SFTRU, Livable City Want CEQA Review of Sunday Parking Meter Repeal

Updated 4:16 p.m. with comment from Supervisor John Avalos.

Livable City and the SF Transit Riders Union have filed an appeal claiming that the SFMTA’s vote to repeal Sunday parking meters requires California Environmental Quality Act environmental review.

Photo: Aaron Bialick

Given that the policy change is expected to double the average time drivers take to find a commercial parking spot on Sundays, among other impacts, SFTRU’s Mario Tanev says the policy shouldn’t be changed without an environmental impact report. SFTRU also submitted a petition with more than 200 signatures in support of Sunday meters.

“Sunday meters were instituted after a wide outreach, yet are being discontinued based on the whim of one person in City Hall,” Tanev said in a statement referring to Mayor Ed Lee.

The appeal, first reported by the Bay Guardian, claims:

The enforcement of parking meters on Sunday in San Francisco has been doing exactly what it was designed to: reduce traffic congestion, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, increase parking availability (including in commercial areas), and increase revenues for the City and County of San Francisco (City). Yet SFMTA is proposing without any meaningful analysis to stop enforcing this policy even though it provides benefits to the City and local neighborhood communities. By taking away these benefits, the Decision also increases automobile traffic in direct contradiction to the City’s Transit-First Policy, and, notably, on Sundays, a day when pedestrians and families spend significant time outdoors walking and traversing the streets to enjoy City events.

SFMTA specifically failed to analyze and consider the traffic and environmental impacts of its Decision as required under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). CEQA is designed to inform decision-makers and the public about potential, significant environmental effects of the Decision. Here, the public and decision-makers were not fully informed as to the impacts of the Decision – in fact they were given almost no information at all – and the purpose of CEQA was thwarted.

The appeal argues that although CEQA doesn’t require environmental review for fee hikes, such as expanding parking meters to Sundays, the act of removing fees (or Sunday meters) doesn’t fit within an exemption meant to allow for speedy municipal budget balancing.

Meanwhile, the environmental impacts of free Sunday parking were measured by the SFMTA through 2013, the first year that meters were enforced between 12 p.m. and 6 p.m. Based on that study [PDF], undoing Sunday meters would:

  • Double the average time drivers take to find a commercial parking spot on Sundays, from less than two minutes to four.
  • Reduce parking turnover by at least 20 percent, meaning that fewer customers can park in each space.
  • Cut the availability of commercial parking during Sunday business hours in half, from 31 to 15 percent.
  • Reduce occupancy of underutilized parking garages on Sundays by 13 percent.

The appeal is expected to head to the Board of Supervisors, who can uphold or reject it. Tanev said “it looks like a tough sell.”

The only supervisor who has come out in support of Sunday parking meters is John Avalos, who testified at the SFMTA Board of Directors meeting where the Sunday meter repeal was approved as part of the SFMTA’s two-year budget. That budget still needs to be approved by the supervisors, and free Sunday parking would return in July.

Here’s what Avalos argued at the SFMTA Board meeting:

We talk about being a transit-first city… but we don’t always live up to that. 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.

Update: Avalos told Streetsblog he hasn’t seen the appeal, but that he “appreciates the opportunity to take another look” at Sunday metering.

“Taking away a program that’s already in effect doesn’t make any sense,” he said. “There’s talk about getting money for Muni where we can. It feels like we’re going backwards.”

  • coolbabybookworm

    It’s going to be interesting to force the supervisors to take on this issue. I’m curious what Wiener and the others have to say about it…

    While CEQA is a terrible law, it’s kind of nice to see it used to in defense of better transportation policy rather than against it.

  • RichardC

    This is troubling. Repealing Sunday meters is bad policy, but setting precedent that a change to SFMTA’s metering policies requires CEQA review is a terrible idea. If we adopt that logic, wouldn’t you then need to do CEQA review to add Sunday metering back? After all, perhaps having open parking spaces in business districts would actually encourage more people to drive. Or what about changes to transit fares? You could reasonably argue that reducing transit fares for, say, seniors and youth would have a transit crowding impact.. better do an EIR!

    The city already spends an absurd amount of time and money navigating CEQA red tape, and adding more and more decisions to the list of things that require it further saps government of the ability to get anything done.

  • coolbabybookworm

    According to the SFBG article if SFMTA calls something a pilot it can get around CEQA. That’s what they did for the Folsom bike lane and the private shuttle program, as well as Sunday meters the first time around.

    If I remember correctly, some of the CEQA changes passed last year help exempt more bike and transit projects as well if they are in “transit corridors” and that includes most of SF.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    No, this is a fantastic idea because it will kill off CEQA finally. CEQA has always been used as a bludgeon against transit projects and bike and pedestrian improvements only, while freeways, roads, streets, and parking have rarely been subjected to it. Turning the tables will increase the pressure to reform it.

  • 94110

    It says “the act of removing fees (or Sunday meters) doesn’t fit within an exemption meant to allow for speedy municipal budget balancing.”

    Based on that, it sounds like rates increases don’t need CEQA studies, but it’s arguing that decreases do have to be studied.

    For all the arguments for CEQA reform, there are still arguments against (like this one).

    Now whatever happened to the long promised LoS replacement San Francisco has been working on?

  • Mario Tanev

    Since the CEQA exemption allows SFMTA to “raise or restructure” fees/fares to meet expenses, I am expecting the SFMTA to argue that it is restructuring fees/fares by making Sunday parking free, and instead raising the basic Muni fare to $2.25. That would be quite an interesting argument if they try to use it.

  • Jame

    I am still puzzled about the repeal of Sunday Meters. It is one of the few city programs that appeared to be working pretty well. They could have easily adopted a policy like Oakland that says we’ll give you a 5 minute grace period on your parking meter, if they were really really really worried about enforcement and tickets.

    But a policy that gave businesses more customers and reduced time to find a space seems like a no-brainer to me. No matter what the funding goes to.

  • Richard Mlynarik

    freeways, roads, streets, and parking have rarely been subjected to it

    Fascinating.

    How’s the weather on your planet?

    If there’s one thing that strip mall developers, wetlands fillers, stadium owners, BART extenders, highway builders, Central Subway builders, river poisoners, and farmland subdividers all just LOOOOOOOOOOVE it’s nitwit “environmentalists” who do their work on their behalf … without pay!

    Smithers! Double that genius’ salary! He shows promise!

  • Mark Dreger

    You’re entitled to your comments – and your opinions are often quite sound – but don’t be an ass.

  • Bing Wu

    If CEQA was used on bike lanes and parking-free condos well I say let’s bring it on with Sunday parking meters. Here’s a legitimate use of CEQA if there ever was one. Let’s bring to light the effects of traffic caused by circling for parking. It’s bad for the environment? Let’s scrap the repeal!

  • Jamison Wieser

    The precedent this would set is that cars are not exempt from CEQA and we should know what the environmental impacts of cars are the same way as transit and bikes.

    There wouldn’t need to be an environmental study to add meters back since that is the current situation, but there is before and after data from when Sunday metering went into effect which showed decreased congestion.

  • Bob M

    I
    don’t like the parking meter decision either, but the end result of lawsuits like this
    is to make it impossible for government to do anything productive ever.
    It’s a win the battle/lose the war strategy. Or, maybe “destroy the transit agency in order to save it.” would be a better example.

  • Charles Tenant

    This lawsuit is frivolous. Complaining that it will go from 2-4 minutes? That’s a silly argument. Let’s be honest, this is about a group of people with money and time who just don’t want more visitors to their neighborhood.

  • Sprague

    Abandoning economically and environmentally sound established policy in favor of reverting to an environmentally destructive practice (which promotes automobile use without any attempt to recoup environmental, economic, and neighborhood damage that result from such use) appears to be in violation of CEQA. This is about much more than the amount of time motorists spend driving around looking for parking. Furthermore, as those familiar with the subject know, Sunday meters increase visitation to commercial streets.

  • Donovan Lacy

    I am amazed every Sunday morning on my ride through the city the number of double parked Church goers that I have to go around on my way home. 200 signatures in support of Sunday Meters seems a little light if we are trying get the policy reversed. I would like to add my name and I am sure that there are quite a few more folks who would as well. Is there an online link to the petition?

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