Rising costs won't shrink California Avenue garage | News | Palo Alto Online |


Rising costs won't shrink California Avenue garage

Despite escalating budget, City Council votes to stick with the plan for a six-level garage

The City Council affirmed on Jan. 22, 2018, its plan to build a garage with 636 parking spaces on a Sherman Avenue parking lot. Rendering by Ross Drulis Cusenbery Architecture.

California Avenue merchants scored a political victory Monday night when Palo Alto officials reaffirmed their plan to construct a garage with two basement levels and more than 600 parking stalls on a Sherman Avenue lot.

By an 8-1 vote, with Councilman Adrian Fine dissenting, the City Council voted to reject a staff recommendation to eliminate one of the basement levels as part of a strategy to contain the project's rapidly rising costs. The long-awaited project now has an estimated price tag of about $40.4 million, roughly four times what it was in 2013, when the council was putting together its infrastructure plan.

Most of the increase can be attributed to the Bay Area's construction market, which continues to sizzle. Assistant Public Works Director Brad Eggleston said the market-driven escalation raised the price tag to about $34.8 million. The council's subsequent decision to "maximize" the parking capacity of the new garage and pursue a bigger facility than initially envisioned added another $6 million to the cost, Eggleston said. The 2013 plan calls for 460 parking stalls.

The decision to "go big" pleased area merchants, who have consistently lobbied for more parking. But it also aggravated the city's growing funding gap for infrastructure, which is now estimated at about $56 million, according to Eggleston.

To address this gap, staff proposed removing one of the two basement levels, which would result in a loss of about 100 spots and a reduction of about $6 million. According to a recent staff report, the recommendation was driven in part by the new Residential Preferential Parking programs in the neighborhoods around California Avenue, which helped alleviate some of the area's parking shortages. Staff also pointed to the city's new Comprehensive Plan and Sustainability Implementation Plan, both of which place a premium on switching from cars to other modes of transportation.

In addition, the city's traffic surveys showed that demand for additional parking is generally limited to the lunchtime hours of noon to 2 p.m., the report stated.

But the proposal to reduce the size of garage met a swell of resistance from residents and business owners -- groups that haven't always seen eye to eye on the issue of parking. More than 30 property owners and managers from California Avenue co-signed a letter decrying the proposed change and characterizing it as a betrayal of the city's promise to the merchants.

"The 11th-hour change caught area business by surprise with almost no time for review and response," stated the letter, which was penned by Jack Morton, chair of the California Avenue Area Business Association. "The garage design and capacity have been reviewed several times with area businesses and residents and the proposal with two sub-levels was approved by the City Council last spring.

"The proposal to significantly reduce the capacity of the new parking facility is nothing less than a breach of faith with the business community that has worked collaboratively with the City for so many years on this project."

The position was shared by the vast majority of area merchants, including owners of La Bodeguita del Medio, Terun, Italico, Printer's Café, Zareen's Restaurant, Izzy's Bagels, Country Sun, Mollie Stone's and Mediterranean Wraps. Terry Shuchat, whose camera store, Keeble & Shuchat, was an area mainstay for decades before closing last year, argued that as the business strip continues to experience a building boom, a garage with more than 600 spots will only become more necessary.

"This will probably be your last chance to get additional parking in the area for many years," Shuchat said.

Jessica Roth, owner of The Cobblery, agreed and told the council that "easy parking" is critical for small businesses.

"If you want small businesses to continue to thrive on California Avenue, maximizing the spaces and getting the promised spots is so important," Roth said.

Roth was among the more than dozen constituents who attended the meeting and urged the council to stick with the plan. They were countered by a handful of speakers who asked the council to scrap the garage plan altogether and to pursue a solution that is more sustainable, both financially and environmentally.

David Coale, representing the group Carbon Free Palo Alto, argued that the council should reconsider the project altogether. The money saved by scrapping the garage could be used to pursue anti-traffic initiatives like bike projects and transit passes.

"You have a great opportunity to take a second look at these projects and realign them with our current environmental and fiscal conditions and make better choices," Coale said. "Please reconsider parking garages and give the much cheaper parking programs time to work before these garages are built."

Fine largely endorsed this view. Adding a garage will not solve the area's traffic and parking problems, he argued. It will simply encourage more cars to enter the area and fill up the new spots. Though Fine had supported the garage project in the past, he said Monday that he had reconsidered his position after talking to community members.

"All the research points to the fact that if you build parking and give it away (for free), people will come and use it," Fine said. "You'll get more traffic on California Avenue and the parking will fill up."

The rest of the council, however, sided with the merchants who said they need more parking and the residents who said they are tired of having their streets used for parking by commuters and lunchtime visitors. Councilman Greg Scharff made the motion to stick with last year's plan and seven of his colleagues supported him.

"We build this once," Scharff said. "It's probably the last public garage that gets built for a very long time and it's important that we do it right."

Mayor Liz Kniss said this is "one of those times where promises made should be promises kept." She cited the recent "traumas" that area merchants had to put up with -- the 2009 episode where all the trees on California Avenue were cut down with little warning and the subsequent streetscape project that widened the sidewalks and added an assortment of pedestrian and bike amenities.

The street that has long been a "stepchild" to University Avenue is now undergoing its own transition into a more vibrant and pleasant strip, Kniss said. Councilwoman Karen Holman agreed that the council should honor its promises and stick with the plan.

"If we're going to do a job, we need to do a quality job," Holman said.


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20 people like this
Posted by DTN Paul
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 23, 2018 at 8:56 am

DTN Paul is a registered user.

Man, I'm Al for keeping promises, but it sounds pretty damn entitled when the cost of a huge investment goes up by 4x and any change to plan constitutes a "breach of faith." That is pretty rich. I'll bet if they had to foot the bill for $30m overage, they might find it in their hearts to be a bit more flexible.

15 people like this
Posted by Finally, enough parking for Cal Ave
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 23, 2018 at 9:36 am

Finally, enough parking for Cal Ave is a registered user.

The city staff made a case that in the short-run this additional parking is not needed and I believe that but in the long run, with the additional development that happens and continued plans to underpark (e.g. ADUs), new offices, etc... This parking will be needed and this is one of the last chances to get it. It can also defer other parking upgrades. I support the council's decision.

11 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 23, 2018 at 9:41 am

A classic error so often repeated:

>>> Most of the increase can be attributed to the Bay Area’s construction market, which continues to sizzle. Assistant Public Works Director Brad Eggleston said the market-driven escalation raised the price tag to about $34.8 million.

"We are in an economic boom. We have money. Let's build that ___ project!"

An alternative proposal: let's design it and put the design on the shelf. Let's get the financing in place. Then, when the construction boom goes bust, let's get the bids then, get the construction rolling then at a significantly reduced cost.

20 people like this
Posted by Chamber of Commerce Politics
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 23, 2018 at 11:20 am

Chamber of Commerce Politics is a registered user.

If this is a long-term need of for-profit developers, why is the city footing the bill?

Included in the price of my home is the cost of providing parking for my property. What other budget cuts will be necessary because Council has decided to use tens of millions of tax dollars to subsidize parking for future Cal Ave. for-profit businesses that haven't even been built yet? Why are developers not responsible for providing parking for the spaces they will build?

It is disappointing that Council disregarded the many Comp Plan goals and policies related to traffic and parking that conflict with this decision...that they approved just months ago.

This decision was driven by masterful politicking by the Chamber of Commerce against a thoughtful recommendation for compromise. It is a decision to subsidize development. I don't think that is the role of the city.

18 people like this
Posted by Stew Plock
a resident of Triple El
on Jan 23, 2018 at 11:22 am

No one argues that Palo Alto residents, people coming to Palo Alto daily for work, and our merchants all agree on one thing; let's make it easier for people to get around the city..get to work, get kids to school, get to shopping areas.
OK, if our transportation vision 10 years out has more cars on our city's roads,
then building more municipal garages makes sense. But if we view the city as having fewer cars through use of ride sharing, more freguent bus transit, biking and other methods to reduce auto traffic and make Palo Alto a more pleasant place traffic-wise, then I agree with Council member Fine and all David Coale's Carbon Free Palo Alto supporters, of which there are many, that we need to postpone building new garages while we vigorously explore other options to traffic congestion. Stew Plock, 350 Silicon Valley

5 people like this
Posted by PM
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 23, 2018 at 12:44 pm

I am with Stew.
CA Avenue merchants: no one outside working distance to your shops come to your places, nor they should - you are the neighborhood stores

16 people like this
Posted by Dog Lover
a resident of University South
on Jan 23, 2018 at 12:56 pm

Cal Ave merchants all screamed about the "upgrade" to the streetscape and said it would cost them business (because it eliminated some parking). Now they love the improvements as it has revitalized Cal Ave. They say they'll lose business if people can't have the convenience of moving their 4,000 pieces of steel to conveniently park for free to have lunch. So what if it's contributing to traffic, climate change and resource depletion.

People don't like change, but providing more parking so more people can come down to patronize their stores is NOT the way we need to go. Provide shuttles from Stanford Research Park, give incentives for people to NOT drive -- Lyft, shuttles, go-passes, etc. You're building a huge structure so that for 2-3 hours out of 24 you're making it more convenient for a small group of people. FUND THE TMA for Cal Ave and let's change the culture around cars. If we don't do it in Palo Alto, where do you think it should be done? The future of the planet (and your children and grandchildren) are at stake. Please have long-range vision and let's support things that will heal the planet, not make it more difficult for future generations.

12 people like this
Posted by Allison
a resident of Professorville
on Jan 23, 2018 at 1:48 pm

So wait a minute, I as a taxpayer get to subsidize cars that drive in and produce toxic air emissions, noise, and GHG emissions for all of us. Great.

And what program or facility are we going lose in this so that we can have more PARKING SPACES. Just wait for that budget discussion, it is coming.

We should be building more housing at Cal Ave. Residents shop and support local business. If you want a thriving local economy and community, you need housing - not a soulless parking garage. Urban planning 101.

7 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 23, 2018 at 2:05 pm

I think the money is better spent on the second basement than the wasted money spent on Ross Road.

6 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 23, 2018 at 2:45 pm

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

I'm just a borderline/tepid supporter of the garage. And, I think the smaller and cheaper version might have been fine and enough for the demand, but I just don't know, and that bothers me, because I want to know. I would like to know all about the studies made originally that determined the number of spaces needed. Was any thought given to the futurist Jules Verne view of transporting vehicles/transit, not including private car ownership as we know it now?

I have stated in previous posts that cars aren't going away soon, and argued against proposed under parked projects of all stripes. Multi-use (office/housing/retail), stand alone apartments...affordable, BMR, market rate, etc.

But, when dealing with taxpayer money, caution should be taken, on how to get the best out of those precious dollars. I'm not sure the 'big' garage is the right way to go. And thanks, Adrian, for your one vote. I disagree with many things you advocate, along with your more progressive colleagues, but on this one, I think and hope, you'll be vindicated.

16 people like this
Posted by Fooled you, Cal Ave residents
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 23, 2018 at 2:58 pm

Fooled you, Cal Ave residents is a registered user.

Cal Avenue residents who signed the letter, you were just fooled into giving a gift of tens of millions to the developers in your neighborhood. Why is it these for-profit property owners did not offer to help pay for at least a portion of the parking they want so much? That would seem fair. More importantly, why didn't Council ask that question?

This decision reflected complete disregard for Comp Plan goals and objectives related to parking and reliance on autos. It should be revisited.

It will be a sterile and hideous blight on Cal Ave's friendly streetscape.

4 people like this
Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 23, 2018 at 11:26 pm

I wonder if there has ever been a public works project in California that came in at or under budget? It seems like EVERY project tends to cost significantly more than it was initially estimated.

4 people like this
Posted by bikermom
a resident of Mayfield
on Jan 24, 2018 at 10:22 am

ugly ugly ugly and unsightly. and yet another nightmare for Cal Ave. residents. to deal with. large hideous buildings casting shadows and producing a couple of more years of construction. We've already endured 5 years of horrible construction. WHEN IS IT GOING TO STOP. If you build it they will come, stop building and they won't come you idiots.

2 people like this
Posted by bikermom
a resident of Mayfield
on Jan 24, 2018 at 10:24 am

and another note, it's just going to bring more crime. I hope these garages will be posted with security cameras.

Like this comment
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 24, 2018 at 12:51 pm

Gale Johnson is a registered user.


Don't ponder too long. The answer, without doing any research on the subject, is "no". I guarantee it.

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