On Deadline blog: That curbside parking space in front of my home is MINE!!!' | Off Deadline | Jay Thorwaldson | Palo Alto Online |

Local Blogs

Off Deadline

By Jay Thorwaldson

About this blog: I was editor of the Palo Alto Weekly from June 2000 to January 2011, capping a more than 50-year career in journalism and writing since Los Gatos High School, where I was editor of the student newspaper and president of the speech...  (More)

View all posts from Jay Thorwaldson

On Deadline blog: That curbside parking space in front of my home is MINE!!!'

Uploaded: Jan 11, 2013
The current dialogue over parking requirements in downtown Palo Alto and other commercial areas echoes community debates and controversies that date back decades. There has been no clear resolution and even affected residents express differing views.

But one gut feeling clearly predominates in neighborhoods, especially (but not exclusively) those abutting business areas: "That curbside parking space in front of my home is MINE!!!"

The issue, usually referred to as "overflow parking" or "spillover parking," occurs when people who work in commercial areas decide to park all day in a neighborhood rather than in a time-limit "color zone" or parking structure, where they have to move their vehicles regularly or pay for permits or tickets. Besides, walking is a healthy activity, despite such cold, windy, wet days as we've had recently.

When the Palo Alto Medical Foundation decided to try to expand at its old site at 300 Homer Ave. its leaders ran headlong into some long-angry neighbors. They were resentful of PAMF employees who chose to park in neighborhoods and walk a block or two to the foundation. Employees and physicians were not allowed to park in the patient parking lot because one all-day staffer displaced up to 11 patients.

One resident of the hard-hit Addison Avenue area (where smaller homes often lack off-street parking) angrily confronted an employee she saw locking up her car -- an exchange I heard about when I headed PAMF's public affairs in the 1980s.

"There's a lot of angry bears out here," a Waverley Street resident wearing a Cal Bears sweatshirt to one PAMF informational meeting declared -- growled might be more accurate.

Former City Council member Yoriko Kishimoto (before seeking election) was once an upset neighbor, but primarily due to traffic concerns further south along Embarcadero Road. Another former council member, Dena Mossar, then worked for me at the foundation and was in charge of parking-lot enforcement -- we once towed a physican's car, after repeat offenses and warnings.

Ultimately, PAMF moved to its new campus at 795 El Camino Real and houses replaced the medical and research buildings.

Similar angry feelings about overflow parking have been expressed by residents north of University Avenue as well as north of the California Avenue business district, between El Camino Real and the Caltrain tracks.

Recently residents of the Crescent Park area of Palo Alto, near Newell Road and the old, narrow bridge over San Francisquito Creek (to the "Triangle" area of East Palo Alto), have felt the impacts of overflow parking from the Triangle. Parking restrictions along Woodland Avenue have driven some to park on Palo Alto streets near the bridge. Not having enough spaces within the apartment complexes, a number of residents are flooding, so to speak, the nearby residential streets in Palo Alto, with as many as 50 vehicles, according to one estimate.

So it really doesn't matter much whether the overflow comes from commercial or dense housing areas, or some other source.

For more than a few residents, it doesn't matter that a curbside parking space is actually part of a public right-of-way. The inconvenience of having to hunt for a parking space is a continuing irritant that affects visitors and relatives as well as residents. While residents may know intellectually that those are public spaces, feelings runs deeper, along lines of the gut-level, "That curbside parking space in front of my house is MINE!"

Nowhere in Palo Alto history was that more evident than 41 years back, when in early February 1972 the City Council approved a drastically expanded bike-lane system that would have covered 66.6 miles of city streets with bicycle lanes. (Aside: There actually was strong community interest in bicycling and bike lanes years before the late Ellen Fletcher pedaled onto city politics and the City Council circa 1977, although she did much to further biking in the community and beyond.)

The expansive 1972 system would have banned parking on both sides of the street for 45.6 miles, many of those in residential areas.

But just weeks later, on Feb. 23, the Palo Alto Times reported bluntly: "A 'skeleton' bicycle system has emerged from three weeks of flaying by angry Palo Alto residents who would have had their curbside parking banned under an initially approved 'Plan A' system."

"Plan B" cut the overall system to just 42 miles, with parking banned just on one side of the street on 13 miles of residential streets, plus 5 more miles in industrial areas.

"We're trying to de-fuse the strong divisive feeling," then Assistant City Manager Charles Walker explained, adding that he and then-Traffic Engineer Ted Noguchi were still both interested in feedback on the bare-bones system. Both men eventually recovered from their bicycle-battle scars and went on with their careers outside of Palo Alto, a bit wiser about folks' feelings about "their" curbside parking spaces.

The experience of four decades ago has faded, and the system has been tweaked and expanded to include the Ellen Fletcher Bicycle Boulevard and soon a sleek new bike bridge to the city's baylands.

Today few remember the intensity of feeling about parking spaces that became what I believe is still the single greatest sudden uprising of citizen revolt in Palo Alto's often turbulent political history of concern about growth, traffic, environment, diversity and, yes, overflow parking.

It is a lesson today's community officials and leadership might keep in mind as they fashion new parking standards for commercial and apartment areas, or even plan for rebuilding an old, scarred-up bridge.

Note: Former Weekly Editor Jay Thorwaldson can be e-mailed at jthorwaldson@paweekly.com with a copy to jaythor@well.com.
Local Journalism.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of ,
on Jan 11, 2013 at 4:03 pm


Please tell us all where you live in Palo Alto. I am sure we can arrange for the public street spots, in front of your house, to become occupied by those who do live in this town.

You seem to be somewhat aloof, Jay, like Larry Klein. Surely, you still live in Palo Alto, right, Jay?

Posted by Not an issue, a resident of ,
on Jan 11, 2013 at 4:11 pm

Craig---give it a rest. Public spots are public spots--- available to everyone. Get over it and move on.

Posted by Resident, a resident of ,
on Jan 11, 2013 at 4:17 pm

The people who are making most noise about parking right now are the near to downtown residents. A few years ago, it was the College Terrace residents.

The point I would like to make is that anyone who lives near to where people want to go are at sometimes affected by people parking outside their homes. The fact that sometimes may be every day, or just when the venue is busy, can still be a big nuisance to those who live nearby.

People chose to live near downtown and they knew that would be an area of difficult parking when they chose to live there. Likewise, people living near a park must have realised that at weekends the parks would mean cars outside their homes. People living near a school realise that parking at school drop off and pick up times as well as some evenings and weekends, would be a problem. People living near a community center, shopping, coffee shops, etc. etc. etc. should have had no surprise that the curb outside their house would at times be used by others.

I do have some sympathy, but can't say that these people should be surprised.

Our parks although thought of as neighborhood, often have soccer or baseball games from residents all over the city. Our schools once were small compared to the enrollments now.

Downtown needs a better parking system. Get the cars off the streets and into the lots, not by parking permits of any type, but by pay per hour machines in all the lots. Make parking in the lots easier and cheap. Don't look on parking prices as a source of revenue but as a means to encourage fair use available space. Stop making the parking complicated and then encourage them with availabilty of spaces signs on the outside of all lots.

Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of ,
on Jan 11, 2013 at 4:26 pm

"Craig---give it a rest"

No, I won't. Our neighborhoods need a certain amount of protection.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Not an issue, a resident of ,
on Jan 11, 2013 at 4:32 pm

What are you complaining about, Craig. Your neighborhood has a parking permit system. Protection from what? Use of the streets,that our tax dollars paid for.? [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

BTW, jay, yoriko moved into one of our main streets and has spent decades trying to get traffic from her street onto other streets-- no sympathy for her.

Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of ,
on Jan 11, 2013 at 4:42 pm

"What are you complaining about, Craig. Your neighborhood has a parking permit system"

Yes, we in CT, finally, have a residential parking permit program (RPPP). It took a long time with many dedicated citizens to make it happen. However, I am not just about College Terrace. I think that all neighborhoods, in Palo Alto, that are afflicted with parking maximus should be protected.

Posted by Not an issue, a resident of ,
on Jan 11, 2013 at 4:48 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by dinner time, a resident of ,
on Jan 11, 2013 at 4:55 pm

A parking spot is a parking spot.

It' ain't your property.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of ,
on Jan 11, 2013 at 5:02 pm

Not an issue - We need a residential parking system for much of our City. The families on Edgewood and Newell did not "know when they bought their homes" that East Palo Alto would ban parking on a nearby street and that the new owners of the apartments in EPA would start charging for parking causing up to 50 cars to park in Crescent Park instead. Many residents of Professorville and Downtown lived there long before there were so many offices Downtown when most of the cars were visiting retail establishments. You live in Community Center, an area usually unaffected by rogue parking except during swim meets and the occasional City event in Palo Alto, so you shouldn't judge.

Yes, parking is public. But if enough residents of Palo Alto would like to be able to park near their homes, we should do something to make that happen. Residential parking on one side of the street (such as Castilleja has voluntarily done) would preserve both neighborhood parking and public parking.

Posted by Area Man, a resident of ,
on Jan 11, 2013 at 5:08 pm

Craig, why are you attacking Jay? He's just suggesting that the powers that be keep in mind the history of past battles over parking in Palo Alto, and he recounted those battles -- not taking sides, as far as I could tell.

I think you are out of line.

Posted by Not an issue, a resident of ,
on Jan 11, 2013 at 5:12 pm

Craig-- college terrace is big. We need to make sure the house you live in has a parking problem. We know the street. We just need the number. Everyone has " skin in the game ", since we are all taxpayers that pay for upkeep of the streets you want to privatize.
People like you and PA mom need to realize there is no right to a parking spot on a public street by your house.

Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of ,
on Jan 11, 2013 at 5:44 pm

Not an issue - I don't ever have a parking problem in front of my own house and have plenty of space in my driveway. But MANY cities have parking permit programs. This does not eliminate the "right" for the public to park on a street, but it does preserve a reasonable amount of neighborhood parking for the residents.

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of ,
on Jan 11, 2013 at 9:32 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

Uh, what parking restrictions on Woodland? I think that's a rumor w/no truth to it.

Posted by Nick Baldo, a resident of ,
on Jan 15, 2013 at 3:43 pm

Nick Baldo is a registered user.

I guess I'll just never understand this issue. When I walk through Palo Alto all I see is empty driveways (which, sadly, are mandated by law), and even at peak times for parking it seems there are open spots on pretty much every block. Garages are now mostly used for storing random junk plus a refrigerator. If you want more parking spots available, the appropriate policy is to charge money for parking so that it is allocated to users with the highest willingness to pay. As Mr. Thorwaldson reminds us, these streets are public rights of way, and in my opinion they ought to be dedicated to public use.

Turning the space into bike lanes is the obvious answer, but even metered or status-quo free parking are way better than some residential permit system that amounts to outright theft. Everyone has ownership rights to the street, not just local residents who make a stink at city council meetings. Hopefully one day some public spirit will return to this area.

Posted by bru, a resident of ,
on Jan 16, 2013 at 9:55 pm

bru is a registered user.

I don't like driving through all the areas of Palo Alto and seeing all the cars parked on the side of the street. It is unsightly, a hazard, make it easier for criminals and hard for anyone who needs to park legitimately to find a place.

That said, there is no good solution to this since the city seems to have decided to always err on the side of not providing parking spaces ... like somehow the lack of parking places is going to magically create the parking places needed or that people who cannot afford to park will sell their cars and take the bus.

There should be some kind of review of this kind of thinking. I would not want to pay millions of dollars or more to be stuck never being able to find a parking place in front of my own house, for me, my service people, my friends or deliveries?

This is just insane. Parking places is one place where "socialism" is called for. The city should build as many parking structures as it takes, and demand that large new construction projects build parking beneath their floors until we have enough safe, free, easy to access parking to allow our city to be accessible and easily traveled, and sightly.

I am against pay for parking. For God's sake, now even when you go to the doctor or the hospital you have to pay to park .... parking is a necessity, and cars are not going away, just deal with it.

Follow this blogger.
Sign up to be notified of new posts by this blogger.



Post a comment

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Stay informed.

Get the day's top headlines from Palo Alto Online sent to your inbox in the Express newsletter.

Burning just one "old style" light bulb can cost $150 or more per year
By Sherry Listgarten | 12 comments | 3,265 views

Banning the public from PA City Hall
By Diana Diamond | 27 comments | 2,364 views

Pacifica’s first brewery closes its doors
By The Peninsula Foodist | 0 comments | 2,094 views

Holiday Fun in San Francisco- Take the Walking Tour for An Evening of Sparkle!
By Laura Stec | 8 comments | 1,930 views

Premiere! “I Do I Don’t: How to build a better marriage” – Here, a page/weekday
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 1,549 views


Palo Alto Weekly Holiday Fund

For the last 30 years, the Palo Alto Weekly Holiday Fund has given away almost $10 million to local nonprofits serving children and families. 100% of the funds go directly to local programs. It’s a great way to ensure your charitable donations are working at home.