Commission pans parking meter plan | News | Palo Alto Online |


Commission pans parking meter plan

Proposal to overhaul downtown's parking scheme criticized as premature

Downtown Palo Alto's move toward parking meters hit an unexpected turn Wednesday night when the city's Planning and Transportation Commission voted against implementation.

By a unanimous vote, the commission rejected all four options that were presented by transportation staff for overhauling downtown's parking system. Citing uncertainty about the impacts of parking meters on downtown retail, the commission recommended that the council hold off on approving any plans, pending more outreach to area businesses.

The commission's vote is unlikely to stop the city's shift toward downtown paid parking, a model that the City Council, City Manager James Keene and top transportation staff talk about with an air of inevitability. Earlier this year, the council received and discussed a downtown-parking study that recommended installing parking meters in and around University Avenue and pay stations on more peripheral blocks in downtown's commercial core.

When the council voted in April to approve the study, Councilman Adrian Fine called paid parking "a centerpiece to hold all the other pieces" in the city's wide-ranging effort to alleviate the area's parking woes. In 2015, the council launched the Residential Preferential Program to limit employee parking on residential streets and created a new nonprofit, Palo Alto Transportation Management Association, to reduce downtown's solo-driver rate. Meanwhile, plans for a new downtown garage are moving ahead, with the Architectural Review Board set to review the design of the four-story facility on Oct. 19.

But the Planning and Transportation Commission wasn't convinced on Wednesday that the paid-parking proposals presented by staff and consultants are the right way to go. Though most members supported the idea of moving to some kind of paid-parking model, they agreed that the city needs to first get a better idea of what parking meters would do to downtown's retail.

Transportation planners are also banking on revenue from parking meters to help implement other parking-related improvements, including garage technology that identifies empty spots with LED lights and new "wayfinding" signs to guide drivers toward lots and garages.

A report from the city's parking consultant, Dixon Resources Unlimited, recommends that the city implement paid-parking solutions both on downtown's streets and on surface lots. Patrick Smith, a consultant with Dixon, noted Wednesday that parking demand in Palo Alto is significantly high, far above any other community that the company has worked with.

"We know that available parking and parking supply in Palo Alto is scarce and I can't foresee it improving drastically in the near future unless there is a significant shift in parking behavior," Smith said.

The commission, for its part, was less sure. Some commissioners, including Eric Rosenblum and Przemek Gardias, said they favor a "dynamic" paid-parking model, which allows the city to adjust prices based on demand. But Gardias suggested that staff do more analysis about the costs and financial benefits of installing the meters and Rosenblum was one of several commissioners who urged more outreach to the retailers. A survey by staff showed 76 percent of downtown business owners and managers responded negatively to the idea of paid parking, said Transportation Program Manager Philip Kamhi. But 45 percent then responded positively when asked about dynamic paid parking "if it provided parking on your block for customers and parking in garages/lots for employees."

But because the survey included just 33 business owners and managers, the commission agreed that more outreach is badly needed. Faith Bell, owner of the downtown book store Bell's Books, told the commission that she has spoken to nine business owners on her block and all of them are opposed to paid parking, which she said can be the "death knell" for some of them.

"We are not welcoming this in the business community, so don't fool yourself that we are," Bell said. "I had a number of customers say, 'Isn't it hard enough to park here without another hurdle?'"

Resident Jeff Levinsky also criticized the staff proposal, which he argued could drive customers away to other cities. Some residents, he said, "are outraged that city will charge them to stop at an ATM or for a cup of coffee."

He proposed a different way to discourage downtown commuters from moving their cars every two hours to avoid the area's parking restrictions: only allowing people to park in two color zones per day and ticketing them if their car is parked in a third zone.

The commission was presented with four different scenarios for paid parking. The first would limit paid parking only to parking lots and garages. Existing color zones would no longer apply there, though they would remain in effect on downtown streets.

The second option calls for installing meters or pay stations for both on- and off-street parking and allow customers to get the first hour of parking free. The third option also includes meters and pay stations for on- and off-street parking; though under this alternative, there are no time limits and the charges escalate the longer the car remains parked.

The fourth option -- which staff and Dixon had recommended -- calls for a dynamic paid parking program to replace the color-zone system, with prices designed to direct long-term parkers to lots and garages and short-term parkers to on-street spaces. The model would split downtown into three tiers, with parking fees ranging from $1.50 to $2.50 per hour (the more central areas would be more expensive).

Several commissioners leaned toward the first model, which limits the paid-parking area and allows for a more gradual rollout. Commissioner Asher Waldfogel said he could support this idea because it would allow the city to learn more about elasticity of parking demand. Commissioner Ed Lauing also favored a cautious approach and wondered if the paid-parking experiment could be limited to a few facilities.

Commissioners also said they were worried about the prospect of paid parking driving commuters into the neighborhoods, where parking remains free for two hours. Commissioner Doria Summa suggested that paid parking may turn the Residential Preferential Parking area into the next place for "zone hopping."

She called all four proposals "flawed" and said she cannot support any of them.


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36 people like this
Posted by Tech Companies Want Your Parking Space
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 12, 2017 at 5:16 am

Converting what is now free parking Downtown into metered spaces is one more way tech companies are plotting to take over Downtown. Since no other nearby shopping areas charge to park, putting in parking meters will just drive away shoppers and visitors from Downtown, letting tech companies use those spaces to park their employees.

Tech companies have already pushed out local-serving businesses such as the health professionals who used to be in 550 Hamilton and restaurants like Zibibbo and Mango Café. But turning the few thousand remaining free color zone spaces into employee parking would be a huge coup for the landlords of Downtown tech offices, worth well over a hundred million dollars.

The Planning Commission was right to turn down this terrible proposal. The Council should too.

27 people like this
Posted by MP Resident
a resident of Menlo Park
on Oct 12, 2017 at 7:12 am

Downtown Burlingame seems to do well with a paid parking model. It encourages turnover, and people seem to be fine paying a buck to or two to park and visit local businesses.

31 people like this
Posted by Tom F.
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 12, 2017 at 7:31 am

The notion that charging someone a dollar or two to park their car in downtown Palo Alto would result in that person driving to a neighboring City is ridiculous!

22 people like this
Posted by Miriam Palm
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 12, 2017 at 8:31 am

Miriam Palm is a registered user.

If they put in meters, I will do my shopping in Menlo Park and Los Altos. Or park outside the meter zone and walk. I tend to do that anyway. The meters were taken out in the 1970s because Stanford Shopping Center offered free parking. And someone will have to babysit them and remove the revenue they collect. Doubt they will pay for themselves.

21 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 12, 2017 at 8:50 am

Online Name is a registered user.

@Tom F, it's not ridiculous at all; parking meters are just another reason to avoid downtown besides the inability to find parking without endlessly circling. People like me have long driven driven the extra miles to the Menlo Park Trader Joe's, for example, rather than deal with the downtown or Embarcadero traffic.

With all the money the city wastes on consultants, I find it odd they've never done an Economic Impact study on how much sales tax revenue has been lost due to obvious deterrents like the downtown parking situation and the many many years it took the city to change the light timing at Town & Country & Paly,

5 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 12, 2017 at 9:57 am

What I think is very necessary is simplifying the parking process which is too complicated for anyone except a regular parker to understand. What we need is high tech signage showing where the available spots are, high tech apps to pay for parking for part of a day and most importantly commuter parking lots at highway off ramps with dedicated shuttles to business districts to enable inbound commuters to park outside the business areas altogether which will make more space for those of us who wish to go downtown for several hours but not all day.

28 people like this
Posted by Abitiarian
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 12, 2017 at 11:10 am

The PTC rarely reaches unanimity on anything and I agree that paid street parking could have very undesirable effects.

Although I live in the heart of downtown and have assigned parking in a private garage, I am concerned for (at least) four legitimate reasons:

1. As others have said, paid street parking on downtown streets will relocate the problem to nearby streets where parking is free.

2. Paid street parking is regressive. It may not matter to higher-income people but harms lower-income people. Believe it or not, there are people who live, work, and visit downtown to whom a dollar or two makes a difference. Low-wage workers, seniors with only social security income, people with disabilities, and so forth.

3. Daily, I visit my gym, retail, etc., downtown, and being the talkative type, I can tell you I have yet to meet a people-serving worker who pays for parking. One and all, they dash out and move their cars every two hours.

This is more than enough inconvenience considering these people could be working at a shopping center with free, all-day parking lots. For a variety of reasons, these workers do not want to park in a garage and will not pay for for parking.

Forcing such workers to pay will make it harder for the businesses that serve everyday, local people to find and keep workers.

4. The over-development of office space with inadequate parking is the root cause of the traffic and parking (as well as other) downtown problems. These (mostly) high-paid tech workers are taking up the spaces that used to be more readily available to residents, shoppers, service-providing workers, etc.

The developers and their tenants are responsible for the problem and they should be the ones held accountable for the costs of the solution.

5 people like this
Posted by LaNell Mimmack
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 12, 2017 at 12:27 pm

I pay to park in front of my house in Palo Alto.

12 people like this
Posted by Elizabeth
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 12, 2017 at 1:06 pm

I am relieved to hear this.

This area has become so costly that I have little "discretionary" cash for spending. It might seem to be a little thing to charge for parking, but it would likely end my one true pleasure downtown... lunch at Siam Royal.

I know I dread going to RWC's downtown area with the meters that you might feed only to discover that the shop you were planning to visit is closed (during normal hours) for some inexplicable reason.

I'd like to see Gov't learn responsible money management instead of always looking into our pockets to see what they might claim.

2 people like this
Posted by Barbara
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 12, 2017 at 1:47 pm

Put in parking meters -- there are too many people in downtown Palo Alto as it is; would having to pay $1 or $2 for parking be such a pocketbook drain when shoppers are buying $500 sweaters or the latest $250 workout togs?

16 people like this
Posted by Underparked buildings
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 12, 2017 at 1:59 pm

No matter what the problem, the solution is to spend huge amounts of money and enlarge the City Manager's empire.

No more consultant$, con$truction, unenforced rules.

Two solutions:
1. Those who cause the problem should fix it. Billion dollar companies should supply parking or buses for their employees. (Palantir and Amazon, are you listening?)

2. Stop authorizing construction of underparked buildings. (City Council and staff Planners, and PTC, are you listening?)
Stop enriching developers at the expense of residents.

7 people like this
Posted by Bob
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 12, 2017 at 2:09 pm

I don't think it is a good idea to install meters. If the reason is to reduce the amount of cars in downtown Palo Alto, the only way that will happen is to make it around $10/hour. Anything less won't do anything, except make a lot of money for the firm that gets the contract to install the meters and billing system.

Raising it to $10/hour will greatly reduce the amount of cars wanting to park, and likely cause the downtown retail businesses to close. People will go elsewhere or shop online.

The result will be we spent lots of money for the parking meter system and then loose the tax revenue from the closed retail businesses.

2 people like this
Posted by Bob
a resident of Palo Verde
on Oct 12, 2017 at 2:10 pm

I don't think it is a good idea to install meters. If the reason is to reduce the amount of cars in downtown Palo Alto, the only way that will happen is to make it around $10/hour. Anything less won't do anything, except make a lot of money for the firm that gets the contract to install the meters and billing system.

Raising it to $10/hour will greatly reduce the amount of cars wanting to park, and likely cause the downtown retail businesses to close. People will go elsewhere or shop online.

The result will be we spent lots of money for the parking meter system and then loose the tax revenue from the closed retail businesses.

5 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 12, 2017 at 2:36 pm

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

Thank you PTC members for having your heads on straight on this issue. I only speak as an outside observer because I don't, or rarely, ever go downtown because there's nothing for me to go there for anymore. Wiedeman's, Rapp's, book stores, sporting goods stores, florists, the other theater (Varsity), and going way back...Liddicoats, five and dime stores (I'm sure a lot of readers are shaking their heads over that one), Penneys, the office furniture store, the combo store that featured typewriter sales and service plus tennis racket sales and stringing, are gone. Listen to Bell. She's taken the pulse of her neighboring businesses, the last survivors in the downtown perimeter. She knows what the impact would be. I've bought books there, and what a friendly place to browse, either upstairs or downstairs. We would lose those businesses if the meters are installed. I used to go to that area when Avenidas was still there, and I might occasionally go down to Starbucks for coffee, but now that Avenidas has re-located to the Cubberley facility I don't even do that anymore. There are two exceptions, however. When I need help at the Apple Store from the 'Genius Corner' folks, or when I go to a movie at the Aquarius theaters. So far I haven't been ticketed for parking in a bank's lot near the Apple Store, and I haven't been ticketed for exceeding the 2 hour limit in the lot next to the theater. I'll keep trusting my good luck without putting coins in meters.

"A nice dilemma we have here"...from Gilbert and Sullivan. CC first takes action to save retail and then proceeds to take action that makes it harder on retail to survive in downtown PA. That gives me a headache, although my definition and understanding of 'retail' is so much different than theirs. I remember it the way I described it above. They know it as yuppie/millenial bars, pubs, overly priced fast food and so-so food restaurants, salons, coffee shops, etc. But, I have to face the reality of the new day. My 'good times', what I remember and what I liked as an early resident in the '60's, are gone forever. And so, I cede to the last, current, and next generations...the opportunity presented...totally destroy our town the way it was...or to find a middle ground and maybe even start to edge towards getting it back to the way I remember it. I know that won't happen before I die, but I will die with good memories of 'my' PA.

It seems that all the CC activity is directed towards housing, transportation, and parking. There will always be conflicting interests in all of those issues. Hopefully, CC can deal with it and come out on the right side. I hope the more analytical and business orientated members can prevail over the ones with brilliant ideas but with no offerings of how to pay for them.

8 people like this
Posted by Native
a resident of Menlo Park
on Oct 12, 2017 at 2:44 pm

I live equally between downtown PA and downtown MP. I'd head to MP to shop if PA puts in meters.

1 person likes this
Posted by @LaNell Mimmack
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 12, 2017 at 4:09 pm

Don't you pay to park anywhere on the street? The street is public, even the part right outside your house, so I would expect you should pay for it as should anyone else entitled to park there.

1 person likes this
Posted by Marlene Dietrich
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Oct 12, 2017 at 7:08 pm

Please ! Bring all those parking meters to EAST Palo Alto ! We really need a lot of them !

EPA is one of those “Lost cities” in Bay Area where there is free parking everywhere and some people from Menlo Park bring their cars and leave it here for a long time abandoned in our streets !

No parking meters for Palo Alto down Town!

Also, lets go back to the roots! There is a lot of obesity! People, we need to WALK ! BIKE! Keep your car in the garage, the city will be broke and come back to FREE PARKING.

7 people like this
Posted by marian
a resident of Professorville
on Oct 12, 2017 at 8:07 pm

Meters will be oppressive and ugly. Please tell us how much they net after cost of installation, maintenance, and cost of employees and subcontractors' wages.

1 person likes this
Posted by Bco
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 12, 2017 at 8:09 pm

They should look at how downtown Boulder CO handles paid parking.

9 people like this
Posted by True Residentialist
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 12, 2017 at 10:03 pm

Can anyone point to a study of any kind showing that parking meters reduce retail customers? If businesses want to keep customers, they can agree to validate parking. But we shouldn't all be forced to bear the costs of congestion. It's not that hard!

We can't make decisions based on unfounded fears.

5 people like this
Posted by Frank
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 14, 2017 at 11:24 pm

Can anyone explain the logic of refusing to visit downtown Palo Alto if you have to pay $1-$2 to a parking meter, but then saying you will drive to a neighboring city (and in doing so spend way more than $1-$2 in gas and lost time) instead? Is there something I am missing?

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