Emotional Debate Over New Parking Meters at Marathon SFMTA Hearing

parking_meter_small.jpgOh how San Francisco hates thee, wretched meter.
Photo: loop

Very little is as emotional in city-government policy making as parking and today’s San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency hearing on the addition of 1310 new meters was no exception.

For two and a half hours, the public by-and-large lambasted the proposals to add new meters anywhere in the nine zones throughout the city, often falling back on rhetoric one might expect reserved for the trial of a violent criminal suspect. 

The SFMTA was accused of using meters to dismantle the
middle class, to make drivers feel like parasites, to repress poor people, to institute a
regressive tax, to do away with a good tradition of free parking, to
increase the risk of rape because people will have to park further from
their homes, and to generally destroy the quality of life and well being
of San Franciscans.

SFMTA hearing officer John Noland and Chief Transportation Planner Jack Fleck listened attentively to the testimony, before recommending approval of nearly every one of the staff recommendations for the new meters.

Before the hearing started, Fleck explained that the proposal for new meters was significantly more than the 300-400 meters the SFMTA adds each year to the streets, but they were being proposed for areas of high-density residential and mixed-use commercial zoning where demand for parking on-street had outstripped supply, and thus it was necessary to better manage parking by pricing it properly.

"The idea is that the parking meters will be available for you, the
visitor or residents," said Fleck. "The goal is to make parking available; it’s not to make it so
restrictive that people don’t come."

"This is valuable urban real estate, if we didn’t have any limitations on
it it would be parked solid," he added.

Out of a room of approximately 60 people, fewer than five agreed with Fleck’s argument.

Bob Planthold, a regular presence at SFMTA hearings and an advocate for the disabled and visually impaired, called driving a privilege and said, "We who do not drive, don’t get a free ride on Muni. Why should those
who drive get free on-street parking?"

Ken Allen, an elderly gentleman who lives in the 1500 block on South Van Ness, said he and his neighbors supported the goal of adding meters. "It is a desirable thing to
have the meters. I feel this will be good for our block," he said. "Turnover would
be good."

"It is yet one more assault on the quality of life in San Francisco. You are intruding on our enjoyment of our oasis and complicating our lives as we seek to remain fit by swimming and boating in the Bay."

Even though Alice Rogers of South Park said she supported the goals of SFPark and had arranged to have SFMTA staff at a community meeting, she said she was frustrated with the communication process with the agency.

"I had hoped to work with your office in
advance of these hearings," she said. "We’ve gotten no
response to work with your group to plan the installation of these
meters. The precept of SFPark on Donald Shoup’s
principles is based on cooperation."

And that would have been about all the support in the room.

As Newland and Fleck got into specific neighborhoods, people protested there was plenty of parking so meters weren’t needed, while their neighbors said it was already impossible to find parking and meters were only going to add to the difficulty. Small business owners said meters would kill business and one community described a delicate parking ballet where neighbors knew each others’ schedules and moved their vehicles when they knew others would leave for work or for school.

Shawn Scheuer, who owns a text messaging service called Fat Text, said he generates millions in revenue and pays hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes to the city, but now the city wants more from its drivers. "I think the notion that people who drive cars are somehow parasites on society is ridiculous."

Courtney Clarkson was also upset that her taxes were high and transportation priorities were awry. "As taxpayers in San Francisco, especially those of us who own a house and are paying ridiculously high property taxes, everywhere we go we are being nickeled-and-dimed, or dollared and ten dollared," she said.

Noelle Birbeck, who owns a business at 55 Brady Street, said, "For me, as a small business, a parking meter is a pain."

Pedro Gonzalez, the owner of Mr. Scooter at 1776 Mission, said that he and his staff had closed the shop for the first time in 10 years to attend the hearing today. "Having parking meters just adds a
tremendous burden on us to survive," he said. "We have hundreds of people supporting our cause."

Martin Labagh, the owner of Larkins Brothers Tire Company on South Van Ness, said the proposal was unnecessary because there was no parking problem to begin with. "We have no problems in terms of parking. There is turnover
during the day," he said. "No one has ever come to
me to say that they need more parking."

Labagh added that the free spaces may look like they’re at capacity, but they are turning over: "I’m out there every day for 25 years, the parking spaces do move, they
get moved from the people in the neighborhood, they know each other.
You’re making them pay for parking now. You’re putting a fee on people
who use them."

John Schiffer, who lives in South Park, predicted political unrest because of the meters proposed for the 200 feet of his block. "I also know if you take away that currently unregulated spot, you’re going to get a backlash, you’re going to get a lot of revolt. If you take away that little working class enclave, we’re going to go to the polls."

Of all the areas of contention, none was more significant than the block of Beach Street between Polk and Van Ness near the Maritime Museum and the Dolphin Swimming and Boating Club. At least 30 members of the Dolphin Club testified, and despite SFMTA’s Newland asking the crowd not to repeat themselves, they nearly all said some variation of the speech delivered by Naphtali Offen, a 10-year member of the club:

It is yet one more assault on the quality of life in San Francisco. You are intruding on our enjoyment of our oasis and complicating our lives as we seek to remain fit by swimming and boating in the Bay….

This is a regressive tax. I’d say stop nickel and diming us to death, but it’s more like five and ten dollaring. I’ve lived here nearly 40 years and I’m sad to see San Francisco losing its charm as a result of greed and bad decisions….

I remember when a parking ticket didn’t break the bank and when traffic citations were not a San Francisco Industry. There’s something unkind about what the city is becoming…

Stop punishing the average San Franciscan. Fill your budget shortfall by assessing downtown its fair share for city servicesa nd leave us locals to enjoy what is still charming about our city.

In the end, Newland continued discussion of the block in front of the Dolphin Club and several blocks on South Van Ness in the Mission, which he said warranted more study. The SFMTA Board of Directors is expected to debate these recommendations for all the new meters in August.

  • Somewhere the world’s smallest violin is playing.

    I bet these are the same yahoos who call for privatizing MUNI. Ha, they would all scream bloody murder if parking went to the free market.

  • Alex

    At least we know which businesses to not patronize. I’ve pretty much stopped patronizing Geary and Clement street merchants because parking is far too difficult and MUNI is too slow and unreliable.

    That said, as much as I’d like to see demand based pricing, extended meter hours, and increased enforcement… I’ll likely vote against it if this comes up for voter approval. Why? The MTA needs to sort out their spending problems before they start sucking down more money. Otherwise they’re merely delaying the inevitable for a very short period of time.

  • EL

    To Bob Planthold – If you can’t ride Muni for free, and those who drive shouldn’t get to park for free, then why are those who drive with disabled placards allowed to park for free?

  • Nick

    So is this the future of our world-class transit-first city? Hanging out in a car at an unpaid metered spot (with the engine idling) as the new sit-lie?

  • Winston

    As someone who wants to see Muni’s services contracted out, I can say that I firmly support charging for street parking. The case for doing so is about as strong as it could be. In brief, parking is a scarce resource and pricing it high enough to make space always available will lead to it being used for the greatest economic benefit possible. Further, eliminating free parking eliminates a situation where the significant population of non-drivers subsidizes wealthier drivers. In this case the desire for economic efficiency, social justice and environmental stewardship all align. I say bring on the meters!

  • I totally agree with what Winston just said. Remember, privatizing some transit operations would lower the cost because the current system has massive inefficiencies, while privatizing on-street parking would increase the cost because the current system relies on government subsidy.

    I’m again going to say that what we need is a charter amendment that directs the MTA to dynamically price all parking on public land to optimize for 90% occupancy, and prevents politicians from interfering with that process in any way. Install sensors everywhere, and there will be no more debate: if there really is not enough demand and you can acheive <=90% with free parking at certain times, then the meters can give out free parking at those times. No more public hearings, just hard data.

  • marcos

    The ideal solution in a democratic politics is often not the most efficient. Politics is not as clean cut as engineering.

  • TF

    I have no problem with the SFMTA ignoring the majority of speakers at these public meetings, since the speakers are usually a narrow, self-serving group.

    And few reasonable people oppose parking meters in places like downtown.

    But what has clearly gotten peoples’ backs up here is the idea of parking meters on the street where they live.

    Oakland tried that recently and it was withdrawn after the residents were close to rioting.

    If we are going to meter residential areas, we should at least grant some exemption to people who live in those areas, maybe to residential permit holders, for instance.

  • There isn’t really a better example of “misguided” and “uninformed” than these people that I can think of. But it does show a need for more outreach from the MTA…

  • TF, I must of missed where the MTA says they are going to put meters on the streets where people live.t If you live on a commercial corridor, then you trade ease of parking for ease of accessibility to merchants. You can’t have both.

  • greg

    Are we SF or LA? Give me a break.

  • orson

    Goes to show that self-defeating, Tea Party-style “make the gubmint stop destroying my life” idiocy isn’t limited to the South. Facts? Pshaw! Make San Francisco like it was 40 years ago!

    It’s a wonder anything gets done in this town.

  • Excellent reporting. Thanks

  • Aloysious

    It’s time this tiny peninsula weaned itself off of relying on cars. We have a beautiful city that has been taken over by loud, dangerous, contaminating, inefficient personal vehicles and the mismanaged thoroughfares that they rely on. While maintaining this system is rapidly draining what little funding we have, we are defeating so many of the environmental ideals that Californians, and perhaps even more so San Franciscans, hold in high esteem.
    We are so fortunate to have countless alternatives, with new ones popping up every day: safer biking lanes and a growing cycling culture, car shares, public transportation (which certainly needs some readjusting, but it gets people to work and the beach and commercial centers well enough, especially if you figure in the time it would take to find parking) and for those of us with the money to spare who are in a rush, taxis. We may even have a city wide bike sharing program in the near future!
    The age of the car is quickly coming to an end, and not soon enough in my opinion with disasters such as the BP spill happing at this very moment. If we can’t let go of our silly dependencies now, then when? San Francisco does have the potential to be an even more vibrant and prosperous city if we can be ahead of the curve and act as one large community. And if you really need free parking to go boating, your priorities are frighteningly skewed.

  • Is there anything wrong with making car drivers feel like parasites? Considering the amount of energy used to produce and power cars, and the huge areas of land used by cities to accommodate them, it is pretty hard IMO to argue that drivers are not parasites.

    A curbside parking space takes up about 100 square feet, and the Bay Area has some of the most expensive real estate in the US. How much more would you have to pay to rent an apartment that is 100 square feet bigger? I don’t see anything wrong with making drivers pay for the space they use, and with the way the city and state budgets are going, it seems like a reasonable way to bring in more revenue.

    Cars are expensive to buy and operate. They only seem relatively cheap because many of their costs are subsidized. In an ideal world, a plan to charge for parking would never be considered a way to “repress poor people” because anyone who can’t afford to drive can ride their bike or take public transit. However, with Muni as awfully slow and unreliable as it has been lately, and with biking as scary and impractical as it is here (in the minds of some people), driving is often the only reasonable choice, even with its costs and inconveniences.

    Letting people park for free is not going to solve anything. People complain that it is so hard to find parking in San Francisco, but somehow it never occurs to them that this may simply be because there are too many drivers going after too few parking spaces, which in turn may be because the parking spaces are so cheap, or in many cases, free. Enforcing the parking meters would cut down on the number of frivolous and unnecessary trips, which would reduce the number of drivers circling around to look for parking, which would benefit both drivers and non-drivers. It would also bring in some revenue, which could be used to improve Muni, or go to whatever agency needs it. Many planners have suggested that parking prices should be adjusted such that about 85% of street parking is occupied, to efficiently use street space while making parking easily available.

    Some residents of the neighborhoods with meters may not like to constantly feed the meters and deal with the 4-hour limit, and we can possibly remedy that with exemptions for cars with residential parking permits.

    I am not completely against cars and sometimes I drive myself, but I still think it is reasonable to charge drivers to park.

    End of rant. How can we make people come to their senses?

  • Souper


    Rants are fun.

    I think your idea of exempting residential parking permits from the need to feed these new meters might be the angle that will get these neighborhoods on the right side here.

    Nobody objects to other people having to pay to park. And if such an exemption frees up parking for residents, they will surely and suddenly find themselevs supporting this measure.

    But where do you get the idea that a street parking space or curb cuts requires 100 feet? 20 feet, surely?

  • Souper, Elias referred to *square* feet. E.g. 20 ft. x 5 ft. = 100 square feet. I didn’t look it up but that doesn’t sound so implausible.

  • Souper


    That makes more sense but even so, the “renting” analogy doesn’t hold up as that implies exclusive use of a space.

    So yes, a dedicated parking spot of that size may be worth, say, $100 per month. Such spaces are often rented out.

    But the opportunistic possibility of taking a public and shared space if nobody else is using it is far less.

    Maybe the solution is to construct enough market-rate off-street parking so that all on-street parking can be banned, and then every street can have a bike lane in each direction where the parking used to be. I have seen new housing developments like that.

    Seperate but equal, anyone?

  • Finally! Motorists being asked to contribute to closing the MTA’s budget gap! The price of street parking has hardly budged over the time that Muni fares have doubled, and a long time ago I got tired of motorists being allowed to use so much public space for free. And I completely agree with SteveS’ suggestion for all street parking to be priced to optimise for occupancy.

    And before anybody accuses me of making drivers feel like parasites (c’mon, people, don’t blame others for how *you* feel—change your parasitic ways!), I am a driver, and the street on which I live on has parking meters. The price I pay for carshare includes parking, so I pay my share. If more people across this city did as I do, we’d have enough funding—and enough roadspace—for a decent transit system.

    Alex: I think the MTA has made enough spending cuts, don’t you? Muni lines eliminated? Less frequency? Questionable maintenance? It’s not a spending problem, it’s a financing problem. Too many misers in Sacramento, and too many motorists in San Francisco unwilling to pay for the space they use.

  • Souper, I don’t see why using space to park can’t be considered a form of renting land. It is usually a very short-term rental, but a rental nonetheless.

    I did some quick searches to try to find out what a reasonable hourly rate would be for a parking space, going by real estate prices. According to Wikipedia, a typical curbside parking space is about 158 square feet — my initial estimate was somewhat low. According to Forbes, real estate in San Francisco cost $27.17 per square foot per year on average in 2006. This comes out to about $358 per month, or 50 cents per hour.

    This is a rough estimate. The space may be worth more for the convenience of being able to rent it for such a short period and the fact that it spends some time being unused despite being unavailable for any other purpose.

    Also, this price is an average value. The actual value of a space will depend on things like the time of day and the neighborhood. I still think it is reasonably accurate. An SFSU geography professor looked through ads on Craigslist and found that people in SF were willing to rent parking spaces for $100 to $500 per month.

    I am not sure about your idea of replacing all street parking with off-street spaces. Considering the inevitable motorist outrage that happens every time someone proposes removing a few parking spots for any reason, the only way this would be politically feasible is if we construct enough lots and garages to replace the street spaces. Where would we put them? Keep in mind that off-street spots take up more space than street parking. The only way I can think of is demolishing many buildings to make room for expensive multi-story garages, or maybe doing it at a lower cost by demolishing even more buildings to make surface lots and turn San Francisco into something resembling Los Angeles. I can’t imagine that ever happening.

    If anyone wants to see the sources for my information, let me know.

  • World Traveler

    “especially those of us who own a house and are paying ridiculously high property taxes”

    Woman, please. You are paying ridiculously LOW property taxes. If you can’t afford them, try selling your car to make up the shortfall.

  • FL

    “The price of street parking has hardly budged over the time that Muni fares have doubled”

    That’s not true. Meters, parking garages, and parking fines have all risen gradually over the years while Muni fares stayed the same. If you don’t drive, you probably don’t notice it. I get tired of people shouting the above when it’s not true….

  • First of all, a good 85% of you need to get over yourselves.

    Why don’t we just take it a step further and outlaw the big evil polluting cars? It’ll be great and you guys can have lotsa fun trying to convince the tourists who pay your way and offer us this “fabulous” life of ours to come visit when their only option is riding cramped, dirty, dangerous Muni. BEST OF LUCK WITH THAT!

    Wake up, San Francisco, you’re being looted. No no, sorry, you have BEEN looted. The SFMTA is no better than an organized crime ring punking business owners for protection money.

  • Ginger

    To Winston and StevenS: why not contract out say, one

    maintenance facility and one “bundle” of say the Richmond District lines, and

    then see who provides the best and most efficient service.

    To El: Right. If people must pay to park, and pay to ride Muni, then why

    should handicapped people be able to park for free?

  • Souper


    Again, you’re confusing the value of renting a dedicated parking space which is permanently available to you and you only:


    The value of a public street space that may or may not be available.

    People who pay for an off-street parking space know it is theirs and can drive around knowing it will always be available to them.

    Whereas those who park on the street have to drive around for ages until they are lucky enough to snag a space.

    So the market value of a secured, private, dedicated spot is going to be much higher than your estimare, and Sf RE price analogies don’t apply.

    World Traveler,

    Why do you claim that SF property taxes are too low. The average SF property is worth around $700K which, at an ad valoren rate of 1.2%, comes to an annual prop tax of $8,400 per annum, or $700 per month – more than the rents some rent controlled tenants pay for their entire home!

  • scurvy

    One thing lost in all of the reporting and all of the comments was that 88 free motorcycle spots are now being converted over to metered parking. Yes, these same people who ride motorcycles — freeing up your freeways, not fighting you for a space on Muni, zipping around congestion filled streets — are now losing their last bastion of free parking.

    MTA recently raised motorcycle rates from 15 cents/hour to 70 cents per hour. Making each “space” $3.50/hour. This pushed most of the people near New Montgomery and Howard to park at the last free spots on Clementina behind Thirsty Bear. Even if you didn’t ride, it was very evident if you walked past the empty stalls of bike spots.

    Verdict, motorcyclists are more price sensitive to parking prices and will just stop riding. Raise your hand if you honestly think that the MTA is competent enough to implement demand-based pricing? Yeah, thought so.

    Also, who in the MTA has a vendetta against motorcyclists? Why were dozens of free MC spots on Folsom & Main converted into 5 metered car spots? Honestly, why? How much incremental revenue do those extra meters bring in compared to providing parking for 25 motorcycle spots? I thought the MTA’s priority was to get people out of their cars and using alternative methods to getting to work? Well, a motorcycle is the best alternative out there — and you’re making it less attractive. Morons.

  • Scurvy, while I don’t see how “alternative” a motorcycle really is, I agree do agree that changing the pricing points on those spots doesn’t make much sense. Especially since they sit empty now. However, they sit empty because there are free spots a block away. They should drop the price on the already metered spots and then bring the now free ones online at the same or slightly less rate.

    But taking away motorcycle spots for a car spot or two isn’t a very smart use of space, but then again everything about the car is waste and overindulgence.

  • Sean


    I own both a scooter and a bicycle, love and use both of them to commute to work, split about 50/50. Here are a couple of ways that you might consider them an “alternative” to a car.

    1. Typically much more fuel-efficient than a car (for example, I get about 80mpg and buy a gallon of gas every two weeks.)

    2. Take up far less space, both when on the road and particularly so when parked. You can convert 1 car space into 4 or 5 motorcycle spaces.

    Yes, they burn gas, yes they aren’t a bicycle, but they’re a hell of a lot better than a car.


    Saying they’re the “best” alternative is a bit subjective. They are for some people, and aren’t for others. The important thing to recognize is that they definitely have advantages over cars in a dense urban environment.

  • Sean, thanks. I understand the obvious. And fuel-efficient doesn’t necessarily equal clean. Cars have catalytic converters, scooters don’t. And mo-peds are usually two stroke so they are choking out some pretty nasty stuff.

  • scurvy

    @mikesonn they don’t sit empty because there’s free parking a block away. They sit empty because they’re way overpriced. Even with free parking a block away, all of those MC meters used to be full and occupied. I know, I used to park at one every day. If you didn’t arrive by 10AM, chances were you didn’t get one. It didn’t cost too much to park there, it was convenient to my office, and it was also in a high foot-traffic area. The chance that someone would mess with your bike (oh like stealing a spark plug to smoke crack out of*) is greatly reduced there compared to the free parking behind Thirsty Bear. I never parked on Clementina when MC meters were priced sanely. After the increase, I’ve been there every day.

    New scooters have to comply with some sort of CARB regulation now, too. I don’t know if it’s as strict as motorcycles or not, but there is some standard. Older scooters are grandfathered in, just like older cars were. But since it’s easier to keep a scooter running, that’s why you see more older scooters than older cars on the road.

    OK, best alternative to driving might not apply in all cases. Best alternative to those able bodied and don’t mind a change of wardrobe? Sure. I just don’t see the MTA’s logic working. If they’re trying to push us off of our bikes and out of our cars….where are we supposed to go? What are we supposed to use? MUNI? Hah! You can’t pull stunts like this and then reduce service at the same time.

    *Yes, this actually happens. Crackheads break off sparkplugs from motorcycles to smoke crack.

  • scurvy

    One last bit, you don’t need a catalytic converter to make a low emissions vehicle. The Civic was the first car not to use a cat and pass all emissions requirements…way back in the 70’s. We have the technology, it can be done. Just because something doesn’t use a cat doesn’t make it a heavy polluter. Grandfathered scooters are addressed above.

  • Scurvy, we are stuck in a tough spot with MUNI becoming less frequent and ever more so (who thought it was possible) reliable.

    The MTA shouldn’t be raising metering rates on motorcycle to extreme levels, now they have no income on those spots as opposed to some but less then ideal before. You’ll see no defense of MTA coming from this corner.

  • Jack Fleck acknowledged at the hearing that the SFMTA had raised the rates too high for motorcycles and said they will be coming back down to a rate responsive to demand. He said it would be part of the SFPark roll-out.

  • Mark Ballew

    Those same business owners that complain about meters will jump for joy when their customers double because they can find street parking; such research is documented by Shoup. SFPark needs to make sure they get the peak formula right though, and take (no fee) credit cards. If the pricing is wrong then this proposal can end badly.

  • And I meant unreliable, but I think that is obvious.

    Matthew, that is good news. It shows that they are learning to adjust and adapt (albeit, not that quickly). It bodes well for any further implementation of parking policy.

  • EL

    Even with the newest CARB requirements that went into effect in 2009, motorcycles and scooters are allowed to pollute twice as much hydrocarbons and nitrous oxides as any passenger car. But don’t take my word for it. Check out the CARB site for yourself. Given this fact, I would hardly argue that motorcycles are any “better” than a regular car.

    The old price for motorcycle parking was ridiculously cheap. At 25 cents per hour, a 10-hour stay costs $2.50, which is less than a round trip on Muni. Probably the “correct” market price is around 50 cents per hour.

  • Jr Deputy Accountant: I am not sure if completely outlawing cars is a realistic option, but for argument’s sake, suppose it happened. Would Muni then be so “cramped, dirty, and dangerous”?

    If there weren’t all those cars in the way, they could greatly speed up the buses and streetcars. This will not only have the obvious benefit of getting passengers to their destinations in less time, it will allow them to provide more frequent service, which can get people where they are going even faster, while reducing crowding, carrying more passengers on the same number of buses, and saving money.

    They may need more money and resources to keep the system going, with all these new passengers, but they would be more prepared to fund it. The fares collected may pay for it.

    Or if they wanted to try something more radical, they could abolish fares, which would reduce boarding delays, eliminate the need to worry about inspectors and turnstiles, and make the system even more efficient. They could pay for the whole system with taxes. This may sound extreme, but the city might be able to afford it, considering that the rate of wear on our streets would greatly decrease, along with the cost to maintain them.

    They could increase our taxes if they really had to. That probably wouldn’t be the most ideal situation, but people would have more money to spend if so much of it didn’t go to their cars and all their associated expenses such as gas, insurance, tickets, and repairs.

    If people couldn’t always drive wherever they wanted, there would be more political incentive to do whatever needs to be done to make Muni fast, safe, reliable, and pleasant.

    SF is already a touristic city, but eliminating cars would increase tourism, which would provide a boost to our economy. People are willing to travel long distances just to spend their time and money in a place where they can relax, enjoy some peace and quiet and clean air, and walk around without constantly worrying about being run over. Look at Venice, Italy or Mackinac Island, Michigan. Hell, look at Disney World. Most Americans live in such awful places, that they are willing to fly to Florida and pay for a chance to wander in a contrived fantasy land resembling a small town of the sort that was common in the days before city planning centered on accommodating cars.

    I could go on for hours about the problems caused by cars. The more I try to imagine eliminating cars from SF, the harder it is for me to see how this would be a bad thing. There would be some problems and inconveniences, but we can find ways around them. The obstacles are more political and cultural than technical.

    I doubt that they would outlaw cars any time soon, with people attached to them the way they are here, but we can dream, can’t we?

  • Sean

    @mikesonn / @el

    So now additional metering is supposed to combat emissions problems? You’ll get no resistance from me with respect to requiring better emissions standards, but aside from fewer idling/circling cars polluting while looking for a spot I don’t see the direct link here. Even if we could magically convert all cars into electric vehicles we’d still have a congestion problem on our hands.

  • I agree Sean, electrifying vehicles as a way to solve environment concerns is a joke. Cars still take up space and are still very energy/resource intensive to build.

    Metering is suppose to provide turn over, plain and simple. Additional revenue is just icing on the cake. But the real meat and potatoes is in the fact that people are able to find parking when needed. Businesses will see a marked increase in patrons if said patrons have a spot to park when they get to a certain area. Also, buses will run quicker if parking is available for circling vehicles reducing congestion and transit costs.

    I was just making an emissions argument because better gas efficiency doesn’t mean better overall emissions.

  • @Sean,
    I wouldn’t underestimate how much traffic is cruising for parking. Though I’m not aware of any studies in SF, in NYC, they looked at various neighborhoods and found that up to 40 % of local traffic was from people looking for a parking space (Park Slope, Brooklyn). I know SF doesn’t have many/any neighborhoods that approximate the crowded streets in NYC, but I’m sure we get a fair amount of traffic circling the block.

  • Sean


    Fair enough — I wasn’t trying to neglect that fact.


    Oh, I would agree completely with that. In fact, I think I was trying to point out that if we made all cars zero-emissions today we’d still have a lot of traffic problems because zero-emissions will not magically open up parking spots. So while both are noble goals, metering is really only going to solve the congestion problem.

  • scurvy

    @EL, since when is the price of a MUNI round trip the new 19th parallel for public policy? Also, has it ever occurred to you that people commuting into the city (or hell even from the Sunset) are the ones using motorcycle spots? Areas where Muni service is non-existent or not possible?

    Also, you’re forgetting that you can get 5 motorcycles into a single car spot. Considering that’s 5 people’s commute needs vs. just above one (on average), we should have more MC parking around SF — not less. At considerably lower rates to foster adoption, too.

    I learned how to ride a motorcycle at the relatively older age of 27 because Muni’s terrible service drove me to the brink of misanthropy. I’m not that kind of person, but that’s what Muni turned me in to. Great job San Francisco.

  • World Traveler

    souper, if you look you will find that property taxes are very low when compared to other parts of the country or even other parts of the bay area. For instance, compare to rates in Chicago (where valuations might be lower) or NY/NJ, and I think you’ll get some perspective.

    As for your comment about rent control, only a fool would pay 700k for a unit with a rent-controlled tenant paying $700/mo, so I just don’t see the comparison. My point was, if you wanna complain about how expensive it is, or if you can’t afford the taxes, don’t buy it. If you’re so financially stretched that paying to park in premium areas is a bank-breaker, then you should probably sell your car (or your home).

    It should be obvious, and anybody who wants to complain about property taxes in the bay area has pretty much disqualified themselves from the conversation.

  • EL

    @ scurvy – Should the price of parking (including motorycles) be higher than riding Muni if we are indeed a “Transit First City”? Regarding 5 motorcycles for every 1 car space, it seems mighty “coincidental” that a motorycle is charged 70 cents per hour, which is exactly 1/5th the car’s rate.

    Btw, what bike and model year do you have? Is it older than 2009, and hence no emission standards at all? For Steetsblog readers, a 50cc can get over 100-120 mpg, 650cc gets 45-60 mpg, and 1000cc gets 30-40 mpg.

  • As for your comment about rent control, only a fool would pay 700k for a unit with a rent-controlled tenant paying $700/mo

    –> Unless you can OMI them, of course…

    The property tax rate here is in fact high, when you buy a place. The rub is that your property taxes won’t go up very fast…

  • Souper

    World Traveler,

    JohnM is correct.

    To assess whether property tax is expensive you need to look not just at the Ad Valoren rate (plus any parcel taxes). You also need to look at valuations.

    So SF might appear to have a “cheap” rate to you, at only 1.2%, compared with the 3% in places like Texas and Maine.

    But then you can buy a house in those States for a fraction of the cost of SF, and so still pay less in property taxes.

    And in fact, it is entirely possible under rent control for a 700K house to rent for $700 a month. All that is required is that those tenants have been there a long time – rent control has been in place for over 30 years. That’s why we have all those OMI’s that john talked about. And Ellis Act evictions.

    I’d welcome an intelligent analysis of the value of a street parking space. But I see no reason why the rent-per-square-foot of the average SF home should be a guide to that. Apples and Oranges.

  • I wouldn’t say it is an apples to oranges comparison at all. Try to get a loan to build a home without parking, it is almost impossible. It is assumed that living in a home is equated to guaranteed parking.

    While it isn’t popular thinking, I have thought for years that certain things should be a part of parking policy in SF-

    -all home garages should be used for parking the cars of that home. I know many people who complain about parking in their neighborhoods but insist on using their parking for storage of camping equipment.

    -all parking in SF should be paid. All neighborhoods should have residential permitting. If you have visitors for the weekend, you could purchase temporary permits for them while they visit. Every commercial area space should be metered and enforced.

    -each household should have one residential permit at a fairly low price (less then $100 per year) but each subsequent permit for that address should be more expensive ($150 for the 2nd, $250 for the 3rd, $350 for the 4th…). There are many people in SF who warehouse cars on the streets, I have a neighbor with 6 cars that are all parked on the block (no residential parking in my area). Those owners should have to pay for all the free space they use at the expense of others.

    Before anyone jumps on me about how I don’t understand the trials of the car owner, my husband and I own 2 cars that are parked on the street. We have to deal with limited parking all the time and we recognize that if parking were charged at the rate it is actually worth that parking for us would be easier. More expensive, but easier.

  • It’s harder to get a loan for building without parking, but not impossible. See this article:

  • Souper


    A couple of things.

    At least for new development, SF Planning Code generally requires the creation of one off-street parking space for every new condo unit created. So the issue you raise is largely a planning issue.

    Plus of course there is the matter that a developer may not be willing to risk his capital if the units he can build do not have parking. Most people who can afford a new SF condo have at least one car.

    Second, I have no idea how you can enforce a law that if you have a garage, you are compelled to use it to park your car. We’d need a new formm of police who can enter a provate property if they have “probable cause” that you have a garage and didn’t park your car in there today.

    Is that a place you’d really like to live?

  • I live there already. I use my shared garage space to park my bicycles, kayaks, tools, motorcycle (which will replace my car before the end of the year)… Because I live in an apartment building, we are inspected by the fire department every year or so. We were told by the FD that we had to create a different storage solution in our space to allow for greater access to the gas shut of, and we were reinspected. If they can tell me how to organize my space they can tell me I can’t use it for storage without parking in it.

    Because I use my garage to park my non-car related transportation things, I would be penalized in my own system. I am willing to accept that penalty as I recognize that my choice to park on the street impacts others. I am also willing to assume the increased financial burden that having multiple vehicles would entail as this choice impacts others.

    Perhaps because I grew up in SF without a car I do not see a car as a necessity in living here. It is certainly nice to have a car at my disposal to do things like drive to Marin or visit friends in Half Moon Bay, but the truth is I do not do that very often and my car usually sits for weeks at a time, only being moved for street cleaning. I see no reason why I should be allowed to leave my car on the street for days at a time for free, or even why I should expect to.