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Letter To Palo Alto (CA) City Council About Problems With Downtown Parking Structure Management

Letter To Palo Alto (CA) City Council About Problems With Downtown Parking Structure Management

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Published by wmartin46
The Downtown Parking Structures in Palo Alto (CA) are not utilized to their capacity, while street parking in the surrounding residential neighborhoods is at full capacity. This letter looks at some possible solutions to this problem, based on making the Parking Structures free for all to use, rather than continuing the current permitting scheme.
The Downtown Parking Structures in Palo Alto (CA) are not utilized to their capacity, while street parking in the surrounding residential neighborhoods is at full capacity. This letter looks at some possible solutions to this problem, based on making the Parking Structures free for all to use, rather than continuing the current permitting scheme.

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Published by: wmartin46 on Jun 07, 2012
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11/01/2012

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Palo Alto City Council City of Palo Alto Palo Alto, CA 94301 Cc: James Keene Subject: True Costs

of Downtown Parking, Downtown Parking Structure Management and Linkages to Downtown Residential Parking Problems Elected Council Members: Diana Diamond’s recent article (Daily News, 05.31.12), about parking in downtown Palo Alto, makes the point that the City is currently spending $1.1 million a year maintaining these structures--which seems like an awful lot of money. What is the public, or the Downtown Business Community, getting for this expenditure? Has anyone ever audited the management of this “project” to understand where all of this money is going? And is there a linkage between the seemingly high level of expenditures and the high use of Downtown North/South streets by motorists, when the use factors of the parking structures is not even remotely close to maximum capacity? Management of Parking Structures The city has shown such lackadaisical management of the structures so that neither the City, nor the public, nor the merchants paying for these structures, seem to have the slightest idea how effectively they are being used. The most recent “study” provided by the Planning Department’s Traffic Division seemed to be more than inadequate, and showed little evidence of being able to indentify the latent demand for parking in the downtown area—which is a very necessary variable in this equation. Having walked to the structures myself, and posted the inspection on YoutubeWalk-Thru of Downtown Parking Structure, Palo Alto (CA): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pDms1hPU2I&list=UUY5utZOB4vVqRTLpGGxLuOQ&index=6&feature=plpp_video it is clear that the maintenance of these garages hardly reflects $1+ million a year in expenditures. It is not difficult to find lighting elements out-of-service, graffiti on the walls, guide-lines in need of repainting, and I’m told the bathrooms are a complete mess. So -- -- where's all that money going? Question--How hard would it be to have someone walk these structures, say, once a month, with a checklist of items to inspect--looking for lights that are out, fire extinguishers that have been stolen, and other deficiencies that need attention, and supposedly have been paid for by the people purchasing the parking permits?

Answer -- it's not that hard at all. That is--If there were professional management in charge of the Parking Structures. 30-Year Cost of Downtown Parking Structures. The parking structures were supposed to be in the $25M-$30M to build. With bond financing to be considered, another $20M-$30M outlay beings the total for the structures to about 60 million (over roughly 30 years). What seems to have gotten lost in the shuffle is the yearly expenditures for “maintenance”, which at this $1.1M, comes to another $52M. Depending on the actual cost of the bonds, the structures will end up costing someone in the order of $65M-$70M. Total 30-Year Cost Of A Single Downtown Palo Alto Parking Structure (Estimated) Expense Expenditure Construction $25,000,000 Financing $25,000,000 30-Year Maintenance $17,444,319 Total: $67,444,319 If there were three of these structures in Downtown Palo Alto, this means that someone (Business Owners, Taxpayers, etc.) will be paying upwards of $200M (over 30 years), to provide this off-street parking for people working, or doing business, in Downtown Palo Alto.

30-Year Cost For Three Parking Structures: Using the approximate costs for one Downtown Parking Structure, the costs of three structures is: ~$200M. When all of the costs are considered, the per-stall costs for Structure Parking is significantly higher than previously suggested by City Staff. Given these high costs, and questionable use/results— something different in the management of these parking structures is definitely called for. Unused Parking Structure Capacity Linked To High Downtown Street Parking Diamond suggests making these structures free for everyone’s use would decrease the demand for on-street parking in the Downtown area. That’s probably true, if the people currently parking on the street could be convinced to use the parking structures, and there was sufficient unutilized capacity to handle this demand. Unfortunately there are real costs associated with running these facilities—which must be paid by someone. Certainly it makes sense to expect people using these structures to pay for their upkeep. Instrumentation Of Parking Structures To Monitor Actual Use There is currently no real-time monitoring of the Parking Structures, so that no one really knows what their use factors are, or how many empty spots there are at any given moment. This problem is easily solved by instrumenting the Structures with real-time vehicle counting equipment, and making that information available to City Staff and the public. The following are a few of the key items that would be needed for instrumenting the Parking Structures, as well as the data that would be produced from such instrumentation: • • • • • • • Vehicle RFID Tags Vehicle Counting Equipment Vehicle Counts per Structure Vehicle Counts per Floor Server-based Software To Collect/Monitor Parking Data Smartphone App Displaying Structure/Available Space Use Reports Generated For City Staff

On-line Parking App: https://www.parking-online.com/parkme-customerWeb/? utm_source=Parking+Online+5_30&utm_campaign=Parking+Promotions+&utm_medium =email

The details of such instrumentation are not as important as being able to know the instantaneous empty spot count, and in which Structure these empty spots could be found. This proposal would include a Smartphone App that motorists could use to see where the Parking Structures were located, and how much room there might be at any given time. Rather than drive around looking for space randomly, motorists would be able to drive directly to the Structure nearest to them. This sort of approach could work for uncovered parking lots, too. Use Of Citizen Engagement Teams Inspections of the serviceability, cleanliness and safety of these Structures is not obvious, at least from a casual walk-thru of these structures. At a minimum, these sorts of inspections should be performed on a schedule, with deficiencies noted via “Deficiency/Safety Reports” to the appropriate parties, and follow-up inspections performed to insure that the problems identified are corrected. Given how simple these inspections can be, it is suggested that the City utilize the idea of “Citizen Engagement Teams” to take on the inspection of these structures. The following groups are suggested to be prime candidates to consider for these inspections— • • • • • • Chamber of Commerce Staff/Members Business Improvement District Staff/Members Rotarians/Kiwanis/Other Civic Groups PAUSD Junior/Senior Community Service Projects City Council Members Local Neighborhood Association Members

Note—A sample “Deficiency Report” can be found at the end of this document. Reducing Operational Costs The following are a few ideas about reducing Parking Structure operational costs— • • • • • • • • • Use LED Lighting To Increase Available Lighting and Decrease Long-term Costs. Use of Solar Panels For Partial Power Generation To Reduce Grid Electricity Consumption. Use On-line Permitting/Payment To Reduce Personnel Costs. Use Robotics For Cleaning To Reduce Personnel Costs. Use Robotics For Detection of Abandoned Cars. Use Robotics For Some Structure Inspections. Use Fault Detection In Lighting Elements To Increase Available Lighting. Use Surveillance Cameras To Monitor For Possible Vandalism. Replace High Maintenance Landscaping With Low Maintenance Equivalents

All of these suggestions require initial costs, and some on-going maintenance costs. The benefit of these changes, based on future cost savings, would need to be determined via a cost/benefit analysis. On-line Permitting/Payment Without having access to the “books” for the parking structures, one can only speculate as to what the costs might be that the City is paying from the money collected for parking permits. Certainly there are costs associated with managing the permitting process itself. If permitting, and payment, were put on-line, then these costs would be reduced to the cost of developing the software to do the permitting, and any costs associated with on-line payments. It is conceivable that this sort of software could be outsourced to a 3rd-party, or there might already be any number of vendors of this sort of software. Of course, the real issue is trying to quantify the amount of demand for street parking vs the unused capacity of the parking structures, and lots, in Downtown Palo Alto. This is not a particularly easy thing to do, since demand changes on an hour-by-hour, month-by-month and year-by-year basis. However, with hundreds of parking spaces unused in the current Parking Structures, the possibly of getting the cars currently using street parking into the structures exists presents somewhat of a problem that needs a workable solution. [Note--If we had a City Auditor, reviewing the use of funds, and expenditure levels of City-managed activities is one of the roles we would expect of the Auditor. Unfortunately, the Palo Alto City Auditors (a Council Appointed Office which is often not appointed for months at a time), rarely seems to see these sorts of projects as worthy of investigation.] Increasing Parking Assessment District Membership Another possibility to generate the funds necessary to run/maintain the Downtown Parking Structures so that they were permit-free, would be to increase the size of the Parking Assessment District, to include all of Downtown North, and some/most/all of Downtown South. If the District could generate $250K (as a target) from, say, a parcel tax, then the impact per parcel would not be much more than $100, which would pay for the necessary maintenance. Of course, there are long-term costs associated with any large structure, so these would need to be accurately projected on a timely fashion, so that unexpected costs could be understood by all members of this Assessment District. Maintenance Expenses To Be Absorbed By Parking Assessment District Assuming that there is some expense to running/maintaining these structures, if all of the unnecessary City of Palo Alto involvement (such as permitting activities, or police compliance activities) were terminated—with the goal of making the parking structures free for everyone to use—then this expense (say less than $250K per year) could be assumed by the Parking Assessment District.

Outsourcing Structure Management One obvious solution available to the City is to outsource the management of these Parking Structures to an outside management company-Parking Lot/Structure Management Companies: http://www.propark.com/ http://www.peninsulaparking.com/page.php?id=13&_kk=parking%20garage %20management&_kt=98de3684-721b-4668-b225-c9bbadd2eb09&gclid=CMqNt7Wt7ACFQxshwodtwnb7Q To what extent these small structures might be of interest to for-profit management companies is an open question. However, it seems irresponsible of the City not to consider the possibility of moving the management from its current location to a private-sector operator. Conclusion This review of the Downtown Parking Structures was developed, in large part, to consider the possibilities of reorganizing the management/operations of these Structures to promote the possibility of making these Structures free for all of us, with the hope that people currently using Downtown street parking might be encouraged to use the Parking Structures instead. It is difficult not to recognize that the City’s management of the Downtown Parking Structures has resulted in poor utilization, for whatever reason, and is a contributing factor to the high occurrence of Downtown street parking. Palo Alto needs a management team that understands that these Parking Structures represent upwards of $200M of people’s hard-earned money over a 30-year timeframe. It’s time that the City come to terms with the reality of the public investment, the management issues associated with these Structures--and solve these problems. There are obviously other approaches, which should, over time, be given the consideration by the City, the Parking Assessment District members, and the public. All in all, it is clear that the management of these garages is clearly suspect. It is way past time that the Palo Alto City Council to began to recognize that there are many, many, solutions available, if they would only be proposed, researched, and adopted. Wayne Martin Palo Alto, CA 06.06.2012 On-The-Net: http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/06/03/us-china-economy-automationidUSBRE8520F620120603

Parking Structure Deficiency/Problem Report
Structure: __________________________________ Date: ____________ Inspector: _______________________________________ Floor: __________ Lighting Element: ___________ Graffiti: _____________ Trash: _________________ Location: _____________ Location: _____________ Location: _____________

Bathroom: ____________________________________________ Guide Lines: _____________________ Fire Extinguishers: _____________ Location: ________________ Elevator: _______________________________________________ General Comments: ____________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________________ _____________________________________________________________________ Page: ___ of ___

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