Nothing makes people more angry than when the city tries to take away their free street parking. The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency was reminded of that fact at a City Hall hearing this morning when residents and business owners unleashed a storm of angry criticism over a proposal to install new parking meters in Potrero Hill, Dogpatch, Mission Bay, and parts of the Mission District.
The plans for this pilot program, which were released on Dec. 20, are intended to address the increased demand for parking in the “Mission Bay Parkshed”  from development now underway in the area, as well as concerns about increased demand for street spaces once the parking lot at Folsom and 17th Street  is converted into a park.
As with previous SFMTA proposals for extended parking meter hours – which were also met with angry criticism  – the idea is to encourage increased use of transit and to free up more street parking space for business customers by discouraging local residents from taking up street parking spots for extended periods of time.
But even people who support that idea in concept say that the SFMTA plans are badly designed and don't take into account the conditions on the ground, largely because they say planners did an abysmal job of outreach and gathering community input before creating the plans.
“I'm urging a cooling off period,” said Tony Kelly, president of the Potrero Boosters Neighborhood Association. He wants to see more active parking management of that neighborhood, but said planners need to better consult local residents. “We've earned that right in our neighborhood and you have not earned our trust.”
And that was among the more mild criticisms at this sometimes raucous hearing, where there were standing room only crowds in the main hearing room and an overflow room showing the hearing on television. Officials were accused of hostility to working families, incompetence, arrogance, and with trying to drive businesses out of town.
“Are you insane?” asked one commenter, while another asked, “How do you look at yourself in the mirror?” Several business owners said they would leave the city in the plans were implemented, and one said half of his employees were driven to tears over the proposals. “I don't hear anyone asking for meters,” said one commenter. “I don't hear anyone saying this is good.”
But there are those who say the city shouldn't be expected to supply free parking to residents who choose to own cars, particularly given the SFMTA's tight budget situation and the role that drivers searching for limited street parking spaces play in increasing traffic congestion in the city, thus slowing down Muni.
“On behalf of Livable City (and as a Mission District resident), I want to express our support for the expansion of SFpark meters into the Mission Bay, 12th and Folsom, and 17th and Folsom neighborhoods,” Livable City Executive Director Tom Radulovich wrote in a recent letter to the SFMTA. “Each of these areas is seeing intensified activity – new residents, new businesses, and new restaurants, bars, and entertainment venues – and each is badly in need of intelligent parking management. The expansion of metered spaces will provide the parking turnover that neighborhood-serving businesses need. SFpark metering and pricing will also reduce cruising for parking in these neighborhoods.”
But the opinions expressed at the hearing were almost uniformly critical, saying the plans actually call for meters on streets that are mostly residential and that they need more work. We'll have more detailed analysis of the proposals and related issues in upcoming issues of the Guardian.