The latest city-conducted parking management survey/plan for downtown Los Altos contained excellent updated information. We only hope that there’s some action following it. There hasn’t been much action with previous such parking studies going back to 1987.
Although some would argue to the contrary, there’s a perception that downtown Los Altos has a parking problem. How can we have a parking problem when our downtown economy is not particularly strong? Chiefly at fault are two factors: People who work in town take up premium spaces intended for customers; and most visitors want to park as close to their destinations as possible, and are unwilling to walk.
The city-mandated employee parking permit program requires that employees park in stalls in outlying areas of the plazas, marked by white dots. But the program does not stop employees from parking and moving their cars among the closer two- and three-hour parking zones intended for customers. And, as the report points out, there are fewer dotted spaces than there are employees with permits.
A parking structure could help solve the problem, especially with regard to employee parking, but it would have to be strategically placed to address the needs of customers who want to park close to the places they patronize. The city could fund it. Yes, there are other needs competing for that money – but how high do you prioritize a thriving downtown?
Although some recommendations in the latest study are worthwhile, such as parking-fine reductions, the most realistic, impactful solution is hardly touched on: paid parking directly in front of stores, with free, all-day parking in the outlying plazas. This would force employees who don’t want to cough up daily cash to park farther away and open the premium stalls for customers. As the report acknowledges, paid parking could generate substantial funds to underwrite a parking structure.
As paid parking has shown in other areas like Redwood City, customers think nothing of paying a small fee for a choice parking spot. It’s been a taboo subject over the years, but Redwood City is not falling to pieces – nor would Los Altos.
The point is, solutions are available – now. We are counting on the council to take action this time around.