The blocks surrounding Showplace Square and the California College of the Arts (CCA) have been a longstanding parking haven for commuters, oversized vehicles, and residents. Over time regulations have tightened parking availability throughout Potrero Hill, increasing parking pressures from Division to 16th streets and east to Seventh Street. Now, the San Francisco Mu-nicipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) is adding four hour time limited parking and metered parking to all streets in that area.
Though the measure has strong backing from nearby businesses, with support from District 10 Supervisor Malia Cohen, some San Franciscans are concerned about the displacement of individuals living in oversized vehicles, who have used the curbs of Showplace to store their homes.
Discussions between Showplace Square businesses and SFMTA over parking management started more than four years ago. Since then, there’s been an influx of campers and over-sized vehicles on unregulated streets. Business owners are concerned about the lack of parking for their customers, as well as incidents of vandalism. According to San Francisco Design Center (SFDC) president, Martha Thompson, last month a recreational vehicle parked on Alameda Street caught fire; Galleria Design Center tenants said the center’s showrooms smelt like smoke for hours afterwards. Thompson said a similar incident occurred in 2015, when an explosion in an oversized vehicle, rumored to be utilized as a methamphetamine lab, damaged SFDC.
David Meckel, CCA director of planning, and a Potrero Boosters member for 33 years, was involved in early meetings with SFMTA and other stakeholders to discuss parking regulations. He and others felt that faster parking turnover was needed to make businesses accessible to their customers, especially at the Design Center, whose clients may be dissuaded from visiting because of a lack of parking and concerns about safety.
“With other changes going on in the City it’s become more of a parking storage area. We had conversations with the homeless youth coalition to identify other places for them to park and make sure everyone was brought to the table. We tried to come up with a rational situation. I think it will be an important step, but for every action there will be a reaction. If we change the system of parking it will have a result that we won’t expect. You have to think of it as a continuous project that needs constant fine-tuning,” Meckel said.
Meters are being added on 16th and Seventh streets near CCA, and on Henry Adams, Kansas, and Division streets, as well as on the block surrounding Showplace East. The rest of the area will have four hour time limits without residential parking permit restrictions. Due to sensitivity for homeless individuals, the SFMTA board of directors decided not to impose an overnight-oversized vehicle ban, though the enforced daytime turnover will impact these vehicles. Although more than 400 meters are being installed, according to Andy Thornley, SFMTA senior project analyst, over the past few years 750 meters have been taken off the streets, Citywide. There are fewer meters in San Francisco now than in 2013.
“This is the beginning of better parking management as well as better communication with neighbors,” Thornley commented. “We made a commitment to do good outreach with the neighborhoods and we know that this is going to solve problems in this particular area but there are going to be problems coming in other areas. If we squeeze the balloon in one place we will push it one block over.”
Though Thornley admitted to an impulse to adopt a Citywide parking management plan, he added that the SFMTA has learned from past experiences that it’s important to gain buy-in from stakeholders one area at a time, rather than undertake projects that span multiple zip codes that are too much to handle.
An impetus for the Showplace project was that much of the parking in the area has been taken by individuals who neither work nor live nearby, but commute from places such as Daly City and leave their cars all day, taking public transit or carpooling to their next destination. Another driving force was the many oversized vehicles that have remained parked in the same spots for consecutive days or weeks by individuals who’ve been living in them.
“Folks living in vehicles is part of our housing for the City,” said Connecticut Street resident Tony Kelly. “We need to acknowledge this. Some of these people are students. They’re our neighbors. We need to figure out a safe place with proper facilities. It’s the City’s responsibility. We can’t just say “no” and expect the problem to go away.”
Kelley Cutler, a human rights organizer with the Coalition on Homelessness, has advocated that the City create safe parking areas for those displaced since 2012, which was around the time that parking plan discussions began for Showplace Square. Advocates are concerned that parking regulations will displace homeless individuals without a benign alternative.
“We’re following up on the Homeless Coalition’s advice that’s being used in Santa Rosa and other cities to implement a safe parking program,” Thornley said. “Overnight parking sanctuaries would provide safe lots at places like churches. We don’t have anything going yet, but we’re going to see if there’s any way we can test this safe parking program.” Thornley was optimistic that with San Francisco’s great wealth providing safe parking areas for homeless individuals should be achievable, but stated that the SFMTA wasn’t the appropriate agency to lead the effort.
Kelly mentioned public land underneath Highway 101 and a space near Potrero Avenue and 15th Street as possible sites for safe parking facilities.
J.R. Eppler, Potrero Boosters president, views the parking plan as a compromise that’ll benefit businesses, workers, and people visiting the neighborhood to shop. Though he feels it’s important to balance the needs of residents and businesses by utilizing a combination of meters, time limits, and residential permits, he stressed the importance of being forward thinking in terms of the growth the neighborhood is experiencing.
“This involves looking at when people move to San Francisco; if you moved into a building with very limited parking, then the decision whether you need a car is being made at that time,” Eppler stated. “We have not seen increased transit to our neighborhood. There is an unmet transit demand and we have been promised increased transit, which would make the parking conversation much easier.”
One new development, Potrero 1010 Apartments on 16th Street, will offer 0.67 parking spots per housing unit. Meckel concluded that the expectation is for many 1010 residents to rely on bicycles or transit, but suggested that some trips, such as to Costco, will necessitate the use of a vehicle.
Thornley is confident that there are sufficient new Muni lines coming, as well as extended service for Potrero Hill and Mission Bay, to serve growing demand. According to Eppler, the Boosters is working with SFMTA to develop plans to expand transit to South of Market, Downtown, and the Hill’s 18th and 20th streets commercial strips.
“Muni is pretty good and it’s getting better. There are improvements coming to the neighborhood, but depending on where you’re going, it may not always be the best option. We can’t wait until Muni is perfect before dealing with parking. We need to deal with problems incrementally because they’re connected. By making it easier to get people parked and out of their car at Showplace, Muni is going to run better,” Thornley concluded.