Menlo Park to look at extending parking time limits downtown


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.

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5 people like this
Posted by Parker
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Mar 25, 2015 at 12:21 pm

Seriously, $30,000? How about printing up some stickers to put over the numbers on the existing signs? Cheaper and greener solution.

1 person likes this
Posted by dana hendrickson
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 25, 2015 at 12:25 pm

I had to leave before the end of this meeting but support all of these ideas. Good work, City Council.

3 people like this
Posted by AME
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Mar 25, 2015 at 12:25 pm

It's about time they woke up! I have consistently avoided MP to avoid the absurd parking times and the Raptor-like enforcement...I got a ticket for leaving my wife in the car in a no parking spot for 5 was not a no standing spot, just no parking. When you are in the car clearly you are not parked..but the wisdom of mindless enforcement prevailed, even after an appeal.

If you want to know why MP is a virtual ghost town, this is one reason. The other unfortunately, is low quality restaurants and stores.......

2 people like this
Posted by MP Customer
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Mar 25, 2015 at 12:33 pm

Great step forward. Didn't Ray Mueller advocate limiting downtown parking time when he was on the Transportation Commission?

Glad that the entire City Council now wants to fix a bad policy that a previews council passed, recommended by the Transportation Committee.

15 people like this
Posted by Ray Mueller
a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on Mar 25, 2015 at 12:45 pm

Interesting question MP customer, I am uncertain where you gained that information.

Actually, I spoke against limiting dowtown parkng time in my first meeting on the Transportation Commission, arguing that the standards applied by the transpiration consultants in their study had changed, and prior studies showed ample parking downtown. I also spoke in favor of rolling back the parking restrictions the last time this issue was before the City Council.

Thanks for the question.

1 person likes this
Posted by Ray Mueller
a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on Mar 25, 2015 at 12:48 pm

Sorry for misspelling "transportation". It's hard to type on a cell phone sometimes.

2 people like this
Posted by Mike Keenly
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Mar 25, 2015 at 1:26 pm


Why would you stop/park in a 'No Parking' spot and not expect to possibly be ticketed?

I suggest you actually try some of the Menlo Park restaurants. Bistro Vida is consistently excellent, and one of our regular favorites.


8 people like this
Posted by Ned Moritz
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 25, 2015 at 1:28 pm

Great first step Ray, Cat and the rest of the Council.

Now it's time to look at the next logical step.

This is likely to lower ticket revenue and thereby eliminate the primary reason there are several parking attendants that can be eliminated. Lower revenue when matched against the salaries, FULL OVERHEAD (pension, medical, dental, vacation, uniform cost, sick pay, etc. etc.), equipment, maintenance, and lost merchant sales (also known as customer hassle) will certainly narrow, if not eliminate, the justification for this heavy cost that is part of the police department.

2 people like this
Posted by SteveC
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Mar 25, 2015 at 1:58 pm

SteveC is a registered user.

When was it finally discovered that the parking limitations were too short? This has been an issue for years.

AME: Where in the vehicle code does it allow vehicle "standing" in a No parking Zone????? Standing/Parking in a no parking zone is the same. Nice try but n cigar

11 people like this
Posted by Recorder
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Mar 25, 2015 at 2:15 pm

MP Customer - minutes from their August 2010 meeting reveal neither the Transportation Commission, nor Councilmember Mueller, recommended the current downtown parking policy. In fact, per the minutes, Mueller questioned why the standards for parking capacity were changed from prior studies, and also why an inconvenience factor had been dropped from prior studies.

"3. Consideration and Recommendation to City Council of the Draft Downtown Parking Management Plan (Final Set of Recommended Parking Restrictions and Parking Management Practices (Continued from the July 14, 2010 meeting).

Staff Baile provided a brief summary of the Downtown Parking Study’s final set of recommendations and the changes made to the report based on comments received from the Transportation Commission at its July, 2010 meeting.

Commission Bourne commented that the report was a large improvement from the previous one but that he was still looking for a statement of who paid for the study. He also commented that because the commission has neither discussed the recommendations nor deliberated on the changes to the downtown parking that he was not ready to recommend it to Council.

The following were the highlights of Commissioner Mueller comments on the study:
Prior downtown parking studies were not attached to the report. (Commissioner Mueller wanted all previous parking studies to be included as appendices in the report.) There was no action implemented from the 1999 study. Why action now?

Key definitions changed from 1999 to current study. Practical capacity changed from 85-95% definition in the 1999 study to 85-90% definition in the 2010 study. Why did the definition change?

One of the goals of the 2010 Downtown Parking Study was to expand further the MTC study. What does that mean?

The following were questions that Commission Mueller wanted the City’s consultant for this project, Wilbur Smith & Associates to answer:

Question 1: The “practical capacity” of a parking lot changed from 85-95% in the 1999 Study to 85%-90% in the 2010 Study. Why did that change?

Question 2: Did Wilbur Smith & Associates calculate an inconvenience factor with the proposed modified changes as they did for the MTC Study? (The MTC study made reference (Table 9. Price Module Assumptions) to the 5% reduction on short term parkers due to inconvenience based on Wilbur Smith Associates’ analysis of a one 200 unit multi-family residential structure.)

and Question 3: And if the answer is that Wilbur Smith Associates did calculate an inconvenience factor and there was none, why not?

Question 4: What did it mean in the Attachment A of the Scope of Work that “the Consultant shall coordinate with the El Camino Real/Downtown Specific Plan process”? What did Wilbur Smith & Associates did to do that?

Commissioner Engel also commented on the study as follows:
The name of the commission should be changed to parking and traffic. Staff should not provide recommendation but let the commission make up its own mind. Why are we doing this if on page 6 of the report, it says that downtown has sufficient parking capacity? Would proposal increase revenue? If plan does increase spaces, will it require more people to enforce? He is concerned about enforcement’s adversarial relationship. Most businesses in downtown do not have many employees. Larger employers should have their own lot.

Commissioner Shiu commented that Plaza 2 and 8 is a problem that should be resolved as well and if parking were too restrictive, no one would go to downtown. He asked how the adjustments would be monitored.

Commissioner Huang asked about public outreach.

Staff Taylor responded that the main goal of the Downtown Parking Study was to review the parking patterns in Downtown and formulate a set of parking management strategies that would address the needs of the short-term parkers (customers and visitors) and long-term parkers (employees). He said that unlike the El Camino Real/Downtown Specific Plan, which is a long-term project, the Downtown Parking Study recommends short-term improvements. It is a project for now, not for five to ten years later. He said that, certainly there would be extensive public outreach prior to implementation of the parking changes in downtown.

Action: Commission passes a motion sending the Downtown Parking Study, neither approving nor disapproving it, to the City Council along with the four questions that Commissioner Mueller wanted Wilbur Smith & Associates to answer. (6-0) Commissioner Mueller also wanted the four previous parking studies to be attached as appendices to the 2010 Downtown Parking Study."

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Posted by Sign reader
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Mar 25, 2015 at 3:03 pm

SteveC There is in fact a very big difference between a "No Parking" zone and a "No Standing" zone. If you are at the wheel of the car and in control of the vehicle, pulling into a no parking zone is not a violation. Doing the same in a no standing zone is in fact ticketable. Similarly, stopping next to a fire hydrant is legal, so long as you are the wheel ready to immediately move your vehicle in case of an emergency, but parking there is never legal.

I suspect AME left his wife in the car, but not at the wheel in control of the vehicle, which is why he got ticketed.

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Posted by Elena
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Mar 25, 2015 at 3:55 pm

Nice they are finally realizing parking is a problem. Although I live in Menlo Park, it is not my first choice for shopping because of the parking situation as it stands.

2 people like this
Posted by SteveC
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Mar 25, 2015 at 4:49 pm

SteveC is a registered user.

@ Sign reader: I asked for the vehicle Code Section. It doesn't make a difference. Stop/stand in a no parking zone is a violation and citable. It is not a play on works. Wheels not moving occupied does not make a difference.

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Posted by at peace
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Mar 25, 2015 at 5:26 pm

@Recorder, bless you. This article has been an emotional roller coaster.

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Posted by OldGuy
a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Mar 26, 2015 at 4:10 pm

Until we build some parking garages there will never be enough parking.

We are now about a quarter century behind Palo Alto. When I first moved back to the Bay Area in '77 University Avenue was a pretty dull street. Not much parking, and not that much to want to park for anyway, other than the New Varsity, and a few bars. Menlo Park's Santa Cruz avenue wasn't much different.

Now University Avenue is alive with interesting restaurants and shops, lots of parking garages, and people who live and work in that area. Menlo Park's Santa Cruz avenue is not much different than it was in 1980. Still no parking garages, still no 3 and 4 story mixed use buildings.

Even Redwood City, where the downtown was a dead wasteland, has surpassed Menlo Park, it is now much more alive, has parking garages, places to go, things to do.

So where is my money being spent? Who is getting my sales tax dollars? It isn't Menlo Park.

We Need Parking Garages, and taller mixed use buildings. Until then we are on a downward spiral . . .

15 people like this
Posted by Reality Check
a resident of another community
on Mar 26, 2015 at 8:08 pm

Redwood City is a decent model following parking expert Dr. Donald Shoup's work ... eliminate time limits and CHARGE for parking using demand pricing so people pay for what they need and use at a rate which keeps about 15% of the spaces available (more or less) for newcomers at all times.

For more about Dr. Shoup's work, Google "The High Cost of Free Parking":
Web Link

10 people like this
Posted by David Marcus
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Mar 26, 2015 at 9:40 pm

This is great! If there's one thing all great cities have in common, it's ample free parking everywhere. Ok, maybe not your Paris or New York, but definitely Houston or Atlanta. This is why the strip malls along El Camino are so wonderful. It's time downtown Menlo Park catches up.

2 people like this
Posted by MP Resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Mar 27, 2015 at 8:50 am

Given the value of mid-Peninsula land, I'm shocked, just utterly shocked that the people talking about undergrounding Caltrain (which is at least an effective use of the tiny strip of land it uses) are not pushing hard to take back the parking lots, and use them for something productive (mix-use buildings? shopping? housing? green space?).

However, since automotive storage is clearly important to some (along with getting off their lawns, and keeping those pesky kids from skateboarding on the sidewalk), how about paid parking decks underneath this higher and better use of land? No time limits, just pay by the hour.

Also, if you look at the mode share for a successful downtown (i.e. Palo Alto), I suspect you will find that the majority walk or take the train, with a significant minority driving or biking.

9 people like this
Posted by Steve Taffee
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Mar 27, 2015 at 4:15 pm

I'm afraid that I am going to take a position that is contrarty to much of that expressed by others.

There is absolutely no reason - other than tradition and what we have grown used to - that parking should be free. Let me explain.

There are real costs to parking. Upkeep of the lots, security of the vehicles that park there, lighting, code enforcement and so on. The cost of a parking space can add up to tens of thousands of dollars over time considering the cost of construction costs, land, and maintenance. In almost any other situation, we'd be asking people who use expensive facilities to pay for them in a much more direct way.

There are less easily quantifiable environmental costs, such as the the creation of heat islands caused by black topped surfaces and polluted stormwater run-off into the bay.

So to be clear, free parking is not free at all. It is a tradeoff of expenses. It is the use of subsidies and economic incentives that are contrary to what many would argue we should be doing to encourage fewer trips by car, more walking and bicycling, and a less car-centric culture. Urban planner Donald Shoup, in this book "The High Cost of Free Parking" outlines a program that, in my view, takes a more measured approach to dealing with parking than simply making it "free."

6 people like this
Posted by J.D. Stevens
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 28, 2015 at 11:29 am

You know what these changes will result in, right?

1. People will no longer complain about getting a ticket at 2 hours and 1 minute! Instead, people complain about getting a ticket at 3 hours and 1 minute.
2. Parking spaces will be harder to find, since employees will hog spots for even longer than they do now.

Way to go, Council! For your next trick, may I suggest you pass a resolution calling for Menlo Park having its cake and eating it too. Also, the building of a municipal time machine to go back to the 1950s, where these car-first ideas came from.

4 people like this
Posted by oldtimer
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 28, 2015 at 3:40 pm

Extending the time limit is just plain stupid. For sure it means that downtown workers, who even with 2 hours, run out to change lots and avoid paying parking permit fees, yet consume many of the lots spaces, will be even more aggressive in this regard.

Why let a very few complainers and most likely some of those are owners of the hair and nail saloons who don't seem to be able to keep within the present limits, dictate parking policy.

Again this is just another stupid exercise, endorsed by a hopeless council.

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Posted by MP standards
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 30, 2015 at 7:59 am

@ MP resident - considering the "value of mid-Peninsula land" must be done from the perspective of residents and business customers who may favor convenient parking, not of developers who favor new buildings for their own profits. Undergrounding Caltrain opens up the ground level for bike pathways, parks, development that suit the middle of a town instead of ugly, disruptive high walls or metal structures.

MP seems to have different standards about convenience, however. In Palo Alto, it is common to need to walk a number of blocks to one's destination. In Menlo Park, that isn't tolerated for some reason. I believe ample parking needs to be readily available to retail stores, especially groceries and hardware store, but it's alright to walk longer distances for almost any other reason. I have NEVER had a problem finding parking downtown IF I'm willing to walk more than 1-2 blocks.

We can take notes from Los Altos where there is very convenient parking, and attractive, wel-maintained lots. Menlo Park's lots are mostly deteriorating, bumpy, all-blacktop areas littered with trash and recycle bins and debris. Menlo Park's downtown plan was supposed to make things better. How's that working for us? No plans, no funding, no improvement.

2 people like this
Posted by MP standards
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 30, 2015 at 9:37 am

I sincerely doubt the majority of shoppers and restaurant patrons walk or use the train in Palo Alto. PA has several garages and still residents in surrounding neighborhoods complain about the volume of cars parking on their streets.

I support above and below-ground parking garages in addition to accessible, nice looking parking at ground level. I also support creating a pedestrian-only area on Santa Cruz to replace the silly slanted dining areas the city is now promoting. MP could use something unique and desirable like that to support a vibrant downtown.

@ ST - It may be difficult to charge for all parking in MP when it's free at stanford shopping center and in PA. We do not want to disadvantage our businesses. Redwood City lost me when they started charging for all parking, even at the library.

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Posted by Long time Resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 30, 2015 at 12:26 pm

I agree that we need to do something to make downtown MP more attractive to customers and businesses. A pedestrian mall with more outdoor dining and a greater mix of businesses is needed (beyond salons and furnishing stores -- fine but we have plenty). I like the two story downtown area and do not want to see 3-4 story buildings. It is part of Menlo Park's charm. Let's look at surrounding communities for ideas of what works and what doesn't and then be unique and friendly Menlo Park.

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Posted by Reality Check
a resident of another community
on Mar 30, 2015 at 3:29 pm

Reality Check is a registered user.

A follow-up to my earlier posting regarding distinguished professor of urban planning and parking guru Donald Shoup: Web Link

Parking must be priced appropriately! Free parking is probably the worst idea to ruin many places there is ... and yet Menlo's apparently unenlightened council just made things worse by increasing free parking time limits!

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Posted by MP standards
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 31, 2015 at 8:15 am

@ reality check - MP does charge for parking in the lot behind the post office. it's for those who want to park longer than 2 hours. Maybe another lot or garage like that is needed, but I don't think MP can charge for all parking downtown when neither PA nor stanford shopping center do. Shoup doesn't seem to address issues like competitive retail markets in close proximity.

4 people like this
Posted by Mike Keenly
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Mar 31, 2015 at 1:07 pm

I believe that the current 2-hour limit provides a good balance between parking space utilization and turnover. Given the fixed number of parking spaces currently available in the downtown area, a 3-hour limit doesn't create enough turnover for the businesses.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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