Cal. Ave. merchants urge city to go big on new garage

Business leaders press Palo Alto officials to maximize capacity of new Sherman Avenue facility

Merchants on California Avenue are well-versed in the typical challenges of running a business in Palo Alto: the high rents, the traffic jams and the lack of housing for their employees.

But there is one problem that for many rises above the rest: the district's insufficient supply of parking. And as the city moves ahead with construction of a new parking garage on Sherman Avenue, they are calling for officials to think big.

That was the main message that about 30 business people delivered Wednesday morning after hearing a presentation from Michael Ross, the project architect, and staff from the city's Public Works Department. After being presented with three possible design options for a new garage, the majority opted for a fourth, which would provide even more parking spaces than any of the alternatives on the table.

If things go as planned, the city would launch construction of the new garage next year and complete it in 2019, just before it begins construction on a new public-safety building near to the garage. Both facilities would be located on Sherman Avenue where currently there are parking lots.

Currently, the two lots have 310 parking spots between them, Ross said.

The first option presented Wednesday would create a garage with 471 spaces. Because 12 of the spaces would be designated for visitors to the public-safety building and 20 would be tied to the building's ground-floor retailers, the net gain in this scenario would be 129 parking spaces, Ross told the group.

The garage in this option would be a three-story building with a partial fourth floor and two levels of underground space.

The second alternative would stretch out the fourth floor and raise the parking capacity to 552 spaces, or a net gain of 210. Like the first option, it would feature retail on the ground floor, consistent with direction from the City Council.

The third option would eliminate the retail space entirely and dedicate all three above-ground floors to parking. The proposed garage in this alternative would feature one underground level rather than two. The net gain in parking spots would be 180, Ross said.

In coming up with the alternatives, the project team tried to balance a series of competing interests, which include the need for parking, the council's desire for retail space, zoning requirements and aesthetics.

"The news is positive. There will be parking," Ross told the crowd. "The question is: How much more parking?"

For the dozens who attended the Wednesday meeting, the answer was simple: As much as possible.

"We have concerns and the concerns all go by one word: parking," Jack Morton, president of the California Avenue Business Association, said at the onset of the meeting. "Roughly between 11:30 (a.m.) and 2 to 2:30 (p.m.), it's impossible to park here."

Most in the audience agreed and urged the city to pursue a fourth option. This would entail a three-level garage with no retail -- much like in Option 3 -- but with two basement levels rather than one. At the end of the meeting, when audience members were asked to mark their preferred options with green stickers, Option 4 had far more support than any of the others.

While council members have favored including a retail component in the new garage, business owners weren't too keen on this idea. Lara Ekwall, co-owner of the California Avenue restaurant La Bodeguita del Medio, urged city officials to consider the changing nature of retail before they move ahead with mandating a retail operation in the Sherman Avenue district. (The retail space proposed in Options 1 and 2 would be 4,700 square feet.)

"I'm worried our retail districts are going to evolve in five to 10 years into service districts where we'll have cobbleries and restaurants, but retail is going down," Ekwall said.

Rather than investing energy in bringing retail to this particular garage, the city should look at making the district sustainable "as a whole."

Others raised concerns about the impact of construction. Peter Katz, owner of The Counter, cited other recent neighborhood disruptions, including new buildings and the city's recent streetscape project on California Avenue. Businesses won't be able to survive a year or longer without having parking spaces that their customers and employees can use during construction.

Katz also recommended dedicating some parking in the new garage -- potentially on the top story -- to employee parking.

The California Avenue garage is one of two parking facilities currently in design phase. The City Council also has approved moving ahead with a new downtown garage, which would go up on a parking lot at Hamilton Avenue and Waverley Street. Both facilities -- along with the new police building, the proposed bike bridge over U.S. Highway 101 and replacement fire stations at Rinconada and Mitchell parks -- are included in the council's infrastructure plan, which was approved in 2014 and is funded by revenues from the hotel tax.

Brad Eggleston, assistant director of Public Works, acknowledged that while some funding has been allocated for all these projects, it likely won't be enough to meet the full cost.

"We know that more funding will be needed but we don't have those funding numbers yet," Eggleston said.

Costs will undoubtedly play a greater role in the discussion on April 3, when the council is scheduled to discuss the new California Avenue garage. But for the business owners like Ekwall, the bigger priority is maximizing the number of spaces that the new garage would provide.

"This isn't going to happen again for California Avenue, so we need to make sure we get as much parking as possible," Ekwall said.


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5 people like this
Posted by Frank
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 8, 2017 at 1:52 pm

The city is in the process of building two new fire stations (#3 and 4). Save money and build one new fire somewhere in between these two stations. Something to look into.

29 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 8, 2017 at 2:44 pm

The problem with converting retail buildings along California Ave to office space is that office workers need a lot more parking. Retail customers might park for an hour or two. Office workers will park all day, so each parking space gets used by only 1 person per day instead of 5 or 10. The city needs to factor this into whatever they charge developers for permits to convert retail to office space. Make the permit fees or business taxes high enough to pay for the parking spaces that these businesses use. This is a problem with office building developers; don't make residents pay the bill for the problems developers are causing.

23 people like this
Posted by Wait a Second!
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 8, 2017 at 3:52 pm

We keep hearing how people near transit don't need cars. Well, the California Avenue area has great transit: trains, buses, shuttles, and even lots of bike access. So why does it need yet more parking for (I gulp just writing the word) "cars?"

Maybe all those developers, tech companies, Chamber of Commerce-backed council members, and millennials telling us cars are going away -- were just wrong? That's a polite word for it.

8 people like this
Posted by Marie
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 8, 2017 at 4:08 pm

Marie is a registered user.

I fully support the new parking garage with retail space. Since the city will own the space, there will be a opportunity to provide retail space at a discount for nonprofits that have been shut out of California Avenue as they can't afford the market rents. Palo Alto provided discounted space to the Chamber of Commerce downtown. Only this time, how about renting to a nonprofit providing services to local residents instead of commercial companies.

How about re-opening one of the thrift shops that benefited local charities, or renting to a nonprofit providing services to adolescents like the nonprofit Adolescent Counseling Services now providing services to PAUSD? Or what about Breast Cancer Connections, now called Bay Area Cancer Connections or Vista, both of which had to leave California Avenue locations although fortunately they have not had to go too far. How safe are they in their new locations?

15 people like this
Posted by Revolving door
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 8, 2017 at 11:01 pm

The Council provided discounted office space for the Chamber of Commerce in the new fancy building at the corner of Alma and Lytton. Below Market Rate office space for the wealthy.
A real scandal.
Now the President of the Chamber Judy Kleinberg, who was on the city council for years, comes to the council to advocate for the Chamber. It's called the Revolving Door, when government officials after leaving government service go to work for organizations that want privileges from the government.
She isn't the only one. Steve Emslie is doing the same.
Real scandal.

9 people like this
Posted by regulations
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 8, 2017 at 11:16 pm

Would it be possible for the customers and employees of resident-serving businesses to have priority for spaces in these new parking garages? Limiting parking to 2-hour stretches (for customers and patients) or providing subsidized parking passes for employees of shops, restaurants, and healthcare providers might be one way to do this. Tech office workers could be incentivized to take public transportation (i.e. by providing Caltrain passess or tech shuttles) rather than driving solo and occupying a disproportionate number of the new parking spots.

7 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 9, 2017 at 7:57 am

Cal Ave needs 20 minute parking spots so that we can do one quick errand (drop off tax documents) as part of our day.

Get some parking lots at the freeway ramps and get some dedicated shuttles to downtown and other business areas.

Get employee parking and leave space for shoppers and diners, visitors and those who want to run a quick errand in their lunch hour.

10 people like this
Posted by Grumpy Old Guy
a resident of Palo Alto Orchards
on Mar 9, 2017 at 10:45 am

Building another garage only subsidizes the commercial property owners in that area. It gives a direct financial advantage to the property owners - not the businesses. Local businesses only get an indirect advantage and residents get the shaft.

The short sighted greed of commercial property owners is to get the city to build a garage on the argument that it'll support local businesses.

Once built, commercial property owners increase rent to the local businesses because of all the available parking for their buildings. Guess who won't be able to afford the new rent selling books, kids toys, flowers or cards? It'll also increase and justify the demand to convert storefronts to office - because. . . (wait for it), local brick and mortar stores can't compete against the internet giants. Once converted into business offices, it'll increase traffic density and congestion into the neighborhood parking because that's 'free'.

So given this proven track record - Who wins? The commercial property owners. Who loses? The local residents and smaller retail shops that make a community thrive.

If Palo Alto is going to authorize, subsidize and build public parking, then it also needs to bring commercial rent control to favored businesses types to protect them from increased rents; or alternatively, create a 'transit/parking' district where the property owners in that neighborhood pay through special assessments for that parking facility - design, costs, and operational costs.

After all, the public just increased the value of their properties. Guess what? Prop 13 doesn't allow property valuations to go up because the City just improved the value of commercial properties.

What did PT Barnum used to say?

19 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 9, 2017 at 11:28 am

I got my car smogged yesterday morning at Palo Alto Shell and thus had 45 minutes to kill so I strolled Cal Ave. and planned to browse in the stores.

What a disappointment with so many of the stores gone and replaced by office buildings! Tell me again what "merchants" we're trying to protect!

4 people like this
Posted by Drew McKendry
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 9, 2017 at 11:43 am

We have been seeing some interest from Zero Net Energy developers and wanted you to be aware of our system. Our system can create an opportunity for green space or additional commercial development. We could provide 800 parking spaces on the Sherman Ave lot with out digging therefor causing less disruption to the neighborhood. The exterior of our garage could blend in with current structures.

Please see our Robotic Parking System, optimal for new development of office & residential towers. We are cost-competitive with any conventional garages over 200 stalls. Please let me know if we can provide a feasibility study at your convenience.

Please see the following key factors for considering Robotic Parking Systems to increase revenue, capacity, efficiency, and reduced footprint.
Web Link

Land cost
Urban setting with land values above $80 per square foot.

Site dimensions
50% less land area than conventional ramp style.

LEED Green points for reduced greenhouse gasses.

Excellent for mature high end shopping districts.

Historic districts
Facade can blend seamlessly into neighborhood

Luxury residents can access parking with privacy.

Each facility designed to match peak traffic capacity.

No risk of injury / theft / vandalism / dent damage.

Low hazard risk, may provide lower insurance costs.

Our Design Team can provide a Feasibility Study for your project.
RPS parking facilities have been operating in US for over 13 years.
We are currently constructing the world's largest robotic parking structure in Dubai.

17 people like this
Posted by Hamilton
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 9, 2017 at 3:11 pm

Given that many businesses consider 250 parking permits in the local neighborhood not enough, it seems like we should be shooting to add at least that number more than the two surface parking lots that are replaced. Ideally even more. Also, I think the parking would be more valuable to the local businesses than adding more retail space. In addition, we know more large buildings will be underparked, starting with the proposed one on the corner of El Camino and Page Mill.

I have been strongly advocating to add more parking spots to that garage and encourage all council members to do so. It reduces the neighborhood parking of local workers, enables better retention of retail workers and it provides more paying customers for local retail. This is an example of where resident, local business and office interests are all aligned so lets not undersize this garage and regret it later. Please lobby your council members.

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

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