City makes free controversial Dolores Street ‘parking for God’ permanent

Once decried as “parking for God” by car-less critics, The City’s once-controversial program to provide free church parking is here to stay.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Board on Tuesday voted to make a pilot program for free weekend parking on street medians on Dolores Street permanent. That parking is largely aimed at church-goers, who complained that scarce weekend parking in the Mission could lead to dwindling memberships for religious organizations.

The unanimous decision was the culmination of years of negotiations between secular neighbors who decried the median parking as a violation of the separation of church and state, and church officials who said ex-San Franciscans, pushed out by rising rents, deserved parking to attend services.

In 2015 the SFMTA convened a working group of church leaders and neighborhood representatives to broker peace, which resulted in the April 2017, 16-month pilot to formalize the previously unofficial practice with hours limited to weekends.

“We found a strong interest from the community to see the practice stop,” SFMTA planner John Knox White told the board. “But also heard interest from the community to let the practice continue if the rules were less capricious and more fair.”

That hard-won pilot program worked, according to SFMTA data.

Illegal after-dark and overnight parking has been “essentially been eliminated,” according to an SFMTA analysis, as cars are now allowed to park in the median only until 6pm on Sundays. Parking at illegal red curbs has been “significantly reduced,” the agency also attested, and only a handful of scofflaws net citations per a week. There is still a problem with illegal parkers on Dolores Street between 17th and 18th Streets after the cutoff time of 6 p.m., SFMTA staff acknowledged in a report, but they attribute that to one-off evening restaurant-goers and Dolores Park visitors confused by the rules.

Knox White told the San Francisco Examiner that — save for one particularly-dedicated street-watcher — the SFMTA and 311 have not netted a single complaint on the median parking issue in a year — and he added, they used to see a flurry of urgent communications from perturbed neighbors.

Churchgoers have informally parked along Dolores Street’s medians since the time of the horse and buggy, church leaders previously said publicly. For many decades, San Francisco police and transit enforcers turned the other cheek and ignored the practice, which is used by attendees of Cornerstone Church, Congregation Sha’ar Zahav, Mission Dolores Church and others.

In the recent years, however, as the informal parking habit grew, secular neighbors raised holy hell.

“Drivers frequently parked cars well into intersections, in the spaces between medians, and for extended periods (past sundown and occasionally overnight),” wrote SFMTA staff in a report.

Irene Ogus, past president of congregation Sha’ar Zahav, said the parking changes have mostly been fruitful. Their congregation sees more than 150 people but sees about ten parks nearby, part of the congregation’s commitment to transit. But, she said, there is one sector of the congregation who may need to drive.

“Sha’ar Zahav was founded 40 years ago by young and vigorous LGBT jews,” she told the board. She said she hopes for more parking nearby “as our congregation grows, and ages.”

Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez
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Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez

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