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.”

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