Mission merchants and Muni supporters are clashing over the San Francisco Municipal Transit Agency’s discussion to extend parking meter hours on weeknights and Sundays – a proposal that could generate millions.
Muni advocates view the meter proposals as a way to help the MTA bridge its $16.9 million deficit, while merchants along Valencia Street say the meter hikes have the potential to destroy their businesses.
“People drive to my store from all over the Bay Area,” Mia Galaviz de Gonzalez, owner of the Encantada Gallery of Fine Art, said. “They should keep it as it is.”
An MTA study, published last October, predicted extending hours on meters could generate $17.2 million annually, but cost the MTA $8.4 million in enforcement and maintenance – creating an actual profit of $8.8 million.
The study indicated that 59 percent of meters could extend until 9 p.m. There could also be Sunday enforcement from 11 a.m. until 6 p.m.
But Gonzalez said that for every 10 people that come into her store, between two and three have driven. She said she hears customers complain about parking tickets received from expired meters at least once a week.
Her largest concern lies with the Sunday enforcement, she said.
“People shouldn’t have to worry about parking on Sunday,” she said. “Sunday usually generates better business for us.”
The MTA’s town hall meetings have allowed the public to vent about Muni’s current service cut proposals, but many also see the parking meter proposals as a way to shelter Muni and spread the pain.
“Muni isn’t free after 6 o’clock, so why should parking meters be free,” Sarah Bassler, said during an MTA town hall meeting on Feb. 6.
Three of the seven MTA board members have opposed hiking meter hours and enforcement.
However, Mayor Gavin Newsom told reporters earlier this month that he had reconsidered his opposition to Sunday enforcement because of support he’s received from city businesses.
The Chronicle wrote on Jan. 29 that merchants have told the mayor they support higher car turnover rates on Sundays near their shops because it keeps people from parking all day for free.
As it stands, the parking meter plans are just an idea, and haven’t been added to the MTA’s current budget proposals, but could be added to next year’s budget.
Randy Figures, manager of framing store, Back to the Pictures on Valencia, said his business depends on the MTA ignoring the meter proposals.
“I’m not a fan of cars, but I’m a fan of my customers,” he said of his clients who drive. “And a $63 parking ticket is extortion.”
Most customers of the framing store, which stays open until 7 p.m. during the week, need their cars to carry artwork, he said.
Both Gonzalez and Figures support what happened in Oakland last August when business revolted against similar parking meter changes.
“I love what they did in Oakland, I appreciate that,” Figures said of the stores that closed their doors in protest. “It would be cool if we could do that, but we couldn’t even afford to close for a day.”
However, not all businesses along Valencia oppose the meter increase ideas.
“Lots of my customers are from the neighborhood,” said Cary Heater, who works at Borderland Books at 19th and Valencia Streets. “People are probably going to come here regardless.”
In an effort to look at the effect increasing meter hours would have on businesses, the MTA study revealed that 25 percent of Valencia Street’s businesses are open until midnight — a percentage higher than most neighborhoods.
Heater said customers who drive in the evening shouldn’t have a problem finding parking on streets without meters if the parking meter proposals become adopted.
Ryan Tabaldi, a 22-year-old recent San Francisco State graduate, who talked to Mission Loc@l after he parked in a space on Valencia Street, agreed that extending meter hours is vital to closing the deficit.
He’s still critical of its success in the Mission, however.
“It’s going to create a bigger problem,” he said. “Everyone is going to avoid the meters and look for free street parking, especially on Sundays,” causing possible parking congestion in the Mission neighborhoods.
SFMTA spokesman Judson True said a resolution over the current proposals for bridging the budget would likely be made during the MTA board’s meeting on Feb. 26, but he gave no word on parking meters.
“They have to take action to close this deficit,” he said.