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With new parking garage, Palo Alto looks to drive workers out of residential neighborhoods

Proposal calls for phasing out employee parking permits at Evergreen Park, Mayfield

A nearly completed parking garage in Palo Alto's California Avenue business district is expected to help the city phase out employee parking permits in the area. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

When Palo Alto's new parking garage near California Avenue opens to the public next month, it will stand out as both one of the largest structures in the city's "second downtown" and as a visible symbol for the city's changing approach to managing parking spots.

For area employees, the new direction will mean paying substantially more for permits to park in public lots and garages and, eventually, losing the right to park on neighborhood streets for more than two hours altogether.

For residents in the adjacent Evergreen Park and Mayfield neighborhoods, it will create a new requirement that they purchase residential permits to park near their homes — permits that have been free since the Residential Preferential Parking (RPP) program made its debut in early 2017.

The policy changes, which the City Council plans to discuss on Nov. 9, call for reducing the number of Residential Preferential Parking permits that the city sells to employees in the California Avenue area by 120 in March, when the new sales cycle begins. A new report from the Office of Transportation indicates that the move will be part of a multiyear process to eliminate all employee permits and create a system in which only residents are allowed to park on neighborhood streets for more than two hours.

The new report notes that staff is commencing a "phased process to eventually eliminate all remaining employee permits" in the Evergreen Park and Mayfield neighborhoods and that it plans to recommend additional reductions in March 2022.

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Once the process is completed, the California Avenue area will shift away from the downtown model, where employees and residents can each get permits to park on the streets — to the College Terrace model, where only residents can get permits and everyone else is subject to two-hour time limits.

The new plan represents the most significant change to the Evergreen Park-Mayfield permit program since the council adopted it in response to years of complaints from residents about the high number of employees parking on their streets. Since then, the council has made numerous modifications to the program, implementing and then refining a zone system with a specified number of worker permits in each zone in an attempt to spread the impact throughout the RPP area.

A 636-space parking garage near California Avenue in Palo Alto is slated to open next month. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

The new six-story garage at 350 Sherman Ave. offers the city an opportunity for even more drastic change. The $37 million structure will bring 636 spaces to a neighborhood that historically has been hampered by parking shortages and long waiting lists of employees seeking permits to park in existing garages. According to transportation staff, the waiting list now includes about 228 employees.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has effectively eliminated this problem, with many employees now working from home and the city not enforcing parking restrictions in the commercial zone, the new report indicates that the city remains on course with its plan to direct more employees away from neighborhoods and into off-street parking facilities, including the new garage.

Under a city proposal, the two upper levels in the new garage will be designated for employees on the weekdays until 11 a.m., after which time visitors would also be allowed to park there. The approach, according to staff, provides space for the 120 employees who would no longer be allowed to park in the Evergreen Park and Mayfield neighborhoods and for those on the waiting list for garage permits.

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The Sherman Avenue garage will have sensors on the upper levels to monitor all entries and exits. If a car does not have a valid permit, the system can automatically send an alert to enforcement personnel, according to the report.

The proposed change to the Evergreen Park-Mayfield program is part of Palo Alto's broader shift to make it more difficult for employees to park on residential streets. Last year, the council responded to concerns about parking shortages in a section of the Old Palo Alto neighborhood near California Avenue by adopting a new RPP program area that does not include employee permits. While the Old Palo Alto program was introduced on a "pilot" basis for 12 months, the City Council voted on Oct. 5 to make it permanent. In doing so, the council overruled a recommendation from staff to extend the pilot program for another year in order to gather accurate data about vehicle occupancy.

Parked cars line up along High Street in front of Bowden Park in Old Palo Alto, where the City Council voted to make its Residential Preferential Parking program permanent on Oct. 5. Embarcadero Media file photo by Veronica Weber.

Chief Transportation Official Philip Kamhi told the council that the pandemic has made it impossible for staff to evaluate the results from the program, which the city stopped enforcing in March.

"Initial community input has been primarily positive, but COVID-19 has prevented staff from conducting promised evaluations as has been done for previous RPP programs," Kamhi said.

Neighborhood residents overwhelmingly supported making the program permanent without any further extensions of the trial.

"Residents are happy with it," Chris Robell, who lives in the area and who helped establish the program, told the council. "They are glad to have protection from not being a commercial parking lot. We ask you to please approve it and be done with it."

While three council members — Mayor Adrian Fine, Alison Cormack and Liz Kniss — had initially supported extending the pilot program, the other four members favored making it permanent without the additional evaluation. Councilwoman Lydia Kou said doing so would give "peace of mind" to the residents who have gone through the process of implementing the program.

"I don't think they should be living with that thought, wondering as they come closer to the end of that year in October … if it's going to be made an ongoing program or if it's going be phased out."

The council ultimately voted 6-1, with Fine dissenting, to make the program permanent.

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With new parking garage, Palo Alto looks to drive workers out of residential neighborhoods

Proposal calls for phasing out employee parking permits at Evergreen Park, Mayfield

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Wed, Oct 21, 2020, 2:13 pm

When Palo Alto's new parking garage near California Avenue opens to the public next month, it will stand out as both one of the largest structures in the city's "second downtown" and as a visible symbol for the city's changing approach to managing parking spots.

For area employees, the new direction will mean paying substantially more for permits to park in public lots and garages and, eventually, losing the right to park on neighborhood streets for more than two hours altogether.

For residents in the adjacent Evergreen Park and Mayfield neighborhoods, it will create a new requirement that they purchase residential permits to park near their homes — permits that have been free since the Residential Preferential Parking (RPP) program made its debut in early 2017.

The policy changes, which the City Council plans to discuss on Nov. 9, call for reducing the number of Residential Preferential Parking permits that the city sells to employees in the California Avenue area by 120 in March, when the new sales cycle begins. A new report from the Office of Transportation indicates that the move will be part of a multiyear process to eliminate all employee permits and create a system in which only residents are allowed to park on neighborhood streets for more than two hours.

The new report notes that staff is commencing a "phased process to eventually eliminate all remaining employee permits" in the Evergreen Park and Mayfield neighborhoods and that it plans to recommend additional reductions in March 2022.

Once the process is completed, the California Avenue area will shift away from the downtown model, where employees and residents can each get permits to park on the streets — to the College Terrace model, where only residents can get permits and everyone else is subject to two-hour time limits.

The new plan represents the most significant change to the Evergreen Park-Mayfield permit program since the council adopted it in response to years of complaints from residents about the high number of employees parking on their streets. Since then, the council has made numerous modifications to the program, implementing and then refining a zone system with a specified number of worker permits in each zone in an attempt to spread the impact throughout the RPP area.

The new six-story garage at 350 Sherman Ave. offers the city an opportunity for even more drastic change. The $37 million structure will bring 636 spaces to a neighborhood that historically has been hampered by parking shortages and long waiting lists of employees seeking permits to park in existing garages. According to transportation staff, the waiting list now includes about 228 employees.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has effectively eliminated this problem, with many employees now working from home and the city not enforcing parking restrictions in the commercial zone, the new report indicates that the city remains on course with its plan to direct more employees away from neighborhoods and into off-street parking facilities, including the new garage.

Under a city proposal, the two upper levels in the new garage will be designated for employees on the weekdays until 11 a.m., after which time visitors would also be allowed to park there. The approach, according to staff, provides space for the 120 employees who would no longer be allowed to park in the Evergreen Park and Mayfield neighborhoods and for those on the waiting list for garage permits.

The Sherman Avenue garage will have sensors on the upper levels to monitor all entries and exits. If a car does not have a valid permit, the system can automatically send an alert to enforcement personnel, according to the report.

The proposed change to the Evergreen Park-Mayfield program is part of Palo Alto's broader shift to make it more difficult for employees to park on residential streets. Last year, the council responded to concerns about parking shortages in a section of the Old Palo Alto neighborhood near California Avenue by adopting a new RPP program area that does not include employee permits. While the Old Palo Alto program was introduced on a "pilot" basis for 12 months, the City Council voted on Oct. 5 to make it permanent. In doing so, the council overruled a recommendation from staff to extend the pilot program for another year in order to gather accurate data about vehicle occupancy.

Chief Transportation Official Philip Kamhi told the council that the pandemic has made it impossible for staff to evaluate the results from the program, which the city stopped enforcing in March.

"Initial community input has been primarily positive, but COVID-19 has prevented staff from conducting promised evaluations as has been done for previous RPP programs," Kamhi said.

Neighborhood residents overwhelmingly supported making the program permanent without any further extensions of the trial.

"Residents are happy with it," Chris Robell, who lives in the area and who helped establish the program, told the council. "They are glad to have protection from not being a commercial parking lot. We ask you to please approve it and be done with it."

While three council members — Mayor Adrian Fine, Alison Cormack and Liz Kniss — had initially supported extending the pilot program, the other four members favored making it permanent without the additional evaluation. Councilwoman Lydia Kou said doing so would give "peace of mind" to the residents who have gone through the process of implementing the program.

"I don't think they should be living with that thought, wondering as they come closer to the end of that year in October … if it's going to be made an ongoing program or if it's going be phased out."

The council ultimately voted 6-1, with Fine dissenting, to make the program permanent.

Comments

Andrew Boone
Registered user
another community
on Oct 21, 2020 at 9:03 pm
Andrew Boone, another community
Registered user
on Oct 21, 2020 at 9:03 pm
21 people like this

The new California Avenue car parking garage does not represent any “changing approach to managing [car] parking spots” as described in the first paragraph. It is exactly the same approach that the Palo Alto City Council has foolishly followed for 100 years - encourage more cars and more driving and more environmental destruction and more social division by building new car parking spaces at extremely high cost.

There are already (tens of?) thousands of car parking spaces in downtown Palo Alto and the California Avenue district - a massive glut that encourages thousands of people to drive and park cars every day in central Palo Alto rather than using public transit, bicycling, or walking. California Avenue is smack dab in the middle of the most extensive high-quality network of streets for walking and bicycling in the entire Bay Area. On one of end of the street is a Caltrain station and at the other end are bus stops for VTA’s 22 and 522 buses - the most heavily used and fastest buses in all of Santa Clara County. Yet what is the Palo Alto City Council’s brightest idea for the area? “Let’s put more cars there.”

More cars and more car traffic is exactly what Palo Alto residents DON’T want. Putting more cars on the streets clearly violates the city’s Comprehensive Plan and various state Climate Change laws. The city could have simply implemented the Residential Parking Permit Program to keep car commuters from parking in front of residents’ houses - there was absolutely no need to add 600+ new car parking spaces in the middle of an area with ample alternatives to driving - alternatives that could have been vastly improved city-wide if the $37 million squandered (not counting interest on the bond issued) to build the garage had been invested in walking, bicycling, and public transit instead.

The California Avenue car parking garage was a bonehead decision by a bonehead city council (except Adrian Fine, who voted against building it) that will cost Palo Alto residents and visitors for generations in terms of increased car traffic, car crashes, injuries, greenhouse gas emissions, and automobile dependency.


Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 21, 2020 at 11:13 pm
Resident 1-Adobe Meadows, Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Oct 21, 2020 at 11:13 pm
16 people like this

I was under the impression that there was going to be some residential building in that area for teachers, city workers, etc. That parking garage is taking up a huge amount of space. Where is the new residential housing going to go? Somehow it is too big for that location. It divides the area up.


Resident
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 22, 2020 at 10:20 am
Resident, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Oct 22, 2020 at 10:20 am
17 people like this

Andrew Boone’s post above is worth pondering in regard to, of all things, the city council election.

Most Palo Altans see Palo Alto as a place to live and raise kids. But there’s an alternate view of Palo Alto not as a community but an icon; whose top responsibility should be using its supposed national visibility to model virtuous principles to residents of other cities, a category which includes Boone himself.

In this case the virtuous principle is “don’t build off-street parking, because it attracts traffic and so increases greenhouse gases.” Like most slogans that’s often true, but not always. Here it just shifts existing traffic from the local neighborhood back into the commercial area. Boone knows that, but it’s not his point: his point is the principle, and Icon Palo Alto. Whether residents of Cincinnati, Tucson and Little Rock really get up every morning asking themselves “I wonder what happened in Palo Alto last night?” is a separate issue.

The council connection is that the Weekly, in its endorsements, specifically picked candidates who see Palo Alto as a Community, as opposed to an Icon. For example, Defunding the Police may truly be appropriate for some American cities, but it would be extreme in Palo Alto. Calling for it here is more about Big Social Statements and Iconography than it is about local community needs. Ditto the Garage.

Two takeaways, then. First, Boone ought to be a bit more direct about what he’s calling for: namely, that overprivileged Evergreen Park residents should put up with traffic and parking congestion in the service of promoting the virtuous “off street parking is bad” principle to other communities (though to really fight greenhouse emissions, live out life as a childless vegan). And second, residents who subscribe to the “Community” view of Palo Alto ought to vote for the candidates the Weekly endorsed (Burt, Kou, Lauing, Stone), while those favoring the “Icon” perspective should look elsewhere.


rita vrhel
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Oct 22, 2020 at 11:45 am
rita vrhel, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Oct 22, 2020 at 11:45 am
19 people like this

When it was proposed there were so many questions about design, cost and necessity. Now we have a huge, ugly box... can you believe how ugly it is? after 2 years of construction. What will the final cost of this garage be after all the
bond" costs are calculated?
I can hardly wait to see the "cascading concrete stairway designed to enhance the parking experiences" as describe by the architects. I believe the garage was actually built to serve all the nearby businesses who were allowed to under park their buildings, thereby,once again, transferring private costs to the taxpayer.
Hopefully it massive size and sheer ugliness will encourage the pro-growth City Council majority to do better.
Voters have an opportunity to slow growth down by voting for balanced growth candidates. Not anyone endorsed by the pro-growth, at an cost Democratic party; said by a life long Democrat. Thank you


If you build it, they will come.
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 22, 2020 at 12:34 pm
If you build it, they will come., Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Oct 22, 2020 at 12:34 pm
6 people like this

Once we add this much auto parking capacity, we might experience some temporary relief from neighborhood parking. However, longer-term, once drivers figure out there is more available auto parking, it will incent more people to drive to Cal Ave, so ultimately we will get more car traffic and more cars parking in the neighborhood. This well-known phenomenon is called induced traffic. Build it, and they will come. Anyone who studies traffic at all knows this is true.

Last I looked at this project, its cost exceeded $50Million. We spend vast sums facilitating driving in this town and throughout the country and far less on alternative transportation. This parking garage price tag is just the tip of the iceberg. Driving is expensive. The infrastructure cars need is enormously expensive and the long-term environmental impacts of driving are devastating to the planet our children will inherit. We have $50+ million to house cars, but not people. This is not how I want my tax dollars spent.


Native to the BAY
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Oct 22, 2020 at 5:34 pm
Native to the BAY, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Oct 22, 2020 at 5:34 pm
6 people like this

I love how all the sudden Mayfield (a former cow pasture) becomes all important to this article when basically it’s treated by the City like a Palo Alto one-off. It’s 3/4 miles from Paly yet is in the Gunn District which is 3 3/4 miles from its site. Parking permits are not given out to Mayfield. It can’t belong to the College Terrace Neighborhood Assoc because it’s acrossCal Ave. It’s an isolated biz island that the City begrudgingly allowed 70 very low income families — who are living on the edge — to just barely be included in with everyone else .


Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 22, 2020 at 5:50 pm
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Oct 22, 2020 at 5:50 pm
18 people like this

Driving is expensive. Companies adding 4 times as many new jobs as new housing makes new and existing housing more expensive. This whole area is expensive and we're being told to sacrifice all that made this area great at one time.

Just yesterday I had lunch at Cafe Pro Bono overlooking the new garage with a friend who used to live here but moved to Napa and another friend from Los Altos. That reunion could never happen if we'd relied on public transportation.

Virtue-signaling posts like Andrew Boone's demanding that we give up friendships like the reunion lunch above, concerts and plays etc. we can no longer get to in reasonable time OR find parking near public transit should we want to waste hours getting there makes me wonder if their world is really constrained to a bike ride or walk away. Sad.


Allen Akin
Registered user
Professorville
on Oct 22, 2020 at 8:32 pm
Allen Akin, Professorville
Registered user
on Oct 22, 2020 at 8:32 pm
15 people like this

@Online Name wrote "...makes me wonder if their world is really constrained to a bike ride or walk away. Sad."

Reminds me of an observation made by my brother-in-law, who lives in the Carroll Gardens neighborhood of Brooklyn. A friend, visiting from a different Brooklyn neighborhood, went along with him while grocery shopping. She commented "Wow. I wish I could get such great produce."

This in the city with arguably the best public transportation network in the US. I wonder if the people who advocate for unconstrained growth fully appreciate the value of freedom-of-movement.


Resident 1-Adobe Meadows
Registered user
Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 23, 2020 at 10:34 am
Resident 1-Adobe Meadows, Adobe-Meadow
Registered user
on Oct 23, 2020 at 10:34 am
10 people like this

Mr. Boone is popping up now all over the place. His role is to critique, admonish, and scold. Who is Mr. Boone? How old is he? If he does not live in this city then why is he involving himself in our business? Is he in journalism school? He appears to be a political activist looking for government actions to focus his attention.

Yes - it is unbelievably ugly. They were suppose to put housing for teachers and city workers in that area. Where is that suppose to go? Why did a garage get higher priority than housing for teachers?


A neighbor of Cal Ave
Registered user
Evergreen Park
on Oct 23, 2020 at 11:20 am
A neighbor of Cal Ave, Evergreen Park
Registered user
on Oct 23, 2020 at 11:20 am
16 people like this

As a resident of Evergreen Park, I very much appreciate the City's effort to finally move all-day employee parking out of the residential areas as is the case now for College Terrace and OId Palo Alto (areas which also abut the California Ave commercial area). However, the premise of the article, i.e., that the garage is adding 636 new parking spaces an encouraging traffic is misleading at best. It is astonishing that people are concerned about the 'massive' size of the garage, when the massive size of the large commercial buildings that have been approved is ignored.

Most importantly, the new garage will not ADD 636 parking places. The garage was built on a surface lot, so a portion of the garage merely replaces those spaces that were already there. Second, the new public safety building will be built on an existing surface parking lot. Between these two lots, 310 spaces in the new garage will simply be replacing what was already there. Next consider where the employees of the new public safety building will park. I have been unable to find out if this new building will have its own parking or will rely on the garage. Let's say that it doesn't -- but if it did, the number of new spots available to Cal Ave businesses and customers is reduced again. Finally, the closure of California Ave to traffic also took out many parking spaces. Again, I cannot find out from City staff how many were taken out in total, but by my count, it is somewhere between 50 and 100. So . . . the number of new spaces is really quite small, and might be as small as 100. If we move employees (that should have been accommodated by the developers who built the buildings)) out of the residential neighborhoods and into the garage, there is no room for additional traffic. The existing traffic will simply be served more conveniently and more appropriately where it belongs. To say this will increase traffic is an unsupported assumption.

As can be seen, the demand for those spaces is intense, contrary to Mayor Fine's opinion that the garage will be an empty albatross. Please note that Mayor Fine lives in Crescent Park which is unaffected by commercial all-day parking and is not the site of dense new housing plans. Everyone wants the parking spaces -- locally-serving businesses and professional office employees (medical and dental offices), customers of these businesses, and most of all developers who don't want to reduce their profit by including sufficient parking in their building plans. Low-wage employees of service businesses -- unlike commercial office workers -- need their cars because they often work more than one job. Taking our almost non-existent and very slow public transportation to a variety of jobs during the day is just not feasible. Commercial office workers, in theory, could take public transportation, but many don't for the same reason of slowness, failure to reach where they live (remember it is not just that a bus comes to Cal Ave, but that it must also reach your residential area). And, now, the pandemic also reduces the desire to take public transportation.

California Avenue is not a "second downtown". The City has been trying to make it one, but it was not built to be that. It used to be a neighborhood, retail area where people in the surrounding neighborhoods could walk to the grocery store, a drug store, an art store (Accent Arts), a cobblery, a bookstore, a florist, a bakery, mid-priced restaurants, etc. Because the City decided to make it more of a commercial area with huge class-A office space (often replaced low rise, low cost, or "naturally affordable" offices), land prices have skyrocketed and rents for surrounding businesses have followed suit. The area now has mostly businesses that serve the high tech office workers -- a wine bar, 4+ exercise studios, high end restaurants, etc. Even Antonio's Nut House is moving on. And, of course, a 'smoke shop'. T Local residents who used to walk there to shop now must drive elsewhere to find affordable services. If people truly wanted to reduce traffic, they would argue for small-scale, local shopping districts like Cal Ave used to be so that people did not have to leave their areas.

Finally, the reason the neighbors do not want their neighborhood to be a parking lot is not just because a street full of cars is unsightly and means you can't park in your own neighborhood -- although those are good reasons in themselves (just ask yourself where you would want to live). It is also because of safety (Peers Park is a major area for children playing), traffic (swarms of cars coming in to park at the beginning and end of the day, plus two-hour parking by customers and visitors; constant speeding through the neighborhood and failure to stop at stop signs endangering pedestrians and other cars), noise (constant slamming of car doors, loud cell phone conversations, roaring cars, etc.), and filth (can't tell you how many fast food wrappers, beer bottles, and other trash I pick up from those who are careless).

The residents of Evergreen Park supported the construction of the garage because many local retailers, restaurants, and medical/dental offices were unable to find parking for their employees. They were driven out by the high tech workers. We did not support the construction of the garage so that developers could use public funds as a substitute for them providing the parking for their own buildings. Large commercial office buildings should pay their own way, and not expect the free use of residential areas as a parking lot.

The residents of Evergreen Park and Mayfield deserve the same protection from the negative consequences of City decisions that other neighborhoods in Palo Alto receive.


New California Garage Is Needed
Registered user
Community Center
on Oct 24, 2020 at 11:30 am
New California Garage Is Needed, Community Center
Registered user
on Oct 24, 2020 at 11:30 am
11 people like this

While the new California garage is quite large, it is much needed for several reasons. To replace the surface lot it is on plus the one that will be consumed by the new Public Safety Building as well as to move employee parking out of the neighborhoods. Had new developments in the area been properly parked then the overflow of employee parking into the neighborhoods would be much less of a problem. It is also necessary to subsidize parking for community serving ground floor retail & restaurants, whereas office employee parking should not be subsidized. I for one appreciate this project.


densely
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 26, 2020 at 2:01 pm
densely, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Oct 26, 2020 at 2:01 pm
Like this comment

"A neighbor of Cal Ave" is nostalgic for the days when California Avenue was a sleepy neighborhood shopping street rather than a second downtown. It hasn't been that at least since the courthouse and the Social Security office were opened, more than 60 years ago. This nostalgia also ignores the area's history as the downtown of Mayfield until its annexation to Palo Alto in 1925.


Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Oct 26, 2020 at 2:11 pm
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Oct 26, 2020 at 2:11 pm
2 people like this

What Social Security office near Cal Ave? Where is it?

Whenever I've had to go to the SS office, they've never mentioned the existence of one in Palo Alto.


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