Outright surprise -- that's the overwhelming reaction of business owners and managers to Palo Alto's possible implementation of permit parking along streets surrounding the California Avenue Business District.
At more than a dozen businesses along California Avenue the Weekly visited to talk about the pending Residential Parking Permit program, all but two people were either unaware of it or largely unaware of its details. The pilot program, if approved by the City Council Monday, would expand the current two-hour parking restrictions from the business district to the adjacent Evergreen Park and Mayfield residential neighborhoods starting this April. To park for longer in one of the 1,000 street parking spots, one would need to buy a permit.
Under the plan, only 250 permits would be sold to area employees, leaving a majority of workers with few all-day parking options.
"Wow. I had no idea. ... Just wow," said Steve Oberhauser, co-owner of the family-owned The Cobblery on California Avenue. The shoe store, which has four owners and no other staff, has two designated parking spots behind the shop and will not be affected by the program, but Oberhauser said he's still concerned about what the restrictions will mean for other businesses in the area.
"What are restaurants going to do? They have huge staffs," he said, shaking his head.
Christian Iraheta, manager of Izzy's Bagels near the El Camino Real end of California Avenue, was also unaware of program, despite the fact that the city conducted community workshops, focus groups and surveys of residents and property owners.
Iraheta said he fears the new program could "create a lot of chaos" because now employees won't have any reason to park outside of the business district, which will mean more cars in an area that's already congested.
"It'll be a giant cluster," he said. "It's already bad as it is." His workers have 8- to 10-hour shifts, so the two-hour parking limit is "pretty inconvenient," as it is, he added.
Michael Ekwall, manager of restaurant La Bodeguita Del Medio, participated in some of the city outreach meetings but conceded, "There isn't a satisfactory answer for everybody involved."
"I'm totally compassionate with people that live in the neighborhoods, but this is really just kind of an issue that, in my opinion, the city has created. They were pushing for high-density development on California Avenue ... (It) goes back to over a decade ago when the city was encouraging high-density development in our neighborhood," Ekwall said.
Businesses on and near California Avenue are running out of options for their employees, he said, predicting that businesses would be threatened by an already difficult business environment.
"It's hard to attract good employees as it is, with the cost," Ekwall said.
Ekwall said that he and others had lobbied the city for longer parking periods (four hours instead of two), a request that he said largely fell on deaf ears. He also said that they had lobbied for permits that could be transferred between employees; the city staff report, however, states only that a transferable tag "may" be part of the program.
Overall, Ekwall said he felt the wishes of residents probably have outweighed those of the business owners in the city's eyes.
"When you have a small group of people and then you have an entire neighborhood of residents who are you going to listen to?" he said.
Ekwall and Mollie Stone's manager John Garcia were the only people the Weekly spoke with who said they were aware of the city plan. (Of the 342 city surveys sent to businesses last fall, just 37 were returned.)
The new program won't have much of an impact on the grocery store's 30 or so employees, Garcia said.
"It probably will cause them to park a couple of blocks farther away, but they're already moving their cars every two hours now. They don't have designated spots or permits ... A couple do take the train," he said.
Paola Campos, cashier at Palo Alto Baking Company, said many of her co-workers take public transportation or are dropped off at work. She anticipated the new program would most impact part-time employees who already struggle to find parking and have to move their cars every couple of hours to avoid a parking ticket.
"Parking is already a pain, and this might add stress and deter customers," said Taqueria Azteca's Fernando Miranda, who was taken aback when informed of the program. He said employees at the restaurant won't be directly impacted, though, because the business has its own designated parking.
Raymond Luu of Performance Gains gym noted that most staff members park on Birch Street and College Avenue, where street parking currently is unrestricted. Like Garcia, he said employees would just have to park farther out.
He's more worried about how the new restrictions could impact business, particularly customers interested in staying in the area longer than two hours.
If the council approves the program on Monday, residents and employers can expect it to go into effect as soon as April 1.