pushed by the Council is beyond belief. If it's to expensive to play there, then NO, the golfers won't come. (Many seniors, teens, grade sch It's not Pebble Beach. It's hometown and ours. Then there is MItchell Park Library. What a disaster. Our broken streets - some damaged in the 1998 flood still terrible. And the Council and staff want to refurbish the Council Chambers??? All these new managers with six figure paychecks like the Disaster Director? Keene keeps adding six figure directors with more staff. WHAT do they do??
Are we better off? We have an election in our future. Time to clean house then start with the city manager's office and on down. Let' start there now. The residents are losing faith in their government, and it's time to take charge of the situation at the ballot box.


Posted by CrescentParkAnon., a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 7, 2014 at 12:06 pm

What about the now existing parking lot adjacent the Aquarius theater ... it is huge, and all parking space and would be a perfect large scale parking structure in a convenient spot to the theaters, restaurants.

The larger the square footage of the lot the more parking spaces we get as a multiple when it goes high-rise or underground as well.


Posted by Joe, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 7, 2014 at 7:06 pm

So .. who is supposed to pay for the construction, and operation, of these proposed parking structures.


Posted by CrescentParkAnon., a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 7, 2014 at 8:51 pm

Who do you think, Joe? Who would you like to pay for them ... someone else? Seems logical it ought to be Palo Alto taxpayers doesn't it?


Posted by Robert, a resident of another community
on Feb 7, 2014 at 9:39 pm

@CrescentParkAnon

How about this for a crazy idea, the people who actually park there can pay for it?


Posted by Joe, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 7, 2014 at 11:43 pm

> Seems logical it ought to be Palo Alto taxpayers doesn't it?

All of the other parking garages in Palo Alto have been paid for by the members of the Parking Assessment District--by increasing the cost of goods and services to their customers.

The details of the finances of these garages is not really all that clear--since the City did refinance one of their garages a year ago, or so. Presumably the taxpayers are on the hook for these structures if the Assessment Districts default--but that sort of detail just isn't in the public domain.

Why should the taxpayers pay for the garages with businesses downtown are the cause of the parking problem (short of the City's willingness to allow under-parking). Why shouldn't the people who use the garages be expected to pay for them?


Posted by Midtown, a resident of Midtown
on Feb 8, 2014 at 2:23 pm

Put meters in the garages or timed rates up to some daily rate, give the residents free parking permits otherwise prohibit parking longer than 2 hr, meters on the downtown streets, give some free amount of time. This does not have to be complicated.


Posted by JackS, a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 8, 2014 at 3:40 pm

We are in desperate need of a new city council, not new parking garages!


Posted by Justin, a resident of Mountain View
on Feb 8, 2014 at 7:23 pm

Start by charging for current parking before talking about new garages. I find it funny how the same people complaining about traffic are crying for more parking, when it will just cause fewer people to carpool/take transit.


Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South
on Feb 8, 2014 at 8:35 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.

I do not mind charging for parking.

But there are a couple of problems with saying this I sip simple or charging willl cause people to not drive.

First many people who park downtown are not commuting to work downtown. Such as customers for local businesses, Caltrain riders and people making occasional trips to local office tenants.

Second, allowing "residents" to park free while saying businesses should pay is not clear cut in many cases.

Our condo has ample underground parking. The apartment building next to us has none. It was legal AND a long time ago as is true for offices and stores built decades ago. There is no way to go back and no rationale to favor one group over another.

There are residents who live downtown where "their" developer did not build parking just as there are commercial tenants where the same is true.

It is not all office commuters.

We have a shared problem and more parking capacity, fees, demand management and management of parking for residents without parking are all part of the solution which should be a shared solution.



Posted by Follow the money, a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 9, 2014 at 12:35 am

Stephen Levy, I wonder what you think about the New Epiphany Hotel, it's big and luxurious, soon to be completed.
It has no parking for staff, guests, or restaurant. This is still in process, not talking about the past. Who should supply parking for that structure?


Posted by resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 9, 2014 at 6:17 am

@Follow the money
You are right on the money. Include 611 Cowper underparked by 53 spaces under construction right now.It's outside the parking assessment district,it's far from Caltrain, it's on the doorstep of Crescent Park
already suffering overflow. We have a shared problem alright, as Mr. Levy
refers to it, for everyone but the developer.


Posted by Henry, a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 9, 2014 at 9:32 am

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]


Posted by Joe, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 9, 2014 at 1:58 pm

> no rationale to favor one group over another.

Residents pay for most of the municipal services provided that are utilized by non-residents who work/shop in the downtown area. No doubt residents do park downtown while seeking goods/services from local businesses. So—how many hours a week do residents consume parking space, and how many hours a week do non-residents use parking space while they are working?

At the moment, we don't really know the answer to this question. But it's clear that if someone parks for 30 minutes while running an errand—that sixteen people can park in one space during an eight hour day—where only one can park continuously during the same eight-hour day.

Claiming that there is "no rationale" to suggest that one group of users should not be considered differently than another does not quite right true—when a little thought is applied to the problem.


Posted by Resident 1, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Feb 10, 2014 at 10:18 pm

I just watched the discussion at the CC meeting. I think the East 101 Embarcadero parking needs more thought. There are numerous activities funded by the city and private parties specific to that area.
1. Creek rebuild for flooding - funded. That is wrapping around the baseball park and golf course.
2. Golf course rebuild with soccer fields - going forward. Not clear how the parking lot at golf course will deal with soccer players added in.
3. Rebuild of dump - it is not clear how that will turn out but city is spending money evaluating it. It could include many trucks hauling "stuff" - stuff is still being defined. Or that property could be evaluated for another purpose.
4. Ming restaurant wanted to build a hotel - not clear if that is actually happening.
5. Homeless shelter has been mentioned - is this real?

Are there other projects in the pipeline that are not included above?
I am concerned that multiple staff members are all blind siding each other
in their evaluations and there is no comprehensive map that shows how this will all work together.
Can the city please document all of the project associated with this area so that the impact can be evaluated.


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