Parking lot may be draining Port coffers

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A prime Fisherman’s Wharf parking lot operates with little oversight and cost the Port of San Francisco nearly $600,000 in unreported revenue and overcharges during a two-year period, according to a city controller’s audit released Monday.

The Fisherman’s Wharf Restaurant Association, a coalition of 11 establishments, has had an agreement with the Port since 1982 to operate a 286-car parking lot that its businesses surround. But now, the two are locked in a fierce battle about who will control the lot at the corner of Taylor and Jefferson streets in the future.

The city audit, requested by the Port, doesn’t seem to help the association’s cause.

It examined operations from July 2006 to June 2008 and found nearly $600,000 was likely either overcharged to the Port or was unreported revenue. The audit identified nearly $240,000 in missing tickets and about $330,000 in unsupported or unallowable expenses, and overcharges of more than $3,000 for a Christmas tree and a wrongful charge of about $2,300 for vehicle damage.

The Port has already started a bidding process to bring in a parking lot operator.

But the association fired back, calling the audit’s findings “baseless and untrue.”

Instead, the association said the audit is part of an effort by the Port to regain the parking lot by removing the association “by any means necessary, including slanderous allegations of financial impropriety.”

The association fears another operator would raise rates and curtail validation, causing a drop in customers. The restaurants currently charge $2.50 per 30 minutes for parking, but patrons of surrounding restaurants and businesses can park there for free.

Port officials are moving forward with plans to bring in another operator, but the association said it hopes to have members of the Board of Supervisors intervene in its favor.

The group is also considering legal action.

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