Balboa parking meters draw praise, ire

by Thomas K. Pendergast

On Jan. 5, the San Francisco Municipal Transit Authority (SFMTA) board unanimously passed a resolution to install parking meters on both sides of Balboa Street, between Third and Seventh avenues. The two-hour-limit meters will operate from the hours of 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Saturday.

SFMTA spokesperson Kristin Holland explained that the SFMTA received a seven-page petition asking for the installation of parking meters on Balboa. She quoted the petition as saying: "We, the undersigned, believe that parking meters will guarantee the welfare of local neighborhood businesses as well as enhance revenue for the City to provide a safer, cleaner, community for everyone."

She pointed out that the statement about enhancing revenue was "written by the citizens and not our agency."

"The SFMTA held a public hearing on Dec. 12, 2009, to consider the installation of the meters and, based on public comment, deleted the block between Seventh and Eighth Avenue," Holland said.

Eric Mar, the Richmond District's representative on the SF Board of Supervisors, said he was approached by merchants on Balboa looking for ways to increase their business and that one of their chief complaints was that their customers had difficulty finding parking.

He noted that in recent years a long-time guitar repair business at Sixth Avenue and Balboa Street had closed its doors for good, as had a florist, a furniture store and a Chinese restaurant.

He said he "encouraged them to engage" the SFMTA and "go through the proper process" for getting the meters installed.

"I want to be supportive of the merchants. They're the backbone of our neighborhood," Mar said. "In general, I support the merchants' efforts to create a strong business climate in that area. Hopefully, it will help them in this difficult economic period. I think it is frustration from businesses like that that led to the parking meters."

Dennis Lee owns the Namu restaurant on Balboa along with his brothers. They were among the business owners that pushed for the meters.

"Parking in this neighborhood has been extremely challenging and it's our number one complaint from customers," Lee said. "Myself being a resident of the neighborhood for over six years, I've been frustrated with some of these restaurants having their own yellow zones or white zones. I've tried to obtain one of those on my own and I've found it to be extremely difficult. And then there's the frustration with people not living in this neighborhood parking their cars on Balboa for days on end."

Despite the fact that Namu is open more during the evening hours, Lee still thinks meters during daytime hours will help merchants.

"When you're parking your car on the street overnight, you're less likely to park it at a meter than where there's not a meter," Lee said. "We also had lunch and brunch service but it was really difficult to find parking, especially during the day because of those overnight parkers.

But not all merchants and neighborhood residents agree with the decision to install meters.

Joe Kwai Lee, the owner of Movie Crazzz, a movie rental store that has been on Balboa for more than 20 years, doesn't see his business growing with the addition of parking meters in the neighborhood; quite the opposite, in fact.

"It will devastate it," Lee said of the meters. "It's hard enough to find parking to begin with and if you then restrict people and make it so that you can't actually park there nobody is going to park there for two hours to rent a video. I think it will cause people to move over to the side streets. They'll be parking in front of residents' houses and garages."

Lee has started passing around a petition to reverse the decision by the SFMTA.

Greg Wallace, a resident on Eighth Avenue, was less than thrilled when he heard about the meters.

"It's going to make it harder to park around here," he said. "In the neighborhood it's already hard to park, but if people who normally park down here can't park here anymore, then it's going to make it harder to park everywhere else I think."

Wallace said he has a car but no garage for it and many people in his building are probably in the same situation.

"They don't park in a garage. They park somewhere around (the neighborhood) so they'll have the same trouble. Sometimes when I come home at 10 o'clock, I can spend half an hour looking for a parking place and have to park five or six blocks away from home. So, generally I try not to stay out too late because I just can't deal with that anymore."

He also said he can't rely solely on the bus or bicycles because he's taking a class at Skyline College.

"To get there with public transportation is ridiculous," he explained. "I tried. My car broke down for a couple of weeks and I only made it on time to class once because the connections are impossible. So, I have a class in the evening but there's no way I'm staying for the whole class because it goes until 10 o'clock."

Leslie Henslee has been running Frankenart Mart, a participatory art project store on Balboa, for almost four years. It's a small but colorful shop on Balboa where anyone can submit or trade art, based upon whatever theme de jour is happening. She realizes that some argue having parking meters makes it more expensive to drive, which in turn encourages using other forms of transportation, but she doesn't agree that driving up the cost of owning a car is worth the objective.

"There's a little bit of an anti-car mentality in San Francisco," Henslee said. "It's very hard to live in this City and we just don't need any more penalties. It just seems like there's a lot of taxation upon citizens of San Francisco and this is yet another opportunity to make money off the people that live here and it just makes me sad that that's the way it goes. If we want to support alternative forms of transportation, I would think that we'd better do it in a positive way instead of penalizing people.

"I would like to discourage car use by encouraging bike use in a positive way. I'm a member of the Bicycle Coalition but I don't always agree with everything they do. I'd rather make great bike paths and great bike resources and have that be our main way of encouraging biking here instead of penalizing cars. Some people have to have cars. They have families and jobs far away and there's no reason that they should be penalized for having one," Henslee said.