Palo Alto's plan to build a six-level garage near California Avenue advanced on Monday night when the City Council authorized the issuance of up to $50 million in bonds to finance the construction of the long-awaited project.
The council voted 6-2, with council members Adrian Fine and Cory Wolbach dissenting and Mayor Liz Kniss absent, to approve the financing mechanism for the parking structure, which will go up at 350 Sherman Ave., near Birch Street. The project is being approved in conjunction with Palo Alto's new public-safety building, which would be built on an adjacent lot at 250 Sherman Ave., immediately after the garage is constructed.
The new garage will include four levels above ground and two underground levels, with a total of 636 public parking spaces. It will go up on a city-owned parking lot and will provide about 310 new parking stalls to the California Avenue business district, according to Administrative Services Department staff.
The bonds in this case are certificates of participation, which do not require voter approval. Under this financing mechanism, the city will lease one of its properties to the Palo Alto Public Improvement Corporation, a separate legal entity that the city created in 1983 to help finance projects. The corporation would lease the property back to the city, which would make lease payments. The city's trustee would then issue the certificates of participation, which would effectively represent the rights of bond purchasers to collect a portion of the city's lease payments.
In this case, the property that the city will lease is the Rinconada Library (because members of the City Council also serve as the board of directors for the Public Improvement Corporation, they would essentially be leasing the building to themselves).
While the Monday discussion was focused on financing the project, Councilman Adrian Fine took the opportunity to voice general opposition to the new garage. Fine has also said that he opposes the proposed downtown garage, which is also included on the council's infrastructure plan (along with the California Avenue garage, the public safety building, two rebuilt fire stations, a bike bridge over U.S. Highway 101, the streetscape project at Charleston/Arastradero and various bike and park projects).
Fine took issue with both the idea of building new garages and with putting up Rinconada Library as a collateral for this project.
"We're essentially incentivizing people who drive to downtown and California Avenue. … I think we have better use of our money and our land in this city," Fine said.
Wolbach, who opposes the downtown garage but supports the California Avenue one, had narrower concerns. He said he is not comfortable with the financing plan and argued that the garage should be paid for through permit fees (the city is, in fact, planning to require permits for long-term parking at the garage).
Other council members had no such objections.
"The neighborhood is excited to get this done," Councilman Greg Scharff said. "The merchants are excited to get this done. I'm glad we're moving forward."
Vice Mayor Eric Filseth acknowledged the council's differing opinions about the need for new garages but noted that the decision to construct the California Avenue has already been voted on. He chided those opposing the issuance of bonds for trying to impede the project based on broader policy disagreements.
"In my view, to impede the implementation decision in an attempt to reverse the original decision is undisciplined," Filseth said. "And I don't think it's a good process for us to do."