About Last Night

The room was packed last night with neighbors interested in SFMTA’s plans for the Northeast Mission neighborhood. SFMTA didn’t present any plans. They presented their policies developed via public process over the years, and they presented the most detailed data on block-by-block parking availability and use anyone has ever seen: http://www.sfmta.com/cms/phome/NEMission-data.htm.  SFMTA wanted to engage the public in a process that helps refine the data and fine-tune the policies to fit the neighborhood.

There were many neighbors with legitimate concerns who wanted to make sure their feedback is heard:

  1. There was a business owner of a non-retail (factory) business who fears his employees have nowhere to park and doesn’t have customers at that location. He thinks some other solution should be developed for that type of business.
  2. There was a lady who lives in a house on a block surrounded by businesses and churches, but adjacent blocks are mostly residential, and fears she won’t be able to get into an RPP program and won’t be able to afford feeding the meter.
  3. There was a man who decades ago successfully argued for residential parking permits in his neighborhoods (even when opposed by neighbors) and understands that businesses need meters for turnover, but just wants to make sure his neighbors’ feedback is heard.
  4. There was a person who wanted to see hard data on whether RPP and meters have actually improved on the objectives they were set to deliver.

And this type if feedback is precisely what the SFMTA wanted to obtain. SFMTA has gathered the data on who uses what parking slots and when. The SFMTA has also developed a parking policy over the years for what its objectives are and what their tools are. And now, the SFMTA wants to hear the neighborhood to improve the data (“No, that business is actually a factory and doesn’t need turnover”), and to fine-tune the policy (“Residents in mixed blocks should be able to park on adjacent RPP zones”). The policies are set via a well-deliberated public process, then fine-tuned using a public process, and the data is gathered in high detail and then fine-tuned using feedback from the neighborhood.  Isn’t this what we all want?

Unfortunately, many in the audience just tried to shut it down. The data didn’t matter to them, and the public process that has set the current policy didn’t matter to them. They wanted it to be their way or the highway. SFMTA presented data that only 10% of parked cars are registered in the immediate neighborhood, 20% are registered in adjacent neighborhoods (overflow from people who would have otherwise parked at a meter), and a over 40% are not even registered in San Francisco. SFMTA presented data that more than 200 parking spaces are slated to be eliminated by an installation of a park in a parking lot, a park that the neighbors themselves pushed for via public process.  None of that mattered. Many shouted that if what they want doesn’t happen, then the process must have been rigged. A rule by the loudest.

And the SFMTA has succumbed to their pressure in the past. They gave ground last night as well. The SFMTA had planned to sit down with everyone who wants to provide feedback one on one for the next two months - something no public agency really ever does. But that was not enough. Two months are apparently not enough, so SFMTA gave them three. There was going to be a meeting in January where the SFMTA was going to present the feedback they received and an initial recommendation that applies their policy on the modified data. But that was not enough for them: they want another meeting, so that they can shout down what the SFMTA decides.

The truth is that they don’t want to hear the data, and they don’t want to work through the public process to improve SFMTA’s parking management process. They want to slow this process down and delegitimize it in order to completely kill it.

But we’re not going to fall for that ruse. We need to defend this process. SFMTA has shown the transparency and attentiveness that we want every agency to display, even though we know it’s tight on resources and it really went out of its way. If this is not enough, then I don’t know what is, and it means that the tea party has won in San Francisco with its extreme mistrust of government. It also means that if a transparent open process doesn’t work, public agencies need not engage in it, which is a loss for all of us.

And let’s not forget that parking management is not an abstract exercise. The SFMTA presented data on double parking that endangers bicyclists and slows Muni, and sidewalk parking that endangers pedestrians. Those who shouted, didn’t care. They objected to the 17th St bike lanes because a few parking spots had to be removed. Some even objected to the park that’s was approved via the public process. And there were many contradictory statements that seemed to both state that there is no parking availability problem, and yet in the same sentence demand that SFMTA build and maintain a free parking garage to solve the parking availability problem (you know, instead of making Muni free or improving Muni service).

Where do we go from here? It is very important to insist on the continuation of the public process, rather than ceding to the loudest. That means we have to attend the following meetings (to be announced) and ensure that rational discourse prevails. We should also engage and advocate for those neighbors with legitimate concerns in order to show them that the process is working as intended.

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