Fixing East Palo Alto's Parking Problems

Earlier this month, East Palo Alto’s Public Works and Transportation Commission heard from staff on the plan to implement parking restrictions in East Palo Alto.  East Palo Alto has a problem with parking. We have too many cars on our streets, and it is nearly impossible in some neighborhoods for people to do simple things like invite friends over for a Sunday BBQ or find street parking after work.

The proposal from East Palo Alto City Staff and the Hexagon consultant can be found here:

Parking Permit Proposal EPA 2024.pdf
link to residential parking permit proposal

This proposal is a long time coming. The city did a mobility study that was released in 2020, and held many community meetings on parking in 2017, 2018 and 2019.  One well attended meeting was held at City Hall in fall of 2017.

I myself organized a meeting with neighbors in March of 2018 on parking at the YMCA that was well attended with a diverse crowd of engaged residents.

The city has already taken steps to address the illegal parking of cars on sidewalks and have written hundreds of tickets for those cars in violation of the ordinance. Parking on sidewalks makes it dangerous for pedestrians, and it was not an uncommon sight to see kids, parents with strollers or people in wheel chairs in the middle of city streets due to the obstructed sidewalks. Cars parking on sidewalks is a massive legal headache for the city as well and the city would be liable for severe financial penalties under the Americans with Disability Act if sued.

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One issue in East Palo Alto is residents illegally blocking off the public land adjacent to their homes, preventing other people from using it. Public streets are not privately owned, and anyone can park by right on any public street.

Another issue we have in East Palo Alto are non-vehicles taking up parking space. This includes, trailers, RVs and other oversized vehicles, and boats.

Cars parking on sidewalks are an issue, the root of the problem is that we have too many cars on the street. The reasons for this are many:

· People from Palo Alto and Menlo Park are storing their cars in East Palo Alto due to parking restrictions in their cities. This is particularly felt on the Westside/Woodland Park and in the Kavanaugh neighborhoods.

· Broken down and unworking cars which are stored on streets and never removed

· Residents running businesses out of their home and storing multiple work vehicles on the street. These include gardeners, construction workers, car repair shops, and even a business selling used cars.

· Households with excess cars storing cars on the street. In one instance I know of, a guy from Redwood City moved to a $1000 per month rental room in the Gardens so he could store his six cars on the street.

· Overcrowded households that might have 14 occupants and 12 cars. In one situation in the Gardens, a lady rented out to 10 construction workers from Texas who had a project in Atherton for six months. All of them had work vehicles. When the project ended parking on the street magically improved.

Free car storage in East Palo Alto has led to many abuses of the common space by a small percentage of people, at the expense of most residents. Parking regulations are hoping to fix this issue.

The city is proposing to implement parking restrictions throughout EPA. This program would divide the city into neighborhoods and implement zone parking permit. The general idea would be to determine the maximum number of cars in each zone, and distribute permits accordingly.  The City of East Palo Alto is proposing to:

· Give each household one free permit which would be limited to a car registered at this address visa license plate verification.

· Distribute the remaining permits in each zone for $100 per first permit and increasing the cost for a second permit.

· Give each household 20 overnight guest passes for visitors.

· Focus enforcement on overnight parking. Commission members proposed enforcement hours between midnight and 4am or a similar time. Hexagon had proposed enforcement after 8pm, which seems very extreme – people should not get parking tickets for attending a dinner party.

There is a lot more information in the proposal and the details are not yet fixed. I fully expect changes to be made before the residential permit parking program is presented to City Council over the summer. Still, I see it as a big step forward that EPA is addressing this issue – it has been obvious for many years that we have an out-of-control parking issue that is a huge drag on the quality of life for residents. Personally, I think the city should value its land more and not subsidize free car storage.

I will end with the thought that it is impossible to build more housing in EPA - including ADUs -  without having common sense restrictions on parking.  We have a choice in East Palo Alto – are our streets built for free car storage or should they be used for bike lanes, pedestrians, and other non-automobile transportation?

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