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Opinion: 'Streamlining' the city's residential parking program, really?

Parked cars line the street on Nevada Avenue in the Old Palo Alto neighborhood, one of the communities where the city has established a Residential Preferential Parking program. Embarcadero Media file photo by Veronica Weber.

In 2019, Palo Alto decided to streamline its Residential Preferential Parking program as part of a citywide overhaul of its parking system.

As part of that overhaul, residents who lived in areas that required street permits would be eligible to get virtual (paperless) permits for their vehicles, which would be uploaded into the city's parking permit database and read by license plate readers. Everyone else who parked over 2 hours would get ticketed.

And of course, to help manage the growing workload of the new streamlined system, the city created two new positions for the Office of Transportation: a parking manager and a transportation engineer. To fund the new positions, residents would now have to pay $50 (plus an administrative fee) for the permits, which previously were free.

Parking management provider Duncan Solutions was paid to roll out the residential permit program. On March 1, the opening day when the new program kicked off, I applied for a virtual permit, as well as two old-fashioned hang tags for my visitors. According to Duncan Solutions, approved permits are processed within 72 hours and should arrive in the mail no more than 14 business days later.

As of April 13, I was still waiting for the hangtags, which I paid for sometime in mid-March, and I had no idea whether my virtual permit was active — though I did get a sign to print out and put on my car dashboard with a virtual permit number on it.

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As I mentioned earlier, I applied for my vehicle permits on March 1. The process was torture: First, I went to the city website and was redirected to another site for my neighborhood parking area. All other visitors, I noticed, were directed to "Duncan Solutions Permit Portal." After going to the specific site for my neighborhood, I was then redirected, once again, to Duncan Solutions like everyone else.

Mickie Winkler is a former Menlo Park mayor and author of "Politics, Police and Other Earthing Antics." Courtesy Mickie Winkler.

Once on the Duncan Solutions portal, I signed in and signed up for my permits, uploaded my driver's license and registration as instructed, and filled out one very weird form. After 10 days, nothing, so I emailed Duncan for a response. Within one week, I received an account number. What a great verification of my existence, which I was beginning to doubt.

I have gotten parking permits in Palo Alto before, so the city and the Department of Motor Vehicles know that I live in the Downtown neighborhood even though my driver's license still has me listed on Sand Hill Road. Duncan Services didn't know this, so I sent the company a copy of my rental agreement. I finally was able to pay for two hangtags.

In my exuberance, I called Duncan Solutions to check on my virtual tag. When I offered my name and account number, I was told by a very nice service rep that they had no record whatsoever of my name or my account number. Aggghhhh!

I told the service rep, "Thank you so very much," and gently hung up the phone.

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What an unfortunate, unforgivable and pathetic mess.

Who is responsible? The city of Palo Alto, of course. Despite the fact that we have more employees per population than almost any other city in California, Palo Alto decided it needed to contract out this key process to an obviously unprepared group.

Since that incident, the situation has seemed to improve:

* The city website now directs everyone to Duncan, including residents in my area;

* Duncan has now posted a simple 15-page guide on how to apply for permits;

* it's my understanding that the city temporarily postponed ticket enforcement until it transitioned to the new permit program;

* and the city now coaches frustrated people like me who have been obliterated from the system but never had a previous problem securing a residential permit.

The city also apparently verified my existence and instructed Duncan Solutions to allow me to pay $50 (plus the processing fee) for a virtual permit, proof of which, as I said, is now pasted forever to the dashboard of my car.

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Mickie Winkler is a former Menlo Park mayor and author of "Politics, Police and Other Earthing Antics." You can email her at [email protected]

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Opinion: 'Streamlining' the city's residential parking program, really?

by Mickie Winkler / Contributor

Uploaded: Fri, Apr 29, 2022, 6:56 am

In 2019, Palo Alto decided to streamline its Residential Preferential Parking program as part of a citywide overhaul of its parking system.

As part of that overhaul, residents who lived in areas that required street permits would be eligible to get virtual (paperless) permits for their vehicles, which would be uploaded into the city's parking permit database and read by license plate readers. Everyone else who parked over 2 hours would get ticketed.

And of course, to help manage the growing workload of the new streamlined system, the city created two new positions for the Office of Transportation: a parking manager and a transportation engineer. To fund the new positions, residents would now have to pay $50 (plus an administrative fee) for the permits, which previously were free.

Parking management provider Duncan Solutions was paid to roll out the residential permit program. On March 1, the opening day when the new program kicked off, I applied for a virtual permit, as well as two old-fashioned hang tags for my visitors. According to Duncan Solutions, approved permits are processed within 72 hours and should arrive in the mail no more than 14 business days later.

As of April 13, I was still waiting for the hangtags, which I paid for sometime in mid-March, and I had no idea whether my virtual permit was active — though I did get a sign to print out and put on my car dashboard with a virtual permit number on it.

As I mentioned earlier, I applied for my vehicle permits on March 1. The process was torture: First, I went to the city website and was redirected to another site for my neighborhood parking area. All other visitors, I noticed, were directed to "Duncan Solutions Permit Portal." After going to the specific site for my neighborhood, I was then redirected, once again, to Duncan Solutions like everyone else.

Once on the Duncan Solutions portal, I signed in and signed up for my permits, uploaded my driver's license and registration as instructed, and filled out one very weird form. After 10 days, nothing, so I emailed Duncan for a response. Within one week, I received an account number. What a great verification of my existence, which I was beginning to doubt.

I have gotten parking permits in Palo Alto before, so the city and the Department of Motor Vehicles know that I live in the Downtown neighborhood even though my driver's license still has me listed on Sand Hill Road. Duncan Services didn't know this, so I sent the company a copy of my rental agreement. I finally was able to pay for two hangtags.

In my exuberance, I called Duncan Solutions to check on my virtual tag. When I offered my name and account number, I was told by a very nice service rep that they had no record whatsoever of my name or my account number. Aggghhhh!

I told the service rep, "Thank you so very much," and gently hung up the phone.

What an unfortunate, unforgivable and pathetic mess.

Who is responsible? The city of Palo Alto, of course. Despite the fact that we have more employees per population than almost any other city in California, Palo Alto decided it needed to contract out this key process to an obviously unprepared group.

Since that incident, the situation has seemed to improve:

* The city website now directs everyone to Duncan, including residents in my area;

* Duncan has now posted a simple 15-page guide on how to apply for permits;

* it's my understanding that the city temporarily postponed ticket enforcement until it transitioned to the new permit program;

* and the city now coaches frustrated people like me who have been obliterated from the system but never had a previous problem securing a residential permit.

The city also apparently verified my existence and instructed Duncan Solutions to allow me to pay $50 (plus the processing fee) for a virtual permit, proof of which, as I said, is now pasted forever to the dashboard of my car.

Mickie Winkler is a former Menlo Park mayor and author of "Politics, Police and Other Earthing Antics." You can email her at [email protected]

Comments

Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 29, 2022 at 8:55 am
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Apr 29, 2022 at 8:55 am

More of our money flushed down the drain by Palo Alto's "leaders" who can't be bothered to supervise contractors or employees to ensure that anything works. But sure, keep raising our utility rates etc. so the city can keep hiring more slackers and keep the consultant gravy train running.

Maybe the same political consultant responsible for selling us the new "improved" Utility Transfer tax to legitimize the illegal overcharges can get to work along with the new Senior CPAU staffer hired to lobby us can do another round of polling.


Evergreen Park Observer
Registered user
Evergreen Park
on Apr 29, 2022 at 10:54 am
Evergreen Park Observer, Evergreen Park
Registered user
on Apr 29, 2022 at 10:54 am

We have been telling the City for over a year that the Duncan system does not work and that they are incompetent. Despite this, more work is being given to them, e.g., the virtual permit system enforcement. The City has told us several times that enforcement is to begin on a certain date, but without an announcement, enforcement is delayed. This leads to the belief that the City announces enforcement merely to get residents and employees to buy permits, not to actually get services they pay for. The people in the office of transportation are very nice people, but either they don't, or more likely are not allowed to, recognize the Duncan disaster and make a course correction.


Evergreen Park Observer
Registered user
Evergreen Park
on Apr 29, 2022 at 10:56 am
Evergreen Park Observer, Evergreen Park
Registered user
on Apr 29, 2022 at 10:56 am

BTW, I did see enforcement vehicles in College Terrace this week. But, we all know that College Terrace gets special treatment when it comes to their RPP. The current council member who incorrectly takes credit for establishing the College Terrace RPP consistently votes against others receiving the same services. I have not see any enforcement vehicle in Evergreen Park for weeks. Disappeared again?


NeilsonBuchanan
Registered user
Downtown North
on Apr 29, 2022 at 11:10 am
NeilsonBuchanan, Downtown North
Registered user
on Apr 29, 2022 at 11:10 am

Enforcement: Each neighborhood enforcement can be different. In some cases, PA Police Department provides enforcement. In other case, enforcement is provided by a private contractor accountable to the Office of Transportation. As a result, there may be no uniform enforcement standard about frequency, day of week and time of day.

In Downtown North neighborhood, PAPD enforces street sweeping Tuesdays with unmatched punctuality. However, permit parking enforcement (8am-6pm M-F) is a mystery to me.


Bystander
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 29, 2022 at 1:19 pm
Bystander, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Apr 29, 2022 at 1:19 pm

What are the rules about basketball hoops?

Apart from the fact that one is on the street, there is also the fact that it encourages people to be in the street paying attention to a ball rather than traffic.

Can these be cited?


CC
Registered user
University South
on Apr 29, 2022 at 3:28 pm
CC, University South
Registered user
on Apr 29, 2022 at 3:28 pm

And now places like Channing House can really take advantage of this new system.

In the past years, they’ve gotten their residents to get hanging tags ( many who don’t own cars) to give to the front desk.

The front desk hands these out too employees, contractors and worse their construction workers.

Channing house is allotted a certain number of employee parking permits.

Well now with the new No sticker needed, it will be harder for us as residents to determine how many cars Channing house is actually parking.

When the program first rolled out, we neighbors could FINALLY find parking in front of our homes. Not anymore!!!

This whole parking system they’ve implemented is a disaster. It has been since the beginning.

And now we have to pay to park our own car on the street.

Shame on you COPA


Mondoman
Registered user
Green Acres
on Apr 29, 2022 at 6:17 pm
Mondoman, Green Acres
Registered user
on Apr 29, 2022 at 6:17 pm

Communities in the Boston area have developed a home-grown solution for this: in the wintertime, folks place old garbage cans, broken lawn furniture, or other bulky junk in their streetside parking spaces to prevent them being "stolen". Something like that could work well here - locals would have streetside parking, or they would get "free pickup" of a bulky trash item that otherwise the City would charge handsomely to remove.


NeilsonBuchanan
Registered user
Downtown North
on Apr 29, 2022 at 9:20 pm
NeilsonBuchanan, Downtown North
Registered user
on Apr 29, 2022 at 9:20 pm

Ten years ago I was among dozens of neighborhood leaders who successfully lobbied the city council and staff to implement a permit parking "system". Resistance from city council and business community was significant but city council stewardship eventually found a balance for commercial parking vs neighborhood quality. The council committed to continuous improvement of the parking programs, but their commitment has been less than robust.

I am not surprised that Ms. Winkler may have gotten a permit without proof of residency. I am not surprised that the new permit system is not user friendly and that it failed continuity of service.

There are three root causes dragging down quality parking programs for residential neighborhoods AND for University and California Avenue commercial cores.

First, city council and staff have a pattern of trying to do too much without adequate resources and staffing. When systems are not tested and improved over time, they will fail. Now city staff are implementing a new system for neighborhoods and seem to be experiencing basic problems of implementation and functionality.

Second, Covid forced city staff into work-from-home conditions which hampers hands-on implementation and interface with residents who have years of experience. Covid is a legit limiting factor but there may be issues greater than the hurdle of a totally new system. Is the user interface proven and friendly for 2022? Will the system provide the management data sought by City Council to manage parking within the residential neighborhoods AND within the commercial cores.

Third, will our City Council address the elephant in the room? Parking policies in the University Avenue commercial core have never been managed properly. As a result, one square mile of residential neighborhood area is needed to provide hundreds of commercial parking spaces for the commercial core. There is no coherent management of public AND private parking capacity.


peter p.
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 30, 2022 at 8:42 am
peter p., Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Apr 30, 2022 at 8:42 am

Many neighbors worked long and hard to be able to park in front of their own house. It is unfortunate the present permit system has proven to be so difficult to use but hopefully we will never return to the days when a few commercial concerns ruled neighborhood streets.


Evergeen Mike
Registered user
Evergreen Park
on Apr 30, 2022 at 9:38 am
Evergeen Mike, Evergreen Park
Registered user
on Apr 30, 2022 at 9:38 am

The permitting process in Evergreen Park has been similarly frustrating. The instructions are confusing, the website doesn't work, phone calls are not returned, and going to City Hall to try to get a permit gets "we don't do that here". Communication has been almost non-existent.

I'm sure that with the time and energy that city staff have expended to try to get Duncan Systems to deliver what they were hired to do, that they could have created a simple permit system which actually served the needs of the city's residents.


Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 3, 2022 at 11:31 am
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on May 3, 2022 at 11:31 am

This city is broken and seemingly incapable of making anything work. I reported a non-working street light using the city's form. I know other neighbors also reported it weeks before.

After a month I'm still waiting. Tick tock, tick tock.


staying home
Registered user
Crescent Park
on May 3, 2022 at 11:57 am
staying home, Crescent Park
Registered user
on May 3, 2022 at 11:57 am

does the virtual parking permit include patrolling for violators? the physical permits allow for neighbors to validate if the car camped in front of their house is from the neighborhood or is a day commuter looking for free parking. bring back the physical permit


MarianneMueller
Registered user
Professorville
on May 3, 2022 at 2:22 pm
MarianneMueller, Professorville
Registered user
on May 3, 2022 at 2:22 pm

I want to give a shout out to city staff in this case, the website does not work but there was a comment having problems? Make an appointment, and I did so online, went downtown for my appointment, waited in the lobby and the person came down to meet me he was very helpful and on his personal device ordered for me what I needed namely a hangtag for my caregiver, when I got home I had email with a link for payment, which I was able to do online, now I am waiting for the hangtag to arrive in the mail , I was able to print out a receipt, which has a permit number and it looks like if need be I could put this receipt on the dash when the time comes and the current hang tag expires . although it can often be frustrating to deal with any government official in this case the person from the parking department or transportation department was extremely helpful and friendly and I really appreciate having this problem solved. Or I assume it’s solve as I trust the hangtag will arrive in the mail, and if not, I know I can contact the person who originally helped me and he will help resolve it then, he offered to do so in that eventuality. So I wanted to offer this anecdote to other cynics out there. thank you to the friendly guy from transportation,marianne
p.s. RPP on our street has been great previously our street was filled with downtown commuters here in Professorville but with RPP Problem solved


Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on May 3, 2022 at 4:21 pm
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on May 3, 2022 at 4:21 pm

Good for you.

Have they put up a message on the unworkable website yet so all the other people who don't happen to be reading the comments know to do the same? Have they tried to penalize the contractor who's charging us for the non-working website as an incentive to make sure we get what we're paying for?


toransu
Registered user
Barron Park
on May 4, 2022 at 12:45 am
toransu, Barron Park
Registered user
on May 4, 2022 at 12:45 am

Why do we even need a parking program? Doesn't the city building code require garages and parking on each lot? Maybe if any thought was put into actual bike infrastructure or public transit, we wouldn't need to worry about these things!


Judith Kenney
Registered user
Crescent Park
on May 11, 2022 at 10:19 am
Judith Kenney, Crescent Park
Registered user
on May 11, 2022 at 10:19 am

We got our hang tag. It would be a small but very helpful thing to have it printed on both sides. We got ticketed when one of our kids, distractedly hung it up wrong side out.


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