Free parking hours in downtown Menlo Park extended

Six-month trial to start in January

For a six-month trial period starting in January, free parking hours in downtown Menlo Park will be extended to 90 minutes (from the current 1 hour) on the street, and to three hours (from the current two hours) in parking plazas, following several votes by the Menlo Park City Council on Tuesday, Oct. 20.

After the trial, the city will decide whether to make the changes permanent.

The council, at the initial suggestion of council member Kirsten Keith, also directed staff to look into making parking permits transferable between employees and creating a more affordable parking permit option for service workers and those working at minimum wage.

Free plaza parking downtown was extended to three hours by a 4-1 vote, with dissent from Councilwoman Kirsten Keith. Free street parking was extended to 90 minutes on a 3-2 vote, with Ms. Keith and Councilman Rich Cline dissenting.

The motion to extend one-hour parking to two hours failed on a 2-3 vote, with dissent from Ms. Keith, Mr. Cline and Mayor Catherine Carlton. Councilman Ray Mueller proposed the 90-minute option, saying it would create a time cushion for people wanting to eat lunch downtown.

Before the vote, nine community members, a number of whom were small business owners and employees of downtown Menlo Park shops, voiced strong opinions against and in support of the parking limit extension.

Voicing opposition to longer parking times was Bill Kirsch, chair of the city's Bicycle Commission. He said he'd rather see people who want additional parking beyond two hours to pay for it in a convenient way. Instead of cars, he encouraged people to use alternative transportation such as biking or walking downtown.

Adina Levin of the Transportation Commission favored paid parking as well. Richard Draeger of Draeger's Market, in written comments to the council, said extending parking to three hours in the Draeger's lot could limit the parking supply for grocery shoppers, as employees may opt to use the three-hour parking spots intended for customers instead of purchasing parking permits.

Those in favor of the parking time extension included Marko Petricevic, an employee at Trader Joe's, who said that employees there frequently either receive parking tickets – a significant burden on hourly workers making between $11 and $20 per hour – or compromise customer service when they must move their cars every two hours.

Also in favor of the extension was Tiger Bachler, owner of Alys Grace on Santa Cruz Avenue. She said that Menlo Park has gained a reputation as a "very difficult city to do business in," due to its harsh parking limits and enforcement.

Laurie Farros, owner of Head over Heels, and her husband Royal Farros, who celebrated their 21st anniversary at the Oct. 20 meeting, said customers who have had a negative experience with parking in Menlo Park often leave to do business at Town and Country or Stanford Shopping Center, sometimes permanently.

Ms. Farros said that her customers often complain about not having time to do the things they want and feel like they're being chased out. Eva Etter added that for the growing elderly population in Menlo Park, biking and walking may not be feasible alternatives.

Councilman Cline emphasized that the city should create safeguards against accidentally creating a parking shortage, if and when the city's downtown becomes sufficiently vibrant and populated to increase parking demand.

Mayor Carlton said that she often meets with prospective business owners, and many voice concerns about the low amount of foot traffic.

"We don't have the foot traffic because after two hours we chase them away with a two-by-four," she said. "I want us to have the best downtown possible. I think this is a small step toward that."

Mr. Mueller went a step further and mentioned a plan he thinks could attract people to spend more time downtown: building a parking structure in downtown Menlo Park that would also house an entertainment venue like a movie theater. He proposed issuing a request for proposals from the private sector to see what plans could be generated.

At the meeting, the City Council also received four Beacon Sustainability awards on behalf of the city, recognized Gizelda Sipos for her community service, approved a labor agreement between 36 unionized city workers and the city, approved a sponsorship policy for the Community Services Department, and selected designs for a new antenna for the Menlo Park police and public works departments.

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9 people like this
Posted by Theresa
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Oct 21, 2015 at 12:33 pm

This is wonderful news! Out of all the downtown shopping areas: Burlingame age, university Ave, downtown San Mateo and Santana Row---Menlo Park downtown has the worst highly regulated parking I've seen! I have received 3 tickets and it deters me from wanting to meet friends for lunch or shopping downtown Santa Cruz Ave.

7 people like this
Posted by Work and Live in MP
a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Oct 21, 2015 at 12:44 pm

FINALLY!!! Let's hope the city keeps this change after the trial! Not only to keep out shoppers but for the many employees who can't afford the hefty ticket, the parking permit or inconveniencing customers so they can leave to move their car for the 3rd time in a day! (Don't think the customers don't notice that either -- rediculous!)

6 people like this
Posted by Brian
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Oct 21, 2015 at 9:55 pm

It really annoys me that people like Richard Draeger seem to think that the public parking lots are just for their use. He doesn't seem to care about the burden that a parking permit has on his employees. Maybe if he cares so much he should pay for the permits? I guess I will just have to curtail my frequent visits to Draeger's to show that I don't support his position. Also doesn't Draeger's have their own lot across the street from the store? They can set what ever limits they want there, so why try to dictate what the city can do with a lot that is public property?

Shame on Dragers

8 people like this
Posted by MP Resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 22, 2015 at 11:27 am

This is a misguided idea which will make parking more difficult for those that want to shop on Menlo Park while using a car. Employees that are currently parking in paid lots or in free remote locations will now move to the parking plazas which will take spaces from business customers. I am glad that this is a trial so that we can test it out and see what happens.

3 people like this
Posted by Tunbridge Wells
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Oct 22, 2015 at 3:35 pm

Tunbridge Wells is a registered user.

I don't understand the venom directed at Richard Draeger when he is 100% correct from a planning perspective. If you let cars park for longer before they have to move, there will be fewer spaces available. This is not rocket science, it is something that people have understood for 50+ years. Now we are going to have more full parking plazas and people circling to find parking and giving up and going elsewhere. Now we see complaints about parking tickets, when the trial starts we will see complaints about it being too hard to park downtown.

8 people like this
Posted by Jenson
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Oct 22, 2015 at 5:41 pm

There is not enough variety to shop for 3 hrs on Santa Cruz ave. including lunch somewhere. It an unnecessary change for a city which has 1 street of stores and a dozen restaurants. Hopefully the trial period will show that and city council will see the error of their ways.

13 people like this
Posted by MP Resident Too
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Oct 22, 2015 at 8:19 pm

The MP city council would do well to read "The High Cost of Free Parking by Donald Shoup. (See Web Link for a download)

The 3-hour limit should come with a no re-parking rule (similar to Palo Alto, where you can't re-park in the same color zone - MP is small enough to be a single zone), encouraging those who need long-term parking to either pay for parking or park outside of the downtown core. Employee parking could easily be handled by a farther away lot with inexpensive, transferrable monthly permits. This would help mitigate the problem of people who are downtown for the day parking close and then moving their vehicle every couple of hours (which also creates a great deal of nuisance traffic)

Increasing the street parking to 90 minutes will simply slow down turnover, which will reduce retail traffic. If you need to park for more than an hour, walking the extra 50 or 100 steps from a lot should not be a big deal.

Mind you, if you really want to increase the vibrancy of downtown, better food and drink options would be a great start. How about something interesting and ethnic that's not afraid of a little flavor, instead of yet another blue-hair Italian place or tired / dated chain (I'm looking at you, Round Table)?

5 people like this
Posted by Cmon
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Oct 23, 2015 at 4:55 am

Folks, the lack of an hour more free parking is not the primary issue around vibrancy. The fact that we have limited, and somewhat cramped, parking is a challenge that needs to be fixed via a garage but the bigger issue is the lack of quality offerings. There are a few good restaurants and a few decent merchants -- not a lot of either. The lack of many quality offerings is NOT primarily because of parking policy. Palo Alto and Town and Country are not easy to park in, particularly PA, nor are they easy to get to on bikes due to El Camino, yet they are very vibrant. The are vibrant because the variety of offerings is much greater, in part due to more favorable rents and more appealing options for things like outdoor seating. They also have more relevant offerings for families. If you want to grab something to eat with the kids or shop for a range of goods, MP is not the place to go.

Extending parking for the relatively few number of boutique customers will make parking harder for the employees and the users of more errand destinations such as take-out food, coffee places, Walgreens, etc. More of our residents are shorter stay shoppers and they will be inconvenienced by reduced availability so it does seem that the test will largely benefit a small pocket of shoppers -- in fact, those most able to pay for parking. Think about it -- if parking was free for all without any restrictions, would that be better or worse for our town? would you spend more time and money downtown? It is great for our businesses to have easier access for customers but with limited parking overall the wise economic choice, unfortunately, is not to open up free parking. A garage or two is more the answer -- much easier parking, more room for bikes, space for employees and ability to extend hours. That is the step change that is needed. In short term, it is fine to do the test and be smart about measuring the results but lets spend more time on the real longer term challenges to vibrancy.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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