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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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Downtown Parking Permit Discussion

Uploaded: May 25, 2014
I attended the residential parking stakeholder meeting last Thursday. They seem like a hard working and smart group. I have no idea whether they will be able to balance the competing interests of downtown area residents whose homes are being parked in front of and downtown businesses and their employees. But they are exploring what seemed to me to be sensible ideas.

I live in downtown south but have not been involved in the residential parking issues. But I have some thoughts as an economist and a resident of the area.

One—Make the permit area large enough to solve the problem. Staff showed a map with borders on Guinda and Alma in one direction and the creek and Embarcadero in the other direction. I am told that this area is large enough to handle the existing parking overflow with most of the spaces reserved for residents. But it will not work if a much smaller area is allowed to be chosen because then residents in the "protected" area would simply be shifting the parking to another neighborhood nearby.

Two—Use pricing. There are a couple of points here. One is to make the pricing for non residents such that there is an incentive to use the currently unused spaces in the downtown permit lots. It makes no sense not to incentivize the full use of these lots. Another idea similar to the current cap and trade system for emission allowances is to allow recipients of the permits to sell them if they wish. This would allow residents who do not need their permits to get a little cash but more importantly it would potentially expand the number of permits available to business and employee use.

Three—have a discussion as to how future parking need growth will be handled, As I understand the current process, it is designed to take care of the current "excess" parking in the area. But there will be growth in the future. Even if all new offices are required to have adequate parking, there will be growth from visitors, from residents using downtown and from Caltrain riders. So solving the problem once is not good enough. Before any final vote is taken residents deserve to know how future parking growth will be handled. I know the city is pursuing various ideas to reduce traffic flow. Will these be enough?

Four—Have an open discussion of how permits are allocated. There are equity issues here that are fairly complicated. What are the rights for residents where I live where we have underground parking but not a lot of space for vendors? What are the rights of homeowners who have chosen to use their garages and driveways for other purposes versus homes with no such options? What are the rights of people who moved into residences knowing that there was no parking provided?
The parking stakeholder group meetings are open and readers can follow the process at click here

If you like these ideas add your voice. If you don't like them please suggest alternatives and not just be negative.
Local Journalism.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on May 25, 2014 at 4:59 pm

Finding parking in the area must be part of the discussion. Pay per hour parking machines at all city lots and garages as well as meters for street parking makes a lot of sense. Then there is the need for people to access the available parking by some high tech tool, LED boards around town and a phone app.

Remember, people do come to Palo Alto for a full day on an irregular basis. These people have to be able to find parking and pay for it with ease. Even people who normally bike or Caltrain will at times want to drive to work so that they have their car available for after work activities or shopping. Likewise people who car pool may have to alter their plans at times.

Lastly, there is $5 per day parking at the Caltrain lots. If it costs more than that to park for a full day, then of course people will choose to park in the Caltrain lots. Likewise, if nearby parking is cheaper than $5 per day, Caltrain passengers will use that instead of the Caltrain lots. As a result, $5 per day parking makes sense.

Posted by SteveU, a resident of Barron Park,
on May 25, 2014 at 5:29 pm

SteveU is a registered user.

IIRC a city 1 day 'permit lot' fee was $15 and you had to go to city hall during business hours to get it.

Really convenient :/ for a 'single day' worker who has to be 'on the job' a 8 or before.

Also the Caltrain lot should require a Train TRIP within 1 hr of purchase.

Posted by Justin, a resident of Mountain View,
on May 25, 2014 at 11:33 pm

Tradeable permits would be a great idea and should be embraced by homeowners. Then they would have the opportunity to profit as opposed to paying the city. And as Resident said, there needs to be metered parking. That must happen before the city even considers new garages. I'm not convinced about high-tech signage. Definitely no sensors for street spaces (way too expensive), maybe at garage entrances. The most important thing is to get the price right though.

Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on May 28, 2014 at 9:43 am

stephen levy is a registered user.

There are two planning meetings tomorrow that might be of interest to readers.

The Housing Advisory committee will meet at 4pm at Avenidas on Bryant downtown to go over sites for the updated Housing Element and housing policies for the city.

Following that is an Our Palo Alto meeting to get input on the Comprehensive Plan update.

Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on May 28, 2014 at 9:49 am

stephen levy is a registered user.

Do readers have constructive thoughts on how to balance the competing interests for not enough parking spaces in the areas around downtown that is causing grief for many residents who live in the area?

This discussion is a test of how well we can work together as residents and businesses in a situation that does need some action now.

I do hope that we do not end up in a situation where one neighborhood protects its residents by pushing parking and traffic into an adjacent neighborhood.

I wish I knew more about who is parking on the street around downtown. I am hoping the city can provide some information.

Posted by Stu Soffer, a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks,
on May 28, 2014 at 3:22 pm

Stu Soffer is a registered user.

I have a parking permit for Lot R on High Street. Lot R is the test for valet parking in permitted lots. In the model underway, when all legitimate marked spaces on the permit floors (3, 4 and 5) are filled, valet parkers take your car key on the 4th floor. The valet then moves your car and parks it on the up/down ramp, or behind parked cars, packing them in.

You must return by 6 PM to claim the key, or come back in the morning.

I was skeptical first, but got used to the process. But now the valets are over-parking on concrete driveways that were not intended for static parking. It can be a zoo; with permitted patrons needing to drive up to 5 to turn around to get down to street level. In fact today someone drove backwards down the ramp because there was no way to turn around. Ultimately there will be car damage.

It?s so packed that the postman who usually coops up on the 5th floor after 3 pm needs to go elsewhere.

Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on May 28, 2014 at 4:43 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.

Thanks Stu.

I passed your comment on to the staff.

Posted by Neilson Buchanan, a resident of Downtown North,
on May 30, 2014 at 11:20 am

My neighbors and I have repeatedly asked City Council, PTC and Staff for an objective policy addressing worker intrusion into our neighborhoods. We have asked that neighborhood quality standards be the FIRST problem solving step.

Every residential neighborhood in Palo Alto should be concerned because there are no neighborhood quality standards to govern how many non-resident vehicles are permitted to park within residential zones.

I cannot support the unlimited, free market allocation of residential parking space as Levy suggests. This idea is long in economic theory and short in political practicality. This policy will turn residential neighbors against each other. No elected official, in my opinion, would ever authorize such self-destructive, intra-neighborhood incentives.

A permit parking study is underway now because the Council acknowledged that quality of 4 downtown neighborhoods has been compromised. Without a quality standard for those neighborhoods, the solution will be elusive and torturous. By early 2015 the Council will demonstrate their stewardship for neighborhood quality for 4 neighborhoods. Stay tuned.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on May 30, 2014 at 11:36 am

One thing nobody is talking about. What happens about street sweeping? I thought cars couldn't park on street sweeping days? Or is this ignored in the discussion?

Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on May 30, 2014 at 2:03 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.

Hi Neilson,

Thanks for joining the conversation.

Two of the points I raised came from discussions with you and what I heard you say at the parking committee meeting.

You are the one who has studied the parking downtown and I thought you told me that if the permit area was large enough--say Guinda to Alma and the creek to Embarcadero that only 20% of the spaces were needed for downtown workers and visitors.

I also heard you ask staff whether the permit program was to address the current shortage or future growth so I included that question for readers to weigh in on.

I do not know where you got that "unlimited free market allocation of residential parking space" from. My understanding is that residents will be allocated permits for free or a nominal price. I did suggest that they be allowed to sell permits if they wish and also that pricing for workers take into consideration the prices needed to get drivers to park in the existing garages.

I continue to think that solving the entire problem is necessary to avoid pitting neighbor against neighbor.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on May 30, 2014 at 11:33 pm


You have ignored my thoughtful comments and suggestions.

You have also ignored the street sweeping issue.

Apart from the idea of permits which will in fact make it more difficult for those who visit downtown for personal or business reasons on an all day or irregular basis, those who don't know where to find all day parking that they can pay for, how do you solve the downtown parking problem?

If people who presently park on residential streets are unable to do so, where and how will they find parking? What is your solution?

Posted by Neilson Buchanan, a resident of Downtown North,
on May 31, 2014 at 8:53 am

Thanks for keeping dialogue active. Here are plans to keep data on the forefront.

1. Within the purely residential areas, how can we differentiate the number of worker parked vehicle vs the residents' parked vehicles. First, the City Planning Department has known for years that this data is critical and I hope they find a professional answer soon. Current City Planning Staff inherited this deficiency and I am confident they want to respond by August or earlier. Residents at their own initiative are seeking professional advice and will submit differentiation methodologies to City Staff.

All readers! Please note City Staff report to the Planning Commission on May 28: "Downtown parking supply appears adequate to meet demand, but only with substantial intrusion of employee parking on residential streets." This one heck of a way to run Palo Alto.

2. How we accommodate workers relocated from residential street parking to commercial parking spaces? Residents are re-analyzing the solutions proposed by City Staff and will submit this analysis as soon as possible.
3. One other issue has been raised repeated by downtown residents: City Council stewardship for neighborhood quality. Residents will be addressing quality in an objective manner soon.

Posted by Resident2, a resident of Sylvan Park,
on May 31, 2014 at 2:17 pm

Parking permits? Mountain View needs to stop trying to legislate everything as if this is a small, quiet suburban community. It has not been in quite some time.

It would be nice if Google invested some of that 90 billion they parked offshore into local mass transit, but that will never happen. In the meantime downtown residents need to suck it up and lobby for more high rise parking garages.

Posted by Justin, a resident of Mountain View,
on Jun 1, 2014 at 7:59 am

High rise parking garages? The parking garages now are underutilized. Start with paid parking before blowing tens of millions of dollars on new garages.

Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on Jun 1, 2014 at 11:17 am

stephen levy is a registered user.

Thanks Neilson.

In a world with perfect or really good information, one could envision different permit pricing for say highly paid workers in buildings recently built with inadequate parking from pricing for lower paid service workers.

I have no sympathy for highly paid workers who crowd downtown north streets if there are places in the permit lots. They or their employers should be paying for their parking. I wonder if your group has ideas on how to price permits to induce more workers to park in the garages and how to price for service workers.

Do you have information on how much if any of the increase in parking is NOT related to new office development? I suspect it is much more than people think as 1) existing space built long ago is being used more intensively, 2) our downtown will see increasing numbers of business and shopping/dining visitors as the region grows and regional activities locate downtown and 3) more Caltrain riders until we handle that part of the problem. Thinking the problem is all about underparked new office developments is a mistake in my opinion.

Ans I hope you and your hard working group find solutions that prevent one neighborhood from simply shoving the problem to a nearby neighborhood.

Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on Jun 1, 2014 at 11:37 am

stephen levy is a registered user.

@ resident 2

I thought Google was helping Mt View by 1) running shuttles from the Caltrain station 2 running the Google buses and 3) donating funds for a downtown shuttle service.

But in general I do agree that the large tech employers can be part of the solution.

Posted by stephen levy, a resident of University South,
on Jun 1, 2014 at 11:42 am

stephen levy is a registered user.

@ resident of another PA neighborhood.

Thanks for your comments. I do not respond to every comment but that does not imply disagreement.

I am unclear why street sweeping is a problem. Isn't it done during non work hours and aren't residents supposed to clear the street? I don't see how this is anyone but the resident's responsibility.

In my recent comment I agreed that part of the solution is to provide for the growing number of non office worker visitors to downtown.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Jun 1, 2014 at 1:53 pm

Thank you for replying. I assume then that my suggestions are good ones in your eyes.

As for street sweeping, this is what I found on the City website

The city sweeps residential streets weekly Web Link

The city requests residents not to park on streets on street sweeping day Web Link

There is also a map and a street sweeping schedule locator tool. Sometime ago I feel sure that the website language was much stronger than just requesting that residents don't park on their streets between 8.00 am and 4.00 pm on street sweeping days, but can't find that time mentioned.

Anyway, street sweeping is done by the city during daylight hours on residential streets. I don't know about sidewalk sweeping and whether it is the resident's responsibility to clear outside their homes.

Posted by Neilson Buchanan, a resident of Downtown North,
on Jun 4, 2014 at 2:55 pm

Steve, it is good that the Permit Parking Stakeholder Group and the general public via this blog are focusing on specific issues and data...more light and less heat.
1. The amt of new square footage is small relative to 3+ million sq ft in the downtown; however, there has been a surge of new construction in the past 2 years and several more major projects are in the pipeline...most have serious deficits in on-site parking. So the demand for parking spaces will absolutely outpace supply. DT parking is guaranteed to get worse.
2. Yes, there is greater density of workers throughout downtown, especially office and restaurant
3. Conversion of retail to office is a factor to be researched. My assertion is that loss of retail at Rudy's, Zibibbos, US Post Office, Bridge Bank and other properties is compounding parking deficits.
4. Really interesting factoid: City Planning Staff does not routinely capture critically important data to prospectively solve these problems. In fact, there are almost no methodical, forward looking analytics that protect residential neighborhood quality from spillover commercial traffic or from intrusion of commercial parking.

The new Planning Director has begun to address problems residents have raised for the past 5+ years. The $64K question soon will be the courage of Planning Commissioners and Councilpersons. Will they kick the can down the road or exercise leadership and correct deterioration of neighborhood quality? This mystery will be solved in Jan>Mar 2015.

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