Supervisor Farrell Ramps Up Misguided Campaign Against Parking Meters

Supervisor Mark Farrell is apparently so repulsed by the idea that people should pay for the parking spots they use, he’s lashing out in increasingly irrational ways.

Supervisor Mark Farrell. Photo: SFGovTV

In his most recent stunt, Farrell delayed approval of a $54 million contract that would replace 25,000 worn-out, coin-fed parking meters with modern ones that accept credit cards, and purchase 10,000 additional meters. Before any parking meter could be placed in an un-metered space, it would still have to be approved in a separate public process. Although the contract passed the Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee in October, which Farrell chairs, he voted against it, and consideration by the full board has been delayed for reasons that remain unclear.

There are also murmurs at City Hall that Farrell wants to push legislation that would remove sole approval for new parking meters from the SFMTA Board of Directors and require the Board of Supervisors to sign off as well.

“On this matter, I am very, very sensitive,” Farrell told Sonali Bose, the SFMTA’s chief financial officer, at the committee meeting in October, staking out a stance against a “blanket authorization” for funds that could potentially be used for new meters. The only new meters that have been proposed in the city since Farrell took office have been in the northeast Mission, Potrero Hill, Mission Bay, and streets surrounding the University of SF — none of which are in Farrell’s District 2.

Nonetheless, Farrell said the outreach and planning process for those meters, which has dragged on extensively and resulted in several changes, is “lacking,” and that supervisors “are the ones who hear about it all the time” from their driving constituents.

As we reported in February, Farrell’s sudden opposition to new parking meters seemed to arise from his suspicion that the SFMTA planned to add meters in District 2. As if it would be a bad thing to put a price on the limited supply of street space, like just about all other goods.

Free parking is bad policy — it encourages car owners to occupy valuable parking spaces all day, leaving other drivers to circle the block for a spot — creating heavier traffic on streets, greater wear on the roads, more illegal parking, and worse delays for Muni, all while hampering customer access for businesses. Metered parking, when priced to achieve occupancy targets (the goal of SFPark), makes the best use of a limited supply by keeping a spot open on each block.

Even though Farrell later admitted that his suspicion was unfounded, his bizarre attempt to put an moratorium on all new meters in the city by opposing the meter contract is even more illogical.

“It is a completely separate item… we currently have no authority to add any additional meters on the streets,” said Bose at the October hearing, explaining, to no avail, why Farrell’s strategy makes no sense. Bose pointed out that parking citations have been decreasing as the city adds meters that accept multiple forms of payment, as well as the areas where the SFPark pilot has been implemented.

Bose said she couldn’t provide Farrell the promise he wanted that the contract funds wouldn’t be used to add meters, since they could be requested by merchants who want turnover or be approved through a publicly-vetted planning process.

The only supervisor joining Farrell’s fight against modern parking policy is D10 Supervisor Malia Cohen, who waved the flag for free parking warriors at a hearing in May. Cohen and D9 Supervisor David Campos have also recently criticized residential development projects near their districts that they don’t think have enough private parking.

Campos has stayed on the sidelines in the fight over parking meters in the northeast Mission, which is in his district, insisting that he just wants to see the SFMTA collect thorough input from the public. Campos told Streetsblog that at this point, he’s been satisfied by the SFMTA’s efforts to that end.

“I think we’ve had a very robust community process. I’m appreciative that the SFMTA has been very responsive,” he said.

When asked for his thoughts on Farrell’s efforts to stop all new parking meters, Campos said, “What we have seen is that some of the proposals have been very top-down and haven’t involved the community, and that’s what I want to see. I want to see a situation where there is management of parking and where we have safe streets for everyone, including pedestrians and bicyclists, and I think having a transparent and inclusive process is important.”

But in recent planning and policy decisions, even “progressive” supervisors seem to be trying to placate people obsessed with maintaining free and abundant parking, as Jason Henderson, author of Street Fight: The Politics of Mobility in San Francisco, noted in his column in the SF Bay Guardian yesterday.

“It has been disappointing to watch progressives, especially on the Board of Supervisors, retreat from” the stance that “parking reform has been a key part of progressive transportation policy,” he wrote.

  • mikesonn

    Outreach is lacking?? Oh, come on!

  • Mario Tanev

    Progressives in this town are a joke. You can very well see they are joke because they’ve found a cause to unite with the conservative Farrell on. Farrell simply protects the handouts to his wealthy constituents, whereas they do it because they are cowards.

  • murphstahoe

    Living in San Francisco for 15 years and working Silicon Valley, I’ve been exposed to a lot of very smart people – walking around my neighborhood, on my train commute, at work. When I watch the Board of Supervisors meetings I’m baffled.

  • davistrain

    Requiring the Board of Supervisors to approve parking meter installations? Sounds like “micromanagement” to me.

  • bobster1985

    They’re just kowtowing to the parking fanatics who are screaming at them. We have to scream just as loudly.

  • sebra leaves

    I don’t know where the author gets his information, but it is not very accurate. Henderson’s article in the Guardian is full of factual errors. Supervisor Farrell first objected to the contract in the Budget and Finance Committee, but he has since been joined by most of the other supervisors.
    SFMTA postponed the vote because they don’t have the votes to pass it at the Board of Supervisors. Avalos, who originally supported it, changed his mind.
    Many questions remain unanswered. The Examiner reports that the lifespan
    of the meters is 7-10 years and the new parking meters are more expensive to maintain. Where is the revenue from the meters going? What percentage goes to Muni operations?

  • njudah

    of COURSE jerk-wad politicians like Farrell do things like this – he has to raise money for a re-election campaign (even if he has no opposition) so he can get his name out for some other office he’ll inflict on us. I’m sure he’s already got some political consultant making glossy brochures about his oh so brave fight against the Evil SFMTA and crapola like that.

    I can’t believe he and every other supervisor running for re-election in 2014 are going to get re-elected despite their bullshit.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    Supes already have unilateral authority to remove parking meters by establishing new RPP areas (the process for which they rarely follow) so the fact that SFMTA has authority to install meters hardly matters.

  • Faded_seaside

    Even the most robust outreach efforts are simply not enough for people who want nothing less than the status quo.

  • I can’t speak for District 2, but here in District 10, the meter opponents are very vocal and organized. It shouldn’t really be surprising that someone who has to raise money and run for reelection might end up supporting those ideas. Sure, it’d be great if elected officials could always display, you know, “leadership,” but it’s also incumbent on those of us who support smart parking policies to continue to advocate for them.

    Also, I’ve mentioned this before in this forum, but I’ll say it again- while SFPark does a lot of things right, it ignores Donald Shoup’s recommendation that cities return at least some portion of the meter revenue to the affected districts, to “pay to clean and repair the sidewalks, light the streets, remove graffiti, plant trees, provide security and put utility wires underground”. The inherent benefits of smart parking (ability to actually find a spot, reduction in circling, etc.) are real, but they’re more abstract. Getting visible, on-the-ground improvements could help win supporters.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    Building owners are already responsible for repairing their sidewalks and removing graffiti.

  • SF Sunset Guy

    The city’s budget is only $8 BILLION annually – if SF’s priorities were to actually clean and repair the sidewalks, light the streets, remove graffiti, plant trees and all the rest, one would think that the budget would provide for such. The city’s population is only 830k and we’re only 49 square miles.

    There is no leadership, oversight or accountability, and therefore no results. Muni is at best on a good day, passable, but for a city that has been supposedly “transit-first” for FORTY YEARS, the results are lacking. It’s no wonder so many drive and so often.

  • murphstahoe

    All you have to do is go to the rail museum near the Ferry Building and note that the City chose driving, not transit, at some point. It won’t change unless the people demand it change. When someone says “MUNI SUCKS – no wonder I drive” – it isn’t MUNI that’s the problem, they need to look in the mirror. Or really, they are lying and they don’t care if MUNI sucks or not.

  • SF Sunset Guy

    Really? “the City” chose driving? It’s politicians stand at all four corners to announce how pro-transit SF is.

    Muni gets slower, more expensive, less reliable and it’s my fault because I drive?

    Only in this town would that make any sense to anybody.

    And excellent job of addressing my points.

    from another one of your posts: “When I watch the Board of Supervisors meetings I’m baffled.”….

    so which is it? They’re essentially running the town, the MTA etc., and expect more revenue and deliver less.

    Can you still not understand why people – especially the dwindling few with kids – drive? What are people expected to do – take twice the time to haul groceries home as it would take by driving?

  • voltairesmistress

    Murph, back in the 1980s and again when I moved back to San Francisco a few years ago, I have used Muni only sparingly because of its slowness. I bike, walk, take taxis, and drive, using Muni for some brief 2-4 mile rides without need of transfers (and their waits). My bus rides are usually crowded and uncomfortable, lurching and inefficient affairs that discourage me from using Muni as my go-to option. I don’t like driving within the city (except to the beach) and resent that transit is so poor an option compared to how it works in other cities. I can say that Muni requires a great deal of patience from its riders, that it sucks, and that I am doing all I can to support its proper funding and reforms. My point is that both things can be true — one can say Muni sucks/I drive and still be very supportive of reform.

  • murphstahoe

    If the people running the city decided to rip out the streetcars, and the people living in it protested, then the streetcars would still be here.

    Reference: Freeway Revolt.

    If you aren’t part of the solution, you are part of the problem.

    “What are people expected to do – take twice the time to haul groceries home as it would take by driving?”

    It sounds like you think that would be too onerous a burden, and your viewpoint is shared by many. What is your threshold? 50% slower? 25% slower? Would MUNI have to be *faster* than driving in order for you to switch modes? By how much?

    I have yet to find a single person who says anything like that who actually cares whether MUNI improves or not, but I like to believe that there is such a person. Can you give one specific example of *anything* you have done to push for better MUNI service? I might even accept “took the bus even though I could have driven in half the time, so that congestion would be reduced and I would give $2 to MUNI instead of Exxon”

  • murphstahoe

    This deserves a separate response.

    “from another one of your posts: “When I watch the Board of Supervisors meetings I’m baffled.”….

    so which is it? They’re essentially running the town, the MTA etc., and expect more revenue and deliver less.”

    They have been given proxy to run the town by the voters, and they (I claim with the exception of Scott Wiener) react to what they perceive will be the actions that will keep them employed short term. If David Campos thinks that parking meters will improve the Mission over 10 years but cost him an election, he’ll keep the meters out. In the end this discourages anyone with intellectual honesty and courage from even running, and if they do it hinders their chances of winning.

  • mikesonn

    “Muni gets slower, more expensive, less reliable and it’s my fault because I drive?

    Only in this town would that make any sense to anybody”

    Why is Muni slow? Because there are so many damn cars on the road and so many drivers think (what few we have) bus only lanes are a mere suggestion and that behavior is reinforced time and again by zero enforcement from SFPD.

  • voltairesmistress

    mike, how can you say that it’s mostly cars delaying muni buses? I get that we need dedicated transit lanes and robust ways to keep cars out of those lanes. But Muni is mainly slow because it stops every block or two. Loading and unloading take forever. It took a lot of community pushing for the SFMTA to institute even minor speed-increasing reforms like rear door boarding. I recently completed a SFMTA survey that did not even ask the right question — speed of trip. It asked about cleanliness, crime, crowding, etc. Not unimportant things, but not nearly as important as frequent, swift service to where you are going. European cities can have robust, swift above-ground bus and tram systems, but I have never seen a single one that caved to political demands to space stops so close that nobody has to walk very far.

  • voltairesmistress

    I am that person. I think it’s reasonable to expect underground transit and segregated rail systems and BRT to be faster than driving. I think regular buses in dedicated lanes with fewer stops than now exist should be faster than congested commute traffic, and maybe 1 minute slower per mile driven than cars driven across town during non-commute hours.

  • bobster1985

    He’s “very, very sensitive.” Well, bully for him!

  • SF Sunset Guy

    I do care whether MUNI improves, and I’m not simply being selfish. I’ve written to MUNI on multiple occasions, via email to yes, complain, and
    also to suggest. It’s not just about speed, but about logistics. Having 5 or 6 double car N-Judahs parked together (my guess is that it’s break
    time) at the beach turnaround *all at the same time* results in longs waits. Long waits means the trains bunch up, as they all seem to depart
    from the turn around consecutively. Waiting for 20+ minutes on a weekday for a packed N, followed by 4 or 5 more empty ones that show up 3-7
    minutes behind (over and over) isn’t smart, and isn’t good service. Conversely, why send multiple double “k” cars outbound at evening commute instead of alternating the letters and line service? There’s
    quite a bit that could be done to manage the service better-fewer stops on many bus lines (which others would know better) has be mentioned
    before.

    People value their time. If I have a car sitting in the driveway or parked on a street, in my neighborhood where the city collects $109 per year for an RPP, and I need to make a Costco run with the kids, I’m not going to put them on the N-Judah and haul them from the Sunset to do it. For many, it *is* too onerous a burden. Taking 3 hours to do an errand that would take 1h 20 mins by car – it’s not a really difficult decision.

    I ride MUNI at a minimum of twice each work day, and from time to time on the weekend, even around the city. Again, it’s not about “giving $2 to MUNI vs. Exxon” -especially on the weekends – but about whether MUNI is going where I want to, how long it might take and other factors.

    and for the record: “one is either part of the problem or part of the solution” is a bit smug. Little in life is that black & white.

  • @mikesonn – The outreach is mandated by Order # 5176, which ENUF is all riled up against. Sup. Farrell should beware of their wrath.

  • @sebraleaves:disqus – By all means, do correct the “factual errors” in Prof. Henderson’s article.

  • murphstahoe

    Two problems – and you (should) know I think you’ve got a lot of perspective and ability to think about problems instead of reacting knee-jerk

    1) Regular buses in dedicated lanes will not only make buses faster but in a complicated environment it is reasonable to assume that strict enforcement means that driving is slower. Anyone who doesn’t believe that BRT will do the job, or doesn’t care (they “must” drive) will not support the capital outlay required (since we can’t do things 1910 style and just go out one day and say “This is a bus only lane folks!”)

    2) The more people who switch to transit, the less congested the roads become. This in turn makes driving much more attractive and driving is still faster. Caltrain bullet trains are damn fast and much faster than driving at rush hour – but a Caltrain bullet at 9 AM is not faster than US-101 at midnight.

  • mikesonn

    Don’t get me wrong, that also needs to be addressed, but I ride the 30/45 nearly every day. 3rd/Kearny/Stockton are ALL parking lots. 3rd has a bus only lane but that is routinely ignored by selfish drivers and blocking of the box is common in SoMa.

  • murphstahoe

    I need to make a Costco run with the kids, I’m not going to put them on
    the N-Judah and haul them from the Sunset to do it. For many, it *is*
    too onerous a burden. Taking 3 hours to do an errand that would take 1h
    20 mins by car.

    Ah yes. Costco. The last refuge of the car needer. It’s *always* Costco. What did we do before Costco?

    When you drill down to it, this might be the solution. You appear to think that your time is very valuable. If so, why are you spending 80 minutes of your valuable time to go to Costco. What products are available there that are not available within a 5 minute walk of your house, at a shop which will net you a 20+ minute savings JUST from the line for the register?

  • murphstahoe

    I understand this. I believe it’s a catch-22 and the only way out is to push through it and blow the system up.

    The ONLY way MUNI (and mass transit in general) can truly improve is by our population to stop abusing the commons by using cars for trivial tasks. My wife and I share a car that we use when appropriate – and we have an academic notion of the word appropriate. I used MUNI a lot but preferred to ride my bike because (gasp) it was faster. Driving might be faster in cases but I tried not to do so solely for my convenience because I know it has a negative impact on everyone else’s convenience. Raised Catholic, the sense of guilt is strong.

    All it takes is ONE double parked car or traffic jam to make a MUNI trip unpleasant, result in a missed connection, etc… and that results in “the gentry” abandoning MUNI which means that the buses are more populated by the “non-gentry” which makes it more unpleasant and the downward spiral continues. And even if most of the time your car trip does not cause a jam or you don’t “need” to double park, on the margin you are adding one more straw to the camel’s back that results in bad transit.

    So – either the gentry suck it up and ride MUNI anyway despite it’s current unpleasantness in order to try to push it to be less unpleasant by opening up the roads and building a critical mass to demand more changes – or it will still suck.

    In the meantime, the option that attracts people from their cars (which improves MUNI) is cycling. The only other alternative is to lower the common denominator and make driving miserable. It would be far better to come up with SOME way to make it morally correct to use transit or biking instead of driving such that we end up with better transit WITHOUT making driving miserable for those instances where the cost/benefit ratio (personal AND societal) is positive for driving.

  • aslevin

    This is the day-to-day version of “drive til you qualify.” false economy where you think you’re saving money by spending hours of time and gallons of gas driving.

  • Lego

    If you were in SOMA today at 5:30pm-7:30 you could not deny how catastrophically autos in the bus lane, and autos in general (blocking the box on approx every other cross street) were destroying MUNI transit on the vital arterial Mission Street 14, 14L and others. Traffic was bumper to bumper from Main St. to 5th Street. ONE MILE of downtown. There was ZERO regard for bus lane. Just a solid two lane parking lot. I took the bus one block, it took eight minutes. That means the buses that were there took 40-55 minutes just to go this mile out of downtown. People were waiting in the bus stops for a long time in the rain. Remember the people on the bus were trying to get from A-B during high demand time too – and trying to do it legally and responsibly. I feel bad for everybody (who was not driving a car in the bus lane) involved – especially the Muni operator(s). In this case NONE of the (relatively subtle) issues you list would have any effect on this wanton (and customary) disregard for other peoples time/sanity. People waiting in the rain at 14 Mission bus stops for 7 (8?) miles away were severely affected. And It’s plausible they blamed MUNI. Quite wrong! And i see this so often, when there are the Muni bunch ups, it was caused by some weird automotive issue up the line. I can’t wait to go back soon and film this for your examination/scrutiny. You will get an eyeful!