As a 30-member task force of community volunteers begins to examine the larger question of the current layout and evolution of the downtown area — essentially Woodside Road between Whiskey Hill and Canada roads — the Town Council on July 23 gave a green light to staff to hire a contractor to do parking and traffic studies.
The council agenda had included an item to solicit proposals from facilitators to organize three highly structured fall workshops intended to solicit community input and buy-in on right-of-way and parking designs. The council opted instead to slow down and invite a broad spectrum of residents to two facilitated community discussions.
The discussions will be limited in scope, unlike the task force brainstorming sessions earlier in the year that led to controversial trial balloons such as a two-story parking garage. While it was just an idea, some residents wondered why it had come up at all and saw it as a threat to the town's "rural" character.
Brainstorming sessions encourage such ideas in the hope that workable ideas will emerge, Mayor Anne Kasten said. The challenge for these community meetings, she added, will be coming up with something useful from them.
Maybe the meetings should not start with a clean whiteboard, Councilman Tom Shanahan said. "I can see a lot of concerned citizens trying to protect the town from something we would never do." Most of Woodside's 2,000 households want to be left alone, he added, and big meetings can impinge on their peace of mind.
There are Woodside residents who want to interact with their neighbors and are in need of venues, Councilwoman Deborah Gordon said in response. "If you want to move to Atherton, terrific, but don't expect to know your neighbors."
Merchants would like adequate parking and there are residents who want more downtown services, realities that complicate the path toward a solution, Councilman Dave Burow said. "I think it's a good discussion to have," he said. "We should go to great lengths to allow (broad) participation and synthesize that into something that allows us to go forward."
A key question: With physical changes to the downtown parking infrastructure not even under discussion much less proposed in actual drawings, what can be done now to better manage parking? Merchants have reported seeing potential customers drive away after failing to find a parking spot.
Already, Roberts Market downtown has staff monitoring its parking lots for recreational cyclists who drive in, park, get on their bikes and ride off, town staff said.
For such a tiny downtown, Woodside appears to be unusually afflicted. Ms. Gordon lives in the area of lower Kings Mountain Road, works at Stanford University and commutes via Woodside Road. "It should not take me 45 minutes to get from my house to Stanford," she said. Weekday morning traffic is sometimes solid from the main intersection at Canada and Woodside roads east to Interstate 280, she said, and it's as bad on weekends trying to turn on to Woodside Road from Kings Mountain.
Ms. Kasten lives east of I-280 and the public library is just west of the Canada/Woodside intersection. "I am astounded as to how long it takes me to get to the library," she said.
With the improving economy, employment is up, as is construction traffic and activity in the Planning Department, Planning Director Jackie Young said. Referring to building permit activity, Ms. Young noted that the valuation of projects under construction or reconstruction is more than twice what it was a year ago. Total valuation over the 12 months previous to June 2012 was $23.5 million compared with $50.2 million as of June 2013.
At the sparsely attended council meeting, requests to go slowly came from resident Richard Draeger, co-owner of the Draeger's Supermarket chain. Mr. Draeger said he represents a group called the Alliance to Preserve Woodside, a grassroots organization that includes "dozens" of residents, many of whom live downtown.
The town should seek suggestions from the community, Mr. Draeger said. For example, restaurant customers could be allowed two hours of parking and other retail customers one hour, he said. "Sometimes, the folks that are living with the problem are the ones that propose the most creative solutions," he said.
Instead of spending $20,000 to $30,000 on traffic and parking studies, town staff should do them, Mr. Draeger said. When reminded of the increased staff workload, Mr. Draeger replied that town management should press ahead anyway. "That's how we do it," he said.
Richard Ersted, an owner of commercial property in downtown Woodside, urged the council to hire consultants. "It's quite a bit of work. It's more than the staff can do," he said.
There are more people parking downtown and heading off to recreational activities such as biking, Mr. Ersted said. "I think that's worthy of measurement."