We need a new garage downtown Palo Alto -- forget about being politically correct | An Alternative View | Diana Diamond | Almanac Online |

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About this blog: So much is right — and wrong — about what is happening in Palo Alto. In this blog I want to discuss all that with you. I know many residents care about this town, and I want to explore our collective interests to help ...  (More)

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We need a new garage downtown Palo Alto -- forget about being politically correct

Uploaded: Feb 14, 2019
Building a much-needed new parking garage in downtown Palo Alto is suddenly politically incorrect. The city council unexpectedly decided this past week to put the proposed $29 million, 324-car garage at Hamilton and Waverley in the back freezer of priorities because, their argument goes, if you build another garage in town, people will come downtown and park in it. And more cars cause more CO2 pollution; one of the council’s new priorities this year is to work on reducing greenhouse gases.

Ironically, that same night, the council majority also approved removing an office cap downtown, so, with the cap gone, more offices will be built and more employees will drive downtown to those offices.

The council had promised since 2014 that a new garage will be built, and that very garage was also the council’s rationale to successfully urge voters to pass two hotel user taxes, with promises that the revenue will be used to fund the garage. Indeed, the architect for the garage presented his plans to the council at the beginning of the meeting – just before the council decided to nix building a garage indefinitely. Promises made, promises broken.

I think this decision is insensitive to the needs of both residents and downtown employees, because finding a place to park downtown is a big problem. Merchants are worried residents will no longer come downtown because there’s no parking. And right now drivers circle around for blocks just trying to find a space, and that alone creates more CO2 emissions.

The council’s decision is based on hopes for a carless future — certainly not one not based on the realities of today.

Many millennials – and most of the council – are saying that in 10 years or so, people will be walking, biking or carpooling to the downtown, and Uber and Lyft will be expanded so everyone can get rid of their cars. Or maybe there will be a better local shuttle to get us around town.

Nonsense! Do you really think that Palo Alto residents who own cars will give them up? Will most of us actually walk or bike downtown? Can we afford to use Uber or Lyft to get downtown and then get back? (It’s $8 to $10 right now from Midtown to City Hall – and another $8 to $10 to get back). A few council members wanted more study on downtown parking trends; others felt a downtown “parking strategy” was first needed before another garage could be built. But what happens until these studies and strategies are completed? There is a significant parking deficit downtown. Residents need more downtown parking NOW, not 10 years from now.

Getting more people to ride bicycles isn’t happening very fast. I found a list of United States cities of 65,000+ inhabitants with the highest rates of bicycle commuting, according to data from the 2014 American Community Survey. The Census Bureau measured the percentage of commuters who bike to work, as opposed to walking, taking public transit, driving an automobile, boat, or some other means. College towns and cities often rank high on this list, as students and faculty of universities often live very close to their place of employment if on-campus or close to campus. Here are the rankings: 1. Davis, California 23.2%; 2. Berkeley, California 9.7%; 3. Boulder, Colorado 8.9%; 4. Somerville, Massachusetts 7.4%; 5. Cambridge, Massachusetts 7.4%; 6. Palo Alto, California 7.3%; 7. Portland, Oregon 7.2%. Granted those are 2014figures but from my recent readings Palo Alto is probably up to 8%.

Plus what effect will fewer people downtown have on merchants in town, particularly restaurant owners. I have several friends who refuse to have lunch – or dinner --- downtown because “there’s no place to park.” And stores like Restoration Hardware on University Avenue is now moving to Stanford Shopping Center. Will Palo Alto become a downtown of only offices and fast-food restaurants?

But for those who want to “feel good” about doing something about climate change, you can feel pretty proud after Monday night’s meeting

What is it worth to you?


Posted by Resident, a resident of Midtown,
on Feb 14, 2019 at 6:49 pm

I greatly appreciate this blog by Diana regarding the War on Cars.
I used to work as driver for many, many hours per day. The Bay Area's zealous initiatives to demonize & punish single-occupant commuting directly affected and hurt my business.
I can point particularly to the double carpool lanes at San Antonio, a reckless experiment that created a very dangerous situation with 2 lanes moving at 70+ mph while the 3 adjacent lanes are at a standstill.

I will take it further and say it's perfectly okay to drive your car alone, anywhere. There is nothing inherently more virtuous about riding a bike or using mass transit, than driving your own car by yourself. Everyone does it, FFS!
The idea that "single-occupant vehicles" is a major issue that needs to be fixed is a complete myth.

Climate change is a worldwide problem and the main culprit is China. The anti-car zealots in the USA, and there are oh so many of them, it is such a growing trend (lets all ride scooters now!) are engaged more in virtue signaling and less in generating tangible results.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Feb 15, 2019 at 7:46 am

We are living in a town where the residents are not valued, are ignored and expected to kowtow to local politicians who are in their position of power (unfortunately) due to developers money.

I liked Pat Boone in the last election. He stated that he would not take builders' (developers) money and he was for the residents. Too many people said he was too inexperienced. Too many people said he hadn't lived here long enough. Too many people said he didn't understand the issues of the town.

I really wish people had given him a chance. His values were what we need. His ability to listen (due to a journalistic background) made him willing to find out what residents wanted. His inexperience may have been an asset as he was willing to dig and find out the history as well as acknowledge that he needed to find out more by personal investigation.

Please don't go away too far Pat, we need you back.

Posted by Elizabeth , a resident of Downtown North,
on Feb 15, 2019 at 10:40 am

I'm a pregnant mother of small kids, and I still prefer to bicycle or walk within Palo Alto. But that's because I'm a resident who might only be separated from her destination by a mile or two of flat neighborhood streets. It's an easy ride.

But the majority of workers in Palo Alto aren't as lucky. They commute from less expensive neighborhoods that are nowhere near the Caltrain, let alone bicycling distance. Have you ever tried taking public transit across the bay? Unless the Dumbarton Express is running (and it's often not), that's a circuitous route through Oakland and San Francisco that takes 3 1/2 hours *if* both transfers are on time. No wonder commuters jam the Dumbarton Bridge and other highways!

So until we get a BART loop around the Bay and/or allow more housing construction near the public transit that already exists (have you noticed that most of the cranes now are next to the highways instead?), most of our commuters will drive to work. And if they can't find a garage space (or parking permits would take too much out of their paycheck as a barista or retail worker), their cars will spill out onto the residential streets.

The Bay Area built itself around the car, the local housing shortage forced workers into increasingly longer commutes by car, and now we have to deal with that.

Posted by S of Oregon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Feb 15, 2019 at 12:38 pm

I think the public paying for a parking garage downtown when our retail areas have been decimated by development (University, Alma Plaza, Cal Ave, etc) is just wrong. I don't want to pay for a parking garage because I and many of my neighbors already don't even consider Palo Alto North an accessible place, i.e., I would be happy if we seceded. I used to go downtown to shop and eat at least once or twice a week, not it's maybe once or twice a year, and it's not as enjoyable because it feels like Palantir's office park now.

First the residents need to not be manipulated, and vote in a city council that actually serves residents (or recall those who misled voters in the last election, mainly Kniss and Fine). Then they need to demand the city restore our retail areas as retail areas and get the office park squatters out and into appropriately zoned actual office parks, hopefully someplace with the capacity for them (not here). Then the council needs to create a business tax that is mainly going to hit those whose activities do nothing beneficial for Palo Alto and cost Palo Alto residents in so many ways, but who benefit from being in Palo Alto. The tax should be structured to make it so painful for anyone to try to take over our retail areas again that it never happens.

Then, and only then, should we think about whether we need a garage downtown. We did not when Palo Alto downtown wasn't overrun by the companies wanting to make it SF lite.

Posted by Seriously, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Feb 16, 2019 at 3:47 pm

I have nothing against a new parking structure downtown.

However, the attempt by companies and developers to get residents to pay for it is despicable. Let them build a private pay garage if they want one, or just build adequate parking into their own buildings, as they should have in the first place.

They're the ones who created this problem, so they should be required to fix it.

Posted by Blame the residents for retail issues, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Feb 17, 2019 at 1:15 pm

S of Oregon�" retail areas decimated by development??? Really? Plenty of retail still on California and university. However people want large stores with plenty of choices- that is why Palo altoans flock to target, Walmart, bed bath and beyond etc in Mountain View. Regardless PA makes opening a local business difficult, expansive and time consuming- ask khoury's market, protege restaurant and the gourmet hot dog place that was on California ( oh and PA allows “ neighborhood activists" to add additional time and cost to their projects and prevent timely opening).
As for alma plaza, the original plan was to keep it retail , with a large grocery store. However JJ&F needed to be protected, plus a “friends" of alma plaza group made sure that the project would be killed with unfounded claims and scare tactics.

Posted by BlarryG, a resident of Greenmeadow,
on Feb 18, 2019 at 7:53 pm

I think that garage was more or less a promise, now unkept. This multi-decade wait to get anything done is a bit sad.

If you want a healthy downtown, especially after hours, you will need parking. It also saves CO2 by shortening circle and hunt times. If robot cars do happen, then you'll have extremely valuable real estate to turn over for other uses at that time.

Posted by Build our way out of congestion, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on Feb 19, 2019 at 3:59 pm

People don;t want to accept reality. Too many cars and not enough people willing to get out of them for even ONE SINGLE TRIP per month.

They think they are expected to give up their cars. They're ignorant if that's what they think, willfully or otherwise. It's about adding a bike or bus or train or ferry boat to the mix: Arrows in your transportation quiver.

You live by the car in this area, you die by it. The adaptable folks who look at using best way / fastest way depending on the individual trip are less regularly impacted and frustrated by traffic. Many times, in town for short hops, the bike rules. Drives to the store? Yes, drive. For me anyway.

Put your big kid pants on and quit sniveling that the mode YOU CHOSE to use 100% of the time isn't the best mode all the time.

Posted by Anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Feb 19, 2019 at 4:53 pm

Two points: First, I'm sorry, but, I'm still not clear on whether this project will require money from the general fund, or, is being paid for out of (existing) fees collected specifically for parking. It makes a difference-- I am 100% opposed to using money from the general fund, but, if this is being paid for out of development fees, then, let's see the total project budget and etc.

Second point: I'm not actually sure how "necessary" this is from a limited perspective. I went downtown for a lunch recently, and, there were 3-hour free spaces available on the first floor of the Webster/Cowper garage. That's an anecdote, but, if 3-hour parking is available for shoppers and diners, then, it all comes down to what commuters are actually using and whether commuters are using up space in front of folks houses. IOW, we need to understand where demand is going. If downtown offices are going to be bringing in commuters via bus, for example, then, perhaps the new garage is not necessary.

I haven't seen a convincing argument that the garage is needed, but, answers to my questions would help.

Posted by yes we can reduce (not eliminate) dependence on driving, a resident of Escondido School,
on Feb 19, 2019 at 11:34 pm

yes we can reduce (not eliminate) dependence on driving is a registered user.

Diana, if you want to say that you do not have a realistic choice other than driving everywhere you go 100% of the time, so be it. No one is forcing you to do otherwise. There's zero chance that Palo Altans will be pushed to "give up" their cars, so kindly stop trotting out that tired argument. But don't expect your parking space to be "free" (aka paid for with public funds, at very high cost).

In fact, it would be much cheaper to solve the “there's no place to park" problem by working on the reducing demand side of the parking equation, such as scaling up the Downtown TMA efforts and requiring employers to incentivize use of transit, carpooling or biking for their employees. Forget the “most people" boogeyman �" even a 5% reduction in the demand for parking would make a noticeable difference!

As for residents, what is true is that an increasing fraction of us are choosing an alternative to solo driving more often. So why rant against us, when each of our choices mean one more parking spot for you?

Posted by Gale Johnson, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on Feb 20, 2019 at 2:24 pm

Gale Johnson is a registered user.

Thanks Diana,

Nice try! You made some good points which I know will fall on deaf ears when it comes to our local cycling lobbyists. They want to make Palo Alto look like Davis or some of those cities in European countries famous for their cycling enthusiasts/zealots. We are not Copenhagen or Amsterdam either. There are many reasons why it works so well there when it can't here.

Actually, I have to confess being neutral on this issue for several reasons. The downtown retail stores I remember and loved have been gone for a long time. My downtown visits are rare. Avenidas, the Apple Store, and sometimes a movie at Aquarius theaters are the main things that draw me downtown. Too many overpriced restaurants and bars, with only so-so quality food offerings, might be fine with highly paid techies employed in the companies located in the downtown area, but I have so many other better choices available in my area, SPA, and in other neighboring towns.

And to all our pro growth CC members...Liz's presentation on how much PA has changed over the years was interesting and honest, but it had limited impact, I think, on what we face in my/our town today. It was a recap of our history, nice to learn about, but as it stands, that shouldn't shape our future. We have many issues now that weren't issues then. And in no way should it be taken as a way to our future. And let them not think that all the issues we face now, and that our current CC majority votes on to change for our current common good, will be cast in concrete for generations ahead. Future CC's might undo everything our current council enacts into law, but that will be based on what issues are current then. I hope Liz and all our current pro-growth majority understands that and won't be upset about all their work being unraveled in the future.

Posted by Anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Feb 21, 2019 at 3:40 pm

>> (2014) rankings: 1. Davis, California 23.2%

According to the 2018 transit survey, the numbers for UC Davis were 39.6% biking, 8.9% walking, 17.5% bus, a few percent other (e.g. carpool), and, 28.5% driving alone. Web Link

The point being, many people are willing to commute via bike if the distance is not too great.

Back on topic: I still haven't seen an explanation for how much of the funding required for the garage is already in the bank from fees collected by the city for that purpose. If most/all of the money has been collected, and, the need is there, then, sure, build a new garage. Just don't use our annual property taxes to build it.

Posted by Similar, a resident of another community,
on Feb 22, 2019 at 9:02 am

We have the same situation downtown, parking, or lack of! There are a lot of things to do, but I tend to stay away because of the parking issues.
Web Link

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Feb 22, 2019 at 9:41 am

What annoys me most is that as a resident of this town it seems wrong to me that I am told to walk or ride a bike so that those who don't live here can drive along public streets or park in public parking lots and garages.

There is something wrong when those who don't live here are given priority to those who do.

I have a great deal of sympathy for those who work here and have to commute long distances, but telling those of us who live here to give up our lifestyles to suit them is wrong.

There should be lots near the freeway offramps for commuters with dedicated shuttles to take them to their jobs. These should be provided with minimal cost to employees and residents and paid for by those large businesses who have large square footage and not by counting employees.

As I have said before many times, I do walk a lot, I do try and run several errands at the same time or when I am coming or going from appointments, but this is where I live and the fact that I feel it impossible to meet someone for lunch knowing that I can park in downtown makes me very reluctant to arrange to have lunch and/or do business downtown, particularly if I need to drive elsewhere straight afterwards.

My needs are not met by public transport for many reasons, such as the time factor, the routes, or the fact that I often have to visit several places in one day and take various items with me for each place.

If Palo Alto was serious about solving traffic and parking issues they would seriously be improving matters with electronic signs at garages, lots and shuttles at offramps, and getting shuttles/buses to take a lot more of our kids to schools.

I don't really think the CC is taking any notice of residents, only employers and developers. I really liked Pat Boone as I felt he would not have made decisions that would have been so anti-resident. I hope he sticks around for the next election. He is getting more involved in local affairs and hopefully next time will be very different.

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