June 2014

Parking Permits Available for Child Caregivers

Sasha Lekach

In a city known to be less than friendly to families, there’s at least one perk that households with means and a bit of organizing skills can take advantage of: permitted street parking for a nanny or babysitter. San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) offers residential parking passes for caregivers responsible for a child or children under 12 years old. The permits are available regardless of where the nanny lives or where their car is registered. 

There’s a hitch, however. Permit-seekers must secure approval from at least 10 households on blocks where there are 20 or more residential units, provide birth certificates for the children for whom care is being provided, as well as proof of residency and other paperwork. On streets with 19 or fewer residences, at least half the addresses must agree to the permit system. Once authorized, the transferable parking permit is counted as one of four allowed per address, at a cost of $109 each annually.

The caregiver parking permit process was created after parents’ groups advocated for a way to allow out-of-town nannies to park near the homes where they provide childcare. The system was implemented in 2011. Last spring there were five pages of “approved” blocks, meaning a family had already gone through the process of getting neighborhood approval, which will continue in perpetuity. In Potrero Hill only eight blocks have been approved for the special permit. 

About a year and a half ago De Haro Street resident Mary Zimmerle secured a permit for her infant son’s babysitter so she could return to work as a psychologist. According to Zimmerle, the application process was “painless.” She took advantage of signature-gathering to meet new people on her block. Though she’s lived on De Haro Street for roughly three years, and been a Potrero Hill resident for nearly a decade, she created at least one new friendship with a neighbor she didn’t previously know.

Zimmerle said that her De Haro Street block, located near Starr King Open Space, has enough parking that none of her neighbors cared about giving up one spot during the week. “I bet if I tried in other neighborhoods, I would have gotten a lot of pushback,” she said. As she canvassed her block she realized that many people didn’t know there was an option for nannies to get a parking permit. Yet without it her nanny had to move her car every couple hours while caring for a baby and another child from a family with whom Zimmerle shares care. “It had become annoying,” she said.

Before Zimmerle trooped around the neighborhood to get her petition signed, she had to “psyche myself up and see this as a way to meet neighbors.” She tasked herself with signature duty because she didn’t want to put the burden on her sitter, for whom English is a second language. Collecting the necessary signatures took less than a half-hour. It was the easiest part of the application packet, which she then had to submit in person at SFMTA’s office.

For 29-year-old Autumn Brown Garibay gathering the necessary parking permit signatures was part of the job while working for a Lower Haight family in 2012. A Mission District resident, Garibay said that canvassing was easy. She set aside 30 minutes on two separate evenings to coax neighbors to sign the petition. “I went around and said I was working in the neighborhood. Most people were cool with it.” She only encountered one neighbor who was irritated about being asked, and used it as opportunity to complain about the community changing.

Garibay admitted that she’s comfortable going door-to-door, and knows that the task would have proven challenging or unappealing for other nannies. “A lot of people in that profession aren’t necessarily proficient in English,” she said. “It could be unfair.” She said the biggest problem was SFMTA enforcement being unfamiliar with what was then a new program. She got several tickets as the kinks in the system were worked out. “They weren’t informed,” she said.

Garibay called the nanny permits “family-friendly.” It was nearly impossible to move her car every couple of hours while caring for a two-year-old. “I wouldn’t have been able to do my job if I didn’t have it,” she said. Unlike other caregivers, who rely on public transportation, taxis, or rideshare services to shuttle their charges, the permit provided Garibay with the flexibility of her own vehicle. “It’s a great way for a more middle-class family to be able to have consistent high-value care for their child while also thinking about the caretaker side of things as well,” she said. “There needs to be more awareness and outreach for parents and people with children.” 

According to Giada Bachetti, office manager at the La Scuola Italian International School in Dogpatch, the permitted parking exemption doesn’t have a wide enough reach. She said teachers and staff at the 20th Street school don’t qualify as child caretakers and aren’t area residents. Parking is a major issue.

As Dogpatch develops, Bachetti is optimistic that residential parking permits may eventually be allowed for her teachers. But in the meantime educators are left juggling teaching and watching the clock to avoid a parking ticket. There’s no parking at the school building. A nonprofit, La Scuola can’t afford to provide transportation options for their staff of 36 teachers and other employees, who commute from other San Francisco neighborhoods, the East Bay, and Peninsula.

Bachetti said the school encourages its staff to carpool and avoid driving because it’s “hard for them to come here with their cars.” Anyone who believes that there’s plenty of parking in Dogpatch hasn’t visited the neighborhood swath where construction crews take up most of the space, car-sharing services reserve parking spaces, and all-day parking is gobbled up by residents, she said. She credited many of the school’s staff for biking and taking Muni or Caltrans to work. However, for those who rely on driving, “I wish there were a few exceptions made for a school,” Bachetti said. 

More information about obtaining a child caregiver parking permit: http://www.sfmta.com/services/permits-citations/parking-permits/residential-area-permits/rpp-types/child-caregiver

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