Town Square

Post a New Topic

Palo Alto treads carefully on new garages

Original post made on Feb 11, 2014

Faced with a citizenry upset about downtown's deepening parking shortages and businesses anxious about looming parking restrictions, Palo Alto officials struggled on Monday with the complex topic of new downtown garages.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, February 11, 2014, 12:02 AM

Comments (36)

Posted by K
a resident of University South
on Feb 11, 2014 at 4:09 am

Thanks very much to Councilwoman Karen Holman and Councilman Pat Burt. As a resident in an older Category 2 historically significant building on Gilman Street, it would be quite tragic to build a massive parking structure on Lot G. That lot, of course, is surrounded by numerous and beautiful historic buildings (some from the 1920s era)and backs to the elegant old Post Office property. It is also surrounded by a rather dense, well designed, residential section of downtown. It is a very pleasant area to walk along the old Oaks; and, of course, the Farmer's Market, is a joy, there. Thank you.

Posted by common sense
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 11, 2014 at 6:33 am

This is why there should be a moratorium on any project without sufficient parking.

Council will push this issue past the election, hoping the appearance of talk will remove it as an issue for those running for re-election.

After the election? they will revert to what they did before - approving variances & high density projects that don't have enough parking

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 11, 2014 at 8:38 am

Why worry about permits. We need more flexible parking for people who want to park all day and pay per hour.

Parking is too complicated in Palo Alto.

Posted by anon
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Feb 11, 2014 at 9:00 am

A staff handout last night revealed key information on empty spaces in existing downtown garages, but surprisingly didn't add it up. Simply doing so shows that the city found over 1,400 empty spaces in the downtown garages during its morning and midday surveys last November. That means about 60% of spaces in those garages weren't being used.

It's astonishing that the city staff didn't report this. It utterly devastates their arguments that we need to build more garages. In fact, we already have more unused spaces than what we'd add by building all the new garages staff is studying.

The city also has a long waiting list of people wanting to buy permits to park in downtown garages. It won't sell them permits and thus is losing money. Selling just 1,000 more permits would raise about half-a-million dollars a year and still leave space in the garages.

City staff's incompetence is mind-boggling. They should stop spending money on fancy architectural drawings of new garages and focus on how to sell more permits and fill the garages we already have. That means we need technology for managing the spaces and a residential permit program to ensure commuters don't park for free in neighborhoods instead.

Posted by resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 11, 2014 at 9:31 am

The policies which this City has recklessly pursued for many years have
destroyed the qualities of this City as new projects continue to come through the pipeline. At this point it is not just the destruction of a
beautiful and unique City, what we have lost. This is a City which at ground level appears to have no land use planning, no effective zoning control, no design review, no aesthetic values. This is the antithesis of everything people expected not only from this City but any local government. That is where we are. Thankfully last night Burt and Holman, and Schmid tried to save the City from further destruction by talking about values, process, further impacts.

Apart from this overview, I would point out that Klein last night said the traffic bottleneck at Embarcadero and Bayshore was a north-south issue when the satelite parking lot came up. But when traffic exits 101, the cars trying to make a left turn at the traffic light have to merge left, and cut off through traffic on Embarcadero heading east in a recurring hazardous situation especially at peak times. And as a first step the City needs to manage the existing garages to provide some immediate relief to the neighborhoods.

Posted by Resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 11, 2014 at 11:08 am

I am concerned about the Embarcadero parking east of 101. There are other projects discussed / approved for this general location, including:
1. The flood control on the creek which will wrap around the ball park and golf course;
2. The golf course upgrade to remove trees and re-position holes;
3. Inclusion of soccer fields in this location;
4. Lack of decision on waste/sewage plant which may require many trucks;
5. Desire to upgrade baylands, upgrade conservation center;
6. Possible new hotel at Mings;
7. Possible airport upgrade.
8. Homeless shelter?

What else is being proposed for this limited space location? There are numerous projects on the books but possible blind-siding on what they all are.
Problems with parking in this area:
1. Security problems on auto theft;
2. night lighting for security;
3. requirement for buses to move people - this is an additional cost not discussed in decision.

PA needs to resolve problems on the inner city parking discussed last night first and then let the Planning Department lay out all of the projects that are being discussed in the Embarcadero area.
In previous requests for comments many people wanted to see this area revitalized with the hotel and more restaurants.

Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 11, 2014 at 11:33 am

It's no surprise that the Council voted as it did regarding a potential satellite lot on Embarcadero b/c there aren't any residential groups (aka voters) to object. But the devil will be in the details. Klein is correct that exisiting lots are underutilized, but the road is not and when he was working @ 1717 Embarcadero there were fewer businesses in the area.

Stanford recently fully populated the Tech Center (fka the Harbor) and now there are 2 shuttle services (the Marguerite and the Embarcadero Shuttle) servicing the area. There are also at least 4 major projects in the pipeline: Ming's hotel, the golf course reconfiguration, the S.F. Creek Project, and the Baylands Athletics Center. Also, the International School uses the Baylands lot for student drop off and pick up. If the plan includes re-striping Embarcadero so that it is 2 lanes instead of 4 the City will have a new set of problems - and these could involve 101. As is, it is not unusual to be stuck on the ramp when traveling from Oregon Expy to Embarcadero. This will likely worsen under the City's plan and the impact could well extend to both 101 and Oregon. This is my commute and I see the problem every day. When I take the shuttle my commute time doubles (I don't mind that but it is a fact that shuttle users should know about) but even the shuttle gets snagged in traffic at Geng/Emb. The exisiting level of use by pedestrians + bicyclists + cars + shuttles + delivery trucks + construction vehicles + emergency vehicles already tests capacity. And this is exacerbated when repair work is underway and lane closures are necessary. I suggest Staff engage in some outreach to businesses in this area so that future reports are reality based.

Posted by Midtown
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 11, 2014 at 11:38 am

Free commuter parking in the residential areas is the problem here. It should not take a rocket scientist to figure this one out. What would you do, pay an expensive parking permit in a city garage or park for FREE! Duh.

Posted by Ken again
a resident of Professorville
on Feb 11, 2014 at 12:34 pm

Where is Buchanan? Time to break out the tin cans again. CC keeps kicking solutions down the road while approving more unparked projects every week.

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 11, 2014 at 1:08 pm

There may well be unused parking spots in garages, but nobody knows where they are.

How can a visitor to Palo Alto find a space. There are no electronic signs saying whether a garage is full or has spaces. There are no signs saying where pay per hour parking can be found. People arrive and use their gps to find their destination then they look for the nearest available garage or lot. If they can't find a space, they leave town.

There is no need to build more garages if they are going to be as complicated to use as the present system.

Get rid of the color codes. Get some electronic signs showing where the parking is available. Get some apps for smart phones. Get meters on the streets. Make it simpler to pay to park all day or for 4 hours. Get real.

Get real.

Posted by Emily Renzel
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 11, 2014 at 1:37 pm

I agree with issues raised by Annette. In addition, here are some other problems with using the Baylands Athletic Center parking lot for satellite parking.

The Baylands Athletic Center and its parking lot are dedicated parkland which means they may only be used for park purposes and that means PARK, not downtown satellite PARKING. The City would have to hold a vote to allow satellite parking on this parkland site.

Several years ago the City approved a pedestrian path to allow children from the International School to be picked up after school at that parking lot. A sea of parked cars would create a safety hazard.

Relatively recently the Council approved a plan to incorporate 9 acres more of playing fields on land currently part of the golf course adjacent to the Athletic Center. It assumed the existing parking would be used for those fields. Where are field users supposed to park when those playing fields and our current playing fields are in use?

The intersection of East Bayshore and Embarcadero has been operating at Level of Service F (highly congested) for years. As noted, new uses in the area will add to that congestion. The Geng Road intersection is scarcely a block from that intersection and already appears to be similarly congested.

This satellite parking proposal will only create a false sense of adequate parking when, in fact, it will allow Council to continue to approve office buildings with high all-day parking demand and just add to the already severe parking problem downtown.

Posted by frustrated
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Feb 11, 2014 at 3:42 pm

Where are all these empty spaces? Please help me find them when I need them. I find it increasingly frustrating trying to find a place to park when I take my family downtown for dinner on a Thursday, Friday, or Weekend night. Lunch time during the day is equally frustrating. Often after driving around for 15 to 20 minutes I end up multiple blocks away in a residential area. As a result, I am looking at other areas to go where it is easier to park.

Posted by Anon
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Feb 11, 2014 at 5:34 pm

Annette, Emily and other posters. There is also the stanford Eye Laser center there,just across from Ming's sort of nestled between West Bayshore and 101

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 11, 2014 at 5:56 pm

So let me understand. We can't have parking East of 101 because it might cause some congestion at an intersection.

Well, we have congestion at lots of intersections all over Palo Alto that probably can't handle it. We have lines of cars waiting to pick up students outside all schools in Palo Alto. We have a temporary library in a park/rec center and school parking (at Cubberley), but we can't use an empty parking lot at the athletic fields to ease parking congestion in downtown.

Now this just takes the biscuit.

I get the impression that some people just don't want to think outside the box.

Posted by Top staff values
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Feb 11, 2014 at 6:10 pm

Whether the staff is incompetent or not, I think they do their boss's bidding:
1) Look for solutions that increase the work and staff for the planning dept. Hire consultants and architects and managers. Look for grants to administer.
2) Make sure any suggestion makes money for a developer, Chop Keenan if possible.

Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 11, 2014 at 7:13 pm

@Resident - contrary to the conclusions you seem to have drawn, my point is that the proposed solution needs to be carefully executed b/c there are previously existing conditions (and apparently some commitments) that are not going to magically evaporate so that the plan works like a charm. What's the point of relocating a problem? Eventually the original problem will resurface if the solution is fraught with delays and other problems. Congestion is pretty much a given everywhere; danger shouldn't be.

Also, if you do have a good out-of-the-box idea, please propose it; I think you will find that good ideas will be applauded.

Posted by Resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 11, 2014 at 7:22 pm

I went over to Geng Road today to check out what this was about. The majority of Geng Road is private property for the businesses there. The only available parking is at the baseball park. Major excavation is underway on the golf course in this area for the soccer fields. So if you put in the soccer fields in this area how much more excavation is underway for this parking lot? It is all on golf course land. I am getting the feeling that they are already excavating for the parking lot now and put this in the CC meeting as a after thought to record it.
If anyone participates in the moonlight runs they know that there is a major flood control ditch that surrounds the properties in this direct area including the airport flight line. They also should know that the golf course is a flood control area that has a lot of flooding issues.
The PA Weekly should be providing a map of the intended projects in this area so everyone can see how this will turn out.
Mings better get on their horse and get the hotel built - he who hesitates will not be in the game.

Posted by Jeff
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 11, 2014 at 9:16 pm

It is simple to reduce the demand for parking. Charge all new office/business construction a 100% fee doubling the cost of building new space. Does Palo Alto need more jobs? People complain about affordable housing - freeze new demand by freezing the development of additional commercial/industrial buildings.

If you have a policy of subsidizing new jobs by giving the developers free parking you will have parking problems, traffic problems, and no affordable housing except that paid for by taxes.

I can't believe a plan to turn every road in Palo Alto into a two lane road while dramatically increasing commercial space and activity makes sense to anyone.

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 11, 2014 at 9:20 pm


Thanks for the support about good ideas.

I have many ideas and have mentioned them quite a bit, but common sense ideas are ignored.

We need to get rid of the color coded nonsense in garages. It is too confusing to those who do not park regularly.

We need to have pay per hour machines in every city lot and garage.

We need meters on the streets.

We need to have electronic signs around town showing where there is available parking, in which garages, and smart phone apps to enable visitors to find the elusive garage with some vacant spaces.

We need to efficiently enable people with permits to share their permits between cars.

We need to be able to utilize parking lots that are only used at certain times to be available for other uses. In other words, some churches, etc. have large lots which are used weekends and evenings with only small numbers of cars parked on weekdays business hours. There should be some way that these lots could be utilized by others during these times.

Parking for Caltrain is $5 per day, I can't see that parking in nearby city lots could ethically be charging more per day as people are using Caltrain lots to park while working in Palo Alto. This practice must be discouraged.

These are common sense ideas but the CC do not seem to want to hear common sense out of the box ideas.

Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 12, 2014 at 7:07 am

Resident - I think some of those ideas are great and encourage you to print out that list and send it to City Council and Jessica Sullivan. The idea of using church lots could be a win-win-win. Church gets money, City gets use of parking spaces that already exist, and drivers have a place to park.

Jeff - I appreciate your last comment tremendously; why that approach has so much appeal to City Staff and Council beats me.

Posted by Jana
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 12, 2014 at 8:52 am

I had to laugh with fury, when Chop Keenan had the nerve to stand up at the city council meeting and say he thought the Urban Lane garage proposal (the fortress) was a great idea. Of course he liked the idea of a monster garage. It would be parking for all the commercial buildings the city council allows him to build, that don't have parking on site. I also cringe when city council members reference him in their comments, as though he is some God like person. Palo Alto's city manager, Keene, needs to be fired. Who hired the incompetent consultant who stood up at last weeks city council meeting and couldn't explain the reasoning for his chart? Palo Alto has intelligent citizens, but the people working at city hall are a disgrace. Last weeks city council meeting was a total embarrassment. We need a clean sweep at city hall.

Posted by Robert Chin
a resident of Los Altos
on Feb 12, 2014 at 9:01 am

How about providing free rides on VTA for any passengers tagging on in Palo Alto? I know that there is a lot of resistance by car owners in the bay area to riding the bus, but the busses are actually pretty clean and quite timely. A good amount of people commuting to downtown Palo Alto live within a 5-10 minute walk of a 22 bus stop, so it seems like a great idea to try and convince these people to use the bus.

Posted by Janet L
a resident of Mountain View
on Feb 12, 2014 at 10:14 am

@frustrated The Bryant Street garage between University Ave and Lytton is the place to go. Drive all the way up to the top floor and you'll find a spot. I've been up there at 8pm on a Friday night and there were only a handful of cars parked there. The floor below was only half full too.

Posted by palo alto resident
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 12, 2014 at 11:14 am

I have two questions - 1) why would putting a satellite parking lot on the other side of 101 require reducing Embarcadero to 2 lanes? 2) Urban Lane is next to two hotels and PAMF - where is the "neighborhood" that a parking structure would be incompatible with if it was built there?

Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 12, 2014 at 11:32 am

Use of church parking lots is a problem. The church is paying insurance for the property and building. If the lot is used during the week for a purpose other than the church business then that changes the insurance liability for the property. Also the risk of having a commercial business running on the property. It also changes the tax liability for the church - it changes up the purpose of it being there.
The 49er stadium ran into the same problem - using local businesses to park their cars - and tailgating with trash left behind? Someone then has to clean-up the trash and monitor bad behavior on the property. If you have many unidentified people on your property then you have major security problems that church's typically are not prepared to handle.

Posted by Annette
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 12, 2014 at 4:12 pm

@Resident 1 - I figured there'd be insurance issues but also hope that the problem is suffciently vexing to Mr. Keene et al that some creative thinking will be directed at that issue. Perhaps Keene and his crew could "get religion" and park in a church lot, freeing up some spaces at City Hall. Where there's a will . . .

@palo alto resident - re your 1st question: one of the ideas mentioned for east of Embarcadero is re-striping the street between Geng and the golf course and adding 200 parking slots on the north side. This would require a lane reduction, and that was referred to as a "thorny" issue by the author of the news article. That person is a master of understatement.

Posted by jardins
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 12, 2014 at 5:16 pm

How can that monster parking garage be built on Urban Lane, considering the future expansion of the rail corridor to 4 tracks?

Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 12, 2014 at 8:07 pm

Parking in church parking lots - talk to the city lawyer. You cannot have a bunch of unknown people appearing whenever on your property. Especially if they have been out drinking. There is not sufficient security and you are making the church suck up the liability for anything that goes wrong. Also it is an open invitation for people to break in to the cars - or the church. That is just wrong. Please do not invest any time in this tangent.

Embarcadero road - you have businesses there that are entitled to any emergency services required - fire, ambulance. You have an airport - - you have soccer kids - you have a car dealership - you have all kinds of business activity and you are trying to turn this into a parking lot. Given the stream of people telling you that the downtown parking should be managed differently is what you should focus on.
You have parking garages that are not being used - solve that problem - do not create different problems.
Talk to the legal staff - this is a can of worms - people arriving and leaving at all hours, possible drunk from some event in the city. What if someone is robbed? there is nothing out there to support this activity. You are now expecting that the police force will have to devote time to checking this all out all of the time.

Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 13, 2014 at 11:27 am

Anyone building a parking garage today has a new set of compliance issues to deal with. This is a very expensive operation regarding safety, ability to withstand earthquakes, etc. Many insurance issues, tax issues building specification issues.
I am sure that the city has already encountered what these requirements are.
That is all the more reason to devote whatever funds you have to making the existing garages as efficient as possible.
As to building new garages I am sure that the current group of contractors and building developers are thinking of ways to avoid this thorny problem.

Building parking structures is not a easy task in todays world of compliance issues, insurance issues, etc.

Posted by observer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 14, 2014 at 6:20 am

Where did the staff recommendation come from to build a garage on Gilman
behind the post office? Burt said he could not follow the logic supporting
this recommendation in the staff report and the consultant couldn't explain it either. This is the site of the Farmer's Market. It is in the midst of
an attractive eclectic mixed residential area with historic buildings including the post office itself. The Farmer's Market embodies everything we get in the endless but meaningless rhetoric from the City about walkable,livable neighborhoods, environmental consciousness,sustainability, all the rest. Holman questioned the staff recommendation also and it wasn't rubberstamped as proposed by the staff. This time, another train wreck was
averted at least temporarily.

Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 14, 2014 at 9:55 am

I think the Gilman idea comes from a C. Keenan proposal from several years ago. Swapping properties etc.

Posted by observer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 14, 2014 at 11:17 am

@Crescent Park Dad
Lots of questions surrounding the staff recommendation regarding the
Gilman street site. Give credit to Burt and Holman.

Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 14, 2014 at 12:52 pm

I have no opinion on Gilman as I haven't studied it at all. But someone asked where or how did Gilman even become a possible garage target/site...hence my reply and reference to C. Keenan's earlier proposal a few years ago.

Posted by Bru
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 15, 2014 at 12:18 pm

Bru is a registered user.

Parking garages work, and they normally are built where the parking is needed. Great idea!

> "We're not going to fill our downtown, I hope, with five-story parking garages," Holman said. "It would change the character of our town remarkably."

The character of our town is that there is no parking and parking structures work well … although if I had to criticize Palo Alto's parking structures I'd say they are not really friendly to the people in them - but they do work and they are convenient.

The idea of having people parking in the Baylands and bussing them to downtown is very bad. First, if they need to park in the Baylands, they will be hostages, and will end up being charged and paying through the nose. Then, it will add development, traffic to the Baylands and detract from the scenery.

It will also create more traffic back and forth to downtown. Just a terrible idea all around.

Just another nail in the coffin of the Baylands … the noisy airport, the stinky sewage treatment plant … and the city can just apply itself towards assaulting our remaining sense … very bad idea.

A big parking garage could go right beside the Aquarius theater which is already a parking lot, and it's almost always full … that would be the perfect use of that space, and it's so large it would not have to be that high, and maybe they could take it down a few levels too.

Posted by resident 1
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 15, 2014 at 2:17 pm

I am glad that Stanford has figured out how to address its parking problems so well. Let remember that Stanford is a private organization that assumes all legal responsibility for what transpires on campus and a full legal staff to make sure the business plan is addressed correctly.
They know how to take care of business. They have the means to put their ideas into full operational mode very successfully.

What is successful there is not an indication as to the same business restrictions as a city - which is a government agency - of sorts. PA is a city with government restrictions and responsibilities which are different.

I can see some people on the PA CC with a "good Idea Bubble" over their head but no idea as to the logistics, government requirements, and tax implications of those ideas.
City Government is a creative process only up to a certain level - when you go to put it in place is when the real problems surface and cost more than you budgeted. It is problem of who is responsible - who is assuming the liability when something goes wrong - usually something that you never dreamed of.

Posted by baleylanger
a resident of College Terrace
on Mar 6, 2014 at 4:36 am

baleylanger is a registered user.

In my opinion, there is a need for parking garages in our downtown. We should be having parking garages having big Commercial door openers. The council should also increase the frequency of public transportation. To read about Commercial door openers click on this link. Web Link

Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.


Post a comment

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

Stay informed.

Get the day's top headlines from Palo Alto Online sent to your inbox in the Express newsletter.

Backhaus in Burlingame finally opens for the holiday rush
By The Peninsula Foodist | 1 comment | 2,500 views

Fun Things to Do Around the Bay This Holiday – Peninsula Edition
By Laura Stec | 8 comments | 2,088 views

Burning just one "old style" light bulb can cost $150 or more per year
By Sherry Listgarten | 4 comments | 1,656 views

Banning the public from PA City Hall
By Diana Diamond | 15 comments | 1,395 views