News

City to cut back on parking permits for workers

Rejecting staff's recommendation, Palo Alto council lowers cap on number of employee permits in downtown's Residential Preferential Parking program

Seeing a dip in demand for parking permits among downtown's workforce, the Palo Alto City Council made a move Monday to tighten the supply.

By a 7-1 vote, with Mayor Liz Kniss dissenting and Councilman Greg Scharff recusing, the council voted to reduce the number of employee permits that the city will be selling as part of the downtown Residential Preferential Parking (RPP) program.

When the program made its debut in fall of 2015, the number of worker permits was capped at 2,000. In April 2016, the council modified the program and capped worker permits at 1,400.

When the next phase of the program begins in April, the cap will be 1,000, though staff is authorized to sell up to 100 more if supply proves insufficient.

The council reached its decision after a long debate featuring deep divisions over details. Everyone agreed that the RPP has been, by and large, successful in addressing the parking shortage that has long plagued neighborhoods like Downtown North and Professorville. Streets that for many years had served as all-day parking lots for downtown employees now have open spots, though cars still tend to bunch on those blocks closest to the commercial core between Lytton and Forest avenues.

Parking occupancy surveys taken last November showed average occupancies in downtown ranging from 21 percent to 60 percent, with the largest concentration of cars occurring in zones closest to downtown's commercial core. In addition, the city has seen a 22 percent decline in the number of employee purchases of parking permits: from 1,335 in the period that began in April 2016 to 1,090 sold in the latest period, which began last October.

The city's transportation planners also concluded in their report that the downtown program has been "generally successful." Thus, they recommended that the council not make any adjustments to the program at this time. They also indicated that they will continue to explore changes to parking management in the commercial core, with the goal of steering employees from neighborhood blocks to public garages.

But the council sided with those who argued that the city should lower the number of employee permits it sells.

John Guislin, a Crescent Park resident who served on the stakeholder group that created the downtown program, told the council that he doesn't know of any other city that has solved the parking problem by overwhelming the residential neighborhoods. The city, he said, needs to have a better solution than the status quo. Speaking on behalf of more than a dozen residents, Guislin asked the city to lower the number of permits to 1,000, and to keep 100 in reserve.

"It's our contention that the city should spend its time filling up garages, before they fill up the neighborhoods," Guislin said.

Simon Cintz, whose family owns several commercial properties and who had also served on the stakeholder group, disagreed. Staff's characterization of the RPP program as "generally successful" actually understates its accomplishments, Cintz argued. He pointed to a survey the city conducted in 2015, before the program was implemented, showing 141 block-faces in the district area with occupancy rates of more than 85 percent. By contrast, the survey from last fall showed 40 residential block-faces with 85 percent occupancy.

In addition, the November survey showed that employees make up only a small proportion of people who park in the RPP zone. Even during business hours, fewer than 10 percent of the cars parked in the downtown zones have employee permits. Residents and general visitors (who can park without permits for up to two hours) occupy a much larger share of the parking spots, the survey found.

"The RPP has been a tremendous success," Cintz said. "Employees who park with RPP permits aren't the cause of over-parking in the neighborhoods. Cutting employee permits will not improve parking in the neighborhoods."

Council members agreed that the program is working well. But even as they acknowledged it isn't broken, they proceeded to fix it. Vice Chair Eric Filseth said leaving the employee permit count at the current level of 1,400 would be tantamount to declaring victory. That would be premature, he said.

"If we're going to keep the number flat or increase it, essentially we're saying our job is done," Filseth said. "I don't think we heard from the neighbors that our job is done. ... If we're trying to get people out of cars, increasing the number of permits is the wrong direction."

Others proposed even more dramatic cuts to employee permits. Councilman Tom DuBois and Councilwoman Karen Holman both supported reducing the number by 100 every year, unless staff recommends a different number (in which case it would return to the council for a fresh debate). That proposal failed by a 4-4 vote, with only Filseth and Councilwoman Lydia Kou joining them.

After more than three hours of debate, the council coalesced around the compromise of 1,100 maximum employee permits. Kniss was the only council member who thought the cut goes too far. But her proposal to give staff the authority to release up to 200 additional permits (for a maximum of 1,200) failed by a 3-5 vote, with only Councilmen Adrian Fine and Greg Tanaka joining her. After that vote failed, Kniss cast the sole dissenting vote against extending the parking program, with the lower permit amount.

"This looks to me as though we're really saying to businesses, 'We're going to make it even harder for you to find employees and to survive downtown,'" Kniss said.

---

Follow the Palo Alto Weekly/Palo Alto Online on Twitter @PaloAltoWeekly and Facebook for breaking news, local events, photos, videos and more.

What is community worth to you?
Support local journalism.

Comments

31 people like this
Posted by Developer $
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 27, 2018 at 3:41 am

So Mayor Kniss and Councilmembers Fine and Tanaka voted for more business employees parking in the neighborhoods. That’s just what their developer contributors to their campaign would want them to do.

So Councilmember Wolbach who also voted against annual reductions in parking allowed, will you reject development interests’ contributions to you City Council campaign if you run for re-election?


52 people like this
Posted by Good outcome
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 27, 2018 at 6:12 am

Good outcome is a registered user.

Thank you to all residents who made presentations, spoke and attended the meeting - clearly the council heard you.

Now will Wolbach hear us in November when we vote NO to re-elect him?
[Portion removed.]


50 people like this
Posted by Eternal Vigilance
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 27, 2018 at 6:44 am

The battle isn't over. We also last night saw how developers and city staff keep trying to undercut parking solutions. The Council needs to work harder to prevent:

* Underparked buildings - new ones keep popping up all the time

* Underparked garages - John and Neilson provided hilarious pictures of empty garage floors at peak hours proving the city doesn't manage these correctly

* Overdense offices - we still have no law preventing employers packing hundreds of workers into spaces intended for a few dozen

* Employees moving from zone to zone to avoid paying for permits - this too remains legal

Let's keep up the pressure and insist the councilmembers solve these problems too.


18 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 27, 2018 at 8:00 am

The problem has just moved outside the RPP areas. People are parking and using bikes, scooters, skateboards, etc.

I can't believe the lack of common sense in the council.


13 people like this
Posted by Free Parking
a resident of another community
on Feb 27, 2018 at 8:53 am

[Post removed.]


33 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 27, 2018 at 11:17 am

Annette is a registered user.

There was a lot of circular discussion in those 3+ hours. Council member Wolbach essentially ignored requests for brevity. Perhaps he thought the suggestion was for everyone else? He also slipped in yet another rude snipe at a colleague. Each time he does this I marvel that he ran on a “Mr. Congeniality” platform.

Thanks for the recap; I lost track of what the final numbers were. It would be great if motions could be read aloud once before the final vote.


9 people like this
Posted by brad
a resident of Green Acres
on Feb 27, 2018 at 12:23 pm

Sorry to say as a resident and a small business owner, when my lease is up in 3 yrs, I will close shop....Palo Alto is so anti small business this will become a small sleepy town like it used to be....ie, woodside, Portola valley and now Palo alto


11 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 27, 2018 at 7:15 pm

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

@ brad

I have to rebut. I could name dozens of small, and many were family owned, businesses that thrived and made for a great town, with great neighborhoods, activities, and shopping opportunities, supported by faithful residents, back in the 60's, 70's, 80's, and.even into the 90's. Never say it was a sleepy town and comparing it with Woodside and Portola Valley. It never was and it will never be.

I am sorry to hear that you're closing shop...and leaving? It's so believable and understandable, however, because of today's small business climate, especially retail, in PA. That's the sad story about what has happened to my town since we moved here decades ago. Best of luck to you in new endeavors and wherever your journey takes you.


10 people like this
Posted by Where are the reductions?
a resident of University South
on Feb 27, 2018 at 7:47 pm

A year ago the city admitted they sold more Zone 5 permits than they should have. Has that been remedied? I ask because the street I live on, Forest Avenue, is 100% parked during the work day.


Like this comment
Posted by Justine
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 28, 2018 at 8:35 am

I'm looking forward to seeing what the Palo Alto TMA does to encourage people to take alternative transportation into downtown Palo Alto. There are over a dozen different options to travel into downtown that don't involve driving alone in a single-occupancy vehicle: Caltrain, VTA, SamTrans, Marguerite, Palo Alto Shuttle, rideshare, carpool, bicycle, E-scooter, and walking. Let's take a larger view of the problem and the solutions.


11 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 28, 2018 at 9:13 am

Justine, how does someone get from Half Moon Bay, but the methods you mention?

If the TMA really wanted to do something they would insist on parking lots at highway offramps and put in dedicated shuttle services to downtown and Cal Ave. They would insist on making it easier to pay for a full day's parking at all garages and lots with a payment app on phone or pay per hour machines. They would make it easier for parking permits to be owned by a business and given to their visitors and all day contractors for their one day use. They would enable those who only need to park for a couple of days a week to be able to do so with a system that encouraged those who only needed to commute by car a few days a week or those who perhaps need to use a different car occasionally.

Parking should not be made difficult but should be seen as a necessity for those who have to drive to work, either occasionally or just a couple of times a week.

I know some people who commute by Caltrain a couple of days a week and use their car on other days when it is their turn to drive the school run, or when they have after work commitments on certain days. They should be able to feel their needs are being met on the days when they can't use Caltrain. Others who work weekends as well as a couple of week days are in the same boat.

It is not a war on commuters, but instead should be options and incentives to help those who manage to avoid driving some days each week. The ability to be flexible has to be part of any plan.


3 people like this
Posted by Judy
a resident of Menlo Park
on Feb 28, 2018 at 12:08 pm

No need for a parking permit whey you can park in Menlo Park and walk/bike/rollers skate/ scooter/ skateboard over the pedestrian bridge and into Palo Alto for free! Let Menlo Park deal with the problem!


2 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 28, 2018 at 12:20 pm

Posted by brad, a resident of Green Acres

>> Sorry to say as a resident and a small business owner, when my lease is up in 3 yrs, I will close shop....Palo Alto is so anti small business this will become a small sleepy town like it used to be....ie, woodside, Portola valley and now Palo alto

Brad, I don't follow you. Are you saying the CC parking permit change is hostile to small business? What do you think the CC should do that would be friendly to small business vs big business? It seems to me that every move the CC makes to try to be friendly to small business has backfired because it favors big business even more.

What can the CC do to specifically help small business?


4 people like this
Posted by Gale Johnson
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 28, 2018 at 2:55 pm

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

@Resident

I had to take a moment to recover and catch my breath after reading your comment. You gave so much good information to inhale, ideas that are reasonable and achievable. If full attention was given to them, most of the current problems would become history. Let's hope our planners, staff, and CC, inhale your ideas and let that good air fill their lungs and activate their brains to move out on some of those ideas.

@Anon

Yeah, I was confused also, and yes, you're right...as much as CC talks about supporting and saving small businesses, retail in particular, it hasn't worked out very well. The past sins of open ended office development will take a long time to rectify and recover from. In addition, retail as I remember it, mom and pop stores, doesn't exist anymore. Big box stores and online buying killed it. A sad ending chapter to a wonderful book full of captivating reading material, that will now be archived.


2 people like this
Posted by Better Outcome
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 28, 2018 at 4:32 pm

Hey - Good outcome.
Wolbach will hear me in November when I happily cast my vote to re-elect him and can keep his agenda focused just as he has so far. I support him!


Like this comment
Posted by Better Outcome
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 28, 2018 at 4:35 pm

Annette - Voicing your opinion is not a rude snipe - I appreciate that the Council members disagree and discuss. Let's remember all the campaign smearing done against Wolbach and how loudly DuBois cried when he didn't get his way not long ago. I feel Wolbach has been entirely civil in his discussion.


18 people like this
Posted by Voter
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 28, 2018 at 6:54 pm

I wonder who flippant the developer beholden wing of the council would be if the parking problem was overflowing to Greg Scharff's house, or Liz Kniss' house, or Cory Wolbach's mom's house?

As long as it's someone else's neighborhood I guess...


18 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 28, 2018 at 7:11 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

Remember that during the ADU debate, Corey never even considered the encroachment of the unlimited number of tenants and their cars on their neighborhoods. When pressed at the CC meeting, he finally said the tenants should just park on front lawns!

Is this the type of deep thinking we want in Palo Alto. I sure don't.


6 people like this
Posted by Brad
a resident of Community Center
on Mar 1, 2018 at 5:52 am

Soon, as a small business owner of 6 employees for 13 yrs, my time is up. I am being penalized and pumped into the same group as Palantir, Houzz etc. I can not afford to pay my employees 1.5 times their normal rate just to entice them to work for me and then have them walk 10 blocks late at night to their car in the parking garage. When the residents want the city to eliminate parking for all employees and restrict it only to the garages, they will then only realize what they have done to kill a city. Rumor has it Whole Foods is looking to move out as well. People you have to wake up. You are loosing commerce. How many vacant store fronts are there in down town. I already count 5... and I know of 10 more in the upcoming 5 yrs if things progress.
To the short sided responder who challenged my statement saying the family businesses have thrived.....well that’s in the past when parking was free for employees of small businesses. No more. I’ve made my money for retirement but do you even think a small business will venture into downtown without parking.....paying these rents. Short sided. Good bye PA, and don’t tell me I didn’t warn you.


Like this comment
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 1, 2018 at 8:57 am

Posted by Brad, a resident of Community Center

>> Soon, as a small business owner of 6 employees for 13 yrs, my time is up. I am being penalized and pumped into the same group as Palantir, Houzz etc.

>> Good bye PA, and don’t tell me I didn’t warn you.

What specifically could/should the city do to encourage small retail/service businesses that won't just backfire and help bigger, wealthier businesses even more?


5 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 1, 2018 at 9:14 am

Helping small businesses.

Here's a couple of ideas, Brad can comment, they may or may not be good but suggestions to throw out.

30 minute parking outside his business.

Free all day parking in garage for all who work in small businesses with less than 15 employees. Small businesses have to register annually and get 15 mirror hangers free for that calendar year.

Palo Alto Weekly can have a small business directory for retail and promote small business retail day 3 or 4 times a year.




5 people like this
Posted by Abitarian
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 1, 2018 at 9:22 am

Anon wrote:

"What specifically could/should the city do to encourage small retail/service businesses that won't just backfire and help bigger, wealthier businesses even more?"

----------

For starters, the city should give employees of these resident-serving businesses free parking permits.


11 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 1, 2018 at 9:32 am

@Brad - you make good points; may I suggest you confer with the downtown stakeholders (M. Brand, N. Buchanan, J. Guislin) to discuss possible solutions? I think you are exactly right about being lumped in with the big employers. It is rotten that community serving businesses (local retail, small medical and dental practices, small service businesses) - and all of us who support them - have to pay the price of over-zealous and unmitigated commercial development that has caused a plethora of problems, including parking abuse by employees of large employers, such as Palantir and Stanford. The neighborhood residents absorbed what they could, but once the tipping point was reached they finally said STOP. They had to, really. Palo Alto has long been an arrogant city, acting as though it was immune to reality and could therefore stay on a course of "just say yes" to commercial development. Now all that is coming back to haunt us in the worst of ways. Many stakeholders are upset and worried about where the City is headed. But not everyone is unhappy. There are those on CC (and in higher office) who are supported by developer dollars. They are happy. And there are developers who benefit financially from the Say Yes approach. They are happy. And there are residents who support more growth. I hope you and others like you will dig in and stay. If enough of us stay the course and press for sensible growth, maybe we can reach an equilibrium that works.


7 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 1, 2018 at 9:49 am

I am not sure "free parking" is the right answer across the board. If I were to commute to San Francisco by car I would pay for parking and most likely bear that expense personally. I imagine that would cost several hundred $/mo. I don't think it outlandish to expect commuters to participate in this cost. Palo Alto prides itself on being smart; surely there's a formula for this that lifts the burden substantially from small businesses and low-income employees. How hard can this be, really? I think the City could solve this problem if it wanted to.


7 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 1, 2018 at 11:24 am

Online Name is a registered user.

Three points:

1) Many SF employers pay the commuting expenses for their employees which far outpace the measly cost of PA parking permits. Why aren't PA employers doing the same and why isn't the PA working to shift the burden to employers?

2) San Francisco and other cities are exploring peak transit time fees for parking and commuting. Why isn't PA doing the same rather than pushing all the costs and inconvenience onto residents?

3) The myth that Uber/Lyft reduces traffic is just that -- a myth pushed by urban "planners" when in fact studies have shown Uber/Lyft INCREASE traffic by more than 240,000 cars a day. Why then is PA making us pay the Uber/Lyft expenses of commuters, including for city employees?>?


6 people like this
Posted by Doss Welsh
a resident of Menlo Park
on Mar 4, 2018 at 9:41 am

Thank you Palo Alto for pushing your problem into my neighborhood. Dozens of cars are parked on our local streets just across the bike bridge to Palo Alto and now your city considers making it worse. I think I'll ask our city to install expensive parking meters on Alma Street.


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

Stay informed

Get daily headlines sent straight to your inbox.

Why is it becoming increasingly impossible to open a restaurant on the Peninsula?
By Elena Kadvany | 29 comments | 5,331 views

Firing Judge Persky as a tennis coach was a big mistake
By Diana Diamond | 23 comments | 2,965 views

Electric Buses: A case study
By Sherry Listgarten | 4 comments | 2,260 views

Skeptical of the "skeptics" but not the advocates?
By Douglas Moran | 5 comments | 914 views

Helping Partners Become Couples (vs. Helping Couples Become Partners)
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 675 views

 

PRICE INCREASES MONDAY

On Friday, October 11, join us at the Palo Alto Baylands for a 5K walk, 5K run, 10K run or half marathon! All proceeds benefit local nonprofits serving children and families.

Register now