Program for disabled parking moves ahead

Split planning commission votes in favor of program that would allow residents to pay for disabled on-street spots

Proposals to solve Palo Alto's notorious parking problems always cause a stir, even if the solutions would only apply to a handful the city's neediest residents.

So even after the Planning and Transportation Commission signed off on Wednesday on the latest parking program, which would allow disabled residents without garage parking to apply for designated on-street parking spots next to their homes, it did so only after an emotional debate and by a razor-thin margin.

The proposed policy, which the Planning and Transportation Commission supported by a 4-3 vote Wednesday night, would allow a resident with permanent disabilities to buy an on-street parking spot for $250 a year. This spot would have to be located directly in front of the applicant's home and would only apply to areas where parking demand on evenings and weekends is not already excessive. An applicant would have to show proof of permanent disability (a state-issued disability plate and a matching registration address), proof of public-street residence and proof that they don't already have a usable garage space.

Commissioners Michael Alcheck, Alex Panelli and Greg Tanaka all dissented. While each called the goal of providing parking to disabled residents laudable, they criticized staff's specific proposal and favored kicking it to the commission's parking committee for further refinement.

The new policy isn't expected to deliver the kind of relief from parking congestion that residents around downtown and California Avenue have long complained about. It aims instead to cater to the small number residents who are particularly vulnerable to the steadily worsening parking shortages. Chief Transportation Official Jaime Rodriguez said Milpitas and Portland have similar policies already in place (he had worked at Milpitas when that city had adopted it).

Rodriguez said the city has received four or five requests from disabled residents asking for designated on-street spots. Those eligible for the accessible spot would have to demonstrate that they don't have on-site spaces, including garages, available. This would apply particularly to residents in historical neighborhoods such as Professorville, where many homes don't have driveways or garages, Rodriguez said. Residents around California Avenue and in Southgate have also expressed interest, he said.

One Professorville resident on Addison Street has recently succeeded in convincing the city to install an accessible on-street parking spot, a project that Rodriguez said had been successful. The goal, he said, is to have a framework in place that would allow other residents to apply for such amenities without doing everything on a case-by-case basis.

"We want to close this loophole, so when people ask and have a demonstrated need, we could respond," Rodriguez said.

The parking spot wouldn't be limited to just the person who applied for it, but any other driver with a disability. The applicant would also have to demonstrate that a private driveway is unavailable.

The proposal encountered a wave of criticism on the commission, with Alcheck leading the way. Alcheck pointed to the empty Council Chambers and noted that not a single resident who would be eligible the program was in attendance. The "irony" of the commission talking about this policy while Downtown North residents are counting parked cars to get a better grip on the parking problem in their congested neighborhood is "offensive," Alcheck said. Residents in historical homes without driveways should be able to request curb cuts to prevent others from parking in front of their homes, he said.

"If you're hearing passion, it's because we have real problems with parking in the city and this is not one of them," Alcheck said. "I can't imagine that we'd spend more time on this topic."

Panelli also warned against adopting the new policy and, like Alcheck, argued that it would distract from the broader effort of developing a Residential Parking Permit Program (RPPP) for neighborhoods suffering parking shortages. The program, which staff hopes to put in place early next year, would restrict parking to two hours for drivers without residential permits. Panelli invoked the old adage: "The path to hell is paved with good intentions."

"This could be a step toward the first level of Hades," Panelli said.

Tanaka's criticism focused on the program's potential impact on other homes on the block and noted that designating an area as a disabled-only spot would further exacerbate the already steep parking shortages. The city, he said, should consider other efforts, such as encouraging construction of driveways at homes that currently don't have them -- an option that Rodriguez said would cost homeowners "tens of thousands of dollars."

"In general, I support the spirit of trying to help our disabled residents. That's a worthy goal," Tanaka said. "I don't know if this is necessarily the right solution.

"I can see the battles brewing with this coming online. Especially in areas where people really have problems with parking."

Commissioner Eduardo Martinez took the opposite stance. Given the very limited nature of the proposed program, he said he had no problem recommending its adoption. Waiting until the broader program is in place would unnecessarily slow down a very limited program that would only impact a handful of parking space throughout the city, he said. He disagreed with Tanaka about the potential for neighbors to fight over the disabled spot.

"Neighbors become very accepting toward things like this," Martinez said. "They know their neighbors. They know they have a need toward accessibility."

Chair Mark Michael agreed.

"This is something that Palo Alto, in addressing the needs of all its residents, should be prepared to do," Michael said.

Commissioner Carl King proved the swing vote in the discussion. After initially agreeing with Alcheck that the item should be deferred and aligned with the comprehensive parking program, he ultimately voted with Martinez, Michael and Vice Chair Arthur Keller to adopt the new program. The vote came after an emotional plea from Rodriguez, who said disabled residents have been asking him for help for more than a year. Even once the RPPP is in place, this program would offer a valuable tool for needy individuals, he said.

"It really kills me that I can't help the community when they ask me for help," Rodriguez said.

The city, he said, might get one application for this type of parking spot or it might get none, but if it does, at least it will be able to help.

"We're pushing off one tool that I really think the community can strongly benefit from," Rodriguez said, just before the vote.


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Posted by Dismiss Alcheck from PTC
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 10, 2013 at 1:34 am

Alcheck's comments are insensitive and offensive. That he is willing to publicly express such disregard for residents with permanent disabilities is reason alone for the Council to dismiss him from the Planning Commission. This is not acceptable behavior of a public official representing Palo Alto.

"The "irony" of the commission talking about this policy while Downtown North residents are counting parked cars to get a better grip on the parking problem in their congested neighborhood is "offensive," Alcheck said."

I would venture to guess that the permanently disabled residents with no parking at their homes would be happy to walk in the shoes of Downtown North residents and walk the block or two, if able.

Like this comment
Posted by resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 10, 2013 at 8:11 am

This just illustrates the enormous damage which City policies have done
and how difficult it is to even deal with it. We should not be in this mess. Wreckless City policies have ruined this City.

Beneath the physical destruction,ugliness,congestion is the social and human toll in terms of affecting peoples lives, their stress levels in
confronting and coping with the impacts to their neighborhoods and their
own residences. People had certain expectations about their City government
and the City pulled the rug out from under them. It's like the Federal
government threatening default. Here "default" happened.

Like this comment
Posted by 35 year resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 10, 2013 at 11:01 am

This may be a viable solution for legitimately handicapped people without garages or driveways, however it will open the door to abuse. This idea was put into place many years ago on Park Blvd. near El Camino Real (without a fee attached). The woman owner of the home called the city twice daily and badgered them until she got a handicapped spot designation in front of her house, which had a lengthy driveway and a one car garage, neither of which was used for a vehicle. She parked her vehicle in front of the house and just let it sit there.

She was seen daily walking her dog through the neighborhood and along El Camino Real showing no obvious signs of disability. When she passed away, the city promptly removed the handicap sign and and painted over the blue curb.

There needs to be some verification process to prevent the abuse of the program.

Like this comment
Posted by Mark
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 10, 2013 at 12:51 pm

I haven't always been disabled: in fact I even climbed Mount Shasta once and singed my name in the geological survey box at the very top--I always parked in the parking spot furtherest from the store and walked because I enjoyed it and thought it was good for me--this all prior to a horrific spinal chord injury which left me with a terrible limp, chronic disabilitating invisible pain, and extreme once agin invisible fatigue--for the rest of my life.

If I lived in an area where I couldn't park right in front of my house I don't if could get by-realistically--for very long. I have to haul bags of food into the house from the car for one thing. I use a wagon now. If I couldn't park in front of my own house, that method of geting groceries into the house wouldn't be practical. I couldn't feed my kids like that --that is simply a reality. I really feel for others in my world because there are those (like myself prior to becoming like I am) who simply don't have the depth of empathy to allow for aids like a special designated spot to park in front of their own home to a select few of us whose lives really suck as compared to those who by simply being born with a normal body or who haven't (yet?) been the victim of a tragedy that strips away the normality 99% of the population enjoys but doesn't really fully appreciate.

I hope these poor soles are allowed the simple privilege of being able to park their vehicle in front of their own home. Although, I don't agree with the fact that a disabled person who can't walk, carry groceries, etc. should have to pay for the right to park their own vehicle in front of their own abode, domicile,home etc.

It just seems civilized to me to allow these people whe can this simple comfort.

Like this comment
Posted by anony
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 10, 2013 at 1:49 pm

I wonder how many people in professorville will come down with disabilities? Isn't alcoholism now considered a disability?

And I think it's ridiculous for Jaime Rodriguez to become emotional arguing for such a thing. He's on the staff and should try to remain neutral. His parents don't even live in Palo Alto! So what do they have to do with this? Instead of working on parking, Rodriguez should go back to his area of expertise -- screwing up streets like Arastradero Road.

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Posted by Mzmiranda
a resident of Menlo Park
on Oct 10, 2013 at 1:54 pm

This whole thing makes me want to move away somewhere else. And I've lived here all my life. The fact that we can't park on the street in front of our house here in Menlo Park is ridiculous and mean spirited.

And as a person with a disabled placard. I have a hard time parking in downtown Palo Alto, too.

Like this comment
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 10, 2013 at 2:37 pm

San Francisco has more disabled parking placards than metered parking spaces. I predict a run on disabled parking placards after this vote.

Like this comment
Posted by Retired Staffer
a resident of another community
on Oct 11, 2013 at 12:09 am

My grandfather was given a reserved parking place right in front of his apartment building in Paterson, NJ. The year was 1919. It was his place exclusively with a sign that gave his name and the fact that he had lost his leg in WWI. There was no dispute or dissent. He died in 1993 and only then was his space returned to the public domain. If Palo Alto would just stick to the parking requirements of its own planning code things would be much easier.

Like this comment
Posted by former downtown worker
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 11, 2013 at 1:11 am

I used to park in the area discussed in this article. The thing that got me was that the resident that put cones in front of their house and a note on my car when I moved them didn't feel the disabled parking spot *just across the street* would work for them. Next time I parked there after moving the cones, I filmed the woman coming out checking on me and my car. They left my car alone.

Another time, the homeowner came back after I'd moved the trash cans from the street to behind my car so they'd still be serviced. He threw a can at my car as I drove off. It there was any damage, the police would have been involved.

There's not talking to some of the downtown homeowners. They feel they deserve preferential treatment since they own property downtown. Yet, they don't contribute directly to Palo Alto's tax base. The sales tax of businesses like Whole Foods or any of the service oriented businesses do. Having a solution for their workers is important if you want to keep these businesses in downtown.

This program will give homeowners who need disabled parking (with placard) in front of their homes the option of paying to have it.

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 11, 2013 at 7:51 am

I think that these spots should only be granted in cases where there is no offstreet parking. If they have a driveway then they should not have them.

I am not against disabled parking, but generally speaking there is often plenty of disabled parking available when there is no regular parking. There is also plenty of anecdotal and news reports showing that these spots are abused.

Like this comment
Posted by AllYouCanEat
a resident of Professorville
on Oct 11, 2013 at 8:00 am

I have already made an appointment to get my handicap card.

Palo Alto... You Rock!

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

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