Livable City: Expect More Traffic If Parking Rental Rule Is Changed

A proposal to allow residential car parking spaces to be rented out to anyone living in San Francisco has drawn fire from livable streets advocates who say it would encourage more car commuting and discourage property owners from converting parking spaces to housing units.

Under a new proposal, residential parking garages in small buildings could be rented to anyone in the city, potentially drawing car commuters. Photo: ## Rahman/Flickr##

The proposal is part of legislation [PDF] headed to the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday. The provision would remove an existing requirement that anyone who rents a residential parking space live within 1,250 feet of it, opening such spaces up to car owners citywide. The change would apply to buildings with five or fewer parking spaces, clearing the way for residential buildings near workplaces to be used, essentially, as commuter parking. It’s worth noting that 70 percent of downtown rush hour driving is done by SF residents, according to the SF County Transportation Authority.

“Those spaces would no longer be residential spaces. We’re changing the use of them entirely,” said Livable City Executive Director Tom Radulovich. “Five [spaces] or fewer is pretty much every residential parcel in this city… We’re a city of small apartment buildings.”

Supervisor Scott Wiener, who introduced the ordinance, said the current limit is impractical to enforce, and that allowing property owners to rent parking spaces to a broader market would make it easier to “unbundle” them from apartment rentals.

The larger part of the legislation, which is meeting with little opposition, would reform payment procedures for a parking tax that has gone almost completely uncollected on non-resident rentals since it was put in place in the 1970’s. The entire bill was passed by the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee within the last week.

In an email to the Board of Supervisors, Radulovich argued that removing the 1,250-foot rule would go against the city’s policies which “maintain that existing neighborhood parking should be prioritized for residents and for local businesses, and that parking policies should discourage drive-alone commuting in favor of sustainable transportation modes.” His statement reads:

The objectionable provision of this ordinance, opening residential areas to commuter parking, is a major, and unwelcome, shift in city policy. This policy change was not vetted with the SFMTA or the other transportation advocates and stakeholders who helped formulate existing policy. This new provision will have many negative effects in neighborhoods, and citywide, including:

  • It will encourage in-commuting via automobile. Increasing automobile commuting has various negative effects, including increased congestion, delays to Muni, increased danger to pedestrians and cyclists, increased air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, and slower, more expensive goods movement for businesses.
  • It will allow commuters to compete with area residents for parking spaces. This will drive up the cost of neighborhood parking for residents, making it unaffordable to many. Opening neighborhood parking to commuters will increase demand for street parking, which is important not only to residents, but to local businesses.
  • It will discourage the conversion of parking not needed for area residents to housing. In a city critically short of housing, but reticent to increase heights, [floor area ratios], or density, existing building envelope is a resource that should be conserved for housing or job-creating uses, not commuter parking. We desperately need housing, especially in neighborhoods adjacent to downtown, and this provision would set up a powerful economic disincentive not to convert excess spaces to residential uses, shared residential parking as permitted by the code, or neighborhood-serving non-residential uses.

AnMarie Rodgers of the planning department told the Planning Commission that her agency doesn’t expect the change to result in significant increases in car commuting, since it would only apply to small buildings. Some planning commissioners and supervisors agreed, saying that the current limit seems to be mostly unknown and unenforced anyway, meaning these types of rentals may already be common. Supervisor Carmen Chu said car commuters who park on the street next to light rail stops in neighborhoods like the Sunset seem to be a larger problem.

The 1,250-foot rule was instituted in 2008, before which parking spaces could only be rented by building residents. Livable City pushed for that change, said Radulovich, to legitimize the practice of renting to neighbors, since it allowed more flexible use of residential parking spaces without opening them up to commuters. However, he said Livable City was not consulted on the change included in Wiener’s proposal.

The rest of the bill is aimed at reforming an “unbelievably difficult” process for small property owners to pay a tax on residential parking, said Wiener. Under current law, he said, a small building owner must clear the same hurdles as a commercial parking garage operator to pay the tax (including paperwork, fingerprinting, and installing equipment to count cars entering the garage), and its existence is virtually unknown to tenants and property owners.

As the city treasurer looks to start collecting the parking tax, proponents said the ordinance would increase compliance by making the payment and reporting process easier for building owners with five or fewer parking spaces. The treasurer would collect no more than two years worth of unpaid parking taxes, and property owners would get a six-month amnesty period to start paying. If approved, the ordinance would go into effect at the start of 2013.

  • Eh, I’m on the fence on this one.

    On one hand, it does indeed make it easier for people commuting to the city to have a parking space to drive to. On the other hand, it’s another way to introduce market-rate parking and financially incentivizes local residents to ditch their cars entirely to rent out the unsubsidized spaces.

    There is also part of me that fervently believes that property owners should be allowed to do with their empty garages what they wish.

  • To be clear, out-of-towners wouldn’t be able to rent the spaces, only SF residents. And I don’t think it’s legal for tenants to rent their parking spaces out (though I’m not sure). That’s the problem of bundled parking – you’re stuck with it.

  • @aaron bialick Oh, fair enough. I re-read and indeed it’s for residents only.

  • Anonymous

    What this does.

    In Noe Valley and Mission the residents will all push for RPPs and park their formerly garaged cars on the street. Apple and Google employees who live in further West or Northern neighborhoods can rent a garage in Noe and drive to Noe to get their shuttle buses at the most convenient spot, skipping the slow slog in the buses across the city with multiple stops.

    Adds more car trips at rush hour into Noe, and completely locks up the street parking supply.

  • Mario Tanev

    The main concern seems to be that more parking availability means more driving. I hear that argument from transit-oriented opponents of SFPark as a justification to oppose SFPark. What I find in common between SFPark and this proposal is that both allow for some space in the city to be used more efficiently (in particular, garages or curb-side space). Efficient use of limited space is a good thing. In particular, moving the service of parking spaces from the public to the private sector means that there is less pressure on the public sector to provide free parking spaces (on the flip-side, it means SFMTA has more competition). 
    If efficient use of parking space means more driving, then the solution is to limit the number of total parking spaces to its previous total. For example, SFPark aims to provide higher turnover among drivers (even higher if it stimulates more public transit use). That could increase the number of automobile trips. While that might stimulate business, it may put more strain on the roads. And since single-occupancy vehicles aren’t very good at sharing road space, we’ve traded off efficient use of curb-side parking spaces, with perhaps a less efficient use of road space. 

    One solution is to just reduce the number of parking meters and use them to create other amenities in the public space, such as car-sharing stations, bulbouts, good bus stops, wider sidewalks, bike corrals or even secured bicycle parking, bike lanes, parklets and so on. The same can apply with private garages. For every parking garage rented to an outsider, remove one free/cheap parking space. That space can be converted to a ZipCar pod to incentivize car-sharing. If paid guaranteed parking proliferates in the city, it will make for an easier case to charge for all street space as well, perhaps even to rent out guaranteed curb-side spaces at a market price.

  • The fact that the city actually intends to collect taxes (25 percent !) (taxes that have long been on the books but not enforced) on any parking rental income derived from non-residents of a building will actually either a) significantly reduce the number of rental spaces offered to non-residents because the building owner won’t want to go through hassle of paying the tax, or b) significantly increase the rental fees charged so that it’s still worth it to the owner of a spot to rent it out. Or both. So the tax alone will likely have the happy effect of reducing the number of garage spots available and/or increasing the price. I think livable streets advocates should be happy with this.

    If we could get the city to charge a congestion-inducement fee on every *free* parking spot businesses offer employees and customers, San Francisco would be in great shape.

  • mikesonn

    My building in North Beach has 3 spaces and two of then are already rented to people who don’t live in my building. I often return home to an open garage door because these people dont care about the building or what is in it.

    The major issue is allowing commuters from elsewhere in SF to drive to north beach and park in residential parking spaces. This isn’t a proper use of parking spaces. And Murph is right about residents moving their cars to the street but I think my neighborhood will be targeted more so because it’s a walk instead of another transit ride. Maybe the Marina will help us out since they shot down the F-line extension for pretty much the same reason, commuters coming and taking their parking.

  • I had a brief email exchange with Wiener. Paraphrasing…

    The rule is not enforced now. If we make the overall process easier such that we can collect the taxes (which is good for a lot of reasons), then the proximity rule will need to be enforced as well. Enforcing the proiximity rule will be a lot of work for little value, and he feels that given that it isn’t enforced now, we’re already seeing saturation for this market.

    There is the possibility that advertising this capability will induce new usage, but given that nobody knew the rule in the first place, probably not. Time will tell.

  • Anonymous

    Anything that builds the idea in our culture of “parking spaces cost money” is good in my book. The next step is trying to get that price up to market rate (thats a zoning issue).

    It still makes more sense in my book to convert these into actual rental units, but is that even allowed in most cases?

  • jimmy

    I think Radulovich is off-base here and he hasn’t shown why the current system is any better than the proposed system.  If anything, the proposed system will make housing *more* affordable.

    1) Yes, this would increase “in-commuting”, but it will decrease “out-commuting”.  I don’t have any data but I would assume that most parking spaces are currently rented. So, if you are renting to a commuter, you are not renting to a resident and the number of parked cars has not increased.

    2) Yes, it will drive up the cost of parking — but it will encourage landlords to unbundle parking and housing.  That will save a non-driving renter $200/mo and bring more non-driving residents to your neighbourhood.  More non-drivers means a healthy community, so this is a good thing.

    3) I can’t imagine this will do anything to discourage parking -> housing conversion.  A two car garage grossing $400/mo could be turned into a one-bedroom apartment grossing $1000/mo.  There are many other reasons garages are still parking spaces.

  • if not, change the law.

    It’s definitely difficult to even take your garage, turn it into living space, and eliminate the curb cut, say for example if you wanted to add a bedroom and a bathroom

    If you try to do that, your neighbors complain that you (or a future owner) will now be parking a car on the street, and they will file a review, and probably win.

  • HoJo94110


    As Murph said above, the existing law is not enforced, and in fact it is hard to see how it could be enforced. If a SF resident (whether owner or tenant) chooses to rent out his garage space(s) to anyone who will pay the highest rent, regardless of where they live, it is near impossible to discover that.

    As desirable as some might feel this change is, if there is no reasonable, non-invasive way of enforcing it, then it’s an empty gesture.

  • HoJo

    Mike, there’s a rent control issue here too. As a landlord, you are far better off to rent off garage spaces in your building to non-residents since, if you rent to your residential tenants, the garage space comes under rent control.

    So two owners, A and B, owning two buildings next door to each other, should rent their garage space to each other’s tenants.

    Ridiculous, but it’s the law of unintended consequences at work.

  • mikesonn

    Oh ok, that makes sense. 

  • voltairesmistress

    Most small apartment building (5 or fewer units) owners already separate apartment rents from garage space and storage space.  These landlords then rent out space to anyone in the neighborhood looking for off-street garage space.  There are very few such garage spaces available.  Few garage space owners notify the City of said parking rents, and nearly no tax revenue is collected. If some owners or renters wise up to the opportunity of renting to day-users (commuters by any other name), they too will avoid paying this nearly unenforceable tax.  Another example of Wiener’s legislative zeal tethered only to its own unreality.

  • mikesonn

    We were offered a spot for an extra $300/mo but we don’t own a car. It would have been separate from our rent with a separate lease (and not sure if car spaces are under rent control if decoupled from apartment, I sure hope they aren’t).

    But @732c4803eb2e277d0054b17154744686:disqus brings up a good point, why will this all of a sudden bring tax payment compliance? All it does, much like giving blue stickers to cabs to park in bike lanes, is legitimize illegal behavior.

  • Jeffrey Yasskin

    I wonder if it would make sense to pair this with congestion pricing to fight the “extra commuters” problem.

  • Anonymous

    Also, commuting represents only about 20% of trips. So a parking spot used by a commuter represents only a fraction of the driving as a parking spot used by a non-car-owning resident.   (Assuming a resident with a car is more likely to drive it to places in addition to work)

  • Anonymous

    This feature should be incompatible with an RPP.  If you are renting out your spot you shouldn’t be allowed to buy an onstreet permit. 

  • Sebraleaves

    Anyone who begrudges someone else a little extra cash for renting out parking garages,  must also want to prosecute people for “stealing” recycled trash out of bins on the sidewalk. Hopefully they will never find themselves in such dire straights. As for city officials who want to charge an extra parking pax on top of the property taxes they already collect to people who are probably living on the margins, they should find themselves in similar circumstances.

  • Joanh

    Just received my increase on renting a garage space ~ $50! a month. I use my truck for business. I am a landscaper and own my business. I used to park on the street ~ my truck was broken into and I lost $400 of tools, and a broken window. So now it will cost me more to live here where I work. I expect this tax will increase yearly as does the street parking permit and the registration fees. Of course, I could always move and start a business somewhere else. What I would like to know is why we the people who are living here must pay so many taxes and yet businesses such as Twitter, etc., get huge tax breaks and don’t have to pay the taxes???

  • Linda L. Day

    I enthusiastically support this change. I own a one bedroom condo that includes a deeded spot in our garage. I do not own a car. Given that there are only 9 residences in my building, often I am not able to rent to someone in the building. I think changing the ordinance supports having fewer cars take up street parking spaces. Having to register as a business and file quarterly taxes is an undue burden. I have to pay a homeowner’s fee each month, a share of which maintains the garage. What evidence is there that allowing persons such as me to rent out her parking space will encourage more car commuting and discourage property owners from converting parking spaces to housing units?


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