After years of planning for a new public-safety building and parking garage in the California Avenue area, Palo Alto officials are finally getting close to breaking ground on the two projects.
Starting in January, construction crews will cordon off the Sherman Avenue block between Ash and Birch Streets and start constructing the new 636-stall garage, which will feature four stories above ground and two basement levels. Once the garage is up, they will proceed to the new public-safety building, a project that city officials have been eying for nearly two decades and that will occupy an adjoining parking lot, across the street from the Santa Clara County courthouse.
Public Works staff expect the garage to be completed in spring 2020, at which time it will add about 310 spaces to a business district where merchants have long clamored for more parking (officials expect to complete the police building in 2022).
But before they can have more parking, area merchants will have to settle for less. The loss of the parking lot during the construction period means there will be 165 fewer spots during the construction phase. And as Public Works officials prepare to break ground, they are also looking for ways to mitigate the parking impacts during the construction period.
"Until the garage is built, we're all going to be pinched," Jack Morton, a former vice mayor and head of the California Avenue Business Association, said at a Sept. 12 community meeting on the project. "We had a similar thing when we reconfigured Cal Aveven, but this is going to be five times worse."
Yet Morton also commended Public Works staff for working with merchants to lessen the pain. The mitigations were the central focus of the meeting, which attracted about 20 area residents and workers to Palo Alto Square.
The top mitigation is phasing the two projects so that work on the public safety building won't launch until the garage is complete, said Senior Engineer Matt Raschke, who is managing the project. That ensures that area businesses and residents won't have to cope with both lots being decommissioned at the same time.
In addition, the city plans to reconfigure Lot C-7 (where the police building will ultimately stand) to add 30 spots, mostly by eliminating medians. That idea, he said, came from residents at a previous community meeting on the project. The new setup, he said, will also allow the city to create a staging area on the periphery of the parking lot where work will occur.
Raschke said the city is also considering using the PANGO app, which notifies people when they are reaching the parking time limit. And the city is also pursuing agreements with the Santa Clara County courthouse and Caltrain to temporarily use some of their lots while construction progresses. If the agencies approve the city's request, the city would have access to about 87 new spots between the two locations. Those spots would be allocated for California Avenue's parking-permit holders.
Perhaps the most creative proposed mitigation on the table is reconfiguring the parking spaces on College Avenue, a block north of California Avenue, to accommodate an additional 20 spaces.
"College Avenue is made up from primarily apartments," Raschke said. "I would imagine residents on the street will be very happy to have additional spaces for nighttime parking because College Avenue is pretty parked up all day long."
The plan is far from a done deal. Interim Public Works Director Brad Eggleston said the idea remains largely conceptual and staff would need to do more outreach and analysis before it's implemented. One resident who attended the Wednesday meeting said he was concerned about the city creating more parking spots in the neighborhood. Paul Machado, who lives in Evergreen Park, just north of California Avenue, said he was concerned about the new College Avenue scheme.
Machado took issue with staff's assertion that College Avenue needs more parking outside the lunch hours and asked whether the city will be selling more Residential Preferential Parking permits once the new spots are established (staff indicated that they will not). Creating more parking spots, he said, could also affect neighborhood aesthetics.
"This is supposed to be a neighborhood, not a parking lot, so there's some concern about that," Raschke said.
The city also expects to get some help from Stanford Research Park, which was preparing to launch a new shuttle service from the research park to California Avenue.
"We believe that will lower parking demand and still bring in patrons to the restaurants and businesses," Raschke said.
The city is currently going through the pre-bidding process, Raschke said. Public Works has identified three qualified general contractors who could be hired to build the garage.
The city is also under contract with Nova Partners, Inc. -- which oversaw the recent reconstructions of the Rinconada Library and the Palo Alto Art Center -- to manage the construction and make sure the garage project doesn't face the types of delays and cost overruns that the city experienced during the recent construction of the new Mitchell Park Library and Community Center.
David Coale, a member of the group Carbon Free Palo Alto, had a bigger issue with the garage project. The city, he said, should focus more on reducing demand by expanding the Palo Alto Transportation Management Association to the California Avenue area (the association, which is mandated to reduce the proportion of single-occupancy vehicles, currently only operates in downtown).
"The TMA is working wonderfully downtown to such an extent that we probably won't need a garage there. ... This has to be part of an overall plan," Coale said.
While the garage project is almost ready to go, the public-safety building is still going through the city's lengthy entitlement process. The City Council is scheduled to discuss the public-safety building on Monday night, while the Architectural Review Board will consider the latest design plans on Sept. 20.