Community Discussions (“FAQ”)

Next-door Post – February 11, 2016

Does Menlo Park Really Need A Downtown Parking Structure? Likely Not.

Dana Hendrickson from The Oaks

At a time when the Menlo Park should be thinking about how to reduce downtown traffic and parking problems the City should look at two alternatives to building a $30+ million parking structure that could add about 440 NET new parking spaces. (Note: The city’s ENTIRE Capital Improvement Plan Budget for 2015-2016 is $8.6 million with $4.3 M already designated for Traffic and Transportation projects.…)

First, it could commit to phasing out either some, most or all downtown permit parking over the next 10 years. This could free up about 700 short term spaces and encourage drivers to either share vehicles or use alternative transportation.

In the interim, satellite parking at Nealon Park could add up to 150 parking spaces and be served by a short commuter shuttle. These projects would have little impact on the city’s capital budget and could be implemented in 2016.


CORRECTION: February 12. The estimated cost of building the parking structure described above is over $40 million and a cost per NET new space is over $100,00 as all the existing 212 parking spaces would be replaced.

from Michael Schwartz
“The parking permits are pretty important to those of us who work downtown.”

(Dana) Thanks for your comment Michael. Currently, almost 700 of our 1200 downtown plaza parking spaces are consumed by day permit users – I believe that is way too imbalanced and recommend that we add up to 150 permit parking spaces to Nealon Park in 2016-2017, and at the same time begin to reduce downtown permit parking by 50 to 75 spaces a year. The first step could immediately add 150 short term spaces downtown and the second, 50 to 70 more spaces each year. Perhaps we never reach zero and the Nealon spaces are free until some future time.This means that there would be 850 permit users once Nealon is open and perhaps still 150 after the downtown permit parking target is reached.

(Michael) “Sorry but I don’t think your solution makes sense.”

(Dana) Michael, please share your reasons why it does not make sense to you. Do you agree that more short term parking spaces are needed? If so, how does Menlo Park pay for them?

(Michael) If you want a more vibrant downtown with better parking, a satellite parking lot does not accomplish that. The idea of a shuttle is simply a non-starter. Most people would prefer to go to Palo Alto or Stanford Shopping Center. As business owners, we need the ability to park close to our office and have easy access to our cars to get to and from various appointments during the day. Eliminating parking permits–which already cost $600–will drive us out of Menlo Park and force us to find office space elsewhere. A much better long-term solution would be to take a cue from Santana Row, build underground parking, and put parks, pedestrian malls and more retail space above it.

(Dana) Michael: I think you have misunderstood the primary purpose of my proposal: To INCREASE the number of short term parking spaces available DOWNTOWN for shoppers by moving daylong employee parking to a satellite location. Every space dedicated to one user for a day could be used my many individual shoppers every day. Would this not be a good trade-off for retailers? One that could be implemented easily and soon.

We could still keep some downtown permit parking for some office workers but ration them with a premium price. At the current fee of $600/year = $3/day (600/200) = Menlo Park is providing WAY too large a public subsidy which is totally unnecessary.

The alternative: spend $70,000 a space. Not a good idea.

In January 2016 the Palo City Council decided to eliminate all downtown permit parking by 2026 by reducing the number by 200 each year. We could learn a lot from them.

(Michael) I understood it. I just don’t agree with it. We already pay taxes here. If the city raises the price of parking permits much more our business will be forced out of Menlo Park.

(Dana) this is a good discussion.

Do you really believe that many existing businesses with OFFICE employees would be forced out of MP by a fee increase, e.g., one that doubled the fee would add a daily cost less than a medium late at Starbucks?

Would these offices remain empty for very long given the local demand for space?

Every office employee does not need to leave their office by car during most days so satellite parking at Nealon Park would not be a big inconvenience. Note that it is less than a half mile walk from Little House to Santa Cruz and Crane.

A usage fee is not a tax; it’s a fee paid by someone who uses a service that has value, an the value depends on the marketplace of individuals.

I am still waiting for pragmatic well-supported ideas for adding more short term parking downtown for shoppers that would NOT cost $70,000 a space?

Remember that the CITY believes more space IS needed so that is the baseline assumption for my analysis.

(Michael) Yes, good discussion but I have a day job so can’t really spend any more time on this. I can’t speak for other businesses. I only know about ours. And the cost of parking is already an issue for us, so increasing that will make it less attractive to stay here. There seem to be a variety of issues with Nealon parking that I am not sure how to assess. I just don’t know enough about what’s feasible or not. In theory, if you could solve those, and make parking there very inexpensive, there might be some businesses for which it would be an attractive alternative to paying high fees for annual parking permits. But the day permits are important to us too. We often have guests who are here for half a day or more and we prefer to give them passes rather than force them to leave meetings and move cars. So I would not be in favor of reducing the availability of those day passes either.

(Dana) Michael, I understand and appreciate your points-of-view. Thanks.

(Michael) I appreciate yours as well.

from Joan Bubier

“Where are the 150 parking spaces at Nealon Park? Little House parking lot? Am I missing something?”

(Dana) Hi Joan, I counted the spaces today and was surprised by the large number.

49 on the street
35 along the ballfield fences
71 in the rear parking lot
Space for about 25 new spaces under the redwoods along  driveway

That’s a total of 180

If 30 spaces were set aside for little house, tennis courts and children park that would leave 150 for permit parking Monday-Friday from 7:00 am to 6 PM. If 60 were set aside that would still provide 120 permit parking spaces.

120 more short term parking spaces downtown is a significant increase over the existing 542 that are there today => a 22% increase with little capital cost.

Keep in mind that a space in a parking structure would cost about $70,000 per car! So net new 120 spaces would save about $8.4 million in capital investment; plus there are significant maintenance costs.

from Roberta Carcione


Little House is a senior center. Why would you take away parking spots from seniors who are taking advantage of one of the few senior facilities in the area? There is a children’s playground and a co-op nursery school on the site, too. Those parents and children need adjacent parking for loading and unloading their precious cargo. The tennis courts and ball field have an entirely different group of users. Think again.

(Dana) Roberta: Please carefully read the full article on my website and you will see that I am NOT recommending the elimination of all parking for Little House or other park users.The reality is that during weekdays most of the parking spaces are NOT used. The city could easily determine which ones could be re-purposed and conduct an inexpensive trial. If we want more short term parking downtown then the city has three choices: (1) spend $70,000 a space for a parking structure which likely will never be built nor be needed, (2) reduce the amount of downtown permit parking spaces it allows or (3) better utilize available public spaces near downtown.The distribution of benefits and costs associated with significant changes are never equally distributed among all users. The challenge is to find the best balance.I welcome a constructive discussion that benefits all residents.Thanks for your comment.

(Dana) Hi Roberta: All 180 spaces? That does certainly does NOT match my experience and I see the Nealon parking lot at least 5 times a week almost year-round as a volunteer driver who transports seniors who can no longer drive to their Menlo Park destinations.However, my OPINION matters less than FACTs. And my central point is we need to carefully evaluate all alternatives to an expensive parking structure even as WE CONSIDER ONE. And yes, every decision will require trade-offs wisely made.It would be easy for the city to monitor usage to see who is using Nealon parking spaces and when, determine what number of spaces could be converted to permit parking, and this would be a critical part of any formal evaluation of parking space conversion.Can you recommend promising other ways to increase downtown short term parking. I welcome them. If you believe it is a problem then we need affordable solutions. Thanks, Dana

(Roberta) I beg to differ. The Little House parking places should be protected, not shared with downtown workers. A parking structure is not the worst idea, after all, especially if its design and location are well thought out. The one at Santana Row, which has been mentioned by another well-intentioned blogger, is well-lit and an attractive asset for that commercial property.
(Dana) Roberta: IF our City could AFFORD to spend over $30M for one parking structure then we would not be having this discussion. But the likelihood of that being the case is near “zero” and within the next 5 years is “zero”.So what practical solution(s) do you propose?Also please explain why all 180 existing/new parking spaces need to be “protected” on weekdays between say 8 am and 5 pm so all readers can understand your assumptions and reasoning.(Note that 25 of do not even exist today) Thanks for contributing to this discussion.

(Roberta) The parking lot at Nealon was built to accommodate the parking needs of Little House, the co-op pre-school, the playground, the baseball diamond, and tennis courts. The parking spaces are used by those constituents, the lot being filled to capacity often. Why in the world would you upset this balance on a property that is, as you noted, a half-mile walk away from downtown. If Little House does not have enough parking to accommodate their members, who come and go during the day according to the services they use, their patronage of that wonderful facility’s usage will most certainly decrease. Why disrupt the success of our fully used parking lot that serves our senior center/pre-school/playground/athletic field/tennis courts that is working so well?

(Dana) You simply ignore my request for affordable and practical alternatives to my example of Nealon Park permit parking.

I get the impression it is unlikely anything I could say would satisfy you since offer little or no facts to support your own views, and I have no desire to persuade you otherwise.

Nothing would ever get done if our city government and residents failed to identify and wisely balance real-world trade-offs when addressing difficult problems.

However, I believe our city can do it!

from Jonas Halpren


Once again creating a problem where there is none. MP has plenty of parking. It is really never hard to find a spot.

However, we could consolidate some of that parking into a structure and free up some space for — dare I say it – development.

It is also unrealistic to expect MP business owners and employees to park at Nealon, Also where are the people using the park, senior center and daycare going to park? This plan will create more traffic not less.

(Jonas) Parking at Nealon would not be a big inconvenience for you as you don’t work downtown. If you did, you might ferl differently.

You also haven’t illustrated where people using park facilities would park.

(Jonas) Honestly this is a silly discussion. MP has plenty of parking on most weekdays. Our parking canyons are a joke and a terrible use of space.

Maybe come up with a plan to use that land more efficiently before we banish downtown workers to Nealon.

(Jonas) This plan will result in downtown employees parking on the side streets around downtown which would include my street. Why pay for parking 1/2 mile away when you can park for free on my street? This play also does not address where the patrons of Little House and the park are supposed to park? I guess on the street. Sounds perfect for kids and seniors.

I have never had an issue parking in downtown MP ever. But if more parking is needed there are more constructive ways to provide it. Banishing “the help” to an remote lot while taking parking away from seniors and parents is not the answer.

Maybe a parking garage could be paid for by selling some of the land under one of the many city owned plazas. The new ramp could rise several stories and provide more parking than would be lost by the sale of the land. The space would be more efficiently used and maybe some new development could come to downtown.

(Jonas:) You simply continue to ignore the fact that I suggested the satellite parking could be free, plus the fact that parking in neighborhoods near downtown could also be regulated. Many Peninsula cities already do this.

It is easy to find fault with proposed solutions to difficult problems and much harder to identify practical solutions. I believe you have already stated you do not believe there is a short term parking shortage downtown so you have no apparent desire to consider possible solutions.

(Dana) I get the impression it is unlikely anything I could say would satisfy you since offer little or no facts to support your own views. So I have no desire to persuade you otherwise.

Nothing would ever get done if our city government and residents failed to identify and wisely balance real-world trade-offs when addressing difficult problems.

However, I believe our city can do it!

from Mary Ryan


Dana are you a bike rider? Lets build a structure and keep the traffic out of local neighborhoods where residence are. Leave the kids, seniors and fields alone! Menlo has enough problems filling empty real estate and now you suggest prospective owners park elsewhere. Get a life bike riders. Share the roads and share the parking lots.

(Dana) Mary: I will let other readers judge the “constructiveness”, accuracy and “persuasiveness” of your comment(s) and will continue to engage those residents who display a genuine interest in identifying practical solutions to our City’s problems. Do you have any?

P.S I do actually enjoy reading your remarks … and expect others do, as well. Peace.

We could still keep some downtown permit parking for some office workers but ration them with a premium price. At the current fee of $600/year = $3/day (600/200) = Menlo Park is providing WAY too large a public subsidy which is totally unnecessary.

The alternative: spend $70,000 a space. Not a good idea.

In January the Palo City Council decided to eliminate all downtown permit parking by 2016 buy reducing the number by 200 each year. We could learn a lot from them.

from Penelope Bowen


Regarding the parking at Little House, I was at an event recently where all of the parking lot was filled up. I had to drop off the senior citizens in my car at the door and then go park in the street.

(Dana) Hi Penelope, I believe it is extremely rare for all 180 parking spaces at Nealon to be used by Little House events especially during the week. However, if such an event were planned I expect a good solution could be found. Thanks for bringing this to everyone’s attention.

(Penelope) When I go to Little House each week it is not uncommon that ALL the parking places are taken. It is not rare, it is the norm. You do not realize the amount of people that come and go to utilize the center’s services.

from Nikki Stitt Sokol

A parking structure is the key to unlocking the vibrant, beautiful downtown with the kinds of restaurants, shopping, and services that so many residents, including myself, desire, and would help make downtown more conducive to all modes of transportation (walking, biking, driving, etc.). It’s time to invest in our town’s infrastructure so that we can move forward.

(Dana) After many conversations with Jim Cogan, the Menlo Park Business Development Manager, I doubt he would support your view that “a parking structure is THE Key to unlocking the vibrant, beautiful downtown with the kinds of restaurants, shopping, and services that so many residents”.

I recommend that you ask him what the top 3 factors are and share what you learn as we could all benefit from his insights.

Dana Hendrickson


This is a message for everyone who DODGES the issue of the affordability of a parking structure. (everyone on this post know who you are)

I have NOT claimed a parking structure would not be beneficial. I maintain it is most likely NOT affordable and therefore NOT happen unless we allow a developer to earn a respectable profit on a project like an integrated parking structure/multi-story office building which of course will want its own dedicated parking.

No one has even attempted to factually explain why my intuition is inaccurate. So again here are my fundamental assumptions:

1. Building the large structure identified in the Specific plan would cost about $40 million.

2. This is over FOUR times the City’s 2015-2016 Capital Improvement Budget.

3. Unless we charge a lot for parking downtown, a parking structure is not economically viable so no private investor will want to fund it.

Developers generally like to see at least an 8%annual return on an investment so a $100,000 parking space would have to return $8000/year = $30/day for 250 days (sounds like big city pricing?)

4. According to the City website there were 17,800 registered voters in Menlo Park in November 2014. So if each voter were equally financially responsible for a share of the cost of the parking structure in my example that would amount to $40,000,000 /17800 = $2247 “obligation”. So a couple => $4494 “obligation”. And of course, many would claim they should be exempted just like with school district bonds.

So are you ready to pay your share? Paypal or credit card?

Please note the cost will increase every year the construction is delayed after 2016 and based on recent history at least 10%/year.

It’s fine to WANT a parking structure but who will pay for it?

And why do you think they would?

Ignoring facts is always foolhardy.

from Alice White

Bikes are not mentioned much in this discussion. I am always stunned to see so many people from Menlo Park drive into downtown. I hardly ever see more than one bike in any biking rack anywhere (if that). Even though Menlo Park’s biking infrastructure can be improved, downtown Menlo Park can already be easily biked to from all of West Menlo Park, but also The Oaks, Linfield Oaks etc. It would make things better for all of us if more people relied less on their cars. And the last thing this place needs is more people being encouraged to *drive* into downtown Menlo Park!