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About this blog: I grew up in Los Angeles and moved to the area in 1963 when I started graduate school at Stanford. Nancy and I were married in 1977 and we lived for nearly 30 years in the Duveneck school area. Our children went to Paly. We moved ...  (More)

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Parking-My Two Cents

Uploaded: Sep 27, 2013
When I moved here in the 1960s parking was not a major problem or headache for residents. I suspect this was true up and down the towns in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties.

But, over time, we have fit more people into mostly the same physical space and each family has more vehicles. The demand for parking spaces has outrun the supply and that is certainly true in Palo Alto. There have been some space utilization responses to this challenge such as multi-story parking structures such as in the city and Stanford Shopping Center and the Stanford shuttle system has helped on campus.

I think it is time to treat parking as the scarce resource it has become and institute more pricing approaches. It does not seem fair to me to allow employees of businesses occupying spaces owned by property owners to occupy neighborhood streets and inconvenience homeowners.

I am not sure of the best mechanics but user pays should be the guideline. If we want to encourage people to park in multi-story garages or at newly built off-site parking areas with shuttle service, make a large parking fee differential. That is what airports have done regularly for some time. If you want to park close in you pay more than in a long-term parking lot where you take a shuttle back and forth.

The Palo Alto annual parking fee of $420 works out to less than 25 cents an hour for a full time worker. Compared to parking in downtown SF or San Jose this is a good deal.

I also think new developments should provide parking or substantial in lieu fees.

We should view these changes to "free parking" as a needed long-term move that will have some bumps along the way but will fall quickly from our radar much as you don't see protests about airport parking.

As Jay wrote in a recent column, the peninsula is getting denser and will grow even denser. While transit may take a small bite out of car travel, we must deal with the "what comes with" of more car travel in our denser cities.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by curmudgeon, a resident of ,
on Sep 27, 2013 at 11:06 am

We need actual parking spaces, not in lieu fees.

Posted by Define the problem, a resident of ,
on Sep 27, 2013 at 12:07 pm

The problem is that developers have been allowed to build new businesses and housing without regard to the fact that there is not enough room for parking, and not enough room to widen existing thoroughfares to carry the increase in traffic that such development brings.

Palo Alto is no longer the sedate suburban college town, but an urban employment center, and it has become so without regard to the wishes of the residents or the lack of accommodations for increased parking, commuter traffic, and number of employees who now work here.

There are many other cities that require developers to plan for and provide road improvement and parking when causing an increase in traffic flow to that city. Why does Palo Alto give developers carte blanche? No wonder they like to build here: no responsibility to the residents or public at large. Despite the cost of the land, there are no costs for traffic flow improvement or parking structures.

Developers can be as greedy and self-serving as they wish!

Posted by Resident, a resident of ,
on Sep 27, 2013 at 12:38 pm

The problem with parking is that it is reasonably priced for those who buy annual permits and for those who want less than 2 hours.

For everyone else, parking is difficult, confusing, or non-existent.

Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of ,
on Sep 27, 2013 at 2:57 pm

Steve Levy suggests that the current parking lot fee of $420/year comes to $.25 cents an hour, and that people should stop complaining pay up. But this seems like a very short-sided point-of-view to me. One would think that an economist might at least try to determine the cost of the service before pronouncing the price demanded by the City of Palo Alto as ?fair?. What exactly is the price of this service?

Using $40,000/stall as a beginning point, the cost per hour over a forty year time frame is about $.12/hour. The only problem is that the City didn?t pay for the garages, and they are pocketing about $1.2M a year (current) by selling these permits.

So?where does this $1.2M go? Best I can tell is that it goes into the General Fund. Presumably some of the money is used to maintain these facilities?but if you were to walk through these structures, you?d see that it?s been a while since striping was applied to the floors, and there is a lot of graffiti that could be removed. Last time I was there, I noticed broken safety equipment, and burned out light bulbs. The parking structures are all that clean, and some have discarded bicycles in the bike racks that look like they have been there since Moses disembarked from his 40-day and 40-night ocean tour.

Clearly, giving the City $1.2M is not a good use of people?s money?based on the fact that the Parking Assessment District is paying for the structures, and the cost of those payments is buried in the prices of goods/services that people pay when they do business in downtown PA.

All-in-all, there isn?t a really clear, clean, business model for the City-owned/managed parking structures. Which gets us back to the basic question?where does the money go, and why are the parking permits as expensive as they are, given that the City doesn?t have much invested in the structures (at least as far as the public can see)?

Posted by CrescentParkAnon., a resident of ,
on Sep 27, 2013 at 4:28 pm

>> I think it is time to treat parking as the scarce resource it has become and institute more pricing approaches. It does not seem fair to me to allow employees of businesses occupying spaces owned by property owners to occupy neighborhood streets and inconvenience homeowners.

Just because you place these two ideas in the same paragraph does not make them connected or dependent on each other.

There is a problem with people who work in downtown Palo Alto parking outside of the city in residential neighborhoods because there is not enough parking in Palo Alto.

This does not mean that we need to institute parking meters or priced parking.

If you think about it this is just a way to suck more money into government while probably forcing shoppers to go elsewhere than downtown.

Just bite the bullet and build another parking structure as needed which is what is necessary to serve downtown. Try some different things ... putting some shops on the bottom floor perhaps.

Someone mentioned in a post some days ago that Palo Alto used to have parking meters, and then came Stanford Shopping Center, and everyone went there to avoid paying for parking. Parking is a cost of doing business so it should be paid for mostly by those benefit from people being able to come downtown. The "parkers" pay for it already by buying goods and services downtown.

I am sick of these everything-must-be-a-market-solution. Why not have every road be a toll road ??? - because it is a pain .... so don't make parking downtown a pain in the you-know-what!

Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of ,
on Sep 27, 2013 at 7:27 pm

I think Stephen Levy's general model of pricing for parking/transportation makes sense for employers/employees. It is a cost of doing business. The additional costs will get embedded in the cost of each item/service sold.

There is no way that neighborhoods should need to absorb employee parking burdens. The RPPP model should eliminate that issue, period. Employers/employees will need to figure it out. Commuter buses, CalTrain, satellite parking lots...figure it out.

Our neighborhoods need to be protected!

Posted by Not an issue, a resident of ,
on Sep 27, 2013 at 8:15 pm

The RPPP model will not solve the problem. Before the city implements that plan, they need to come up with solutions for employee parking downtown-- either by building more parking structure, having satellite parking or some thing. Has the city though of any solutions.
So we need to make sure the residents In these neighborhoods pay for their permits and make sure that the will be zero tax dollars spent on this program. We do not want it becoming a welfare program like the college terrace RPPP.

Posted by musical, a resident of ,
on Sep 27, 2013 at 8:42 pm

Just curious NAI, what's an example of tax dollars being spent that is not a "welfare program" in your opinion?

Posted by Not an issue, a resident of ,
on Sep 27, 2013 at 8:45 pm

Musical-- the military

Posted by musical, a resident of ,
on Sep 27, 2013 at 9:20 pm

Thank you for the quick response, with which I fully agree -- though many people think most of the military budget is a welfare program for defense contractors. My point was that whatever solutions are proposed for the problems of parking could be perceived as welfare for some at the expense of others. Same with practically every issue we face these days. Wish there were more win-win opportunities.

Posted by stephen levy, a resident of ,
on Sep 29, 2013 at 10:56 am

stephen levy is a registered user.

With increased growth Bay Area communities including Palo Alto are dealing with incorporating more jobs, people, housing and associated parking and traffic increases. Parking, which was formerly easy to provide free of cost to users, is now a scarce and expensive resource in dense areas like downtowns.

As with housing and office space the major response to additional parking will be in structures, above or below ground?not wide open single story parking lots.

There are three payment or cost allocation challenges. Asking property owners to bear the cost of parking facilities for new structures addresses one of the challenges. But it does not address the challenge of existing parking shortages or those that will occur not connected to a large new property development. The other challenge that remains is how to manage and allocate existing parking spaces.

I am interested in hearing whether posters are interested or willing to share in the costs of new structures or other ways to eliminate the existing parking shortage and provide parking for growth that cannot realistically be tied to any specific new project.

Are posters willing to support a bond for new parking structures, a partial bond supplemented by parking fees, increased parking fees in general, bond or user pay funding for a satellite parking facility with shuttles?

As far as non office related parking, there are many places where parking comes with a charge, but businesses ?validate? and pay the customer?s charges. The same can be true for employee parking fees.

We have all gotten accustomed to the parking charges at airports and in downtown San Francisco. As we grow, parking is becoming a scarce resource and expensive to expand in more and more places.

It is a shared problem and we need to find solutions that go beyond ?the other dude should pay for it? only approaches.

Posted by Paul, a resident of ,
on Sep 29, 2013 at 3:47 pm

The parking commission''s draft plan focuses on how to divide the finite "pie" of existing parking. This may help in the short run. But ultimately, given just the building developments now in the pipeline, the pie needs to grow.

The City should create peripheral parking lots, preferably located near the freeways, for use by employees and all-day guests of downtown businesses, and provide frequent shuttles to downtown, Cal Ave, etc. At the same time, dedicate some of the existing downtown garage space to 8-hr metered spaces reserved for employees who occasionally need to park all day downtown.

As an analog, think of off-site airport parking, except make the peripheral lots free to employees, while others pay. Who subsidizes the lots? Existing businesses, and developers of properties that don't provide adequate parking for their own tenants. Various forms of satellite parking have been suggested by many folks in recent days. This concept should be included in commission's plan before it goes to Council.

Posted by anon, a resident of ,
on Sep 30, 2013 at 1:35 pm

One thing everybody is forgetting -- the downtown parking structures were paid by an assessment on commercial properties. In other words, the property owners paid for these parking structures. Actually, they're still paying because since the assessment is ongoing. So it's unfair to demonize the property owner, who has been paying all along for parking.

Posted by Steve Raney, a resident of ,
on Sep 30, 2013 at 5:39 pm

Steve L,

I like the SF Parking Panda idea where residents rent their driveways out for employee parking. I imagine there is a market mechanism to generate more parking spaces out of thin air. Smartphone technology makes implementation of smart parking systems inexpensive while creating the opportunity for very efficient allocation of spaces.
there is a chance for residents, employees, the city, and employers to come out better off than a narrow RPPP.

details: Web Link

Posted by stephen levy, a resident of ,
on Oct 1, 2013 at 12:00 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.

In response to my post above someone on another parking thread wrote.

This is a false statement:

>provide parking for growth that cannot realistically be tied to any specific new project.<

I disagree and pose these as a few examples.

Take a previouswly built and occupied retail outlet downtown and soemone new moves in (say to follow a recent thread, a popular sex shop). The increase in parking cannot be tied to any specific new project.

Say someone rents office space downtown and recofigures it to include three times as many employees. The increase in parking cannot be tied to any specific new project.

Say the city introduces music and live performers downtown or on California Avenue and traffic doubles.The increase in parking cannot be tied to any specific new project.

Say residents add a seconbd story or a granny unit and have more kids who drive and they want to go downtown.The increase in parking cannot be tied to any specific new project.

That poster goes on to say.

It sounds so fair "we all should share." Rubbish.They should clean up their own mess.

I disagree again. All parking demand increases are not tied to new commercial development.

I have already said I support having new developments take responsibility for their parking demand.

But that does not make up for the current deficiency or address the situations I mention.

If we keep thinking of challenges as someone elses mess, nothing much will get done and we will avoid acknowledging our collective interest and responsibility. It is easy to say let someone else pay for it but not often helpful in getting solutions to tough problems.

I am not at all sure whether Steve Raney's idea would work, but it is a new approach that avoids blame and seeks a solution of mutual benefit.

Posted by Neilson Buchanan, a resident of ,
on Oct 1, 2013 at 1:36 pm

The ever vigilant press and citizens need to examine how the real private economics (open book finances and parking space allocation) of the Parking Assessment District really works. On the surface, yes, many property owners are paying for their parking spaces plus maintenance. On the other hand, dozens of property owners are allowed to build and house tenants with inadequate parking spaces...spaces that DO NOT EXIST; consequently at least 1500 commuters park in two downtown residential neighborhoods. Oh, Yes! Without a moratorium at least 1000 additional commuters will be parking on residential streets by December 31, 2016. If anyone in the Planning Department or Planning Commission want to engage in public debate, let the residents in Downtown North know the time and place. Send me an email and I will send you the details from the March 18 City Council meeting.

Posted by Craig Laughton, a resident of ,
on Oct 1, 2013 at 1:53 pm

Although parking is a very serious issue, which must be addressed, the overriding issue is TRAFFIC. If we just continue to build more parking spaces Downtown, that will only increase traffic. Public transit (e.g. Cal Train...a real natural for Downtown and Cal Ave) and satellite lots/buses (paid for by the employers through fees), are the only rational solutions to the traffic issues.

Posted by Garrett, a resident of ,
on Oct 1, 2013 at 1:57 pm

I agree back in the 50's not very many people owned cars but you still couldn't provide parking for everyone who showed up at the same time. I have seen large workplaces with even larger empty parking lots on the weekend, large shopping centers with lots of empty parking spot due to the face a newer center was built down the road.

I have to agree back in the 50's most families didn't have amount of cars which today I went to see a new home. 3 car garage and a driveway parking for 6 cars. 3 cars close to the garage while the door is closed, 3 cars behind those cars and 3 car space in front of the house. 12 cars for each house. The average family since the 50's has been getting smaller but car ownership and the need for larger homes has grown.

Downtown Mountain View when growing wasn't that popular so finding a parking space was simple, today a littler harder but I still love going. In fact if the parking is hard to find it means where I am going is fun, full of good popular businesses and doing well.

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