Free Parking Addicts Blast Proposed Parking Permits Near Alamo Square

Residential Parking Permit Area Q would encompass nearly 50 blocks around Alamo Square. Image: SFMTA

After months of planning, the SFMTA gave initial approval on Friday to a new Residential Parking Permit (RPP) zone known as Area Q in the Alamo Square and North of Pandhandle neighborhoods. If the zone is enacted, parking permit holders would pay a $110 annual fee (about 30 cents per day) to get an exemption from two-hour parking limits instituted during daytime hours.

Even though a majority of households in an area have to request RPP just to reach this point in the process, the hearing, held on a Friday at 10 a.m., was swarmed by loud opponents. Perhaps recognizing that the people who shout the loudest at meetings don’t necessarily speak for the neighborhood, hearing officers signed off on the new zone and sent it to the SFMTA Board of Directors for final approval.

These anonymous flyers, imitating a parking ticket, were placed on car windshields throughout the Upper Haight and may have helped draw out opposition to the so-called “parking tax.” Photo: Stan Parkford

The proposed RPP zone is currently a parking free-for-all surrounded by other RPP zones. While permits do little to effectively manage parking demand — they merely give resident car owners higher priority for on-street spots — Area Q would at least establish some order on streets where car commuters have flocked to take advantage of unregulated parking.

Gus Hernandez, president of the Alamo Square Neighborhood Association, said that some residents are concerned about out-of-district car owners who are attracted to the free, long-term parking in their neighborhoods. An SFMTA analysis in 2012 found that more than half the cars parked on streets in the area are registered in another zip code.

“Car owners don’t want to be stuck in this ‘doughnut hole,’ where its basically a magnet for people who choose not to, or can’t, buy a permit,” said Hernandez.

JJ Strahle, president of the North of Panhandle Neighborhood Association, added, “People drive in, park their cars, and get on a bus to head downtown. Those types of situations would be alleviated if we had parking permits.”

The impetus for a new permit zone came after roughly 100 parking spaces were removed to make way for protected bike lanes on Fell and Oak Streets. All of Masonic Avenue’s 167 spaces are also set to be removed later this year for a long-awaited street redesign. The SFMTA has already added 43 parking spaces on Baker, Fulton, and Scott Streets to appease local car owners, but some still feel that more has to be done to address “the parking problem.”

While Hernandez and Strahle said they have seen substantial support for the RPP zone before Friday’s hearing, most of the residents who turned out to speak were vehemently opposed.

Neighborhood resident Daniel White said RPPs only “push that [parking] problem into adjoining neighborhoods,” and that the proposal is “pitting neighbors against each other.”

Reverend Amos Brown of the Third Baptist Church, who is no stranger to using incendiary rhetoric in defense of free parking, said RPPs discriminate against African Americans. Others called the SFMTA “greedy” for imposing a “parking tax,” and questioned why something that’s always been “free” is suddenly being priced.

Most attendees at Friday’s public hearing spoke against RPP, though neighborhood groups said they’d previously seen more support. Photo: Stan Parkford.

Of course, 30 cents per day pales in comparison to the going rate for private off-street parking spaces in the area — typically several hundred dollars per month.

Nonetheless, the Haight Ashbury Neighborhood Council (HANC), a vocal opponent of RPP, wrote in a blog post that “it is expensive and reduces street parking opportunities for residents who, in a neighborhood that has few garages, are mainly dependent on street parking.”

In another blog post, HANC board member Calvin Welch, who recently posted flyers decrying on-street car-share parking as “privatization,” said HANC convinced SFMTA to remove several blocks south of the Panhandle from the proposed RPP area, and that the group had hoped to shrink it further.

Only a few speakers supported the RPP zone, which surprised Hernandez, who said the support he’d heard at ASNA meetings didn’t appear to be represented. “This is supposed to be a neighbor-driven process, and they’re not here to advocate for residential permits,” he said.

RPP won’t be a panacea for parking availability, but that’s because the permits are too cheap, not too expensive. Even if Area Q is implemented, state-imposed rules prevent RPP zones from effectively managing demand for parking. As Jeff Tumlin, a principal at the transportation planning firm Nelson/Nygaard, explained to Streetsblog in 2013, California law limits RPP fees to the cost of administering the program, rather than the market rates that would actually make more parking available and reduce the time drivers spend cruising for a spot.

“An RPP sticker ends up basically becoming a hunting license, rather than a tool for balancing supply and demand,” Tumlin said at the time. “Typically, the city sells far more stickers than there are spaces, so it fails in its goal in trying to create parking availability.”

Parking guru Donald Shoup has promoted overnight parking permits as a more effective form of RPP. Both Hernandez and Strahle said some residents feel that the real parking crunch happens overnight, not mid-day.

Even if dirt-cheap parking permits are only a small step toward fixing the neighborhood’s parking woes, Hernandez said residents are willing to give it a shot. “They’re so frustrated with the situation, that they want to try anything.”

  • Jeremy

    I can’t wait until we get the RPP. It’s no surprise that having a meeting at 10 on a weekday doesn’t draw a lot of the quiet majority who would really benefit from this.

  • murphstahoe

    Others called the SFMTA “greedy” for imposing a “parking tax,” and
    questioned why something that’s always been “free” is suddenly being
    priced.

    It’s never been “free”. It’s been paid for with taxes by everyone. Of course, it will still be paid for by everyone, because the monies collected don’t go to the providing of parking, just the administration of stickers.

  • Fran Taylor

    My problem with RPP is that it encourages drivers to park on the sidewalk. If drivers know they’ll get a ticket for parking longer than the allotted time on the street, while they can rest assured that they won’t get a ticket for parking in pedestrian space, up on the sidewalk they’ll go. RPP citations amount to seven times the number of sidewalk parking tickets, even though RPP affects only certain streets for certain times, and parking control officers must come by twice to check the time limits. Meanwhile, PCOs are basically told to ignore sidewalk parking.

    As long as SFMTA doesn’t give a fig for pedestrian space, let the drivers slug it out for street parking, so long as they do indeed stay on the street.

  • Thirty cents a day to store an auto on our public street..seems fair.

  • Ben Ross

    Reading about the Haight-Ashbury Neighborhood Council, I feel like a prophet! Last spring I wrote “The Counterculture Looks for Parking”
    http://www.dissentmagazine.org/blog/the-counterculture-looks-for-parking

  • There are just too many cars in San Francisco. People who live in the neighborhood are concerned about paying 30 cents a day to guarantee their Spot. C’mon. Maybe if Rev. Amos Brown declines to pass the hat for a couple of Sundays his parishoners could pay the fee for a Year. His Church has sufficient funds to miss the Collection.

  • That’s a good point. I will say I was happy tonight when I was on Hayes Street near Alamo Square (in the would-be RPP zone), and I pulled out my phone to call in a car blocking the sidewalk, but realized I didn’t have to when I spotted a parking control officer already ticketing another sidewalk parker across the street. I told her I was about to call them, and she said she’d already gotten complaints along that street. Just wish we could rely on them to cite on sight.

  • bobster1985

    I pay $240 a month, or $7.90 a day, to park in a garage. So I don’t have much sympathy for someone paying 30 cents a day to park on the street.

  • baklazhan

    Really? Seems to me that regardless of whether there’s an RPP or not, people park on the sidewalk when all the street spaces are occupied. In that sense, an RPP might actually improve matters.

  • baklazhan

    An RPP is a mediocre solution, anyway. In the inner Richmond, I generally find that the street parking is 100% occupied, regardless of the RPP. As far as I can tell, all the cars have a sticker– there are enough cars owned by locals to use up all the parking. I suppose it might be even worse without it, but 100% occupied is 100% occupied.

    I visited LA, and I was surprised to find that they have a system which is opposite ours: their residential permits are required at night (and they tow, apparently!), while ours are only required during the day. When I think about it, that system actually makes more sense, if your goal is to reserve overnight parking for residents, as that’s when the occupancy is highest.

    Regardless, you can’t give away unlimited numbers of permits and expect them to be effective.

  • SF Guest

    Residents either are too new to know or forgot they voted for the RPP, but not at the current rate of $110. When the RPP was presented to voters they thought it was a great idea at $10 per year. I voted to defeat the RPP knowing the SFMTA can raise that fee after initiation without voter input and that it served more as a revenue grab than a solution to easing parking.

  • murphstahoe

    “served more as a revenue grab” – please re-read the article. Particularly this quote – “California law limits RPP fees to the cost of administering the program,
    rather than the market rates that would actually make more parking
    available and reduce the time drivers spend cruising for a spot.”

  • TwinPeaks_SF

    It’s not really a revenue grab when the money is limited to the costs of operating the program – notably permit printing and issuance, enforcement, and planning/outreach for new zones and extensions. It’s called the cost recovery constraint. Now, if prices could be set higher than what it costs to operate the program, as @murphstahoe said, we could really start matching demand to supply and address the parking problem present in many of SF’s neighborhoods…

  • Sprague

    As a former resident of this proposed RPP zone who occasionally drove while living there, I too can attest to how difficult it was to find parking in the neighborhood – including at night. I recall coming home around 10:30 pm to end up driving for 20-30 minutes to find a spot (which often would be blocks away in the Fillmore). The time saved by driving was lost with the search to find a legal parking spot. Of course the elusive parking spot was “free” except for the cost to our environment from all that circling, idling, polluting..

  • SF Guest

    Okay, without further evidence I’ll strike my belief on “revenue grab,” but here’s my point — majority voters signed up for a $10 RPP program. (I’m aware the majority of bloggers on this site believe that’s a huge discount and it should be substantially higher, but that’s not the point.)

    How would you feel if voters passed a 50 cent/day Golden Gate Bridge pedestrian/cycling toll and 10 years later the toll is $5. Is this what you signed up for (and I’m speaking from the perspective of someone who doesn’t have an RPP)?

  • murphstahoe

    I’d see it coming because I would understand what the toll is based upon. The voters signed up for an RPP program that would cover its costs.

  • baklazhan

    It might be understandable if there were lines half an hour long to get onto the bridge…

  • SF Guest

    Did the RPP ballot measure say it would cover its costs or did it give a specific dollar amount?

  • JJ94117

    The SFMTA RPP Division will be presenting their recommendation for the RPP Zone Q to the SFMTA Board at a hearing on Tuesday, February 17, 2015 at 1:00pm. This is the last chance for commenting on whether or not you would like to bring Residential Parking Permits to the neighborhood.

    There are two methods for getting your voice heard to the SFMTA:
    1) Send an email stating your support (or opposition) clearly to the RPP Coordinator at Kathryn.Studwell@sfmta.com
    2) Attend the SFMTA Board Meeting on Tuesday, February 17 @ 1:00pm in City Hall. Room TBD.

    It is very important to attend and speak at the Board Meeting, especially if you are in favor of implementing the RPP. It is crucial to show the SFMTA Board that there is genuinely a desire by the neighborhood residents to move forward with the RPP Zone Q. Opposition to the RPP brought large numbers of vocal neighbors opposed to establishing the new RPP Zone Q to the last hearing in January and a strong showing of support for the RPP Zone Q is needed at this final hearing before the SFMTA Board in order to gain board approval.

    PLEASE INCLUDE YOUR ADDRESS ON ALL CORRESPONDENCE so the SFMTA can confirm that you reside within the RPP Zone.

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