Once vilified with the stamp of gentrification and viewed as a service for out-of-town visitors, valet parking has increasingly become accepted in the Mission, as a dozen or so restaurants and parking lots now offer the service. With new restaurants moving in, the likelihood is that even more will be needed.
If approved, a 50-space lot at Builders Exchange of San Francisco, on South Van Ness Avenue near 20th Street, will be the latest to adopt valet parking.
“What we can see in the immediate future is that the demand for parking, especially in the evening, is going to rise quite noticeably,” said Phillip Lesser of the Mission Merchants Association, who is spearheading the proposal for valet parking at the Exchange. “The supply of parking is going to diminish quite considerably.”
The demand will come from restaurants already approved and opening in the next year. Those include Preservation Hall West, a jazz venue and restaurant capable of hosting about 300 customers, and West of Pecos, a 3,000-square-foot restaurant.
Additionally, several lots currently used for parking will be developed into housing in the coming years.
Lesser said that valet parking offers a solution to a growing trend in the neighborhood.
“What we are realizing is that the Mission has different dynamics depending on the time of the day,” he said. “In the day we get a different crowd than at night.”
The restaurants Locanda, Foreign Cinema and Andalu already offer valet parking. Lots such as one at Hoff and 16th also offer the service.
Ryen Montzet, 32, the co-owner of Pristine Parking, which offers parking for Foreign Cinema, Andalu and Locanda, said business in the Mission has increased over the years.
“Yes, there are people who have the Bentleys that want to park somewhere,” he said. “There are also elderly people that just can’t handle [walking] long distances.”
For years, neighbors of the Building Exchange have wanted to lease spaces in its gated lot. The lot is already equipped with surveillance cameras and is empty after contractors leave for the day.
The Exchange has turned them down because of labor costs and liability issues associated with running a parking lot, said Deanna Johnson, executive director of the contractor-owned cooperative.
That changed when Lesser approached the Exchange about turning the lot into valet parking at night.
“Phil and his family used to own a business, Lesser Glass and Mirrors … we already knew him, so it was an easy sell,” she said. “It would generate revenue for us and the city as well.”
If approved, the plan will allow a parking company to run valet service at the lot from 6 p.m. to 3 a.m. The proposal, which is still in the early planning stages, would designate a handful of spots for car share companies.
For the builders association, open from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., the proposal was hard to refuse. An independent company would staff the valet service and assume any responsibility. Meanwhile, the Exchange could profit from its lot.
To address the growing demand for parking at night, Lesser and others have also worked with the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) to turn sections of commercial streets into metered parking during the day and drop-off zones at night.
Parts of the southeast side of the 700 block of Valencia, near 18th Street, and the northwest side of the 2800 block of Mission, near 24th Street, currently operate that way.
The Planning Department inevitably approves projects and disregards the additional traffic new restaurants might bring, arguing that public transportation options should keep diners from driving.
While BART and Muni are nearby, it’s unrealistic to expect everyone to take public transit, Lesser said.
“I am for other alternatives and getting them to take BART — no one is more enthused about that than me,” he said. “The reality is we are not going to get everyone to give up their automobiles. We need to get them out of the automobiles as quickly as possible.”
There are several small lots with valet parking on Valencia Street, but they fill quickly, Lesser said. This leads many drivers to circle the neighborhood and occasionally block people’s driveways — Lesser’s included.
So far the only backlash against valet parking has not been from people concerned with gentrification, but from bicyclists.
After Mission Mission posted an item titled “New valet parking service at Locanda on Valencia means long lines of cars queued up in the bike lane,” Montzet believes some of its readers wrote one-star Yelp reviews for Locanda and complained to the SFMTA.
But that’s not the whole story, Montzet said: The spot for valet parking on 16th and Valencia streets is small and the service can’t keep cars from queuing up as they wait for an attendant. For cyclists, a growing constituency in the city, blocking the bike lane is a safety issue.
“The beautiful thing about San Francisco is that it’s a very friendly place, it’s open-minded and everyone has to work together,” Montzet said. “I bike and skateboard; if the car is in the way, all they have to do is call me rather than getting everyone in trouble.”
The company is making a sign to warn drivers not to block the bike lane, and will add staff so they can keep drivers from blocking the bike lane, he said.
Montzet said he would have made those changes if people had talked to him directly instead of defaming his company.
“It’s not as if we were blatantly telling people to f— off and ignoring phone calls; I haven’t received one phone call,” he said, noting that his personal number is displayed on the valet parking sign. “Trying to get people to write bad reviews and complain about the company is not cool. It’s people’s jobs and livelihood at stake.”