The city of Menlo Park will look at four changes to downtown parking: letting people park in the downtown plazas for up to three hours for free; increasing the time people can park in short, "drop-off" spaces on Santa Cruz Avenue from 15 to 30 minutes; converting one-hour spaces to two hours; and funding parking garages.
Those ideas were an outcome of a March 24 City Council study session on downtown parking.
Transportation Manager Nikki Nagaya said the staff wanted guidance on three questions: What are the pros and cons of the current parking arrangements? What is the experience of parking downtown like? What values should the city's parking policy prioritize, such as vibrancy versus employee convenience?
The experience question had a straightforward answer: As council members have personally experienced, parking downtown is stressful because of the time limits and rapid enforcement.
Councilman Ray Mueller said he recently met for a business lunch downtown and "was embarrassed" by how everyone had to keep checking their watches to make sure they could get back to their cars without getting ticketed.
Mayor Cat Carlton, an avid supporter of extending the free parking limits to three hours in the parking plazas, said she has been talking with business owners who would love to open a Menlo Park location, but hesitate because they worry people don't linger downtown long enough to shop.
"We have the foot traffic, and then we take a stick and chase them away" as soon as they're done with lunch, Mayor Carlton said.
The council also voiced support for looking at charging "in lieu" fees to help pay for a parking garage as new projects come in. They acknowledged that getting everyone in the community on board with building garages "will be a long conversation," as the mayor put it.
Ms. Nagaya said that the staff will return at a later date with feedback on the proposed parking changes, noting extending the free parking time limits would come with an associated cost to replace all the signs estimated at $30,000 as well as implications for parking enforcement, including how often the police department's officers would patrol and how that would affect revenue.