City eyes overhaul of residential parking districts

New report offers recommendations to make programs simpler, more consistent

Ever since Palo Alto rolled out its first residential parking program in College Terrace a decade ago, limiting all-day street parking exclusively to residents, programs that restrict parking by non-residents have become a hot commodity — and an object of exasperation — in one neighborhood after another.

Despite the heavy demand, the programs have frustrated city workers, local employees and neighborhood residents, who generally agree that the permit systems are unnecessarily complex to set up and operate. Residents of neighborhoods with the parking programs, which apply to 28 percent of the city's households, find them necessary but still, along some streets, ineffective.

Meanwhile, employers, who must rush to get their permits with an urgency normally reserved for "Hamilton" tickets, fume about the limited supply.

Now, a movement is afoot to change all that. A new analysis of the city's residential preferential parking (RPP) programs, which the City Council plans to discuss on May 13, makes 35 recommendations for revamping the city's policies.

Among the broadest of these is a proposed shift from the existing system of limited pre-paid permits, which the report describes as "rigid," to a more dynamic system in which rates and supplies fluctuate based on demand.

The report from city transportation consultant Wayne Tanda also recommends that the city standardize the cost of employee parking permits in these programs and — to discourage on-street parking — make sure that the permits cost more than parking at garages or parking lots.

Tanda also recommends that the city make the various neighborhoods' programs uniform, barring "extenuating circumstances." Inconsistencies currently include, but are not limited to, the number of resident permits, the cost of such permits and the number of single-day permits, Tanda wrote.

In the Crescent Park program, for example, each household can get two permits. In Southgate it's three, and in Evergreen Park it's four.

The College Terrace program limits long-term parking (beyond the two-hour limit) to permit holders and only sells permits to residents. The downtown program and the one around California Avenue sell a limited number of permits to employees, with the quantity fluctuating every year based on staff recommendations and the council's changing preferences.

The Crescent Park program, established in 2016, is different in that it bans overnight parking. It is the simplest of the city's programs and most dissimilar from all the others.

The various districts also use their own individual software permit-management systems, which Tanda recommends bringing under new "comprehensive parking permit and citation management system."

"The differences give the impression that city residents do not receive equitable treatment," Tanda wrote of the recommendation for greater uniformity.

The differences, however, reflect each neighborhood's unique problems and ambitions. Downtown residents and their counterparts in Evergreen Park and Mayfield — the two neighborhoods that border the California Avenue business district — have parking restrictions designed to keep out commuters. Southgate residents' program targets Palo Alto High students and their cars.

A portion of Old Palo Alto near the California Avenue Caltrain station has petitioned for a program to thwart Caltrain commuters, who prefer to park for free on Old Palo Alto streets rather than pay to park in the Caltrain lot. The City Council will review that proposal on Monday.

In concrete terms, to help reform the permit system, Tanda and City Manager Ed Shikada are recommending adding new positions to the newly created Office of Transportation, one of which would be a much-needed second "parking manager." Those who have occupied the city's current parking manager (or "transportation planning manager") position have not lasted on the job for long. The city has had three different people in the post since spring of 2016. The last person to fill it, Philip Kamhi, resigned in April 2018 and has not been replaced.

A new report from Shikada highlighted the challenge of filling this position.

"Due to the complex nature of the program and the high demands for constituent relations, this staff position is very vulnerable to burnout and frustration," the report states.

If adopted by the council, the report's recommendations have the potential to upend the city's existing residential permit programs. As such, some of the residents who had spent years putting the existing programs together are greeting the recommendations with skepticism.

Neilson Buchanan, a downtown resident who served on the stakeholder group that helped design the downtown program, said he has been talking with neighborhood leaders in his district and in Evergreen Park. While the residents agree with most of Tanda's recommendations — including creating a more consistent payment program for employee permits and increasing the costs of non-resident permits — they vigorously rejected his recommendation that the city make the districts more consistent with one another.

"College Terrace rightfully has a standard for no non-resident parking. Evergreen Park seeks significant reduction (of employee permits) upon completion of a large commercial garage for commercial area around California Avenue," states Buchanan's summary of the residents' comments, which were submitted to the city. "Downtown North has consistently been receptive to lower-income merchant-class workers to have permanent, limited access to its residential streets.

"(The) staff report suggests that this level of differential is not desired due to administrative burden upon staff. Much of this burden is due to poor system design and high staff turnover."

The council will consider Tanda's broad recommendations, as well as residents' feedback, on Monday night. It will also consider the city's next steps for addressing the latest requests for neighborhood parking districts.

Chris Robell, who is leading the Old Palo Alto effort to establish a permit program, hopes the former effort doesn't delay the latter. He and his neighborhood submitted their initial petition for a program in May 2018 and it is still, in the best-case scenario, months from implementation.

The city's municipal code calls for the council to adopt or expand residential parking zones by September. But Transportation Planning Manager Sylvia Star-Lack warned the city's planning commission in March that it could take longer because data must be collected and the department's staff is shorthanded.


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Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 10, 2019 at 8:33 am

The complexity of parking permits for neighborhoods and also for permits in garages is overly complex as well as strict. When a car needs maintenance, a carpool is arranged, or someone only uses a car two or three times a week, the permit is not helpful.

Revamping our parking procedures is necessary and we are not using any technology. We have been promised electronic signs, still haven't appeared. We have had talk of parking meters, still not decided, and talk of paying and finding parking by phone. There are apps whereby residents can sell their empty driveways to all day parkers!

On top of this, it is interesting to note that San Francisco streets had lower levels of traffic on the day Uber and Lyft were striking. This should tell us something.

2 people like this
Posted by do the right thing
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 10, 2019 at 2:12 pm

"In the Crescent Park program, for example, each household can get two permits. In Southgate it's three, and in Evergreen Park it's four."

This should just be changed. Don't wait. Make them all 3 and be done with it.
It's ridiculous to have something as fundamental as the number of permits differ between programs. There's absolutely no reason for that difference.

2 people like this
Posted by Multiple Cars
a resident of Ventura
on May 10, 2019 at 8:15 pm

No big deal. I have five cars (mostly clunkers) and keep two in the driveway, two on the street and one on my front lawn. I don't care what the neighbors or real estate agent think.

They're my cars and it's my property. When one breaks down, I simply drive one that runs or has gas in it.

3 people like this
Posted by Needs Revamping
a resident of College Terrace
on May 12, 2019 at 2:02 pm

The standards are ridiculous. The city requires a certain percentage of residents on the streets of College Terrace to sign and agree to permitted parking before it's instituted. So College Terrace streets that didn't have that buy in of residents (i.e. homes that have rentals), the residents have to suffer with commuters coming in and parking on their neighborhood streets.

Those streets have Stanford students and commuters coming to park their cars long term, or even using it to permanently park for indefinite periods of time in certain College Terrace streets.

The city may not be able to make it all uniform policy between neighborhoods, but the city also doesn't even a uniform policy between STREETS within the same neighborhood. The system set up is archaic. They need to CHANGE this.

ALL College Terrace streets need to be permitted to prevent long term commuters and long term parking from our crowding specific College Terrace streets.

3 people like this
Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on May 13, 2019 at 10:28 am

Nayeli is a registered user.

Why doesn't the city restrict downtown parking to meters UNLESS individuals have "city resident" stickers on their windshields.

2 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Downtown North
on May 13, 2019 at 10:39 am

Re: "In the Crescent Park program, for example, each household can get two permits. In Southgate it's three, and in Evergreen Park it's four."

"This should just be changed. Don't wait. Make them all 3 and be done with it.
It's ridiculous to have something as fundamental as the number of permits differ between programs. There's absolutely no reason for that difference."

** You forgot College Terrace. **
The way the city figures out which streets in College Terrace neighborhood require permits, while other streets are a free for all is random. Who made this archaic set of rules? Why have they not all be changed to be uniform and similar in all the streets of Palo Alto?

The reality is in College Terrace, you get:

1. Stanford students parking long term everywhere they can find free parking.

2. CalTrain commuters parking in College Terrace where there is free parking.

3. Long term parkers who don't have parking spots (thanks to the limited number of parking in new developments being created near College Terrace) so people actually STORE their cars ON COLLEGE TERRACE streets and bike in or uber in.

4. California Ave business customers come into College Terrace and park for extended periods of time (especially the free parking with no limit streets)

College Terrace is the worst of all the city streets yet Palo Alto city hall treats College Terrace residents the poorest.

Like this comment
Posted by Judith Wasserman
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on May 13, 2019 at 11:07 am

Judith Wasserman is a registered user.

It's time Palo Alto started charging for parking, at least downtown. Of course people will complain, but they are already complaining they can't find a space. There's always something to complain about, so let's ignore that and go on to create useful policy that will help diminish some of the traffic.

8 people like this
Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on May 13, 2019 at 11:58 am

Annette is a registered user.

The phrase "only in Palo Alto" is filtering through my mind. How can something as simple as this become such a complex problem that it impacts departmental staffing? For pity's sake, we are talking about parking permits. If this confounds the folks downtown, grade separation must look to them like the Mt. Everest of problems.

Maybe the City Manager should assign someone the task of reading Palo Alto Online every day and recording every reasonable suggestion that is made about the various problems that haunt this city. There are some crazy things that get written, but there are often smart suggestions that come from the people who live daily with the consequences of what is decided at 250 Hamilton.

3 people like this
Posted by Michael H
a resident of Professorville
on May 13, 2019 at 12:09 pm

Michael H is a registered user.

One unfortunate element of the current program that begs modification was overlooked in the list of the consultant's recommendations: Several of the blocks immediately adjacent to the Downtown area are generally fully parked Monday-Friday. This is undoubtedly due to the fact that non-resident permits in those zones have been routinely oversold since the RPP program rolled out.

While it's certainly understandable that all non-resident workers want to park in zones immediately adjacent to their place of employment, the simple fact is that cannot be an option for everyone who works in the downtown core.

One solution to this problem that has been suggested but so far ignored is to divide each of the current zones into sub-sections (e.g. A, B C, etc.) so that the non-resident parkers can be distributed more equitably in residential areas.

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

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