Wed08272014

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City explores downtown parking options


Photo By: Town Crier File Photo
Photo Town Crier File Photo

Downtown construction forces Los Altos to review parking alternatives.

The city of Los Altos is mulling the viability of alternate – and temporary – parking supply options in light of pending downtown construction projects.

The Los Altos City Council last week directed city staff to explore a handful of potential short-term parking solutions to help offset the loss of more than 110 downtown spaces during the imminent First Street streetscape construction, as well as development at the First and Main streets property and Safeway.

The council voted unanimously to examine temporary parking options to augment downtown’s soon-to-be-dwindling supply, including potential shared parking agreements with private property owners and the possibility of providing valet parking during peak hours. In addition, the council sought further review of the possible redistribution and expansion of the city’s employee parking program – the “white dot” program – to less-impacted public parking plazas.

“The reason I asked for this is because I think the city should be proactive in addressing, to the degree possible, impacts of both public and private developments on our parking plazas,” Councilwoman Val Carpenter said during the discussion.

A city staff report noted that the 96 spaces available at the makeshift First and Main lot will disappear permanently once developer Jeffrey A. Morris begins work on his mixed-use, two-story building. An additional 12 on-street spaces will be lost following completion of the city’s second phase of the First Street streetscape, scheduled to get under way in May. San Antonio Road streetscape construction will also result in the permanent loss of nine parking spaces in Parking Plaza 3. The report added that approximately 50 spaces in that plaza are unavailable during construction.

The anticipated construction projects, according to Economic Development Manager Kathy Kleinbaum, will result in an overall parking occupancy level of 88 percent during peak use – noon to 2 p.m. – above the 85-percent threshold commonly used by parking consultants. She added that the overall peak use now stands at 82 percent.

Nearby areas such as Orange Avenue and Lincoln Park, meanwhile, are slated for parking use by construction crews and queuing for trucks. And up to 16 spaces in Plaza 7, located across from the First Street Safeway, are expected to be used for construction staging purposes, according to the staff report.

Several councilmembers expressed interest in possibly redistributing the city’s white-dot employee parking spaces after Kleinbaum noted that peak occupancy varies greatly from plaza to plaza. She said Downtown Parking Management Study results revealed that plazas 7, 10 (behind Wells Fargo on State Street) and 5 (midblock between Main and State streets) were the most impacted during peak use. By redistributing white-dot spaces away from impacted parking areas to less-impacted plazas, the city could potentially see some gain in parking plazas closer to the downtown core, she added.

“This is a very near-term problem and it’s a short-term problem, and paint – even reflective paint – isn’t as expensive,” Councilwoman Megan Satterlee said of the idea. “I would be supportive of examining whether we want to, as a pilot, go redistribute those white dots and even remove them from places closest to the impacted construction zones.”

Carpenter called the $100,000-plus price tag of year-round valet parking “breathtaking,” noting that she could support a slimmed-down, affordable option.

“If we’re just talking about lunch (for valet service), even though there’s setup time before and after, I would hope that cost could be cut into a quarter of that,” she said. “I’d feel a lot better about $25,000 than I do about $100,000.”

The council also supported further exploration of potential shared-parking agreements, despite Mayor Jarrett Fishpaw’s reservations about the difficulties of making such arrangements.

“I think these are very challenging arrangements to make,” he said. “I think that private property owners have hesitation to take on the liability of somebody new driving around their closed parking lot (or) underneath their building. I think it’s going to be a lot of work, would be my best guess, from a staff perspective.”

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