Council asks if Menlo Park is 'too aggressive' with parking enforcement

How much efficiency is enough? When it comes to parking enforcement in downtown Menlo Park, the answer seems to be "a little less than we have." Ticketing frequency is higher than in several other Peninsula cities, according to data presented during a council study session on April 29.

The study session was held review changes to downtown parking implemented nearly three years ago. Transportation Manager Jesse Quirion told the council those changes are "working as planned."

The changes included adding pay-by-the-hour parking meters to Plaza 1, off El Camino Real and Oak Grove Avenue, and Plaza 5, off Crane Street and Santa Cruz Avenue. With the first two hours of parking free, users can buy up to seven more hours. And Menlo Park plans to integrate a mobile phone application to let people purchase more parking time on the go; the application will add a $0.35 transaction fee.

The city also created 15-minute "drop off" zones and limited to one hour spaces on Santa Cruz Avenue and several downtown side streets.

Parking space occupancy rates hover in the 80 to 85 percent range, meaning the odds are pretty good of finding a space when you need one, Mr. Quirion said. More people working downtown buy permits for $592 for a year or pay to park all day in Plaza 1 or 5 instead of taking up on-street spaces closer to the businesses.

The city has responded to complaints by making the one-hour-limit signs more visible along Santa Cruz Avenue, staff said.

So far, so good. But as Councilman Rich Cline observed back in 2011, "You can do a great thing with parking, and people won't think it's a great thing."

This proved true as the conversation turned to enforcement. According to the staff's statistics, Menlo Park averages 5.9 citations per parking space per year. On Santa Cruz Avenue, thanks to the one-hour slots, that jumps to 11.

For comparison, Los Altos is 1.21 and Redwood City, 5.31. Of the five Peninsula cities considered, only Burlingame, with 12.5 tickets per space per year, ranked higher than Menlo Park.

Mayor Ray Mueller, after contemplating the statistics, concluded that "if you park in Los Altos you are four times less likely (to get a ticket) than if you park in Menlo Park."

He wants a parking enforcement policy more in line with the practices of Los Altos or Redwood City. Knowing there's a higher chance of finding a ticket on the windshield -- "That's not the psychological experience I want (people) to have ... the efficiency of those issuing citations is very good," but "it's happening too much, and it's making us not competitive."

Vice Mayor Cat Carlton agreed, saying she's gotten emails from business owners upset about the horrible experience shoppers have downtown.

Councilman Cline shared that he'd recently gotten a ticket for parking on a white line which, he said, he'd had to do because the adjacent car had intruded into his space.

Comparing ticketing frequency is not as straight-forward as one might suspect, though.

While Mr. Mueller suggested Menlo Park should be more like Los Altos, Los Altos may be thinking they should be more like Menlo Park, according to Menlo Park city staff.

Los Altos only sends a parking officer out when someone complains of a violation, they said, and business owners in Los Altos are arguing that enforcement should be a higher priority.

While Redwood City is also lower, that city also has off-street parking spaces by way of garages that people pay for upon exiting, circumventing the need for time limits.

Public comment during the study session revisited the need to build a parking garage in Menlo Park for downtown employees, and expanding the one-hour limit on Santa Cruz Avenue to two hours.

And maybe the city should repaint those white lines, one speaker suggested. Penelope Huang, who serves on the Transportation Commission, said the parking spaces in Plaza 1 are too small, which not only leads to tickets, but also door dings. Since the lot is usually not full anyway, why not repaint the lines to have fewer, wider spaces, she suggested.

What does the police department make of the call to go easier on the tickets? Police Chief Bob Jonsen told the Almanac that officers enforce parking based on parameters established by the council. If the council decides to change the guidelines, by converting the one-hour zones to two hours, for example "then our officers will enforce accordingly. Otherwise, there are no changes planned on our end," he said.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on May 2, 2014 at 9:14 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

I recently parked in a time restricted space at Santa Clara University and returned to find a Courtesy Ticket on my car. This turned what I thought from a distance to be a very bad experience to a very good experience and also reminded me that next time, since they recorded my license plate, I probably would receive a real ticket.

Worth trying.

 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Tunbridge Wells
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on May 2, 2014 at 11:28 am

Tunbridge Wells is a registered user.

Merchants want customers to be able to find parking. If parking rules aren't enforced, then people will overstay the time limit, and customers will have a hard time parking, and merchants will complain. When parking rules are enforced, people complain. This is a no-win, because people always complain about parking, no matter what.

We are so accustomed to viewing parking as a fundamental right. Why is that? A car is private property. Those parking plazas downtown are public property. I don't understand why people expect to be able to park for free for as long as they want. Let's be clear: free parking is in fact a huge public subsidy to the merchants. And that's perfectly fine, and a reasonable thing for the city to decide to support, but let's be clear about what is. "Free parking" is not, in fact, free. We are just paying for it in other ways.

A warning for first infractions seems like a very reasonable suggestion.

 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of another community
on May 2, 2014 at 12:17 pm

They're terrible. There's a reason we refer to them as Parking Nazis.

 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Colin Jenkins
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on May 2, 2014 at 12:20 pm

I own a store on Santa Cruz Ave and one morning around 9 am before the retail stores fronting Santa Cruz opened, I counted total parking spaces in the lot behind our store and found roughly 100. Then I counted cars that were already parked that displayed permits and found roughly 60. Presumably the majority of these permit holders work in the office buildings that front Oak Grove. Most were parked on the Oak Grove side of the lot.

This leaves roughly 40 spaces for retail stores on Santa Cruz. There are close to 10 stores on our block meaning that each store gets roughly 4 spaces for owners, employees and customers. Not a super-scientific study, I realize, but perhaps the selling of permits should be re-examined with a limit imposed on those sold to office dwellers.

 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Frequent visitor
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on May 2, 2014 at 12:28 pm

Menlo Park desparately needs a parking garage, preferably underground.

 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Steve Nahmias
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on May 2, 2014 at 12:59 pm

The parking enforcement has been absurd at times. A couple of years ago, I parked on Santa Cruz Avenue in a driving rainstorm. I was the only car in the area and was in the hardware store no more than 5 or 6 minutes. Because I couldn't see in the rain, I was slightly over the criss-cross area between parking spaces. And yes, I got a ticket for that.

 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of another community
on May 2, 2014 at 1:19 pm

Steve - that happened to you - they could've just let it go, yet I NEVER see cars ticketed for being parked waaaay too far behind the front bumper line in the lots, so that the car's rear bumper hangs out into the driving lane. It's dangerous.

 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Former Resident
a resident of Oak Knoll School
on May 2, 2014 at 7:42 pm

Recently I returned to Meno Park after receiving three parking tickets in the previous 8 years I had lived in Menlo Park. Two tickets I challenged with photos that indicated I was within the crosshairs painted on street. the fine please. Suffice it to say I had become so paranoid about parking in the downtown area that during my visit in April, I left Textures Salon with my head in tinfoil, walked across the parking lot to repark my car. I was that sure that I would get a ticket if I stayed until my hair appointment was complete. It had taken 2 hours and 15 minutes. Vowed never to set foot in the 5th richest town in America ever again!!

 +   1 person likes this
Posted by exresident
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on May 3, 2014 at 4:18 pm

I have never met a city that harassed renters more than Menlo Park with its completely ridiculous rules concerning overnight parking on the street. If you look in the lots near downtown and wonder why they are full in the early morning, then likely you are part of the problem. The laws are arcane and designed to raise money specifically by targeting the renters in the area, no point whining about the cost of a meter on Santa Cruz, it's nothing compared to the 2am ticket for parking on the street...try it sometime, of course if you live in the special sections I'm sure this doesn't occur.

 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Dntwn Renter
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on May 4, 2014 at 5:47 am

Did you know that renters or landlords can buy annual street parking permits?

 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Downtown renter
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on May 4, 2014 at 5:51 am

Perhaps installing bike racks around town would send a good message, free up space, and improve our health.

More recently I started biking around town with my kids or by myself on errands and it is a much more pleasant experience than driving and parking. Faster too.

 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Tricia Young
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on May 4, 2014 at 11:09 am

On Crane St it is only One Hour limit but having a lunch at Carpaccios Restaurant sometimes goes a bit beyond.
Twice I have received a ticket. Perhaps two hour limit would be more reasonable when dining? Stanford Center dining means sales tax for Santa Clara County sadly.

 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Tunbridge Wells
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on May 4, 2014 at 11:25 am

Tunbridge Wells is a registered user.

May I gently suggest that you park in one of the lots that allows longer parking? One hour is too short for lunch. I don't understand complaining when there is lots of FREE parking for two hours just a short walk away.

 +   1 person likes this
Posted by MP Resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on May 4, 2014 at 4:26 pm

If you have a multi hour hair appointment, perhaps you should plan ahead and pay for parking in the pay lot.

Otherwise, one hour spaces are on the street for quick errands and fast churn - this is how you keep downtown merchants happy or at least in business.

There are tons of two hour spaces that are also free for those longer lunches, multiple errands, extended grocery runs, etc.

There is a lot where you can pay for extended parking, which is a great option for a long trip downtown. The Caltrain lot also has parking all day for a few bucks - just pay at the tvm; takes 2 or 3 minutes.

And of course, if you are not disabled or excessively lazy - much of Menlo Park is walkable to downtown, and most of the rest is less than 20 minutes away by bike.

 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Terry
a resident of Woodside: Mountain Home Road
on May 5, 2014 at 7:34 am

I, along with many friends, have quit going to downtown Menlo Park because of the parking. There are many other places in the area to shop or eat without worrying about the excessive parking enforcement.

 +   1 person likes this
Posted by COH
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on May 5, 2014 at 10:13 am

Why do they have those STUPID cross-hatches on the streets?? They take up valuable parking space!!!! I got a ticket because I was partially in one (like SIX inches!). RIDICULOUS!

 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on May 5, 2014 at 10:26 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

As I have posted previously, the manner in which parking limits are enforced is a direct reflection of who is in charge. I suggest that this responsibility be moved from the Police Department to the Business development Department. Parking should not be consider a revenue resource but rather as a means of stimulating and supporting access to our local businesses.

A manager who has a business development perspective will have very different priorities than one who is in the direct revenue generating business. I suspect that courtesy tickets for the first offense would be an early innovation under such a shift. It is very hard to tell individuals who are part of the police department not to enforce the law.

 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Wonton Dawg
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on May 5, 2014 at 12:34 pm

Wonton Dawg is a registered user.

You all just have to quit whining and take an extra few seconds to park with the confines of the parking stall. I have seen cars parked using two spaces.

 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Menlo Resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on May 5, 2014 at 1:06 pm

I live/work in downtown Menlo Park and am well aware of the parking issues. I do not have a permit although they are available for about $600/yr which is equal to about 13 parking tickets. I take my chances and move my car every two hours. There is an 8 minute "Grace Period", by the way, that the officers do observe, so don't tell me they ticket you the minute your time is up.

Aggressive? I don't think so. One of my pet peeves, which deserves a ticket, is parking on the white lines. What is so hard about parking BETWEEN two lines?? When people park ON a white line, they often make it impossible for the other car's owner to open their own door to get in without having to crawl across the front seat from the passenger door. When they park over the lines on Santa Cruz Avenue and other streets, they are making it hard for another car to park efficiently and end up taking up TWO spaces as a result. It is extremely selfish, irresponsible and just plain stupid.

Several of the lots offer extended parking at a reasonable fee for an extra hour up to all day. What is so hard about that if you wish you spend several hours? There are alternatives to getting tickets. Maybe Menlo Park residents and visitors are too arrogant to abide by simple laws that are in all of our best interests. Every day I see people parking without any compunction about how it affects others and I find it far more annoying than tickets -- mine included if I can't follow the rules.

 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Stop Whining!
a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on May 5, 2014 at 5:31 pm

If you can stay within the white lines on a freeway going 65 MPH then you better darn well be able to park between two white lines pulling in to the space at less than 5 MPH.

 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Robert Cronin
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on May 5, 2014 at 6:06 pm

Do as I do, and you'll always park close to your shopping and never get a parking ticket. Ride your bike. You say you don't have a bike? Get one.

 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Mark Johnson
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jun 27, 2014 at 11:47 pm

I'm so sick of the people on this thread who think that MP downtown employees are whiners because of the parking ticket situation. My wife works for a store downtown. We're not wealthy people, and I'm sick and tired of MP ticketing her car because she's not always able to take time to stop work in order to move her frigging car every two hours. Anyone who works in downtown Menlo Park should be exempted, period. This is one of the most stupid, senseless, and short-sighted practices I've ever seen.

 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of another community
on Jun 28, 2014 at 12:03 pm

I guess Robert Cronin never has to transport old people or young kids. Does he ever buy large amounts of food to take home, or to a food bank? How about when one is ill, on their way to Menlo Medical? It's pretty hard to ride a bike with an illness or injury.

The thing is, the Parking Nazis are idiots. I've seen people go to the police dept. to challenge a ticket they received in the loading zone, and the staff don't know the law. I've been followed by Parking Nazis from lot to lot, as if I was doing anything wrong, looking for more parking. They have a well-deserved bad reputation.

Mark Johnson is right. Why should workers, who also spend money downtown, get penalized if they don't have a parking permit? Now that I don't work downtown, I spend much less in downtown Menlo than I did when I worked there.

 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Tunbridge Wells
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jun 28, 2014 at 3:13 pm

Tunbridge Wells is a registered user.

I see lots of people riding around with kids in trailers or occasionally on cargo bikes. I don't think Robert Cronin is saying bicycle is the one size fits all solution, but I bet there are a lot of people driving downtown who could easily do whatever it is they are doing downtown on a bicycle if they thought about it. A run to the ATM, or to Walgreen's for toothpaste, or to meet someone for lunch.

I don't understand why people expect to park their cars for free, all day, just because they work downtown. That doesn't make sense to me. Those parking plazas belong to the city, and that land is valuable. Council may choose to allow people to park for free, for the benefit of merchants and the glimmer of sales tax revenues. That's their prerogative. But it's valuable land that could be put to more valuable use, I don't think people should expect to park for free all day long. If the city did that, the parking situation would be even worse than it already is, and people coming downtown to spend actual money would have an even more difficult time than they do now.

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