For years, residents of Evergreen Park have been raising alarms about their neighborhood streets turning into parking lots for employees of California Avenue, a problem that has worsened during the recent surge of development in the city's "second downtown."
On Monday, the City Council may take a giant step in alleviating their concerns when it considers a new permit program that would significantly curtail the ability of employees to park in neighborhoods.
Largely modeled on the permit program that went into effect downtown in September 2015, the new program around California Avenue would make permits available to every household. It would also make 250 permits available to area employees. For everyone else, the streets would become a two-hour parking zone (full disclosure: Palo Alto Weekly is headquartered on Cambridge Avenue, within the business district).
Much like with the downtown program, which many have credited with alleviating congestion in Professorville and Downtown North, the annual employee permits would be sold for $149, or $50 for low-income workers. Residents would get one free permit and an option to buy up to four more, for $50 each. If the council approves the program Monday, enforcement of the one-year pilot program would begin on April 1.
Under the proposed program, the parking restrictions would be in effect from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday.
One potential point of debate is boundaries. When residents petitioned the city in March to create the new permit districts, the area was bounded by Park Boulevard, the Caltrain rail corridor, Cambridge Avenue and El Camino Real. Since then, city staff decided to add the Mayfield area into the district, thus stretching the district's southern boundary to Page Mill Road. This despite the fact that the support for the new district appears to be lower in Mayfield than in Evergreen Park. According to surveys that the city mailed out to residents, 72 percent of the respondents to the December survey said they favor the new program, while 60 percent in Mayfield gave the program the thumbs up.
In a report, planning staff said they believe that the inclusion of the Mayfield area "is necessary to better distribute permitted employee parking and prevent the relocation of unpermitted employee and long term parking to the Mayfield area south of the California Avenue business district."
"This decision was reached after discussing various other scenarios with residents, employers and other stakeholders," the report sated.
The Planning and Transportation Commission was somewhat skeptical about the inclusion of Mayfield and recommended that the area be made "eligible" for entering the district through a simple application process, on a block-by-block basis. The commission also recommended that the permit district be broken up into subzones, with the permits specifying the subzone in which the car can park. This way, employee cars would be dispersed throughout the area and not be concentrated on those blocks closest to California Avenue.
During the Dec. 14 commission meeting, a group of Evergreen Park residents urged the commission to endorse the new permit program, which it did, even as they acknowledged that it is far from perfect. Christian Pease, a longtime proponent of the new parking restrictions, said that while there remain "a lot of concerns," the pilot program will allow residents, staff and merchants to collect data and "make a judgment on how to proceed from there, and adjust the program as needed."
Terry Holzemer, who lives on California Avenue, also spoke in support of the new program, with one modification: fewer permits for area employees. Giving employees 250 parking spaces every year, he said, is effectively "allowing them to park in our neighborhood on a really permanent basis."
"We should be trying to encourage the businesses as much as possible in reducing commercial parking either through other methods or some way of reducing that and making sure that the parking spaces that are there ... are for residents that live in the area."
But the program also raised concerns from some area employees. Reza Riahi, a Palo Alto endodontist who was a past president of the Mid-Peninsula Dental Society, said many of the group's members with offices in downtown California Avenue are concerned about their staff members losing their ability to park on the street. While he did not speak out against the program, he emphasized that "not all businesses are the same" and urged city officials to create a subset of permits that would be available to health care providers in both downtown and California Avenue. Unlike other employee permits, these would not be phased out over the years (in the downtown program, the number of permits sold to workers decreases by 10 percent every year.
Taking away parking, Riahi said, could prompt local practitioners to lose their staff and, ultimately, to move.
"And so locally, the access to your local health care or dental care would be lost that way," he said.