The Los Altos City Council unanimously approved the city’s Downtown Parking Management Plan last week, but not before holding line-item votes to establish priorities on the recommended parking management practices.
The council’s unanimous approval came after it accepted the report’s downtown parking data by a narrow 3-2 vote in May. At that time, the council directed staff to explore and further detail some of the report’s management recommendations.
The data calculated that the downtown area’s current parking supply reaches 88 percent occupancy during a midweek peak – slightly above the 85 percent threshold commonly accepted by parking consultants. Once Safeway’s 129 shared parking spaces become available, peak occupancy should drop slightly to 86 percent but is slated to increase to 93 percent over the long term under certain scenarios.
As part of its approval, the council requested that staff include an additional section outlining line-item votes and comments on several report recommendations, including graduated parking fines, the continuation of a holiday valet parking program that debuted last year and the possibility of parking enforcement through enhanced technology.
According to Los Altos public information coordinator Erica Ray, the line-item recommendations detailed in the additional sections are expected to return to the council for consideration as future individual agenda items.
Future parking supply
In addition to seeking approval for the parking plan, city staff sought further suggestions on how to augment the downtown triangle’s parking supply. One of those strategies called for exploring the construction of a downtown parking structure.
Councilwoman Jan Pepper said she opposed funding further exploration of a parking structure, calling it “overkill” to solve what the report outlined as a downtown-parking crunch at lunchtime on weekdays.
“I think part of it is, people want to park near where they’re going,” she said. “So if you build a parking structure and people still don’t want to walk two or three blocks to where they need to go, then I don’t think the parking structure is going to meet the needs.”
Councilwoman Megan Satterlee countered that she could support a parking structure study, but only after the city explored the feasibility of establishing a parking assessment district to help fund future parking needs. A special district would require 50 percent approval by stakeholders – namely, downtown property owners.
In addition, Satterlee suggested looking at ways to add on-street parking on numbered streets – such as Third Street – “as a potential supply increase.” She noted that the city should explore establishing a policy on whether developers should be allowed to fund the reconfiguration of downtown parking plazas to meet their projects’ parking requirements.
“I think that we need to have some method by which a developer or property owner could come in and say, ‘I’m going to reconfigure 20 percent of a plaza’ or whatever it is. … I just think we need to have some sort of policy around how we would manage that,” she said.
Councilwoman Val Carpenter countered that allowing such a developer incentive would be akin to “the fox guarding the henhouse.”
Councilmembers offered detailed comments on several recommendations regarding how to manage the area’s current parking supply, including a system of fines that would increase the cost of tickets issued to repeat offenders.
According to the parking report, 22 percent of the 1,750 tickets issued between June 2012 and June 2013 were issued to offenders with three or more violations within a calendar year. Still, councilmembers appeared split on whether to waive or continue the current $54.50 fine for a first offense, which nets the city approximately $65,000 annually.
The council approved exploring the future use of automatic License Plate Reader technology as a way to augment current parking enforcement. Use of the technology, according to the report, could cost the city an additional $70,000 over a five-year period.
Pepper cast the only dissenting vote, calling the use of License Plate Readers “overkill.”