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.

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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.