For workers around California Avenue, the era of free all-day parking on nearby residential streets is about to come to an end.
In a move that will shift the parking landscape in Palo Alto's "second downtown" and ripple far beyond the boundaries of business district, the City Council voted Monday night to establish a new Residential Preferential Parking (RPP) district in the Evergreen Park and Mayfield neighborhoods, which lie just north and south of California Avenue, respectively. Once the program takes effect in April, parking on the residential streets will be limited to two hours for cars without permits.
More than a year in the making, the new program is fashioned after the one that the city launched in downtown in 2015 to address a flurry of complaints from Professorville, Downtown North and other downtown neighborhoods. Much like that program, the California Avenue initiative was sparked by a grassroots effort from residents concerned about the impacts of commercial growth. Like in the downtown program, permits would be available to all residents and to a limited number of employees. And like in downtown, the program would only be enforced on the weekdays, during working hours (in this case, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.).
There are, however, a few key differences. The downtown program started out with 2,000 employee permits, which the provision that the number would be reduced by 10 percent every year. The pilot program in Evergreen Park will offer 250 employee permits, scattered along three zones, and no phase-out plan. Furthermore, the program near California Avenue will give priority to those employees who are currently on the waiting list for a garage permit.
Under the new program, each household would get one permit, with the option of buying up to four more for $50 each. For employees, the annual permit would cost $149, though low-income workers would get a discounted rate of $50.
The program, which the council approved by an 8-0 vote (with Vice Mayor Liz Kniss recusing), isn't exactly what Evergreen Park residents lobbied for when they approached the city with a petition last year. Initially, they were seeking a program similar to the one in College Terrace, which provides permits only to residents. Even so, for the dozens of residents who attended the meeting and stayed until nearly midnight for the vote, the RPP represented a welcome compromise and the surest path to near-term relief from daily employee intrusion.
In lobbying for the program, Evergreen Park residents argued that California Avenue's recent growth spurt has turned their neighborhood streets into a "parking lot" for commuters. Marilyn Mayo, who lives in the neighborhood, said area employees have become "part of the terrain" on her block. She compared Evergreen Park to Swiss cheese, with the holes representing the different needs of the people who park there. She and others talked about how this diminishes the residents' sense of community.
"How many holes can you have in Swiss cheese before it crumbles and falls apart?" she asked. "We're really threadbare right now."
Resident Tommy Derrick said he and his neighbors are happy to have California Avenue customers park in their neighborhood for two-hour blocks. But all-day employee parking is another matter.
"We believe that employee parking is your problem and their problem," Derrick told the council. "I urge you to put intense pressure to move forward, to find solution to employee parking and to stop asking the neighborhood to provide that solution to that problem."
The council did just that. While members squabbled over some fine details and agreed to add a few provisions to the staff proposal -- including one that allows permit transfers between employees from the same business -- the final product was very close to what planning staff recommended. The new district is bounded by El Camino Real, Park Boulevard, the Caltrain corridor and Page Mill Road (the Weekly's office on Cambridge Avenue is within the district). The only property that would not be eligible for the permits is the former Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority parking lot at 2755 El Camino Real, where plans are afoot to build a housing complex with 60 small apartments geared toward residents without cars.
But while the residents rejoiced, the dentists in the crowd were more subdued. Several have offices in the California Avenue area, including along El Camino. Taking away residential spots and severely limiting permit sales, they said, would make it much more difficult for them to hire staff and accommodate customers. Some asked that the council offer special permits for health care providers.
Tim Mulcahy, a dentist with an office on El Camino, said he has 14 employees who "deserve a realistic place to park." Some of his patients, including children and elderly people, would also have a hard time safely parking on El Camino, he said.
"I'd prefer to have a usable workable solution for all -- not just for residents," Mulcahy said.
While Mayor Greg Scharff sympathized and proposed making an extra 50 permits available for medical professionals, the rest of the council didn't support the idea. The council also rejected a proposal from Councilman Greg Tanaka to exclude Mayfield from the program but to make it eligible for joining on a street-by-street basis, through resident petitions.
Councilman Eric Filseth, who made the motion to approve the program, pointed to the abundance of transit options that the business district offers for area workers.
"Between Caltrain, the Marguerite, El Camino and VTA and so forth, this is about as transit rich as it gets," Filseth said. "If we can't get it to work here, we ought to throw in the towel and build giant garages everywhere."
"The neighborhood really has been impacted and it has taken too long," Scharff said. "I think it's really important that we focus on quality of life in the neighborhood."