By Diana Diamond
We need a new garage downtown Palo Alto -- forget about being politically correctUploaded: Feb 14, 2019
Building a much-needed new parking garage in downtown Palo Alto is suddenly politically incorrect. The city council unexpectedly decided this past week to put the proposed $29 million, 324-car garage at Hamilton and Waverley in the back freezer of priorities because, their argument goes, if you build another garage in town, people will come downtown and park in it. And more cars cause more CO2 pollution; one of the council’s new priorities this year is to work on reducing greenhouse gases.
Ironically, that same night, the council majority also approved removing an office cap downtown, so, with the cap gone, more offices will be built and more employees will drive downtown to those offices.
The council had promised since 2014 that a new garage will be built, and that very garage was also the council’s rationale to successfully urge voters to pass two hotel user taxes, with promises that the revenue will be used to fund the garage. Indeed, the architect for the garage presented his plans to the council at the beginning of the meeting – just before the council decided to nix building a garage indefinitely. Promises made, promises broken.
I think this decision is insensitive to the needs of both residents and downtown employees, because finding a place to park downtown is a big problem. Merchants are worried residents will no longer come downtown because there’s no parking. And right now drivers circle around for blocks just trying to find a space, and that alone creates more CO2 emissions.
The council’s decision is based on hopes for a carless future — certainly not one not based on the realities of today.
Many millennials – and most of the council – are saying that in 10 years or so, people will be walking, biking or carpooling to the downtown, and Uber and Lyft will be expanded so everyone can get rid of their cars. Or maybe there will be a better local shuttle to get us around town.
Nonsense! Do you really think that Palo Alto residents who own cars will give them up? Will most of us actually walk or bike downtown? Can we afford to use Uber or Lyft to get downtown and then get back? (It’s $8 to $10 right now from Midtown to City Hall – and another $8 to $10 to get back). A few council members wanted more study on downtown parking trends; others felt a downtown “parking strategy” was first needed before another garage could be built. But what happens until these studies and strategies are completed? There is a significant parking deficit downtown. Residents need more downtown parking NOW, not 10 years from now.
Getting more people to ride bicycles isn’t happening very fast. I found a list of United States cities of 65,000+ inhabitants with the highest rates of bicycle commuting, according to data from the 2014 American Community Survey. The Census Bureau measured the percentage of commuters who bike to work, as opposed to walking, taking public transit, driving an automobile, boat, or some other means. College towns and cities often rank high on this list, as students and faculty of universities often live very close to their place of employment if on-campus or close to campus. Here are the rankings: 1. Davis, California 23.2%; 2. Berkeley, California 9.7%; 3. Boulder, Colorado 8.9%; 4. Somerville, Massachusetts 7.4%; 5. Cambridge, Massachusetts 7.4%; 6. Palo Alto, California 7.3%; 7. Portland, Oregon 7.2%. Granted those are 2014figures but from my recent readings Palo Alto is probably up to 8%.
Plus what effect will fewer people downtown have on merchants in town, particularly restaurant owners. I have several friends who refuse to have lunch – or dinner --- downtown because “there’s no place to park.” And stores like Restoration Hardware on University Avenue is now moving to Stanford Shopping Center. Will Palo Alto become a downtown of only offices and fast-food restaurants?
But for those who want to “feel good” about doing something about climate change, you can feel pretty proud after Monday night’s meeting