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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.

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