SFMTA Board Repeals Sunday Parking Meters

Get ready for the return of Sunday traffic dysfunction and double parking. Photo: Aaron Bialick

The SFMTA Board of Directors today caved to pressure from Mayor Ed Lee by removing Sunday parking meters, a move folded into its approval of the agency’s two-year budget.

The Sunday meter reversal was supported by all but one of the SFMTA’s board members, who are appointed by the mayor. Board member Cristina Rubke said she thought reversing Sunday metering is “a mistake.”

But the change went unopposed even by other progressive board members, like Cheryl Brinkman and Joél Ramos, who had supported Sunday parking metering when the policy was approved in 2012. Brinkman and Ramos said they agreed with Mayor Lee’s stated strategy of bringing back free Sunday parking to win support for transportation funding measures headed to the ballot in November, and that SFMTA needed to do more education about the rationale behind parking metering.

“I know Mayor Lee has some of the best political minds in the city working with him in his office, and that they are very focused on helping to solve the city’s transportation funding issues,” said Brinkman, who is up for re-appointment at the Board of Supervisors Rules Committee on Thursday. “It sounds like the mayor’s office is certain that this is going to help us in November.”

Brinkman said she’s “calling upon the mayor’s office to work with the MTA Board around education and community involvement in San Francisco’s parking problems. I feel we need to step back and find a way to work with our communities to really explain the reasons behind, and the need for, progressive parking management.”

“We have failed, frankly, to convince the great majority of people” of the benefits of Sunday meters, said Ramos. “You can listen to Matier and Ross, or read the papers, and see that the general sentiment of it is a negative one.”

Mainstream news reporters who have covered the Sunday metering issue, like columnists Phil Matier and Andrew Ross at the SF Chronicle and CBS affiliate KPIX, typically don’t mention that the SFMTA found that meters cut cruising times for parking in half and increased turnover for businesses by at least 20 percent. Instead, parking meters have typically been framed as a way to collect revenue, even in the Chronicle report on today’s vote.

Mayor Lee issued this statement about “reinstating free Sunday parking in San Francisco”:

Repealing Sunday parking meters is about making San Francisco a little more affordable for our families and residents on Sunday, plain and simple. Paid Sunday meters were implemented in 2013 as a response to record budget deficits at Muni, and I thank the SFMTA Board of Directors for moving a budget forward today that eliminates this practice. Instead of nickel and diming our residents at the meter on Sunday, let’s work together to support comprehensive transportation funding measures this year and in the future that will invest in our City’s transportation system for pedestrians, bicyclists, transit riders and drivers alike.

As we reported, there’s no evidence to support Mayor Lee’s claims that anyone besides church leaders have pushed to give away Sunday parking. Indeed, the only speakers who showed up to encourage the SFMTA Board to repeal Sunday meters were the same church leaders who campaigned against the policy in the first place, including SF Interfaith Council Executive Director Michael Pappas.

Two church ministers who did speak seemed more worried about double parking tickets than parking meters, although enforcement was not on the agenda. Reverend Arnold Townsend complained that after a non-Sunday service at Third Baptist Church, located at Pierce and McAllister Streets, “Two parking control officers were outside rudely telling [churchgoers] that if they did not move their cars immediately, they would be towed or ticketed.” Typically, drivers at Third Baptist double park on McAllister, a Muni and bicycle route. Townsend said the parking enforcement director had “assured” the SFMTA Board earlier that day “that they would not be pursuing double-parked cars outside churches.”

“We are here because of our concerns about fair and equitable treatment,” said Reverend Keva McNeill from El Bethel Baptist Church on Golden Gate Avenue at Fillmore Street, which has no parking meters on its street front, but where congregation members typically double park on Sundays. “The churches have been engaged in the practice of double parking for over a half century. The previous agreement did not present any opposition until recently, it seems.”

Notably, Supervisor John Avalos showed up to the SFMTA board meeting to support Sunday parking meters — the first elected official known to have publicly done so in recent years. “We talk about being a transit-first city… but we don’t always live up to that,” he said. “We’ve seen that Sunday meters actually has been a success. I think it works for our commercial corridors. You’ll see cars not spending all day sitting in front of a shop, but actually rotating in and out.”

Supervisors Eric Mar, David Campos, and an aide for Supervisor Jane Kim also pulled away from a Board of Supervisors meeting to speak to the SFMTA Board, but they didn’t mention Sunday parking meters. Each spoke in support of expanding the free Muni pass program to low-income 18-year-olds, seniors, and people with disabilities.

Of the dozens of speakers at the board meeting, the vast majority testified in support of those programs, and the budget was approved with an extension of the free Muni for youth program to 18-year-olds. Sunday meter advocates noted that the estimated $9.6 million to be lost from the meter repeal could’ve gone towards funding such programs.

Noting that the continuation of the free Muni for low-income youth program was funded by a $6.8 million donation from GoogleMario Tanev of the SF Transit Riders Union pointed out that “you’re essentially going to have Google sponsor free parking, instead of free Muni for kids.”

Tanev said the parking meter reversal “violates all semblance of competence in government and public process. Your own report shows that meters are beneficial to businesses and shoppers, reduce congestion and increase pedestrian safety.”

“Sunday meters were passed in collaboration with many stakeholders, including the Chamber of Commerce. It is a betrayal that they are revoked without the same process applied when they passed.”

“You’re nobody’s puppets,” Tanev told the SFMTA Board. “You work for free. Be willing to be fired, do the right thing, and let the politicians take the blame if they interfere in your work.”

Sunday parking metering is scheduled to end in July.