Merchant, neighborhood groups oppose plan to extend meter hours

by Thomas K. Pendergast

A proposal to extend the hours that parking meters charge fees is creating an uproar among some merchants and residents in the Richmond District, while at the same time creating an unusual alliance of organizations that support the idea.

Mayor Gavin Newsom has come out against the plan and said he will veto it.

However, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority (MTA) is looking to create more revenue for an aging, and some say ailing, bus system. The MTA thinks the mayor's veto can be overridden by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

Jesse Fink, owner of the Toy Boat Dessert Cafe at Clement Street and Fifth Avenue and president of the Clement Street Merchants Association, doesn't like the proposal one bit. He sees it as potentially damaging for local merchants.

"It's going to make people flock more towards shopping centers, where they don't have to pay anything extra for shopping, where you can park, get out of your car, eat, go shopping and you don't have to worry about getting a ticket," Fink said.

"The only people who pay for tickets are people who make silly mistakes," said Howard Strassner, chair of the Transportation Committee of the Sierra Club's San Francisco chapter, which supports the proposal. "You don't have to get a ticket."

Fink said many of his customers are local residents and expanding the meter hours will come at their expense.

The proposal would increase the hours for paying meters from 6 p.m. until 9 p.m. on some streets during the week, while on weekends the meter hours would be extended up to midnight. On Sundays, when most parking is free, there would be meter charges from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on some commercial corridors.

"If someone comes home, to their home, the city where they live, now they can't park their car," said Fink. "Has anyone ever considered putting into this that individuals who have residential parking permits shouldn't have to feed the meters? Has anyone considered the quality of life? Instead of nickel-and-diming your residents so that the quality of their life gets worse, especially at a time like this, well, in the big picture it doesn't make sense. It's not smart city management."

Strassner said that if there were no overall time limits for meters, then paying for parking would become strictly a function of the market, based upon how much someone was willing to pay.

"The next step is no time limits on the meters, then vary the price according to the location or time of day. Then, people will only stay as long as they really have to. Muni's budget goes on and they need to operate. We need to decide whether we'll allow good parking to the few or good bus service to the many," Strassner said. "It's not the 11th Commandment to get a free parking space."

The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition has also come out in support of extending the parking meter hours.

"This isn't some new thing that the MTA has come up with to shake down drivers. This is a really important part of Muni's efforts to manage the buses," said Andy Thornley, program director for the bicycle coalition. "I'm always shocked that business people would take something so valuable and give it away for free. San Francisco's first parking meters in 1947 were put in to help merchants. They wanted parking meters. Short-term parking near attractive things should be more expensive than long-term parking away from attractive things. The way it is now, when parking is really valuable, it's free. That's not a very productive way to do things."

David Heller, president of the Greater Geary Boulevard Merchants Association, owns a beauty shop and supply store on Geary.

"Facials take a little over an hour," said Heller. "Can we feed the meters? Sometimes we have to go out and feed the meters so our customers will not get a ticket. We have a lot of restaurants on Geary Boulevard. You go to dinner with your wife or friend and before you even get to the main course you have to go outside to feed the meter. It ruins the whole flavor of being able to sit down in a restaurant to enjoy yourself."

Raymond Holland, president of the Planning Association for the Richmond (PAR), said his organization opposes the proposal.

"In general, we're opposed to it for the rationale upon which it is based," said Holland. "It seems to indicate to us that the study this was based on is flawed. They only looked at the business people and not its effect on residents who live next to them. It's a mixed neighborhood - that is the problem with that."