From Thanksgiving Day through Jan. 4, 2016, downtown Menlo Park will reward holiday season visitors with relaxed parking time in the plazas. This has been done in past years, but the lengthened free parking time won't end come January, except for the Draeger's parking lot.
On a 3-2 vote, the Menlo Park's City Council on Nov. 10 approved a six-month trial of extended free parking hours downtown, starting Jan. 4. On-street parking will be extended to 90 minutes (it's currently one hour) and free plaza parking will be extended to three hours (it's currently two hours).
The holiday time extension applies only to the plazas, where people will be able to park free for three hours.
During the six-month trial, the city will gather information about parking turnover and other factors for the City Council, which will decide whether to make the changes permanent.
One of the city's eight downtown plazas, the Draeger's parking lot, will be exempt from the trial. One of the owners, Richard Draeger, said the time extension would adversely affect the number of people who could park and shop there.
In an email to the council, he said Draeger's customers are "mostly female housewives and many with kids in tow, and simply cannot successfully conduct the transporting of an 80 to 120 lb. shopping cart loaded with groceries beyond a reasonably short distance."
Council members Rich Cline and Kirsten Keith voted no on the trial. Mr. Cline opposed the Draeger's exemption, pointing out that it might set a precedent for other case-by-case exemptions. He also opposed the street parking extension to 90 minutes.
Ms. Keith said in the Oct. 20 council discussion that she'd like to see additional parking time available for downtown visitors, but believes people should pay for it. She cited "The High Cost of Free Parking," a book by Donald Shoup, that claims that free parking is actually subsidized by everyone.
"Everyone (pays for parking), even if they don't drive," reads one passage in the book. "Initially the developer pays for the required parking, but soon the tenants do, and then their customers, and so on, until the cost of parking has diffused everywhere in the economy. When we shop in a store, eat in a restaurant, or see a movie, we pay for parking indirectly because its cost is included in the prices of merchandise, meals, and theater tickets."
Though the Draeger's lot will be subject to the city's policy of the extended three hours of free parking during the holiday season, the lot will revert to its current parking limits at the close of the holidays. At the request of Councilman Peter Ohtaki, the city will gather data about the lot's occupancy during the holiday months in lieu of that lot's participation in the six-month trial.
The City Council also unanimously approved spending $65,000 for the six-month pilot project and directed city staff to investigate transferable parking permits (which would allow employees in a business to transfer the permit among each other) and discounted individual parking permits for low-income people.