A neighborhood group in the northeast Mission has distributed hundreds of fliers advising residents to get involved to stop a proposal to install hundreds of parking meters from 13th Street to 18th Street, between South Van Ness Avenue and Harrison.
The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) proposal came after the city’s recent decision to turn half of a 220-space parking lot at 17th and Folsom streets into a park, and eventually affordable housing.
The decision immediately heated up ongoing parking skirmishes among new businesses and residents, making the hunt for a parking space in the once-quiet industrial quadrant feel more like the Wild West. It also underscores the competition between commercial enterprises that value shorter-term parking and industrial businesses that need long-term parking for employees.
Take Charlie O’Hanlon, who moved his motorcycle repair shop to the northeast Mission in 1998 after the parking situation south of Market became too difficult.
Even though someone dumped a cadaver in front of his new shop at 17th and Folsom on the first day, he decided to tough it out. The area, zoned industrial, was perfect for his shop.
Now he’s not so sure. As he watches the parking disappear, he wonders whether the city wants commercial or light industrial businesses here.
On weekdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., the competition for about 2,500 existing spaces includes everyone from employees of local businesses to commuters who hop on BART at the 16th Street station, Muni drivers who don’t want to pay for parking at the nearby Muni yard, and people who sleep in their cars.
The proposed parking meters were the city’s solution to the loss of the parking lot spaces, but for some longtime businesses, the solution is worse than the problem.
The proposal is consistent with the city’s transit-first policy, which encourages residents to use public transit, walk and bike. If approved, the area would be part of an experimental parking strategy, known as SFPark, that allows the city to change meter pricing based on the demand.
The meters would not impose a time limit, meaning that employees could potentially park at a meter all day — they would just have to pay.
But O’Hanlon and others, including the 17th Street Neighborhood Coalition, are fighting the proposal, saying that it treats the northeast Mission, which is zoned for light industrial businesses such as auto-repair shops, distribution centers and manufacturing, like the commercial corridors of Valencia and Mission streets.
Meters might clear out those taking advantage of the free parking, business owners acknowledge, but would put many of the industrial employees at a disadvantage.
Hans Art, the owner of Hans Art Automotive on 17th Street, said he is looking out for his employees, who are specially skilled but for family and other reasons commute from outside the city. They need parking, not parking meters, he said.
Now, most of them park on the lot or find street parking nearby. Once meters are installed next spring, his employees will have to pay for parking.
He said he doesn’t know what the solution is, but that the SFMTA has not even tried to work with him.
“They said, ‘It’s not up to the MTA to provide free parking for commuters,’” he said. “They already knew what to say to me.”
O’Hanlon was not consulted, either. To add insult to injury, he said, this is the second time the SFMTA has proposed major street changes without consulting him and other longtime businesses that would be directly affected.
In the spring, the SFMTA, working with the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, tried to eliminate 200 parking spaces on 17th Street, from Valencia to Kansas Street in Potrero Hill, and replace them with a bike lane. A deal was brokered after O’Hanlon and other neighbors intervened. Today the bicycle lane coexists with parking.
But the transportation agency is moving forward with plans to eliminate parking on 17th Street from Harrison to Potrero, as that section of the street is too narrow for both a bike lane and parking.
As with last spring’s plan to eliminate spaces, O’Hanlon and other businesses did not find out about this plan from the SFMTA.
“I had to find this out from an informed neighbor,” he said.
In contrast, the agency consulted with ODC Dance Theater regarding the proposal, which will help commercial businesses because it will create a faster turnaround on coveted parking spaces.
“Some 40 percent of our business depends on short-term parking and we were grateful to have their attention in this essential matter,” said Brenda Way, ODC’s artistic director. Last year the dance company reopened its refurbished performance space at 17th and Shotwell.
Although the area is zoned light industrial, a report by the SFMTA says the agency foresees a proliferation of entertainment venues in the area, such as ODC’s theater and the forthcoming Mission Bowling Company.
“As commercial development intensifies in this area, the demand for parking from visitors and employees, and therefore on street parking, will also grow,” the report states.
The light industrial designation discourages owners from converting buildings to residential and office use, but does allow for entertainment venues.
O’Hanlon uses two spots in front of his shop to park motorcycles while he and his employees work at the garage. He doesn’t oppose the new entertainment businesses, but sees the city’s attitude as a slap in the face for small industrial businesses like his.