June 2013

San Francisco Board of Supervisors Hosts Hearing on MTA Parking Plans

Keith Burbank

Last month the San Francisco Board of Supervisor’s Neighborhood Services and Safety Committee asked San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s (SFMTA) director of transportation, Ed Reiskin, to discuss the agency’s parking meter plans. Committee members presiding over the hearing included District 9 Supervisor David Campos, who represents the Mission, District 1 Supervisor Eric Mar; and District 2 Supervisor Mark Farrell, who sat in for District 7 Supervisor Norman Yee, who couldn’t be present, with District 10 Supervisor Malia Cohen also in attendance. Reiskin answered questions from the supervisors, provided data on parking revenues, and explained the rationale driving parking meter expansion. 

The “MTA is on the wrong track,” said Cohen, who explained that her main frustration with the agency relates to its lack of a comprehensive planning, with SFMTA’s transit, parking and enforcement divisions going in different directions. The supervisor added that transportation and associated infrastructure wasn’t keeping up with development and growth in her district. Worse, complained Cohen, in some instances SFMTA has been considering cuts in service, has been inconsistent in its enforcement of the residential parking permit program, and the agency’s plans don’t adequately acknowledge the parking needs of production, distribution, and repair (PDR) businesses.

“After 16 months they’re [the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency] still trying to convince us that parking meters are the right decision for us,” said Angela Sinicropi, a PDR business owner in the Mission. The committee had asked Sinicropi to make a presentation on behalf of the North East Mission Coalition, a group of residents, workers, business and property owners. Sinicropi added that under SFMTA’s current parking meter plans PDR businesses fear being driven out of business. She said PDR businesses don’t need the kind of turnover meters provide. “We need all day, long-term parking,” she told the committee. 

The coalition wants a preferential permit zone established in northeast Mission, an area with a concentration of PDR businesses. In the zone residents and businesses would be offered permits that would exempt them from parking regulations, such as time limits and meters. The coalition collected roughly 250 signatures on a petition supporting the zone, and 50 more signatures opposing SFMTA’s plans to expand metered parking in the area, though Sinicropi acknowledged that some businesses in the Mission have requested meters. 

Campos said he appreciated the agency’s effort to listen to the community. But he pointed out that the Eastern Neighborhoods Plan calls for protecting PDR businesses, and asked that SFMTA follow this policy. 

Reiskin acknowledged that parking management affects the economic viability of commercial districts. But he said the City must manage parking to ensure it’s available. According to Reiskin, circling drivers represent 20 to 30 percent of San Francisco’s traffic. Circling creates not only congestion, but distracted driving, which becomes a pedestrian safety issue, Reiskin said. He added that San Francisco is the second most dense city in the nation, with another 100,000 people expected to move to the municipality in the next 30 years.

In response to a question from Farrell, Reiskin reported that the SFMTA receives $50 million in annual revenue from parking meters, half of which is from citations, which have been steadily declining during the last several years. Overall, SFMTA collects $200 million from parking-related activities; the agency’s operating budget this year is $830 million. Farrell said residents have claimed the parking meter expansion effort is a “money grab;” Reiskin denied that characterization.

Farrell asked the transportation director how parking management efforts can meet the needs of families — especially ones with multiple children, and both parents working — who depend on cars. According to Reiskin, automobiles will always have a place in San Francisco. But by managing parking, SFMTA is trying to encourage people to take public transit when they have a choice, or would have a choice if public transit were a viable option. He told the committee his agency must improve the viability of public transit for everyone.

Farrell said residents have told him that SFMTA seems to be making car ownership more challenging, rather than making public transit more attractive. “I hear that time and time again,” Farrell said. The supervisor insisted that making transit more attractive should come first. But while Reiskin acknowledged that SFMTA needs to make transit and other forms of transportation more accessible, he said his agency needs to improve every part of the system simultaneously. 

Campos told Reiskin that there should be no artificial deadline for the parking meter expansion. Instead, SFMTA should be sure to hear the concerns of residents and business owners. 

“We’ll continue to take the time that it needs,” Reiskin responded.

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