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When Obama’s in Town, Don’t Illegally Park Your Media Van

2:00 PM PDT on May 25, 2010

CBS_van_on_sidewalk.jpgA CBS5 van parks on the sidewalk to cover a "high-speed chase" on Polk Street last year. Photo: Bryan Goebel.

One of the jobs I had when I lived in New York City was leading a campaign for Transportation Alternatives (T.A.) against the abuse of parking permits by city, state and federal employees, a rampant problem that led to complete curbside saturation, making deliveries more difficult and compounding New York's infamous traffic. Sidewalk parking and parking in school playgrounds was not uncommon.

We started a user-generated website called Uncivil Servants, which enabled users to take photos of any permit holder parking illegally and geocode the location of the photos; the website then mapped the offenders and classified them by the agency that employed them.

After a number of good stories in the media, including an article in the New York Times and several front-page splashes in the Daily News and the New York Post, Mayor Bloomberg finally got serious about reducing the total number of permits on the street, which he cut by more than half. He also directed the NYPD to enforce the abuse of permits, which upset everyone from teachers to court officers who had previously considered free parking a perk of the job.

So why am I writing this now? We just got an email from the San Francisco Police Department public information office that was sent to the SFPD's media list with the subject header "EMERGENCY ADVISORY." I'd never seen a subject line that distressing, so I was surprised to read the advisory had nothing to do with breaking news:

If you have a Media van parked on California or any other area that is posted NO PARKING please have the vans moved. WE ARE BEING ADVISED THAT THEY WILL BE TOWED. I have no control over this.

Presumably this has to do with President Obama's visit and the Secret Service has a different standard for parking than the SFPD? Is permit parking abuse a bigger problem than we realize?

My request for clarification from the SFPD media team hasn't been answered. I doubt it will.

UPDATED May 26th:

Lt. Lyn Tomioka of the SFPD press office confirmed the advisory was in relation to the President's visit and added the following:

At certain times and situations, it may be okay for media to be in NO PARKING areas. It is best to follow the guidelines on the parking permit and those given by officers on scene. Plus, consider the is so tight during an event like this and we have to be very aware of risks.

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