News

Menlo Park prepares to take on downtown parking garage issue

Most people make their resolutions around Jan. 1. For cities, the process is a bit more involved, and Menlo Park is no exception. The City Council is expected to decide sometime this spring what capital improvement projects and goals to prioritize for the next five years, months before the new fiscal year starts in July.

The Planning Commission signed off on its suggested capital improvement priorities on Jan. 12, and one recommendation is to move a study of the feasibility of building a parking garage downtown from the "unfunded" to the "funded" column.

According to the draft capital improvement plan, a study of the cost, site, circulation, feasibility and construction of building one or more parking garages on parking plazas 1, 2, or 3 would cost approximately $200,000.

Such a structure has resurfaced as a priority for the city many times: "Four-level parking garage downtown?" (Almanac headline from 2005); "Parking garages near top of city priority list" (2004); "Menlo Park takes new look at parking garages" (2003); and innumerable discussions during the five-year specific plan process.

One sticking point has always been who would pay for it, with the Menlo Park Presbyterian Church stating its willingness over the years to chip in.

But the Planning Commission's recommendation finally moves the concept one step closer to reality, should the council agree that now is the time to fund the study.

During the Jan. 12 meeting, commissioners worried that without visible, audible advocacy, the council may not understand the reasons for prioritizing the study.

"Why do we think that's so pressing, to get on top of that now?" Commissioner John Kadvany said. In a nutshell: With mixed-use complexes of housing, office space and retail on the way from Stanford as well as Greenheart Land Co., it's better to have the study done and payment structure in place before more downtown parking is needed.

At least one council member is ready to move ahead. Mayor Cat Carlton told the Almanac recently that she's excited to start talking about possibly building an underground garage topped by a park at surface level, an idea that some residents, such as those participating in grassroots groups "Re-Imagine Menlo Park" and "Imagine Menlo Park," are also eager to explore.

As for other priorities, the Planning Commission recommended moving the compilation of single-family residential design guidelines into the "funded" column as well, and expediting implementation of the downtown/El Camino Real specific plan, with an emphasis on making it easier for pedestrians and bicyclists to get from one side of the street to the other, and from one part of the city to another.

The commission stressed that its take on the design guidelines is advisory rather than dictatorial. "People outside of this dais have this idea it's going to be this very rigid imposition," Mr. Kadvany said, when instead it's meant to be "very soft advice" to help developers and homeowners avoid getting blindsided during the approval process.

The council will hold its annual goal-setting meeting on Monday, Jan. 26, and is expected to consider the capital improvement project priorities by March.

Comments

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Posted by Margo McAuliffe
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Jan 22, 2015 at 12:40 pm

I like very much the idea of an underground parking facility, provided security is not an issue. However, the article didn't make the location clear. Is this to replace the existing lot in the block behind the north side of Santa Cruz---between Ace Hardware and the post office? If so, why would the existing lot be replaced? Isn't it better to build the underground spaces to augment existing parking? Right now parking is almost always available in that lot. I use it often and it's very convenient for visiting the post office. As much as I like the idea of more park (green) space, I would favor adding to what we have. I would definitely not want any above street level structures, such as Palo Alto has built.


4 people like this
Posted by Jym Clendenin
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 22, 2015 at 2:39 pm

I would like to see a livelier downtown. Any significant increase in business for downtown merchants will overwhelm the existing parking lots. In addition, all-day parkers--who currently take up as much as 1/3 of the parking lots--increasingly penetrate the nearby neighborhoods. In my opinion, what is needed is 1 or more parking structures of at least 4 floors: 1 underground, 1 at street-level and 2 above with the top floor not covered and recessed so it can't be seen from nearby streets. By putting all-day parkers on the bottom and upper floors, there would be a significant increase in street level parking for shoppers and we can quit requiring new buildings downtown to include internal parking.


2 people like this
Posted by Dana Hendrickson
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 22, 2015 at 2:51 pm

This is great news. I am pleased our city council is anticipating the need for much more parking downtown BEFORE Greenheart and Stanford complete their projects and makes any substantial new improvements to downtown Menlo Park. I have posted some information about current supply and demand for parking spaces at Web Link. Let's figure the best approach, plan it, budget for it and identify possible funding sources like revenues from the two mentioned developments. Also, let's figure out whether a modular structure that could be expanded as needed is cost-effective, e.g, build 2 levels initially and add more only when we have a better idea as to future demand. Go City Council!


2 people like this
Posted by Sam Sinnott
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 22, 2015 at 3:52 pm

As a 34 year resident of downtown and a business with 30 years downtown I applaud the planning commission and Mayor Carlton for funding this effort. It is way past due. We will never realize the vision of the specific plan without the parking structures. As I mentioned at the Transportation Commission meeting last month, Pearl Street Mall in Boulder Colorado is supported by 5 parking structures. To have any kind of Renaissance downtown we need to get at least 1/2 the parked cars off the street and widen the sidewalks. This can't be done unless we build all three structures in the locations and to the scale described in the specific plan. Funding should probably be a municipal bond because the assessment district model failed when this was tried 30 years ago.


2 people like this
Posted by Edward Syrett
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jan 23, 2015 at 2:14 am

Edward Syrett is a registered user.

I hope the planners honor "Primum non nocere": Above all, do no harm.

The existing surface lots currently serve very well in my experience, with the one proviso that the lot between Trader Joe's and Village Stationers hasn't been resurfaced since the Carter administration. Rolling a shopping cart across it en route to one's car raises a racket that can be heard all the way to Atherton. But the need to reach one's car conveniently with a cart full of grocery bags should guide any design for underground or multi- story parking facility. Consider the underground parking at Whole Foods in Mountain View (or is it Los Altos?)--I mean the one on El Camino at Showers Drive. It has an elevator that can accommodate a couple of shopping carts plus attendant humans. This would add to the expense of the project, but maybe Trader Joe's would kick in for that addition.

That said, once I park in that lot, I can walk anywhere from Draeger's to McDonald's without having to move my car. The other handy lot (which HAS been repaved within human memory) is the one between the Post Office and the backs of the Santa Cruz Avenue businesses like Ace Hardware. Under-grounding that, or adding a couple of stories to it, wouldn't be a bad idea.


3 people like this
Posted by Planning Commissioner
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 23, 2015 at 1:37 pm

It should be remembered that the need for parking is as much a paper exercise as it is a reality. Small developers can't do the interesting infill development and add a story here and there to create a more vibrant downtown if they can't get Use Permits. They can't get a use permit unless they can fulfill their obligations to have parking for that extra square footage.

Hence the urgent need to create public/private parking garages that can be counted towards new development in the downtown. Or change the rules. Or fumble on with a plan in place, but no intention of implementing it.


Like this comment
Posted by Dana Hendrickson
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 25, 2015 at 4:50 pm

Sam, while I agree we need one parking structure in the next 3 years, I see no need to build more until we have a better idea of future demand. Let's look at the math in the Specific Plan. There are 1600 parking spaces downtown and about 700 are consumed by permit users. That leaves 900 short term parking spaces. One parking structure can add 440 spaces. So the total could be 2060, and if an increase in permits were limited to 800, that means 1260 short term spaces, a 40% increase from today. That's a lot!


Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 26, 2015 at 8:36 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

We should not seek a short term solution to a long term problem nor solve a piece of the problem while ignoring bigger problems.

The Council should put all of the city owned lots on the table and have a creative design and development competition with significant points for being self funded and for creating a more vital and vibrant downtown area.


Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 26, 2015 at 9:15 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Actually the competition should also include the city owned Santa Cruz Ave and the underground areas beneath Santa Cruz and all the parking lots. This property is worth millions and could be creatively developed into an integrated, linked underground parking structure with dramatically improved surface areas for pedestrian and bicycles and parks and event spaces, etc.

Why spend 5 years doing something small when we could do something huge in 7 years?


Like this comment
Posted by Dana Hendrickson
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 26, 2015 at 3:27 pm

Hi Peter: My only concern is that a single above ground parking structure like #3 in the Specific Plan will likely cost more than $20M so more than one would likely not be justified until we had a lot more future data. I have provide an illustrative cost analysis at Web Link. I would appreciate your feedback.


6 people like this
Posted by Robert Cronin
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jan 26, 2015 at 4:01 pm

As an optimist and believer in human intelligence, I predict that the smart residents of Menlo Park will soon discover that shopping with a bicycle is more convenient, more efficient and more fun than driving to downtown, rendering a monster parking garage irrelevant and a waste of money.


Like this comment
Posted by Sam Sinnott
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 26, 2015 at 5:07 pm

Hi Dana and Peter,

It is great that these projects are finally being seriously considered. Dana - you are right to analyse the existing number of spots available and try to predict future demand. That is the rational way to approach the problem. However, I tend to agree with Peter this is a long term problem that should be master planned for all three structures as called for in the specific plan. We are under parked for the existing demand now. That includes an enormous amount of on street parking that is choking the entire area. Removing much of this street parking and providing more parking than we have now should be the goal. That will probably require all three structures. Plus the funding will probably have to be with a municipal bond. We only want to do that once.

Robert is correct that over time more people will ride bicycles, especially if the streets are safer with fewer parking spaces. However, the 'get people out of their cars' approach of limiting parking has been tried over the years in places like Oakland and Berkeley. The result is ruined city streets choked with cars and misery for families or people who cannot ride bikes.


Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 27, 2015 at 10:15 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

It would be a tragic mistake if Menlo Park chooses a short term solution (one parking lot) to solve a small part of a long term problem( a more vibrant downtown) .

Take all the public property including all the parking lots, all of Santa Cruz Ave and all the cross streets between ECR and University and Menlo and Oak Grove and put it into a design competition to create a totally walkable, bicyclable, playable, shopable surface area with ALL the parking underground. This total publicly owned land is incredible valuable and developing it in three dimensions could provide an exciting opportunity that would attract capital and encourage the current downtown property owners to either find ways to connect their current buildings to this project or allow their properties to be acquired by the City via eminent domain (which has great tax advantages to the current owners) and then placed into the pool for the new integrated design.

All it would take is vision, leadership and courage.


Like this comment
Posted by dana hendrickson
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 27, 2015 at 12:42 pm

I agree we need a long term parking plan but doubt we can afford to spend, i.e., residents will want to pay for, more than the $20-$30M needed for a single structure. We have many other Specific Plan improvements I would rate higher than a second or third structure. IF in a few years we demonstrate the need for more parking then build another structure. We will be a lot smarter and have better data. That's my 2 cents.


Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 27, 2015 at 2:18 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Done right leasing the underground rights for the city owned parking lots need not cost the City a penny and could provide lots of parking plus free up the surface areas for far better, more attractive uses.

Why are we so afraid to ask the market what these underground rights are worth?

Why is Menlo Park so trapped in a short term approach to its problems?


Like this comment
Posted by danahendrickson
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 27, 2015 at 2:29 pm

Peter: To make your idea less "pie in the sky" I suggest you do a little research and then illustrate your ideas with a simple economic model and clearly show your key assumptions. If it makes economic sense the marketplace will take it on; otherwise, it comes across as simply "wishful thinking" and we already have too much of that at times. Go for it.


Like this comment
Posted by Dana hendrickson
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 27, 2015 at 2:37 pm

Peter, please include your parking fee assumptions when talking about leasing a parking garage. Note: developers generally want an 8% annul return so if a parking space costs on average $50,000 that would mean annual income of
$4000 per space. Also, neither Stanford nor Palo Alto charge parking fees. So why would it make sense for Menlo Park?


Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 27, 2015 at 2:39 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Dana - You are not paying attention. I have posted actual project information on the Bryant Park underground parking and surface park numerous times on this forum:


Web Link

"The square will span more than an acre on Willoughby Street, a half-block from the Fulton Street mall, with manicured lawns, walkways and gardens, as well as a site to commemorate the abolitionist movement. Below it, the garage will house about 700 cars at any given time, relying on a system of computers rather than garage attendants. It will be the largest automated parking facility in North America.

“This will be a marquee public space,” said Tucker Reed, the president of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, a nonprofit local development corporation that will oversee the park’s maintenance. “From the waterfront to the Barclays Center is the core of the 21st century downtown, and to have a public amenity like this right in the middle ties everything together."

After renewing efforts three years ago, the city has finally struck a deal with the Willoughby Operating Company for the joint park and garage project. The Willoughby Operating Company, an affiliate of the American Development Group, will lease the city-owned land. It will use $6 million from city capital, the city’s Economic Development Corporation and private contributions from surrounding developers to construct the park.

The Willoughby Operating Company has also agreed to pay for any cost overruns and to finance the excavation and development of the garage. It hired Automotion Parking Systems, which has a principal in common with the American Development Group, to build and run the garage."


Keep twiddle your thumbs but the market has already spoken. Why not just have the City send out a Request for Proposals?


1 person likes this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 27, 2015 at 2:46 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

This is what leaders with courage and vision do:

"In the 1930s, the Union Square Garage Corporation was formed and lobbied for permission to build the world's first underground parking structure. After a California Supreme Court decision, permission was granted and they broke ground on May 31, 1941.
In 1997, the San Francisco Prize Coalition and the City of San Francisco announced an open competition for the redesign of Union Square Park. Toward a More Perfect Union: An International Design Competition for the Future of Union Square, received 309 entries from 10 countries and 20 states. The winning entry by MD Fotheringham, Landscape Architects entitled "All the Square is a Stage" sought to transform Union Square from an imposing, seldom used urban space into an open, pedestrian-friendly plaza."

Proudly my Grandfather was one of the leaders of this effort.


Like this comment
Posted by Dana Hendrickson
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 27, 2015 at 2:58 pm

I have not seen any financial data on the parking structures you reference. One simple question: How much does it cost to park? If it's too much do not waste time and money on a study. So far, your "economic argument" for a leased underground parking garage with no revenue producing properties above it is left unmade. Simply ask a local commercial developer what he/she thinks of the idea. Good luck. Peace.


Like this comment
Posted by Sam Sinnott
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 27, 2015 at 2:58 pm

I believe the specific plan calls for the garages to be 3 to 4 stories high. How far into the ground they go can be discussed. Without the parking structures the rest of the public amenities (wider sidewalks, trees, pocket parks, farmers market square) cannot be built. Therefore they are phase 1.

Agree that some fees should be charged for their use, but not market rate. The amount of fees can be balanced with the cost to the City tax payers. Assuming the 30 year obligation for all three structures is 120 million over 30 years that is $133/person/year for a city of 30,000. So...it is probably closer to $500 per household/year without any fees. Lets's get it done so the downtown can be improved!


Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 27, 2015 at 3:00 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

" neither Stanford nor Palo Alto charge parking fees. So why would it make sense for Menlo Park?"

Wrong. Stanford University charges for parking and has since the 70's - I know because I designed the Stanford parking system:

Web Link

Warning - this is a big file.

And Palo Alto charges for long term downtown parking just as Menlo Park does. Redwood City charges for both short term and long term downtown parking.

The Stanford Shopping Center does not charge for parking but parking costs are built into the prices of goods and services - ever wonder why it is so hard to have a grocery store at the Stanford Shopping Center?


Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 27, 2015 at 3:07 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Just run a thought exercise - how much new land will become available in Menlo Park over the next century? None

Therefore the only way to grow is either UP or DOWN.

Growing UP has a lot of negative impacts for both buildings and transit.

So Menlo Park look DOWN.


Like this comment
Posted by dana hndrickson
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 27, 2015 at 3:20 pm

Peter: I think you are missing my primary point:

Neither Palo Alto nor the Stanford Shopping Center charges for SHORT TERM Parking.

Menlo Park charges $1/hr in two plazas for parking in excess of the two hour free parking. So three hours = $1

Palo Alto permits three hour free parking in its garages.

Yes, Palo Alto and Menlo Park charge for DAILY parking permits.

Palo Alto: $466/year

Menlo Park: $592/year


Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 27, 2015 at 3:23 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

‘Where there is no vision the people perish.’
— Proverbs 29:18

‘Vision is the key to understanding leadership, and real leaders have never lost the childlike ability to dream dreams.’
— Bill Newman

‘The one thing worse than not being able to see is having no vision.’
— Helen Keller


1 person likes this
Posted by dana henrickson
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 27, 2015 at 4:10 pm

Peter, This is my last post in this particular comment thread as I think our discussion has stalled. During our recent initiative campaign you hammered the M supporters for dodging facts now you want residents to proceed on the basis of "visions" and "though experiments". Either an idea has legs or it doesn't. In this case It does not take a study to figure that out. You can have the last word. Peace!


Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 27, 2015 at 4:22 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

When was the last new home built in Atherton without a basement?

Probably ten years ago - and some Atherton basements actually extend to the lot line before that was prohibited.

There is no new land on the peninsula.

Look DOWN.


6 people like this
Posted by Mike Keenly
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jan 28, 2015 at 11:08 am

Menlo Park taxpayers shouldn't have to subsidize parking for others. Either the people who actually use it should pay market rate, or the businesses should partially subsidize it for their customers.

The parking structure idea is a complete non-starter unless the "who pays for it" issue is resolved.


Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 28, 2015 at 11:26 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Mike - as posted above:

Done right leasing the underground rights for the city owned parking lots need not cost the City a penny and could provide lots of parking plus free up the surface areas for far better, more attractive uses.

Why are we so afraid to ask the market what these underground rights are worth?

Why is Menlo Park so trapped in a short term approach to its problems?


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