Protest Over Parking Lot at Transbay Center Site

workers_small.gifTeamsters Local 665 workers protest a parking lot at the future site of the Transbay Transit Center. Photos: Matthew Roth.

Despite a stated Transit First policy, the Transbay Joint Powers Authority (TJPA) and the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) are encouraging solo drivers to bring their cars into San Francisco’s downtown and park all day at low prices, according to a parking union who has been picketing in front of a temporary 250-space parking lot at 80 Natoma/81 Minna Street, the site of the future Transbay Transit Center.

Teamsters Local 665, which represents city parking workers and some private sector parking workers, has been picketing this week in front of a parking lot administered by ABC Parking, a non-union company, demanding that TJPA and Caltrans shut the parking lots down and use the property for open space.

"If you are going to drive into San Francisco, it’s the premium way to get into town and [it should] not be subsidized by Caltrans," said Local 665 President Mark Gleason, who asserted that Caltrans and TJPA lots were half the price of nearby municipal parking facilities. Gleason argued the MTA, which runs Muni, could be getting a lot more money from parking if those facilities were not in business and drivers had to park in municipal lots. Even if they chose to park in private facilities, said Gleason, they would pay more money and the city could collect more parking tax revenue.

"The service they are providing should dovetail with the Transit First Policy and should not be adversarial to it," said Gleason. The union estimates there are at least 7,000 parking spaces in more than 15 Caltrans easements that could be closed.

lot_2_small.gif

Though Gleason admits his union has "selfish reasons" for shutting down a non-union competitor, he said the issue has much more to do with San Francisco’s Transit First Policy and the current budget squeeze at Muni. The union even made fliers that compared Muni riders to sardines in a can [PDF].

Additionally, Gleason sent a letter to City Attorney Dennis Herrera [PDF], requesting he open an official investigation into the business of the previous parking operator on the site, US Parking, which Gleason accused of owing $7 million dollars to the city in unpaid taxes.

Because of state-mandated furlough days, a Caltrans spokesperson was unavailable for immediate comment.

TJPA spokesperson Adam Alberti responded that it was a non-issue because Caltrans was signing over ownership of its easements within the next few months to the TJPA in the preparation for construction of the new Transbay Terminal, which was recently awarded $400 million in federal stimulus money. Groundbreaking and construction on the terminal is expected by late spring or summer.

"Their letters don’t make a whole lot of sense," said Alberti. "They made complaints about the state of the site and the suitability of parking and the operator is working with the Planning Department on those issues."

As far as converting the site to a park or open space, Alberti said the timeline is too narrow and the TJPA is leasing the lot it controls for parking because it generates revenue the Authority will use for the terminal. "This is a very short-term parking operation," he said. "The protests that are ongoing are outside of our control."

A spokesperson for the City Attorney’s Office, Matt Dorsey, confirmed receipt of the Teamsters letter and said "we are taking it seriously," but declined to provide more information.

private_parking_small.jpgCovered parking at a lot across the street sells for roughly 40 percent more than the 80 Natoma Street/81 Minna Street open lot.
  • Jeffrey W. Baker

    Caltrans dumped these parking spaces on the market roughly a year ago when the construction for the Bay Bridge approach was done. Parking prices fell instantly in the area centered on 2nd & Folsom. I always assumed that, being Caltrans property, the city didn’t have any say over the use of these parcels.

    Relatedly, isn’t it unlawful to offer monthly pricing for parking in the C3 zone?

  • Torn. I think more should be charged for parking, but this guy is just another Rob Anderson-alike.

  • Mark Ballew

    MTA lots should charge market rate as to maximize income for the agency’s struggling budget. Charging below rate is robbing the tax payers and Muni riders, as well as private garage operators.

    I side with the Union on this one.

  • mcas

    @John: If you ask MTC why they are cutting transit funding at the local level, they’ll blame the state. If Caltrans were to operate this parking lot at market rate, there’d be more money for Muni, BART, and all the other transit. Instead they took the lowest bidder– who was able to under-cut the unionized operators on the RFQ because they pay their workers shit (or more likely illegally farm them out as independent contractors, so they don’t have to pay healthcare, I’d bet).

  • Ben

    If Caltrans is operating those lots why would MTC get the revenue?

  • Another bizarre consequence of the city’s Environmental Review mess is that installing a bicycle lane or bicycle rack apparently requires years of study, but hundreds of parking spaces can be dropped into a dense downtown neighborhood with no environmental review whatsoever.

  • @Tom Radulovich and don’t forget we can slash public transportation without and EIR either!

  • Adam Alberti

    Just to clarify a few facts,

    1) The lot across the street is a covered garage, where 80 Natoma is an open air lot. Thus, the pricing difference.

    2) 80 Natoma has been a parking lot for many years–including under its past ownership– and was only taking out of parking operations recently to do soil exploration for the pending Transit Center program.

    3) The site was bid out using an open and competitive bidding process that included prevailing wage provisions.

    4) The selected bidder offered significantly more revenue, which goes directly into the Transit Center program and, in essence, is directly funding transit improvements.

    5) The contract awarded to ABC on 80 Natoma is a short term lease, and will stop operations in a few months before we begin demolition and construction of the new Transit Center.

    6) The state owned parcels adjacent to 80 Natoma are run by Caltrans, but those parcels will also be transferred to the TJPA prior to the beginning of demolition–this spring/summer.

    Thanks for your time offering these clarifying points.

  • Nick

    I worked out there awhile back and the cars from that particular lot overflowed onto the sidewalk of Minna Street. This forced pedestrians to walk in the middle of the street with heavy equipment and delivery vehciles. (Take a close look at the white van in that first photo to see what I mean).

    Perhaps the union could get them on an ADA issue. Fine them into compliance.

  • Dimitri

    Such hypocrisy. I see in the above photo the Teamsters are picketing in front of the TJPA owned ABC Parking lot because they “care for the environment” and want more open space and use of public transit. Really??? Then why are they NOT protesting in front of the Caltrans owned parking lot directly next door, which happens to be the largest Caltrans parking lot in San Francisco? Oh … maybe because that huge parking lot is run by Priority Parking … a union business.

    So, Teamsters, why not just be direct instead of disingenuous. Why not just come out and say you are protesting because some of the Caltrans owned parking lots are operated by non-union businesses and THAT IS WHY you are protesting!

    The fact is the Caltrans properties in downtown SF are owned by the people of the State of California; they are offered for lease via a competitive and open bidding process for short term leases where the competitive bidding sets the market rate; the various parking lots are operated by both unionized and non-union businesses; and the State derives a large amount of revenue from these leases, which revenue goes to the general fund to support transit and other projects. These lots also generate a large amount of revenue for the City of San Francisco where the City collects 20% of every dollar a customer pays for parking as a parking tax.

    Let’s not also forget about the residents of the Bay Area. While in an ideal world everyone could use public transit … the reality is that not every person who commutes into SF is afforded a reasonably convenient way to access public transit. There is always going to be a large share of people employed in SF who must drive. So, how do the Teamsters want to treat these people, who in this down economy must pinch every penny to make their monthly bills? Yes … let’s make parking much more expensive! What the Teamsters are really saying is that they don’t care about any one else so long as their members are taken care of. This does not sound p.c. enough as a slogan so let’s turn our protest “green.” If we say we are doing it for the environment then people may be fooled. Really? The public cannot be that naive.

  • Steve Curutchague

    Citizens, are we in a communist country?

    This news article is another example how modern day media has failed us. This is a one sided reporting. Its like the Union hired this media to run their add.

    Here are some facts that the reporter should have done when reporting the story.

    1. No where in this article does he state what the landlord is receiving in rent? They only talk about daily pricing rates. The fact is that Caltrans is receiving more than 50 percent above similar market rates that are runned by the City of SF in this area. Caltrans renews their leases in an open bid process. They receive a lot more money on a square foot basis than the City does on their neighboring lots. Caltrans at the Terminal area receives over a $1.00 per s.f. a month. The City of SF has a lot on Main near Folsom at half that rate. Caltrans renews their lots consistently where the City grandfathers their tenants on their lots forever. As such, they pay below market lease rates for their properties.

    Want a scandal, go investigate the SF Real Estate Department and see how frequent they renew their leases and see what monthly rent they collect on their lots. I promise you a real scandal would be found there and not on this short term use that Caltrans is forced under.

    2. Priority Parking is union. Funny how they do not protest their lot which they lease from Caltrans.
    3. The State of California under a Senate Bill gave to the City and County of San Francisco all these downtown lots. These properties were given to the City so they could sell them off and raised money for the new Transbay facility. These properties were appraised by the State Finance Department to be worth over $450 million dollars. The proceeds of the sale of these parcels are to be spent to pay for the new terminal. Now if they were converted to a greenbelt, kiss $450 million of the State taxpayers money away. So the City can not convert these properties to greenbelts. They will eventually will become Union Parking facilities at half the price Caltrans is receiving, or they will become more highrises when the real estate economy turns around.

    You ask how I know this information? I retired from Caltrans more than one year ago and I sat at that desk which leased these lots out to the public. I also handled the lease assignments and transfers that took place on these properties. I was a Union member when I was with Caltrans, but the bad reporting prompted me to write this response.

    So the Union has been exposed for what they are trying to do. Its just silly that they would go this far to make themselves look this bad.

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