Palo Alto hopes to fill garage vacancies

City Council to consider further parking strategies next month

Residential streets in downtown Palo Alto may be filled to capacity with parked cars, but the picture inside several garages couldn't be any more different.

Despite waiting lists for parking permits and the city's policy in "overselling" these permits, parking structures on Bryant and Cowper often remain largely unused outside lunch hours. And with community tempers flaring over parking shortages elsewhere, the city is considering a menu of options for changing that.

In a memo released this week, Planning Director Hillary Gitelman proposed three possible options for filling the parking garages: selling more permits, issuing a "Top Floor Only" permit to wait-listed workers at the Cowper Street garages and implementing a residential parking permit program, which would set time limits on residential streets and presumably steer more commuters into garages.

The lattermost of these options took a big step forward on Monday night when the City Council approved a basic framework for what such a permit program would look like and directed staff to draft an ordinance creating it.

According to the memo, the city currently oversells garage permits by more than 160 percent. Even so, many of the top floors in the garages are "often empty." The memo notes that the permits are available only to workers in the two business districts. Because these rules were created to be consistent with the assessment district that financed the garages, the city has "only limited flexibility to make adjustments."

Gitelman noted in the memo that the there are "always more permits in circulation than there are parking spaces because people who hold permits do not always use them and/or renew them." Some changes, she notes, can only be made once the city implements "access controls" that allow officials to monitor garage uses in real time. This could, for example, make is possible for the city to allow employees to share a permit.

The proposals described in the memo -- to sell more permits and introduce permits restricted to the top floor -- will be discussed by the City Council in February as part of a broader discussion about building new garages and creating a "transportation demand management" program aimed at reducing the number of cars.

Even with these measures on the table, the city is also considering adding to the parking supply by building more garages. The council's Infrastructure Committee discussed on Wednesday a list of infrastructure priorities that includes three garages -- two downtown and one near California Avenue. Combined, the three structures would cost about $35 million, according to staff estimates.

Though parking remains the city's burning issue, Councilman Pat Burt, member of the Infrastructure Committee, said Wednesday that he would be "very hesitant" to pay for the garages before the transportation-demand-program is in place.


Like this comment
Posted by Occasional parker
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 29, 2014 at 10:28 am

Given the recent thefts from autos parked in town garages, it may be even less likely people will seek to park there...

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Posted by Elizabeth
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jan 29, 2014 at 11:17 am

Space available in this garage.

As the brains of Silicon Valley, you would think Palo Alto would have long ago implemented a simple floor-by-floor space available system in every Palo Alto parking garage. Displayed on each floor's tote board plus on a smart phone parking app, everyone could then see the parking space availability at every public parking garage and lot in Palo Alto. San Francisco and many other cities' garages have had floor-by-floor space available systems like this for years.

The data from a citywide parking space inventory system like this could be stored and analysed 6-ways-to-Sunday when big bucks are sought for the next parking garage.

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Posted by jerry99
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 29, 2014 at 11:52 am

And stopping new permits for building downtown is even a better idea. No lunchtime parking in Palo Alto and developers building everywhere. Is this a perfect example of city council greed and indifference.

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 29, 2014 at 12:31 pm

The problem is that the spaces in the garages are hiding as far as people wanting to park know. There is no high tech or even low tech way of finding out how and where to park and where the space is for those "not in the know".

Some retired out of town friends of mine tried to have a late lunch and see a movie in downtown last week. They are able to walk so were not expecting to park outside where they were going, but they are not able to bike or walk a couple of miles each way to get there.

They tried to park about 1.00 pm in several garages and streets but found nowhere and since it became too late to do both they gave up. They now have a bad impression of downtown Palo Alto and are scared off of trying a second time.

This is the problem of attempting to park for more than 3 hours in downtown and nothing is being done to solve it.

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Posted by Jeff
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 29, 2014 at 1:00 pm

$35M to build the needed garages. That would be how much the city gave away to developers.

Change the zoning requirements so that any new office space must build 200% of their estimated needed parking.

The lines when freebies are being handed out are long ... No wonder Palo Alto is such an attractive place to build an office building.

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Posted by Jill
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 29, 2014 at 4:27 pm

We are in this parking mess, thanks to the current city council. They have allowed, and are continuing to allow, developers to build ugly, oversized office buildings with little or no parking. The council is now addressing the parking problem, because they are fearful that they will not get re-elected next fall, due to their mismanagement of downtown parking. It is "too little, too late," for this city council. They are responsible for this parking problem. Why should Palo Altans be forced to pay for new downtown garages? Shrewd developers taking advantage of an incompetent city council are to blame.

Like this comment
Posted by jack
a resident of Southgate
on Jan 29, 2014 at 6:04 pm has interesting thing in japan.

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

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