By Dana Hendrickson
More Bad News: Downtown Parking Will Get Much WorseUploaded: Jul 8, 2019
This is the second post in a series that evaluates how Menlo Park plans new civic projects. Hopefully, constructive discussions will eventually lead to important improvements.
Parking midday in downtown Menlo Park has become a huge headache. Last week I drove to Palo Alto rather than shop at the Ace Hardware on Santa Cruz Avenue. Not shopping in my own community did not feel right but I knew going elsewhere is often more convenient. For example, on two recent occasions I tried unsuccessfully to find a parking space in the plaza near Gray’s Paint and left without stopping. Unfortunately, the downtown-parking problem will get much worse, especially once the Station 1300 and Middle Plaza developments are completed. I expect shoppers will then increasingly take their dollars to Palo Alto and Redwood City. This bleak outlook does not need to become a harsh reality, as there ARE practical ways to solve the downtown-parking problems in Menlo Park - without building a too-expensive parking structure. And fortunately, real progress is possible in 2020.
The city should adopt a flexible parking development strategy that allows spaces to be added quickly and affordably, as needed. There is no single silver bullet. So eliminating the shortage of downtown parking in Menlo Park will require a well-designed mix of short and medium term solutions. In the short run, creating just 50 new three-hour parking spaces downtown would likely make shopping much more convenient. Potential actions include:
• Increasing the cost of long term parking in the plazas - both permits and metered.
• (Gradually) reducing the number of daily parking permits.
• Converting 34 parking spaces on Menlo Avenue that are not currently regulated to 3-hour parking. Converting 35 parking spaces on Oak Grove.
• Leasing approximately 30 to 40 of the underutilized spaces behind the Cornerstone building and dedicating them to permit parking.
• Leasing the land on Oak Grove where the 7-Eleven is located and building a ground level permit parking lot for 30 to 40 spaces.
• Leasing hundreds of weekday parking spaces from nearby churches, e.g., latter Day Saints, First Church of Christ, Scientist and providing a convenient free shuttle service for daily parking permit holders.
• Leasing 25 to 50 spaces from Station 1300 and use for daily parking permit holders.
Despite the numerous opportunities, I am not optimistic about our city government’s ability to solve the problem of inadequate short-term downtown parking.
• Our city government lacks a strong resident-friendly culture, one that welcomes community involvement in project planning and proactively encourages participation. Today there are too few opportunities for our community to affect planning decisions. (Note: I will extensively cover this topic in a future post).
• Menlo Park lacks the systems, processes and resources needed to effectively and efficiently planning complex civic infrastructure projects. Major changes would shorten planning cycles, reduce planning and study costs, produce superior project outcomes and generate much needed broad community support. These could also reduce the frustrations often felt by council members, staff, residents and business owners who are all victims of the ways our city conducts project planning. Unfortunately, there is no evidence that our current city council recognizes these lost opportunities.
• It is not clear who actually “owns” the entire planning process from an operational perspective. Is it the city manager? Or, the public works director? Are the ownership responsibilities well defined and performance evaluated?
• Past city councils have NOT shown a strong sense of urgency about developing a long-term plan for solving downtown parking problems. Instead, they have held on to the unviable idea of building an expensive parking garage in an existing plaza. The current city council has not initiated a planning project for downtown parking, and the current draft of the city Transportation Master Plan does not include an alternative to building parking structures.
• Hire a seasoned senior project manager who reports directly to the city manager and is responsible for managing the entire planning process for complex city infrastructure projects like parking lots, grade separations, and transportation network enhancements. This person would manage and coordinate communications between city staff, consultants, city commissions, the city council and council subcommittees and would lead efforts to address all the major technical and non-technical concerns and issues that arise during the planning for individual projects. This planner would also propose and oversee the implementation of planning process improvements.
• Hire a community outreach coordinator who would be responsible for collecting and analyzing community input and feedback and keeping the entire Menlo Park community well informed about project plans, schedules, progress, issues, community workshops, and city council and commission reviews. This individual would conduct reliable surveys and polls, publish useful information on the city website, and personally interview residents and business owners, This position would report to the senior project planner
• Create project-specific community advisory committees (“CACs”) that report directly to the city manager and help city staff and city council members understand how the Menlo Park community views the potential impacts of different project strategies and designs. Committee members should be residents and business owners who represent all affected Menlo Park neighborhoods and bring valuable knowledge and skills. The CAC is a collaborative team free of Brown Act restrictions. It performs research, evaluates alternatives, weighs trade-offs, provides advice and makes recommendations. Our community has a lot of great talent that would welcome the opportunity to contribute to our city IF they perceived their work as productive and constructive.
• Perform an audit of the effectiveness and efficiency of the city’s current project planning system and develop a plan for implementing key improvements. The scope should be broad and include a review of staff resources, management responsibilities, volunteer commissions, internal and external communications, and the use of consultant and community resources.
Hiring a senior project manager and a community outreach coordinator are actions that can be initiated now, and the grade separation project is an excellent opportunity to establish a community advisory committee. The CAC would not revisit all past council decisions but rather improve future ones. I do not know how to initiate an audit of the city project planning system. The city council can authorize it and the city manager could oversee it. But who will lead this effort?
There are many additional comments on Nextdoor.
Read other posts in this series of blogs
Do Not Expect A Downtown Parking Garage In Menlo Park In Our Lifetime
Planning For Civic Projects In Menlo Park Needs A Major Reboot. (Part 1)