Did Safer Polk St. Opponents Pack a Meeting With Friends From Out of Town?

Opponents who packed a neighborhood meeting last month and booed down those who supported removing car parking to improve safety on Polk Street may have boosted their numbers by inviting misinformed friends and family from out of town to attend the meeting.

A few hundred attendees packed the Middle Polk Neighborhood Association meeting in March, but how many were actually locals? Photo: Aaron Bialick

That’s what we’ve been told by supporters of the SFMTA’s safety efforts on Polk who heard opponents say it themselves at a recent meeting of the Community Leadership Alliance, though we haven’t had a chance to get the opponents on the record. However, Examiner.com (not to be confused with the SF Examiner) reported the same accounts yesterday:

It has since emerged that merchants along Polk Street are said to have admitted that they stacked that meeting with friends and family from out of town, according to sources close to the CLA.

Also, according to [CLA Executive Director David] Villa-Lobos, many merchants have been receiving guidance on the Polk Street issue from sources that may not have acquired the correct information, rather than from the SFMTA itself. He said, “A lot of businesses don’t have the time to attend all the SFMTA’s workshops. There’s a lot of misinformation going around that it will be bad for business, (and) that all the parking will be removed on both sides of the street.”

Facts were indeed drowned out by vocal attendees at the Middle Polk Neighborhood Association meeting on March 18, which was packed with people opposed to removing even a sliver of car parking to make room for safety measures like protected bike lanes and sidewalk expansions. The backlash seems to be driven by a few fearmongering merchants under the banner “Save Polk Street,” who have posted flyers claiming that the SFMTA wants to remove all parking on the street.

In reality, none of the SFMTA proposals would remove more than half of Polk’s on-street parking, or 3 percent of the 5,100 parking spaces within a block’s range of the corridor.

At a recent meeting of the SFMTA Board of Directors, vice chair Cheryl Brinkman, who attended the Polk meeting, said she “took offense at the behavior of a lot of the participants there,” noting that supporters may have felt too “intimidated to speak up because that was probably one of the worst public meetings that I have ever been to, and I feel like I’ve been to some bad ones,” according to the SF Examiner.

SFMTA Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin has said the agency is drawing up additional proposals for Polk Street that would preserve more street parking. However, he acknowledged at the board meeting that “there may be some trade-offs in terms of some of the safety or other benefits.”

Brinkman called for “the best proposal to move forward, not the one that most minimizes parking loss,” according to the SF Examiner. “If a proposal is transformative and helps us meet our goals for transportation in the city, we can’t be frightened of it,” she said.

Polk Street. Photo: Paul Skilbeck, Examiner.com

Given that 85 percent of people on Polk Street arrive without a car, it’s pretty far-fetched to think that removing up to 3 percent of parking within a block to make the street safer and more inviting will kill businesses. On the contrary, livability improvements will most likely increase foot traffic, as has been seen on numerous other business corridors like Valencia Street.

Meanwhile, it should reduce crashes on Polk, where two pedestrians or bicyclists are hit every month, according to the SFMTA.

The SFMTA’s proposed Polk improvements were officially backed by the board of the CLA this week, and Villa-Lobos, the organization’s director, sent a letter to the SFMTA stating that the organization believes the project “will prove to be a great boon to the community’s safety and local economy, and [contribute] greatly to the revitalization efforts of the Polk corridor’s community leadership.”

“There is a lot of evidence from other parts of San Francisco and other cities that this plan benefits business, but it’s a long process,” Villa-Lobos told Examiner.com, adding that the fervent opposition from merchants made the CLA board’s endorsement “a real tough call.”

CLA’s letter notes that the organization’s support comes with conditions that the adjacent blocks crossing Polk be added into a residential parking permit zone, and that Muni increase service on the 19-Polk to a 15-minute frequency from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.

The SFMTA has scheduled two open house meetings to present the additional Polk Street proposals at the First Congregational Church Fellowship Hall at 1300 Polk St (at Bush):

  • Saturday April 27th from 10 a.m.  to 1 p.m.
  • Tuesday April 30th from 5 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.