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About this blog: I hope readers of my blog will join me and other members of the Menlo Park community in a collective effort to transform our downtown into a much more appealing place, one where residents enjoy a lot more positive experiences and ...  (More)

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Do NOT Expect A Downtown Parking Garage In Menlo Park During Our Lifetime

Uploaded: Dec 28, 2018
December is the worst time to look for a place to park downtown. As I circled the parking plazas a fourth time on a recent afternoon - competing with dozens of other frustrated holiday shoppers, I imagined them rolling down their windows and screaming, “Come on… why doesn’t Menlo Park have a parking garage?” But I eventually succeeded (and calmed down) and had to admit this was a rare experience for it usually takes me less than a few minutes to find a convenient space.

Menlo Park has floated the idea of building a parking garage downtown for many years but interest has waxed and waned, and no formal project study ever undertaken. Six different plaza locations for potential parking structures are identified in the Menlo Park Downtown/El Camino Specific Plan approved in 2012. And in January, our prior city council made a downtown parking structure one of its top priorities for 2018. What will our new city council do?

I am not convinced Menlo Park needs, can afford, or has the will to build a parking garage. But unfortunately, just this possibility severely limits what our city is willing to do for other street users, especially bicyclists. Selectively reducing on-street parking to free up space for bike lanes would significantly improve safety, comfort and convenience but this will remain politically unacceptable as long as the city believes “lost spaces” could be replaced only with a parking structure.

There are a number of good reasons for my persistent skepticism.

• The “downtown parking problem” is poorly defined because Menlo Park has not developed a trustworthy needs assessment, i.e., it has no idea how many additional parking spaces it needs either now or in the future. Therefore, the perceived “need” is largely opinion-based.

• The prior city council believed a parking garage is the best solution without seriously considering alternatives.

• The prior city council also hoped a new business partner would largely fund a parking structure if the city provided land. This is a pipedream as parking structures are extremely expensive and construction costs are rising rapidly. Palo Alto is now building a parking garage in an existing parking plaza near California Avenue, and the $40M budget means each ADDITIONAL parking space costs $119,000! Also, no developer will foot the bill for sufficient parking for BOTH the city and its own use.

Fortunately, Menlo Park could increase “available downtown” parking without building a
parking garage.

• The current usage mix of daily permit and hourly plaza parking could be changed to favor more hourly parking. Today, permit users can use up to 46% of total designated spaces. Simply set a new limit and sell fewer permits each year until the target is reached.

• Daily parking permit prices could be raised to reduce demand. The current cost is less than $500 a year, or about $2.00 a day. Note: daily parking at the nearby Caltrain station costs $5.50, and five hours of extended parking in the plaza costs $2.50.

• If more hourly AND permit parking is needed then lease space for permit holders in existing unused parking lots and serve the motorists with a convenient shuttle. There are several of these lots within a mile of downtown. Also reduce the number of plaza parking permits so more hourly spaces become available. There are many large parking lots unused during weekdays. Why doesn’t the city lease and upgrade them? This parking solution is more flexible and much less costly than a parking garage and can be built much sooner.

If you are expecting Menlo Park to build a parking garage downtown in our lifetime, it’s time to face reality. It’s NOT going to happen. However, once Station 1300 and Middle Plaza are built the demand for free hourly parking will likely increase. Our city needs to encourage new residents to shop In Menlo Park.

And we need to encourage our new city council to study promising parking alternatives in 2019 so more hourly spaces are available BEFORE they are needed. This requires vision and courage!

What is it worth to you?


Posted by Thomas Paine, a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows,
on Dec 29, 2018 at 9:00 am

Balderdash! There are plenty of parking spaces in downtown Menlo Park because no one goes there anymore. The MP parking enforcement officers work hard to drive away shoppers. I arrived back at my car on an empty street last year to find a ticket for incursion across the white line. Turns out 6" of my rear bumper was over the line that divided my space from the space behind me. Haven't been back since.

Posted by Some Guy, a resident of another community,
on Dec 29, 2018 at 3:11 pm

While I don't believe for an instant that any city manager will read this comment, here are my two cents on this topic.

I have lived on the SF Peninsula for over 25 years and I do not see any realistic justification for *ANY* city on the SF Peninsula to aggressively enforce two-hour or metered downtown parking without creating a negative image vis-a-vis residents or local shoppers.

I got a parking ticket in Burlingame about fifteen years ago. There were open parking spaces in the same lot. Guess how many times I have driven to Burlingame since then? That's right: zero times. T

The city of Burlingame got their parking violation revenue but lost 15+ years of patronage (more since Burlingame has not developed reason for me to visit them).

City managers really need to think about the realism of their parking enforcement strategies. Menlo Park's University Avenue is not Ginza. It's not the Champs Elysees, it's not 4th Street near AT&T Park.

Fine, send out your meter maids to ticket mindlessly and see all of your business migrate to big shopping malls by the freeway. Or many people will think, "I'll just buy this online, no sense in driving downtown."

But go ahead, keep up your mindless ticketing. At least in my lifetime, *NO* city government on the SF Peninsula can reasonable justify strict parking penalties (in their current form).

The number of options grows daily.

Every time a downtown mom-and-pop business closes, think about what wasn't done by the city to encourage local shoppers. Because right now local city managers have their heads in the sand.

Happy New Year.

Posted by resident, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown,
on Dec 29, 2018 at 8:02 pm

Building a $40 million parking garage and charging just $2/day for parking is a public subsidy that residents cannot afford. The city should at least charge enough money to pay for the construction costs.

Posted by Cmon, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park,
on Dec 29, 2018 at 9:13 pm

Without question, we need at least one parking garage, maybe two.This piece misses the point. Frequent local drivers are comfortable in navigating the most cramped parking on the peninsula and going off hours, all without issues. Visitors from out of town and potential new shoppers won't tolerate it, and it's easy to skip by Menlo Park. One or two bad experiences and you are done " rarely to return. To think that our growth and vibrancy can be accomplished without a sizable garage is not realistic, at all. Constantly doubting what MP can be is not helpful. Vision and bold action are what we need.

Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood,
on Dec 30, 2018 at 4:15 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"the demand for free hourly parking will likely increase."

It is an economic fact that there is always more demand for free things. But so called free parking isn't really free but rather a tax of the time required to find a parking space plus the loss of customers who simply give up and go elsewhere. Why should the City subsidize automobile use via free parking?

Stanford implemented paid parking 45 years ago and uses the proceeds to fund transportation related projects like bike paths, parking structures and the free shuttle without taking a penny from the University's educational activities.

Web Link

Posted by Disgusted Reader, a resident of another community,
on Dec 30, 2018 at 5:33 pm

Yet another straw man argument from Mr. Carpenter.


I don't go to Stanford for a cup of coffee, drop off dry cleaning, go out for lunch, etc.

Your tangent does not have anything to do with ANYTHING pertaining downtown parking issues.

Thank you.


Embarcadero Media,

Please remind Mr. Carpenter of the rules that dictate STICKING ON TOPIC.

I am tired of seeing him repeatedly derailing conversations on your websites.

Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood,
on Dec 30, 2018 at 5:37 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Redwood City has ONLY paid parking in its downtown zone as do most other cities.

The point is that a scare resource cannot be reasonable allocated if it is free.

Read the Stanford report before spouting off.

Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood,
on Dec 30, 2018 at 5:50 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"153 people like this Posted by Disgusted Reader, a resident of another community,
14 minutes ago"

153 likes in 14 minutes!! Just disgusting.

Posted by Downtowner, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park,
on Dec 31, 2018 at 3:30 pm

As a MP resident for 40 years, I've watched the retail scene continually diminish. Frankly, there aren't enough shops downtown anymore to make it worthwhile to go there. Now it's banks & restaurants.

The restaurant owners who serve alcohol want more than 2 hours of free parking because the lunch & cocktail hour crowd lingering over beverages is a revenue source. Without drinks, it's hard to take more than 2 hours to eat lunch. I also avoid Santa Cruz Avenue sidewalk dining as I think car exhaust fumes, clattering skateboards, & flies are unpleasant accompaniments to a meal.

Posted by Sam Sinnott, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown,
on Jan 1, 2019 at 5:14 pm

The specific plan calls for 3 parking garages. One behind Flegels, one behind the post office, and one next to the coffee bar. The planners included them because we desperately need to reduce the on street parking and provide more parking. Safety, convenience and the reduction of visual chaos are, I believe, the primary goals. Traffic will also be dramatically improved when people are not circling, making u turns or stopping for places on the street. They are to be 4 levels above grade with possible below grade levels. The construction costs will probably have to be covered by a municipal bond. Some fees will probably have to be charged for parking over 15 minutes. As a downtown business of 34 years I look forward to roomier streets.

Posted by Reality Check, a resident of another community,
on Jan 2, 2019 at 2:13 am

Reality Check is a registered user.

An amazingly interesting and germane interview with parking expert and Palo Alto native Patrick Siegman:

Talking Headways Podcast: The First Shoupista
Web Link

This week Patrick Siegman of Siegman & Associates joins the podcast for a spirited discussion about parking. We chat about the etymology of the word parking, the legend that is Donald Shoup, and why the topic of parking gets so personal.

(Shoupista = follower/student of Professor Donald Shoup, author of the groundbreaking and game-changing book: "The High Price of Free Parking".)

Posted by Dana Hendrickson, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park,
on Jan 2, 2019 at 8:36 am

FYI: There is an additional discussion on potential downtown parking garages in Menlo Park on Nextdoor. Web Link

Posted by Bob, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown,
on Jan 2, 2019 at 12:53 pm

As someone who is downtown, I have seen the trends change over the years. I also observed how the City does business, and there is definite linkage between them.

Overall, I would saw that most cities do a poor job when it comes to master planning, and MP is no different. While it may be a nice place to live, I would give the City a "C" when it comes to overall performance. It has to hire numerous consultants, have countless study sessions, and reviews before making decisions. And when it does make a decision, there are objections and counters. The potential Stanford project on ECR is one example and parking is another.

But wait, the City is also influenced by interest groups and businesses -- Facebook being one and the biking coalition being another. Facebook -- don't need to say anymore. Oak Grove Ave gave up parking spaces and lane shifts to accommodate enhanced bike lanes (and yes, I'm a biker too). And restaurants along Santa Cruz Ave have absorbed some spaces for more al fresco dining.

My point being, by the time the City decides on how to address parking, it may be too late. Local residents are more likely to go elsewhere go get the services they want. Downtown MP is not a big attraction; and, yes, there are times it's difficult to find parking. But in the mean time, let's hire another consultant, have a study session, etc.

Posted by local mp parent, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown,
on Jan 2, 2019 at 2:16 pm

I've lived and parked in Menlo Park for 20 years, and only have trouble finding parking rarely during December, and once in a while on a week night around dinner time, or during one of the downtown festivals.

It would be nice to have a big garage, but more moderately priced housing is clearly the higher priority.

My 2 cents.

Posted by Dana Hendrickon, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park,
on Jan 3, 2019 at 1:04 pm

Last October Palo Alto approved funding for its new California Ave parking structure. It will raise up to $50M by selling certificates of participation. Unlike bonds these do NOT require voter approvalWeb Link

$46M of funding is estimated to cost $2.417 million per year for 30 years. Payments will come from the city general fund. Web Link

I doubt Menlo Park could get a better deal!

Posted by Parking Solution, a resident of Menlo Park: other,
on Jan 4, 2019 at 1:17 pm

Every new building in downtown MP must provide a certain number of parking spaces. This can be an inefficient because many of these downtown lots are pretty small or have limited road access, making it difficult and expensive to add parking. Moreover, parking does not generate revenue for the building. It takes up the space that could have been used for retail, business, or housing.

For example, the Guild Theater would never redeveloped if all its parking was required to be onsite. There simply is no room for the number of spaces needed for an event venue in the Guild's footprint.

The solution is for Menlo Park to "sell" spaces in a new parking garage. Developers have the choice of developing their lots with all the required parking spaces or buying the number of spaces needed to meet the requirement from MP's new garage.

The more spaces developers buy, the more the parking gets subsidized by developers. Keep in mind, MP does not have to build a parking garage right away. It can sit on the funds until it reaches a point where it feels downtown parking is truly congested enough to warrant a garage.

Another way to pay for a parking garage is for the proponents to tax themselves to help pay for the structure. If the downtown businesses think it's so important, they can create a special district that taxes themselves and put the money toward paying off bonds on building the garage.

The bottom line is if downtown building owners are not willing to invest more in the parking structure to benefit themselves than the general public, then the lack of parking is not really a big problem that they make it out to be.

Posted by Dana Hendrickson, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park,
on Jan 4, 2019 at 3:25 pm

Parking Solution: I agree that the inability to add parking is a huge obstacle for anyone who wants to develop a new building downtown. (Underground parking is a "deal-breaker" for most sites) Given the cost of adding spaces downtown using a parking garage - $100,000+, no business could pay for one. Check out the $40M California parking garage Palo Alto recently approved. That's why I recommend the city lease spaces in existing parking lots that are unused workdays and dedicate them to parking permit holders. Businesses could subsidize the permit and pay a one-time development fee for the number of spaces they need. This cost would be very much less than $100,000. Note: all permit holders would not be required to use the satellite lots but a majority would.

I believe developers would love this idea. And they would need to wait for a parking garage to be built. (Also, can you imagine the disruption downtown if one plaza was closed for the construction of a parking garage => loss of hundreds of spaces and huge traffic circulation problems.)

And freeing up 25 to 50 spaces for hourly plaza parking would likely end resident complaints.

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