City floats parking-permit plans to residents | June 21, 2013 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - June 21, 2013

City floats parking-permit plans to residents

Palo Alto staff discusses different approaches to solving downtown's parking problem

by Eric Van Susteren

The City of Palo Alto is considering instituting permit-parking in a residential neighborhood — its second in the city — to ease parking problems in and around the city's congested downtown.

The programs would work by selling parking permits to residents and downtown employees, imposing time limits on parking in the blocks surrounding the downtown area and setting up "buffer zones" that don't require residential parking permits on the blocks closest to downtown.

Parking problems in the downtown area, where street parking is often taken up by downtown workers during the daytime and restaurant-goers during the evening, have been growing, according to residents who have becoming increasingly vocal about their dissatisfaction.

One possible concept, which Chief Transportation Official Jaime Rodriguez discussed this week with residents in the Downtown North and University South neighborhoods, would be to implement residential permit-parking zones on one side of streets near downtown, with hourly parking on the other side of the streets, and a buffer zone of hourly parking on streets nearest to downtown.

Michael Hodos, one of about 40 people who attended the meeting, said that a permit-parking system that allotted spots for downtown workers should be spread out in the neighborhood — or else workers would simply choose the spots closest to the downtown area, which would put those residents at a disadvantage.

Rodriguez suggested that parking permits could be sold to residents at a relatively cheap rate, giving the example of $30. The city would then sell the remaining spots to businesses or employees under a tiered system in which spots closer to downtown would cost more, possibly between $250-300.

Hodos suggested the parking plan be implemented in phases, increasing the scope gradually to gauge its effectiveness.

Another idea floated by Rodriguez would not require parking permits but instead set up areas in the neighborhood with time limits, possibly of four hours, to ensure that downtown workers wouldn't be able to park the cars in the same spot for the entire day.

That plan, however, was met with a cold reception from meeting attendees, several of whom didn't like the idea of having to move their own cars to avoid a citation.

Many of the neighbors said parking permits would not fix what they feel is the real problem: large downtown developments that don't provide enough parking for the traffic they bring to the area.

Resident John Hackmann stressed the immense value to the city of street parking near downtown and said it shouldn't be given away for free to employees working at large developments downtown. Instead he suggested what he called "market-based approach" that auctions off some of the most valuable spots to nonresidents.

The costs of implementing a parking-permit program would include installing signs, setting up permits and the ongoing administrative and police staffing, Rodriguez said.

In 2009 the City Council voted to implement a residential parking-permit plan in College Terrace, the neighborhood bordered by Stanford University and the Stanford Research Park. But the startup costs of that program, about $100,000, was covered by Stanford as a condition of the university's 2001 general-use permit with Santa Clara County.

Tuesday's meeting was one of several meetings planned by the city. Rodriguez was careful to say that the ideas were not set in stone but that the drafts were being proposed to gauge the community's response prior to staff presentations to the City Council.

Rodriguez said he hopes to have a permit-parking plan for the area for the council to vote on by the end of the calendar year. He said the plan would need the support of at least 70 percent of the residents, a number that many at the meeting balked at.


Do you favor parking permits for the neighborhoods surrounding downtown Palo Alto? Share your opinion on Town Square, the community discussion forum on Palo Alto Online.

Online Editor Eric Van Susteren can be emailed at


Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 19, 2013 at 10:14 am

This does not address the full day casual parking problem.

The root cause is that people want to park all day and unless they purchased a permit, they can't park.

I have needed to park over 3 hours on occasions and I have found it difficult to find out what to do and I live in Palo Alto. How on earth can a visitor to Palo Alto find out where to park all day?

The parking signs around town tell visitors where the lots are, but there is no indication that they can't park at these lots for more than 3 hours without a permit until they get there.

How on earth do people attending business meetings, conferences, social events, find out when they arrive here where to park? The answer is they don't, so they look for street parking.

If the powers that be don't realize that we need casual all day parking on a pay per hour basis, then they are wearing blinkers.

Get some decent pay per hour machines at all lots and give our visitors a chance to park.

As for workers, let them pay per hour also because I do believe that many of them are not parking all day every day, but parking a couple of days a week or a few times a month and permits would not suit them either.

Make parking make sense. Make parking cheaper and easier. See what happens.

Like this comment
Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jun 19, 2013 at 10:23 am

Why should residents have to pay for parking permits to park in front of their own homes? Where would the money go? Would this money go into the General Fund to pay for higher salaries/benefits? What kind of enforcement would their be to make such a program work?

Rodriguez does not seem to have given this matter much thought. Has he modelled downtown parking using computer-based simulations yet? This article does provide any detail about the number of spots that might be available for resident parking. Did Rodriguez mention such a number?

The claim that overdevelopment, coupled with City-allowed underparking certainly seems to be the key issue here. How can residential parking be addressed before the key problem is scoped, and reasonable solutions to that problem be proposed?

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Posted by Halt Growth
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 19, 2013 at 11:07 am

Unfortunately if Palo Alto is going to continue to urbanize, I believe it makes the most sense downtown. The idea of parking in front of your home in a city is the disconnect. Either we keep Palo Alto small and suburban and halt all this uncontrolled growth, or we accept that we are urbanizing as a city. Residents will need to purchase parking spots if they don't have a driveway (one spot just sold in San Francisco for $82K). This is where we're headed. Continuing to develop downtown into an urban center makes more sense then pushing random dense developments all over south Palo Alto.

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Posted by curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 19, 2013 at 11:17 am

In all the ballyhoo over permit parking, parking meters, etc., we've lost sight of the elephant in the room:

Where are those people going to park?

Downtown needs workers, and they obviously need to drive to work. In the past, the city obligingly (eagerly, even) blew off this fact and let developers build beyond the max and without adequate parking spaces. Now it's time to face reality.

Here it is: Either our downtown employees get places to store their cars, now and in the near future, or downtown closes down. It's that simple.

So where are those places, if not in the adjacent neighborhoods? Anybody?

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Posted by around a long time
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 19, 2013 at 11:30 am

Residents and friends,don't plan to go downtown for an appointment or conference and patronize a restaurant after. If you do find parking be very sure it's three hours permit, and don't overstay. Could be more expensive than planned.
The city where Silicon Valley began can't solve its parking problem!!!
Surely some of these great minds could have prevented this problem-looking ahead-foresight. Or maybe our elected officials couldn't resist the persons who wanted to build profitable buildings and not have the expense of providing adequate parking in their buildings. Now the residents who were given the problem get to choose the least difficult of several solutions, some of which will cost them money!!!

Like this comment
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 19, 2013 at 11:53 am

I agree that the underlying issue is the all-day parking.

The problem not discussed is that the lowest paid downtown employees (restaurant workers, clerks, etc.) are not going to pay to park anywhere. Unless their employer provides the permit or the expense credit, those individuals are going to park wherever it is free and unrestricted.

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 19, 2013 at 12:17 pm

CP Dad

I agree with you and that is why downtown parking has to be affordable and there is no reason why businesses can't buy permits for their employees for peanuts.

We have to look at the overall parking problem. We have the garages, we have the lots, we know that there is space in many of these lots so the problem is getting them used. Parking should not be a money maker. Parking should be available in a sensible manner to those who need it. If the lots are not filled it is because (a) the system is too complicated and (b)the permits are too expensive.

Like this comment
Posted by it's about the money
a resident of University South
on Jun 19, 2013 at 12:34 pm

A typical office worker needs about 200 sf of space for their office, and their allocated share of hallways, bathrooms, break rooms, elevators, etc. Add in a parking space for a car, and it's another 300 sf. I think I saw an estimate that a parking space in a building garage costs aroun $50,000.

So you can see where the property develpers make more money - by not building the parking needed, they can instead build more office space, and collect more in rent. Instead, they are using the neighborhoods to subsidize their buildings. It's been estimated that downtown is underparked by 1500 spaces. Multiply that by the cost per parking space, and you see the neighborhoods are subsidizing the downtown developer by $75 million, push they collect more in rents.

The developers donate heavily to City Council campaigns. They get friends and employees to donate, so it doesn't all appear under one name. With a city council race costing $30,000 to run, you can see that getting their circle of council members elected is pretty cost effective - for $100,000 - $200,000 every two years, they save $75 million, and collect a ton more in rents.

Like this comment
Posted by one for all
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 19, 2013 at 1:02 pm

"In all the ballyhoo over permit parking, parking meters, etc., we've lost sight of the elephant in the room:

Where are those people going to park?"

This is really the point. Allowing an RPP in DTN without allowing it in the next neighborhoods simply pushes the cars further out. This needs to apply to DTN, Crescent Park, University South, Professorville and Community Center. In the summer months, trying to get a park near your house near Rinconada Park can be worse than anything DTN experiences.

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Posted by Jeff
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 19, 2013 at 2:20 pm

SF garages typically have a machine to charge for the hours parked in the garage. They also have a 24 hour rate. Do the same for downtown Palo Alto parking garages. Keep the 2 and 3 hour limits for curbside parking or install parking meters. Shoppers, visitors, etc need to be able to find a place to park.

Commuter parking in adjoining neighborhoods is unfortunately here to stay. All that can be done is require new construction to provide adequate parking for the cars they attract. If new construction doesn't provide adequate parking other businesses and residents are effectively subsidizing the construction through lost business etc.

Requiring new downtown homes to have the garage in back of the house may make the house match the character of the neighborhood but pretty much guarantees that the homeowners will be parking one or more cars on the street. Few lots have room for a double wide driveway to go behind the house.

Palo Alto planning needs to realize the parking is only going to get worse. Giving parking requirement concessions for "pretty" buildings is incredibly costly to the city, its current businesses, and residents. Giving parking concessions for new businesses located near the train only makes it harder for people who can't walk to the train to use it. The new businesses won't have an appreciably higher percentage of commuters using the train than other businesses.

Like this comment
Posted by MadamPresident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 19, 2013 at 2:52 pm

No to parking permits; let people to park on the streets for fre; residents, park in your driveways

Like this comment
Posted by Wondering
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 19, 2013 at 3:45 pm

Madam, what are you President of?

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Posted by Liberty
a resident of University South
on Jun 19, 2013 at 4:39 pm

The garages are half empty all day. There are several obvious problems with the current downtown permit program. But instead of fixing those problems and utilizing all those empty spaces they want to add a NEW permit program for residences? I bet that one will workout WAY better!

Fix the downtown permits. Make them more flexible. At least start there before you make me pay to park at my house.

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Posted by PA Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 19, 2013 at 4:43 pm

The problem with permit parking is it has to be policed. Meter maids or Police Officers have to check that those parked in designated areas have the correct permits; that is why it costs so much for permit parking, meter maids and parking Officers cost money to employ.

I think it's time Downtown re-install those parking meters they took away some 20 or so years ago. Downtown is urban living now and needs urban solutions to their parking problems.

Whatever the solution, parking permits, parking meters or more garages it will cost big bucks, and those that want to park on Downtown Streets should pay.

Like this comment
Posted by PA
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 19, 2013 at 4:43 pm

I agree with Madam, no parking permits. You don't own the land in front of your house.
Park in your driveway, or search for a place like the rest of us mortals. What the heck is
the problem. People park along my street all day, go to work, go home. Who the heck cares?
The developers are never going to be held accountable, money is the only thing that maters
here. It is really simple.

Like this comment
Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 19, 2013 at 7:39 pm

To all those who say the residents don't "own" the streets in front of their house, I would submit that neither do the Business owners own the streets in front of their businesses, and if people can park all day in front of my house, they should also be free to park all day in front of a business. But the city specifically put in timed parking limits in front of businesses so that their customers will have a place to park, thereby allocating those parking spaces to the downtown business community.

Fair is fair - remove the color zoning timed parking downtown, and lets see how that works for everyone.

Like this comment
Posted by PA
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 19, 2013 at 9:55 pm

common sense,
I don't just "say" that I do not own the street in front of my house. I, in fact do not
own the street in front of my house, none of us do. Sorry, somethings are actual facts.

Like this comment
Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 19, 2013 at 11:03 pm

PA@Downtown North,

The businesses don't own the streets in front of their businesses or the city parking lots either. Remove the time limits on parking on University, Hamilton, Lytton, etc, and parking lots. Let the employees park all day in those lots, just like they can park in front of our houses today.

That's the point - what's good enough for us the residents, should be applicable to the businesses as well.

Like this comment
Posted by Simple solution
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jun 19, 2013 at 11:38 pm

Make the parking garages free with no time limits and the day workers will stop parking on the streets.

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Posted by PA
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 20, 2013 at 6:57 am

Common Sense,
Yes, people park all over the place in a downtown setting. In front of businesses, houses,
apartments. My question is why do people care if others park in front of their house?
Again, people park in front of my house all day long. I don't get what makes that so
aggravating. I either park in my driveway, or find a place on the street like everyone else.

If you don't like living in a downtown setting (which I completely understand) there are
plenty of places that you can live with a low likelihood of having this issue.

Like this comment
Posted by paly parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 20, 2013 at 8:25 am

Parking in front of someone's house all day becomes an issue particularly you don't have a driveway and are older, have small children or are disabled. Simple errands become very complicated. Getting repairs done on your home becomes very complicated if a contractor has to park blocks away. In addition, with people parked so close to many corners, it is difficult for bikes, pedestrians and even cars to cross intersection safely (try biking down Bryant from University to Embarcadero).

Permit parking, one side of the street only, with signs and large fines for parking there without a permit would help the problem immensely.

Like this comment
Posted by Eric F
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 20, 2013 at 8:30 am

The issue of "who owns the space in front of my house" is not the major one. It's the sheer number of cars, and the arguable de facto rezoning of residential neighborhoods as parking lots.

More important is what happens to a neighborhood street when it is used as a parking lot. There are cars parked up and down both sides, making the street essentially 20 feet narrower. Many of the street is Palo Alto's neighborhood were not wide to begin with, and visibility is poor even with no cars parked. Furthermore there are big waves of traffic in the morning and afternoon rush hours, and at other times as cars circle the neighborhood looking for parking spaces.

It's tricky enough for, but in a residential neighborhood, the streets and crosswalks are also used by bicycles, joggers, seniors, pets (!) and others.

If you want to see what a 100% parked-out neighborhood street looks like, take a look at the picture at the bottom of

Yes, that's really what it looks like. My kids ride their bikes through that stretch twice every weekday, to and from school. I have personally seen car-bicycle accidents there resulting in serious injuries. And how would you get a fire truck through there?

It wasn't this way 20 years ago when I moved in, but it is now. This is the price of the city's unconscionably poor choices in allowing dense office development without parking -- basically a massive subsidy to wealthy developers, paid for by residents in terms of safety and liveability. Those choices continue today. If your neighborhood streets don't look like this, they will. Every neighborhood in the city is going to need an RPP.

Like this comment
Posted by Part of the problem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 20, 2013 at 8:47 am

Part of the problem is people being allowed to convert their garages into living space. We recently had a neighbor eliminate their garage and their driveway, so now their cars have to be placed on the street. We have neighbors that never use their garage or driveway. Its their right to part on the street, but part of the problem is for some reason people don't want to use their private infrastructure for their cars. I know I'm guilty. I park only one car in the driveway and 1 car in the street even though 2 cars fit in the driveway and the garage hasn't had a car in it since we bought the house. I have a neighbor that has 4 cars for 2 drivers. Their right, but the point is some of this parking problem is of our own making. In my area all the street parking is from the homeowners themselves. On an upside it does slow traffic down on the street, because the streets are too narrow to allow parking on both sides and 2 way traffic. Nice to finally have cars drive the speed limit for a change.

Like this comment
Posted by Public streets
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 20, 2013 at 9:10 am

Part of the problem is the sense of entitlement by the homeowners. In yesterday's Daily Post there was a quote in an article about this matter from a resident who said:
"It would take away our right to park in front of our house"
Well, there you have it--if you see the public street sin front of your house as your property and feel that you have some special right to that space, then nothing will appease you.

Public streets are for public parking.

Like this comment
Posted by John Murphy
a resident of another community
on Jun 20, 2013 at 9:34 am

How on earth can a visitor to Palo Alto find out where to park all day?

Park at the Caltrain station nearest to their house.

Like this comment
Posted by PA Resident
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jun 20, 2013 at 9:38 am

I live in the furthest south-east corner of Palo Alto in Charleston Gardens and people are parked in front of my house all the time, According to the zoning code they can stay there for 72 hours, then they must move their vehicle. We get much of the overflow from the Cubberley Community Center.

If vehicles block your driveway, then you have an issue. I suggest that Downtown residents clean out their garages and park there or on their driveways I do.

Like this comment
Posted by John Murphy
a resident of another community
on Jun 20, 2013 at 9:46 am

"Parking in front of someone's house all day becomes an issue particularly you don't have a driveway and are older, have small children or are disabled."

I am all for the government doing things to assist people who have run into problems, but in this instance we are talking about an issue impacting someone who owns or can afford to rent a home in downtown Palo Alto, one of the priciest zip codes on the planet.

The situation you describe involves someone who made a choice at some point in their life to situate themselves in a home without a driveway. Doing so has benefits - a place without off street parking is less expensive! Then you can park on the street - land you do not own, for free!

Then the game changes because more people move in or need to work. The statement that PA made poor choices in allowing development? Where exactly should we be putting those additional businesses and residences? Stockton? The population is growing - because of those small children the original poster mentions...

Like this comment
Posted by Eric F
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 20, 2013 at 10:17 am

The problem is that the city has waived the code requirements for downtown office construction so many times that there are now about 1000 more cars downtown every day than there are available parking spaces. By comparison there are a little less than 1500 total spaces on the streets in the Downtown North neighborhood, from University Avenue to Menlo Park. Over 80% of those spaces are occupied each day.

In addition, new parking-waived downtown construction already in the city's pipeline will add another 500-1000 excess parking-space demand over the next three years or so. An accurate projection is forthcoming.

Even if you were to accept that it's ok for your neighborhood to look like that picture above, and even if no resident ever parked on a street, the numbers still simply do not work.

This is not a North Palo Alto - South Palo Alto issue. From this issue to the Maybell fiasco, to the Alma Plaza mess, to the shadowy 27 University process, to the frenzy to put up ugly "New Urbanism" construction, to many others, there is a systemic, all-Palo Alto problem around commercial construction wherein the city ignores the interests of Residents; and in some cases works directly against them. Zoning and the Comprehensive Plan in this city basically no longer exist -- for commercial interests, anyway.

This is not one district or another, it's Palo Alto wide. Whether by intent or just by inattention, on construction there is a fundamental disconnect between Palo Alto City Hall and Palo Alto residents.

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Posted by Eric F
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 20, 2013 at 10:22 am

John Murphy -

City code requires that if you put up an office building, then the building has to include parking for the people who work there.

What the city should do is stop granting exemptions to developers, so the developer can save money by not building those parking spaces; and instead dumping the problem on the City.


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 20, 2013 at 10:35 am

Not sure how this may help, but has anyone thought about putting parking over in the Baylands, near the utilities place for example, and using shuttles to downtown. Some of the companies (Samsung???) might be approachable to help run this and it could also be used by restaurant workers, etc.

Perhaps a downtown business association could be started that would address different ideas. We need to start thinking out of the box as there is only so much space and obviously a lot of cars needing affordable parking on a casual as well as regular and semi regular basis.

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Posted by oversized vehicle hater
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 20, 2013 at 10:35 am

A bit off topic, but IMO the city should ban overnight parking of oversized vehicles (i.e. RVs, campers) as SF recently did. I'm tired of huge RVs continuously occupying prime parking spots on El Camino Real and the associated side streets.

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Posted by who cares
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 20, 2013 at 2:47 pm

Too funny! Isn't it quaint that city officials have chosen to make their incompetence and selling out to developers into a parking issue for residents. The city leaders seem to enjoy making their inability to govern or make educated decisions into someone else's (our) problem. We have a City Manager whose management skills are minimal, if not questionable, and a dysfunctional city council who offer no leadership in city matters. What a pity!

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Posted by try to explain it
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 20, 2013 at 6:19 pm

How much of what has happened here is due to incompetence and how much of it is due to influence/favoritism? I often wrestle with
this question. My conclusion is that it is not just catering to
special interests. I believe incompetence is also a factor. That is
why the destruction of the City is so complete and so hard to try
to stop.

Like this comment
Posted by Gilla
a resident of Woodside
on Jun 21, 2013 at 8:10 am

The real root of the problem is our car culture. PA should be investing in bike lanes and public transit so that people have an alternative to driving. Residential parking permits work well in SF. Limiting parking time is a disaster, as people will just move there cars when the time is up causing more congestion and pollution.

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 21, 2013 at 8:56 am

Stop looking at bikes as the solution to downtown parking problems.

It is not always convenient for everyone to bike.

They may not have shower facilities and nobody wants to be served by a sweaty server or sit beside them at work.

They may have to drop kids off at school or daycare on the way.

They may have to dress professionally which makes riding a bike much more risky.

They may have distance or age concerns.

They may have balance problems or other disabilities which make bike riding difficult.

They may have time constraints.

They may need to transport work related materials which are too big to transport on a bike.

They may just not like bike riding although they like getting their exercise another way.

They may not be going straight from home to work to home.

They may not feel safe riding a bike at night or in the dark (it gets dark early in winter).

Bikes are great for lots of trips for lots of people. But, they are not the solution for everyone all the time.

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 21, 2013 at 9:03 am

Saying that about bikes, but I am all for improving public transit, particularly the PA shuttle. Improve it for getting all schoolkids to schools and introduce a modest fare. Nobody should be getting a free ride to school while others get nothing.

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Posted by residential parking permits are good
a resident of Ventura
on Jun 21, 2013 at 11:57 am

I used to live in the Boston area (both Boston and Cambridge at different times). Residents could get parking permits for their neighborhoods practically for free. I think I recall an $8 fee to buy a residential parking permit in my neighborhood in Cambridge. Assuming Palo Alto is sensible, the cost associated with buying a residential parking permit near downtown should be nominal, and therefore not a concern. Eventually, Boston got smart enough to start towing people who parked illegally. Once that started happening, it became easy to find a spot to park.

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 21, 2013 at 5:49 pm

Welcome to my neighborhood, Downtown North.

The streets have changed a lot on Mondays through Fridays over the past few years. For example:

1. cars parked close to street corners, blocking the driver’s view of oncoming cars/bikes
2. cars parked close to our driveways, blocking the driver’s view of cars/bikers/children
3. cars turning around in our driveways trying to get a parking spot on the opposite side of the street
4. cars making U turns in all intersections, trying to get a parking spot
5. people sleeping in their cars during the day – taking a nap at lunchtime or after work
6. people with radios blasting as they get dressed near the trunk of their car
7. stop signs ignored

In addition to parking problems, could the council please review safety issues that should be addressed immediately.

Thank you,

Posted by Name hidden
a resident of another community

on May 30, 2017 at 1:35 am

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?