Editorial: A new parking mess? | News | Palo Alto Online |


Editorial: A new parking mess?

Proposed parking program for Cal Ave neighborhoods needs fine-tuning or it will fail

The debate over who should be entitled to park in residential neighborhoods adjacent to business districts will be renewed Monday night when the City Council is set to decide on whether to approve a new restrictive parking program for the neighborhoods north and south of the California Avenue business district.

The arguments are mostly the same as those made when the controversial parking program was finally implemented in downtown but with a few twists that add complexities and potential problems that have gone unaddressed by the city staff.

The primary goal, as it was downtown, is to reduce the number of employees of nearby businesses parking in the neighborhood and ensure that residents are able to park near their homes.

We supported the creation of the downtown parking program as necessary to solve this problem and we support implementing a similar program for the California Avenue area (where the Palo Alto Weekly's offices are located).

But the plan recommended by the city staff is flawed and needs revision in several important respects.

First, the recommendation that only 125 employee permits be issued for parking in the entire Evergreen Park neighborhood is apparently based on a false assumption that residents' cars that are parked on the street do not leave during the day. A city survey found that there are 655 on-street parking spaces in the neighborhood, of which approximately 300, less than half the capacity, are utilized at night by residents, leaving 355 open. Limiting the number of employee permits issued to only 125 during a one-year trial period is too conservative and runs the unnecessary risk of pushing employee parking into the Old Palo Alto neighborhood, which lies at the eastern end of the California Avenue pedestrian tunnel, among other problems.

Second, the staff recommendation makes no mention of the more restrictive College Terrace residential parking program, which currently prohibits all employee parking. Those rules long ago pushed employees of businesses located west of El Camino to parking in the Evergreen Park neighborhood. This raises a critical question of why College Terrace should be entitled to protection from all employee parking, effectively imposing it on another neighborhood. Some number of employee permits need to be available to those employees for parking in the close-in portions of the College Terrace neighborhood.

Third, the staff acknowledges that an unknown number of cars parking in the neighborhoods surrounding California Avenue are Caltrain commuters but offers no solution for where they will go. With plentiful unregulated street parking available east of Alma Street, expect an immediate problem in that neighborhood and a request by residents there to restrict parking.

Finally, the recommendation fails to include needed reforms to the current permit system for area's city parking lots and garages intended to serve employees. The city reports it currently has a waiting list of 250 seeking parking permits for these lots, yet except for the lunch hour there are plenty of empty parking places in the two garages and the many parking lots. This would be a good time to experiment with having no cap on the number of permits issued for the garages and lots, doing away with the waiting list entirely.

It would also benefit employers if the city issued transferable permits that can be passed from one employee to another. Currently, when employers attempt to obtain permits for new employees, especially low-wage, high-turnover service workers, by the time the employees get to the top of the waiting list they have left their job.

There is much good to build on in the current proposed plan. The reduced price ($50) for an annual residential parking permit for low-income workers and the inclusion of the Mayfield neighborhood south of California Avenue (to Page Mill Road) are important elements.

The generous availability of permits to residents, modeled after what has been successfully implemented downtown, gives needed flexibility for households with multiple cars, frequent overnight guests or service workers.

We are concerned about the low level of participation in the survey that led to the development of the plan. Only 11 percent of business owners, 13 percent of Mayfield residents and 32 percent of Evergreen Park households responded, and outreach to businesses lacked the details that would have encouraged more feedback and participation.

We urge the council to double the number of employee permits to be issued during the trial year to 250 each in Evergreen Park and Mayfield and establish a goal of total usage of neighborhood parking places during the daytime to no more than 75 percent. It should also direct the staff to develop a smaller parallel employee permitting program for College Terrace and conduct an outreach effort to residents living to the east of the California Avenue tunnel so they are aware of the program and its possible consequences.

We've learned a lot from what has happened downtown, and we should put that learning to good use as we implement a needed program for the California Avenue area.

Related content:

Permit parking gets green light in Evergreen Park

Managers worry Palo Alto parking program could harm business

City looks to bring permit parking to Evergreen Park streets


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11 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 20, 2017 at 10:32 am

We need to get rid of anti-parking policies and replace them with solutions. We need to get parking meters (with exemption for residents' personal cars - if they have visitors then residents can use the street while their visitors use the driveway) and simple payment with credit cards or phone apps. Garages should have monthly and annual passes using the top floors while the lower floors are kept for occasional and daily users.

Parking nowadays is a premium that has to be paid for and not looked on as a perk not a privilege.

7 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 20, 2017 at 10:49 am

New or remodelled downtown office buildings and buildings converted from retail to office space should be required to provide private parking spaces or transit passes for all of their employees. Employers should be allowed to combine funds to build a new parking garage for their employees.

16 people like this
Posted by Becky Sanders
a resident of Ventura
on Jan 20, 2017 at 11:26 am

If you want to build something, build it up, but don't take what is good and fair away from CT. The residents of CT invested hundreds of hours, dollars, got hold of high end traffic counting equipment and did their homework and engaged with city hall to give them parking relief. They got it. They used the tools of democracy to improve the lives for all residents.

Don't punish CT for the fact that the City has allowed overdevelopment and a crazy jobs to housing in balance. Instead I would seek to bring all residential neighborhoods impacted by business parking up to that gold standard of caring concern for residential quality of life. So Evergreen and Mayfield should have some relief. And I hope that North Ventura will some day get some parking relief as well.

What defines a city? Surely the residents are as important or more important than corporations. I don't believe corporations are people too. It should be on the businesses to assess the parking needs of their employees and support them in having a positive experience commuting to and from their homes. Why should residential streets provide parking for under-parked businesses? These businesses should be held accountable for being in violation of existing code. When we talk about parking willy nilly, folks need to realize that there are parking codes in place that are not even being enforced.

However because of the crazy jobs/housing imbalance, we need both enforcement and stricter rules on business parking in residential neighborhoods. Any citizen who cares about residential quality of life please attend Monday's meeting to show your support of Evergreen and Mayfield.

6 people like this
Posted by Becky Sanders
a resident of Ventura
on Jan 20, 2017 at 11:45 am

Oh boy. The City will not be addressing the parking permit issue until 9 pm. And look at this staff report: Web Link on the current parking situation. Two big deterrents to Civic Engagement - reports that are considered by some to be too long to read (but can be skimmed!) and a latish slot on the agenda. I recommend fortifying yourself with a healthy dinner, stay hydrated, bring your knitting, your preferred pain reliever, a favorite book or some quiet project that you can work on while awaiting the Evergreen/Mayfield agenda item. When people show up, Council notices. It's fun. Thanks everybody. Hope to see you there!

To show your support you don't have to speak. You can sign up for time, and then yield it to one of the neighborhood leaders who will be there to speak.

18 people like this
Posted by Deep Sigh
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 20, 2017 at 2:22 pm

Deep Sigh is a registered user.

Yeah, well, in my experience, the city council always puts the most important items at the END of their meeting agenda.

Small wonder council meetings go on past midnight on a weeknight!

Most people give up on hearing their " item" discussed by 10pm-- jobs to go to early the next morning, and such!

Amazing that they don't prioritize!

5 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 20, 2017 at 5:25 pm

Curmudgeon is a registered user.

"We need to get parking meters (with exemption for residents' personal cars - if they have visitors then residents can use the street while their visitors use the driveway)"

Apply that to office developments and the problem is solved.

14 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 20, 2017 at 5:33 pm

Another example of 1) the city failing to count accurately residents' parked cars, 2)the city making false assumptions about which cars leave their parking sports and when and 3) the city giving little or no notice about meetings of major concern to the residents, merchants and employees.

Remind me again how much we spend on community outreach but still can't provide adequate notice to those impacted by their capricious decisions.

Too bad the Evergreen/Cal Ave folks didn't have a concerned neighbor going door-to-door handing out fliers like our neighborhood did.

5 people like this
Posted by Sunshine
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 20, 2017 at 6:36 pm

Neighborhood parking permits eliminate other City residents from parking in an area. I am a resident for over 40 years, yet the City does not provide me with a permit. I am expected to fight the commuters for a parking space in either of our downtown areas.
Soon there will be no place for me to park when I shop downtown or on Califormia ave if I wish to stay more than 2 hours.
Give us a break. We pay City taxes too.

4 people like this
Posted by NeilsonBuchanan
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 20, 2017 at 7:15 pm

NeilsonBuchanan is a registered user.

Wait a minute! This is a complex set of at least a dozen inter-related factors. For example, there is ample unused spaces in the California Caltrain parking lot. Caltrain passengers can used this space until (an if) it fills up to capacity. PA Weekly can dig into and report this simple fact.

Council can set a prudent limit of non-resident permits and then authorize city manager to release another tranche if Jim Keene deems it necessary. Then Jim can report his rationale back to public and Council in routine city manager report at City Council meeting.

Palo Alto Weekly can dust off its archives and acknowledge that California Avenue residents have protested and formally appealed development projects deliberately recommended by city staff with inadequate onsite parking. Evergreen Park, College Terrace, Ventura, Southgate and Mayfield should not be the commercial parking lots for years of lousy City Council stewardship.

Most egregious is the comment that Old Palo Alto must be protected. Old Palo Alto for years has accommodated 40-50 daily non-resident vehicles adjacent to Bowden Park and its pedestrian tunnel under the tracks to California Avenue. Why not issue non-resident permits immediately to OPA neighborhood if College Terrace must bear the blunt of failed parking policy within the California Ave commercial core.

What is good for the goose is good for the gander!!! Is Old Palo Alto politically privileged? If Tanaka and Fine want to accommodate dozens of non-resident vehicles into College Terrace, then surely Liz Kniss will welcome equal number of non-resident permits into OPA. BTW, I have personally interviewed driver who park around Bowden Park. Not only is OPA parking free and it easy to find... it saves 10+ minutes of commute time to sit in Oregon traffic and then weave a route into California commercial core and residential neighborhoods.

City Council must not falter. Stay the course. Fund the Palo Alto TMA so it can offer its programs to reduce SOV.

This RRP is not just a parking reform... more importantly it is a SOV traffic reduction opportunity. Council! Dont blow it!

I have more to say about biz community responsibility to fund TMA but it is time for dinner.

1 person likes this
Posted by Mike
a resident of University South
on Jan 20, 2017 at 7:34 pm

The downtown RPPP gave the University South neighborhood MUCH needed relief. Thank you.

7 people like this
Posted by Douglas Moran
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 20, 2017 at 8:27 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

> "Why should residential streets provide parking for under-parked businesses? These businesses should be held accountable for being in violation of existing code."

Recognize that in most circumstances "the businesses" are tenants and the parking deficits are the consequences of actions by the developer of the building and/or the landlord.

In the accompanying news article, you will see existing business owners complaining about City Hall's decision to increase greatly increase density (more office workers). This creates parking problems for the customers and staff of the resident-serving businesses -- as opposed to the offices that serve the interests of the landlords.

7 people like this
Posted by anon
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jan 21, 2017 at 9:40 am

How many employees are there at the PA weekly and how many parking spots do they have on site?

7 people like this
Posted by Bill Johnson
publisher of the Palo Alto Weekly
on Jan 21, 2017 at 10:39 am

Bill Johnson is a registered user.


The Palo Alto Weekly usually has about 25 employees at the office at any given time. We can accommodate up to eight cars on site. We also have purchased 10 transferable parking permits for the city garage across the street and offer them to employees at a subsidized rate of $5 per month. We would provide more if we could get them from the city. Other employees have purchased their own permits after having gone through the long city waiting list process. We also subsidize employees who use Caltrain and pay employees a monthly stipend if they carpool, bike or walk to work.

Unfortunately, the city makes it very difficult for an employer to provide its employees with permits on a consistent basis because of its rules and procedures, including its limitations on the total number of permits. An example of the poor system: our ten transferable permits must be issued to specific employees, who must drive to City Hall every six months to pick them up. When one of those employees leaves the company, we lose a permit and the replacement employee then is unable to have a permit to park because of the wait-list system. They are then stuck and are forced into the neighborhood or to move their car every two hours.

This is why we support a system that allows employers to purchase parking permits that they can then issue to employees as they come and go, and a change in philosophy about limiting the number of permits. Limiting them has meant many empty parking spaces in city lots and garages that could be used by employees who now are forced into nearby neighborhoods. In my opinion, the city should use this trial year of the new residential permitting system, which we support, as a time to experiment with removing the cap on the sale of regular permit parking for parking lots and city garages.

In short, a small company like ours is doing everything we can think of to reduce employees commuting alone in cars and to work within the city’s current less-than-desirable permit parking system to keep our employees out of the neighborhood. But that system is in need of substantial reform, and without those reforms solutions to reduce the impact on neighborhoods surrounding the California Ave. commercial district will be difficult to achieve without simply moving the problem into another neighborhood.

Do you have some constructive ideas?

5 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 21, 2017 at 11:06 am

Here is my suggestion: raise the price of the parking permits high enough to fund a bigger parking garage. Asking taxpayers to fund parking garages for private employees is just wrong. Long-term parking permits are currently over-subscribed because the price is too cheap, and this also discourages private parking lots. Having employers pay for transit passes instead of parking permits is a good idea wherever possible. Employers should also encourage VTA to improve transit routes to Palo Alto's business areas.

10 people like this
Posted by Evan
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 21, 2017 at 2:52 pm

@Bill Johnson: Employees are only paying FIVE DOLLARS a month for parking? That's crazy. I imagine at that low of a price, any of other mode of travel (biking, caltrain, bus, Lyft, etc.) is going to be pretty unappealing. I definitely encourage you guys to change your incentives and programs to discourage SOV driving. I realize that it will always be the best option for some people, but incentives (and subsidizing parking) can make a big difference. I wrote a post on what we did at Lyft here: Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 21, 2017 at 4:09 pm

@Bill Johnson

Thank you for that very insightful post.

That ladies and gentlemen is the real problem. The complicated process of getting permits, non-transferable permits, etc. which doesn't make sense is the problem why people are parking all day long in neighborhood streets.

My suggestions for the City is to put meters on the streets and give residents exemptions which can be used for their personal cars only. If they have guests then the residents can use the meters for free and the guests (workers, nannies, housecleaners, etc.) can use the driveway. Put 20 minute parking on the street outside all retail. Put monthly/annual permits in garages on top floor and leave lower floors for hourly parking. Put signs at all garages with number of spaces available. Enable all parking over 2 hours to be paid by pay per hour machines/phone apps. Make all parking over 3 hours the same as the cost of paying at Caltrain lots. Make all parking free after 3.00 pm.

We do not have a parking program in Palo Alto, but we do have an anti-parking program. Enable those who need to park to do so efficiently but need to pay for it easily.

Like this comment
Posted by Bill Johnson
publisher of the Palo Alto Weekly
on Jan 21, 2017 at 4:53 pm

Bill Johnson is a registered user.


Thanks for your comments. First, there was a typo in my post; we charge $15/month to employees for using one of our transferable permits. The problem we face is that if we increase the cost to employees too much they'll opt to park in the neighborhood instead. Surprisingly, some already consider that worth doing. It's therefore a delicate pricing balancing act (as you found at Lyft.)

This will get taken care of when the new residential parking system is implemented and we'll be in a better position to take a new look at incentives we can put in place. But many of our employees live in places where Caltrain and VTA isn't a viable option (example, Pacifica, west San Jose, Pleasanton) and many are sales reps who need to have a car throughout the day or reporters/photographers who need quick access to a car. Uber and Lyft and other car services can be of some help, but not enough to make a real difference given our unique needs, which are quite different than an office full of computer coders or customer service reps.

But what is essential is that we make sure that the permit system for city lots and garages doesn't continue to make the problem worse by not getting full utilization of permit parking spaces, as is happening now. The current system and cumbersome process is actually pushing employees into the neighborhoods instead of facilitating the maximum use of existing city lots and garages.

6 people like this
Posted by Asher Waldfogel
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 21, 2017 at 5:17 pm

Asher Waldfogel is a registered user.

So with new office development the Cal Ave district is underparked: Caltrain, bike shares and TDM notwithstanding. Bill: I’m disappointed you seem to think this is the adjacent neighborhoods’ problem to solve.

Just as the commercial district believes parking within the district is a district resource (try leaving your car for 72 hours on University or Cal Ave and see what happens), parking in the neighborhoods is a neighborhood resource and amenity, not a resource to be auctioned to the high-bidder.

My solution: a citywide Resident Permit Parking program with no neighborhood permits for non-residents. Reserve business district lot and some street spaces for small businesses with a good day permit program (you make an excellent point that the current permits are too complicated to administer). A few districts designated for medical and dental office with appropriate parking allocations. After this happens the commercial district markets will price in the new reality (in a way that’s probably good for small business) and move forward. Gives larger businesses with the wherewithal a market incentive to make TDM really work.

3 people like this
Posted by Bill Johnson
publisher of the Palo Alto Weekly
on Jan 21, 2017 at 5:55 pm

Bill Johnson is a registered user.

@Asher Waldfogel

I think you are misunderstanding my comments. I don't at all feel this is the neighborhood's problem to solve and I support the implementation of a residential permitting system. But I believe the staff recommendation, if adopted, is destined to create a complete mess unless modified as the editorial suggests and unless the current permitting system for city lots and garages is changed. Otherwise in the short term this is nothing but whack-a-mole and will unnecessarily divide neighborhoods and further harm small independent businesses that we all care about.

7 people like this
Posted by Asher Waldfogel
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 21, 2017 at 6:51 pm

Asher Waldfogel is a registered user.


A smart man once said “Don’t argue with anyone who buys ink by the barrel.” So I’m glad we substantially agree that the goal is to create a situation that makes small business (and I hope small medical/dental office on El Camino) workable.

What’s changing as we speak is the Cal Ave district is evolving from a neighborhood-serving center to a mini office district. Tableau and now Visa may not be the direct cause of the parking problem, but in downtown we’re seeing retail business evolve from neighborhood-oriented (a la Sport and Toy) to office-worker serving (Shinola?) I 100% agree that the permit process can and should be redesigned to serve small business better. Existing parking spaces should be made available to small business. And we should have some bias toward neighborhood-serving small business. Otherwise how long will businesses like Molly Stone and Antonio's Nut House remain on such valuable corners?

Like this comment
Posted by Scott Van Duyne
a resident of Ventura
on Jan 23, 2017 at 1:21 pm

Is it too simple-minded to hope that we should not experience any problems of employees from Commercial Districts parking in the adjacent residential neighborhoods, if only we were to follow the requirements for Commercial Districts in section 18.18.090 of the Zoning Regulations of Palo Alto (Web Link)? Or if these are not strict enough, we should we tighten them up? Unfortunately there have been a lot of variances granted by Council over the recent years, and the commercial districts are becoming grossly under-parked as a result. I suggest, to compensate for the growing parking imbalance, the Council should delay all new building permits until one or two 5 story parking garages are proposed and built for local employees to make up for the variances developers were granted in the recent past.

3 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 23, 2017 at 2:42 pm

An efficient shuttle from 101 and 280 on ramps direct to Cal Ave would be a good service attracting those who drive and attempt to park in neighborhood streets. If the City were really interested in sorting out the parking mess they would find alternatives that work rather than complicated permits that make things impossibly difficult for local businesses.

We need a parking policy, not an anti-parking fiasco.

2 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 23, 2017 at 2:53 pm

I'm starting to think the whole parking permit / TMA focus is simply a way for the city to raise funds rather than to do something sensible like Resident suggested above shuttling people from 101 and 280.

4 people like this
Posted by Kevin Ohlson
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 23, 2017 at 4:54 pm

Palo Alto is a business park. We just live here.

2 people like this
Posted by PTC?
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 23, 2017 at 8:40 pm

Does anyone else find it odd that PTC Vice Chair Waldfogel is on this discussion board giving proposals for matters that may very well come before the PTC. Isn't this some sort of violation (don't these discussions have to be agendized)? Furthermore, at the very least it creates the appearance of bias when he is considering various parking proposals that will come in front of his commission.

I've seen Commissioners and Council members comment on general policies. I've seen them comment on recent decisions. Commenting on business that is yet to be decided by Council feels like it is overstepping a Commissioners role.

11 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 23, 2017 at 9:32 pm

"What’s changing as we speak is the Cal Ave district is evolving from a neighborhood-serving center to a mini office district"

Cal Ave district is not "evolving". The process you call "evolving" is not in any way organic or natural. The process transforming California Avenue is called gentrification and it is driven by a handful of commercial real-estate owners and landlords who own most of the real-estate along California Avenue.

The whole purpose of this gentrification process is to drive out the small businesses that can not pay premium rents and replace them with businesses that can pay much higher rents.

This whole process is enabled by the kind of Cal-State redevelopment grants that funded the structural/physical transformation of California Avenue. California taxpayers are essentially paying for the transformation of these business districts into places that will charge much higher prices for goods and services, so landlords can collect higher rents and have higher valuations on their property.

Residents pay for the gentrification process twice. First in the form of higher taxes, and secondly in the form of higher prices for goods and services.

Palo Alto has become nothing more than a giant real-estate scam.

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