Street parking on San Carlos’ main gateway is at the center of the latest struggle between officials looking to ease traffic congestion and eastside residents who feel the neighborhood yet again is feeling the brunt of city changes.
The San Carlos City Council is being asked tonight to finalize parking restrictions on Holly Street from Industrial Road to Old County Road which will ban on-street vehicles 7 am. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday in both directions so that two lanes of traffic can pass through the corridor.
But those who live on or near Holly Street say the city needs to look at other long-term options first and make gradual changes as needed rather than keep residents and visitors from parking on the street for the better part of the day.
Plan opponents ask what happens when deliveries or landscapers need to park during the day. What happens when visitors can’t fit in the driveway? And will residents want to get up prior to 7 a.m. to move their cars?
Octavio Jara, who has lived on Holly Street for six years and works from home, said the city’s description of the traffic problem is not accurate. There are times when cars do jam the street but not around the clock, he said.
“Holly can be tricky but it’s not an all-day Monday through Friday problem. It’s ridiculous to take away the parking,” said Jara.
The Greater East San Carlos group also took time elapsed photographs of Holly Street on June 30 which they plan to show the council Monday and say show far less traffic than what the city claims.
Traffic counts cited by the city show an average of 600 or more vehicles passing through Holly Street in both directions every hour from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. throughout the week, according to Public Works Director Jay Walter.
With the future opening of the Palo Alto Medical Foundation medical campus, the Transit Village and the landmark hotel, traffic is bound to only worsen, Walter said.
Parking is currently restricted 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. westbound and 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. eastbound. Expanding the restrictions to add another traffic lane will make it harder for residents to exit their driveways and could prove dangerous to children in the area, Jara said.
Eminent domain an option
City officials say they understand the Holly Street neighbors’ concerns but their hands are a bit tied due to geography and Caltrans regulations. Walter said it’s also time to pull the trigger on efforts long talked about but not yet implemented.
“People want to see us make progress at improving traffic at Holly but time and time again there’s been pushback. We’re at the point where we need to begin making some of those improvements,” Walter said.
In September, Walter said he and the staff will be back to the council for a study session on the feasibility of changes to the Harbor Boulevard and Brittan Avenue interchanges.
Ultimately, he said, “in the end we’re pushing off what some has described as the inevitable which is expanding Holly.”
That could involve buying homes so Walter said he hopes restriping Holly Street to accommodate two lanes and restricting parking may make enough of an change.
Residents like Jara and GESC President Ben Fuller disagree that this is the best approach to take.
The GESC believes the city should move incrementally, restriping and synchronizing lights on Industrial Road and El Camino Real to improve flow before moving to a greater parking ban.
“What they’re doing is a low-level remedial approach instead of an all-encompassing look at the traffic problems to reach a solution,” Fuller said.
The GESC is also requesting the city look at adding northbound lanes on Highway 101 at Harbor Boulevard and Brittan Avenue and consider using the easement on Crestview Drive to add access to Interstate 280.
“Holly is not the only entrance to San Carlos. It’s just the one most people get on their Mapquest,” Jara said.
Mayor Mark Olbert said Crestview isn’t an option because land between it and Interstate 280 is owned by a San Francisco water company. Changes at Brittan and Harbor are unlikely because Caltrans has rules about the proximity of interchanges. Closing Holly to allow one would isolate Redwood Shores and the east side of Brittan is in a federally protected marsh, he added.
“People throw out these ideas but they don’t understand the constrains we’re under,” Olbert said.
The amount of room needed for an interchange is also prohibitive, Walter said.
“From an engineering standpoint, sure you can do it. But from an environment and community standpoint probably not,” he said.
Crestview isn’t really a good solution, either, he said because even if Belmont agreed to remove its barrier at Hallmark Drive, drivers on the Holly side of the city aren’t going to opt for the Interstate 280 option.
The council approved the changes at its last meeting but requires a second reading to finalize them. Only a handful of residents showed up then to protest but Jara and Fuller say that is because they only learned of the meeting via postcard three days before.
“Of course nobody said anything. Nobody knew about it,” Jara said.
Once the restriping and light synchronization is done, Fuller said expanding the parking restrictions should only be added an hour at a time to see at what point a fix is reached rather than speeding to an all-day change.
“Let’s slow things down a little bit,” he said.
The Holly Street parking ordinance is on the council’s consent agenda and Fuller isn’t optimistic it will be pulled for discussion. But he, Jara and other GESC are dusting off their red shirts from earlier battles with the council over PAMF, the Transit Village and even In-and-Out Burger. With enough turnout at Monday’s meeting, they say perhaps the council will hit the brakes.
“I would love for them to realize that maybe this is too much. Maybe we need to scale it back,” Jara said. “I’d love to see them change their minds.”
If passed, Walter said the change will take effect within 30 to 60 days and the city will coordinate with the Sheriff’s Office to pass out courtesy notices leading up to the implementation date.
The City Council meets 7 p.m. Monday, July 14 at City Hall, 600 Elm St., San Carlos.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 102