For a six-month trial period starting in January, free parking hours in downtown Menlo Park will be extended to 90 minutes (from the current 1 hour) on the street, and to three hours (from the current two hours) in parking plazas, following several votes by the Menlo Park City Council on Tuesday, Oct. 20.
After the trial, the city will decide whether to make the changes permanent.
The council, at the initial suggestion of council member Kirsten Keith, also directed staff to look into making parking permits transferable between employees and creating a more affordable parking permit option for service workers and those working at minimum wage.
Free plaza parking downtown was extended to three hours by a 4-1 vote, with dissent from Councilwoman Kirsten Keith. Free street parking was extended to 90 minutes on a 3-2 vote, with Ms. Keith and Councilman Rich Cline dissenting.
The motion to extend one-hour parking to two hours failed on a 2-3 vote, with dissent from Ms. Keith, Mr. Cline and Mayor Catherine Carlton. Councilman Ray Mueller proposed the 90-minute option, saying it would create a time cushion for people wanting to eat lunch downtown.
Before the vote, nine community members, a number of whom were small business owners and employees of downtown Menlo Park shops, voiced strong opinions against and in support of the parking limit extension.
Voicing opposition to longer parking times was Bill Kirsch, chair of the city's Bicycle Commission. He said he'd rather see people who want additional parking beyond two hours to pay for it in a convenient way. Instead of cars, he encouraged people to use alternative transportation such as biking or walking downtown.
Adina Levin of the Transportation Commission favored paid parking as well. Richard Draeger of Draeger's Market, in written comments to the council, said extending parking to three hours in the Draeger's lot could limit the parking supply for grocery shoppers, as employees may opt to use the three-hour parking spots intended for customers instead of purchasing parking permits.
Those in favor of the parking time extension included Marko Petricevic, an employee at Trader Joe's, who said that employees there frequently either receive parking tickets a significant burden on hourly workers making between $11 and $20 per hour or compromise customer service when they must move their cars every two hours.
Also in favor of the extension was Tiger Bachler, owner of Alys Grace on Santa Cruz Avenue. She said that Menlo Park has gained a reputation as a "very difficult city to do business in," due to its harsh parking limits and enforcement.
Laurie Farros, owner of Head over Heels, and her husband Royal Farros, who celebrated their 21st anniversary at the Oct. 20 meeting, said customers who have had a negative experience with parking in Menlo Park often leave to do business at Town and Country or Stanford Shopping Center, sometimes permanently.
Ms. Farros said that her customers often complain about not having time to do the things they want and feel like they're being chased out. Eva Etter added that for the growing elderly population in Menlo Park, biking and walking may not be feasible alternatives.
Councilman Cline emphasized that the city should create safeguards against accidentally creating a parking shortage, if and when the city's downtown becomes sufficiently vibrant and populated to increase parking demand.
Mayor Carlton said that she often meets with prospective business owners, and many voice concerns about the low amount of foot traffic.
"We don't have the foot traffic because after two hours we chase them away with a two-by-four," she said. "I want us to have the best downtown possible. I think this is a small step toward that."
Mr. Mueller went a step further and mentioned a plan he thinks could attract people to spend more time downtown: building a parking structure in downtown Menlo Park that would also house an entertainment venue like a movie theater. He proposed issuing a request for proposals from the private sector to see what plans could be generated.
At the meeting, the City Council also received four Beacon Sustainability awards on behalf of the city, recognized Gizelda Sipos for her community service, approved a labor agreement between 36 unionized city workers and the city, approved a sponsorship policy for the Community Services Department, and selected designs for a new antenna for the Menlo Park police and public works departments.