Photo By: Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
Like a motorist trying to find a downtown parking spot during lunch, the Los Altos City Council last week went round and round discussing the merits and pitfalls of the city’s Downtown Parking Management Plan.
The plan – or at least portions of it – remains a work in progress although the council voted 3-2 in favor of accepting the report’s downtown parking data. In addition, the council directed city staff to further explore some of the parking management recommendations outlined in the report and requested a future study session. Councilwomen Jeannie Bruins and Jan Pepper voted against the motion, which passed after nearly two hours of debate among councilmembers May 28.
Some councilmembers questioned the short- and long-term parking demand forecasts and management practices listed in the report. Councilwoman Megan Satterlee said that while the $157,000 report contained “excellent data,” she was reluctant to accept its parking management ideas without further exploring their respective returns on investment. Accepting the report as a whole, she added, would leave the public with the wrong impression.
“The perception and the understanding is always, if you accept the plan, then you must have accepted all the embedded recommendations,” Satterlee said.
The report, in part, examined the adequacy of the downtown triangle’s current public parking supply, which consists of 245 on-street and 1,204 off-street spaces.
It revealed that on-street parking occupancy reached a peak of 95 percent from noon to 1 p.m. midweek in December 2012 – exceeding the 85 percent practical capacity threshold used by parking consultants. In addition, off-street parking reached a high of 87 percent midweek from 1-2 p.m. during the same month.
An additional parking count in September 2012 showed slightly less demand, with a Saturday on-street peak of 92 percent from 1-2 p.m. and an off-street parking peak of 81 percent midweek during lunch.
Parking plazas 5, 6, 7 and 10 were deemed the most impacted off-street public parking areas during midweek counts in December and September. Overall occupancy in the parking district was calculated at 82 percent midweek in September and 87 percent midweek December.
Among its findings, the report noted that nearly 50 percent of downtown workers without city-issued employee parking permits (for white-dot spaces) re-parked their cars in an apparent effort to avoid tickets. Only 54 percent of observed downtown employees had white-dot permits.
The report also outlined future scenarios which showed parking occupancy levels increasing from 86 percent overall in the short term (0-2 years) and 90 percent midterm (5-10 years) to 93 percent long term (10-20 years). According to the report, the scenarios assumed a turnover in existing retail space to uses with higher parking demands, such as national retailers and restaurants.
Finally, the report listed a handful of short-term parking management recommendations, which include increasing the city’s supply of white-dot spaces, escalating parking fines for repeat offenders and the use of enhanced enforcement technologies. The recommendations could cost the city between $4,000 and $80,000 to implement.
Long term, the report noted that reconfiguring the parking plazas could gain as many as 134 additional spaces, but at a cost of more than $8 million. A second long-term recommendation called for the construction of a three-level parking garage, which would add 276 spaces for approximately $10.5 million.
While Councilwoman Val Carpenter noted she was “delighted” with the outcome of the report, her colleagues offered varying opinions on its forecasting scenarios and management ideas.
Mayor Jarrett Fishpaw said reconfiguring downtown plazas was “not a cost-effective way” to add to the city’s parking stock, while Satterlee said some of the recommendations lacked clearly defined outcomes – both qualitatively and quantitatively.
“What do I expect to get from these costs?” she said of the short- and long-term recommendations listed. “I don’t think that level of analysis was done in this study, and I think that’s very likely because that wasn’t asked of them. But to me, that’s what I have to understand. What am I buying with this money?”
Pepper called the report “a good start” in identifying which issues to solve in the downtown area and how to go about it. She noted that one issue related to parking might be a matter of perception.
“People think there is a parking problem because they can’t park right in front of the store that they want to go to,” she said, also citing concern about employees’ parking behaviors.
Bruins echoed some of Satterlee’s sentiments about the need “to be able to measure” the recommendations listed while also calling for greater input and involvement from the downtown business community regarding parking issues. She also said the onus – in terms of expectations versus execution of the report – was ultimately a “failure” on the part of the council.
“When we’re spending tax dollars to go off and do any study, we need to ensure that as an executive team, we’re giving goals that are actually measurable that we can do something with because otherwise we end up with circular discussions and such,” Bruins said. “So the failure is with us, not with the team that has done this (report).”