The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) agreed Monday night to assess people’s parking needs block by block in the Mission and other southeastern neighborhoods before installing any new parking meters.
That marked a change in the agency’s attitude since a Jan. 13 meeting in which a hearing officer approved the installation of about 5,000 parking meters in several eastern neighborhoods despite the objections of hundreds of people who spoke unanimously in opposition to the proposal.
“First an apology for the Jan. 13 meeting,” Jay Primus, project manager for the SFMTA’s SFpark program, said on Monday. “It was not how it was supposed to go; it was a deeply unsatisfying and upsetting process for everyone.”
Since Jan. 13, hearing officer John Newlin has rescinded his approval, effectively rewinding the process to the community outreach stage, which could take an additional two or three months, according to SFMTA Executive Director Ed Reiskin.
The turnaround came after a group of residents from the Mission, Potrero Hill and other neighborhoods organized to oppose the project. They sent emails to the SFMTA and called their supervisors — Jane Kim, David Campos and Malia Cohen — who were also in attendance at the meeting.
“We are going to take a cues from the folks in the room and the folks not in the room to solicit feedback and to gather data in a much more comprehensive way,” Reiskin said. “We will reconsider the plan, share it with the community, hopefully being able to go to the SFMTA board with a recommendation that the majority of the community can support.”
At the meeting, held at a theater in the Mission and attended by more than 100 people, Reiskin and Primus heard neighbors’ wrath over the proposal.
Among the chief complaints was the SFMTA’s poor outreach effort, with many noting that the only notification was through English-only notices posted on street poles.
Neighbors, who frequently broke into applause and stomped on the stage when someone spoke against the meters, also protested “blanketing” the neighborhood with parking meters without taking into account its mixed-use character.
The SFMTA drafted the proposal for the northeast Mission as a solution to the loss of parking at 17th and Folsom, which is set to be converted into a park.
Parking in the northeast Mission is difficult during daytime hours on weekdays, but more manageable at night. Currently the area is a favorite parking spot for out-of-town commuters who take BART, people who sleep in their cars and bus drivers who don’t want to pay for parking at the Muni yard at 17th and Bryant streets. Street sweeping once a week is the only restriction in some areas.
“Leaving parking unmanaged next to a BART station doesn’t make sense,” Primus said.
In recent years, the neighborhood has changed from an industrial area to a mix of commercial, residential and industrial uses. The bottom line, Primus said, is that there is a greater demand for parking.
“Parking meters as a tool, they are never going to be popular,” he said.
John Lum, an architect based in the Mission and a moderator at the meeting, said that the neighborhood has changed because many neighbors have helped improve it.
“There has been this kind of thought that we are complaining about free parking and that we are just whiners,” Lum said. “No, you are actually destroying neighborhoods and the ability of the people to live and work in their community that they actually created.” Lum said that he would not personally be affected by the meters.
Some neighbors argued that the SFMTA should enforce rules already on the books, such as prohibiting people from living in their cars. Residential permits would also deter those taking advantage of the free parking, they said.
Primus responded that it is not clear how effective residential parking is. Additionally, the SFMTA cannot “privatize the right-of-way,” he said.
Under the SFMTA’s proposal, the meters would have no set time limit and rates would start at 25 cents an hour.
A neighbor suggested that the rate was a “teaser” that would likely increase, because the meters are demand-based.
Primus countered that SFpark is required to charge the lowest rate possible and has only increased the rate three times at other city meters since the program launched almost a year ago. All the pricing data is available on their website, he said.
Tony Kelly of the Potrero Hill Boosters club suggested that the SFMTA continue to work with the neighbors.
“We are the experts of the neighborhood,” he said. “Let us help you.”
One thing was clear to Reiskin by the end of the meeting: The SFMTA needs to change the way it does outreach. For this proposal, its staff contacted some neighborhood organizations, such as ODC Dance Theater, the Mission Neighborhood Centers and UCSF.
“We obviously missed a lot of the voices in the community,” he said. “This process would help inform on how we do outreach as an agency going forward in matters far beyond parking and far beyond this neighborhood.”