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Sowing discord, one block at a time

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When it comes to residential parking permits, San Francisco must do everything in its power to reduce tensions between neighbors. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)


If you really want to get a neighborhood riled up, bring up street parking. Recently, I watched as parking — more specifically, expanding residential parking permits — created a rift in my neighborhood.

Parking permits don’t just affect the block that gets them; they affect nearby blocks as well. Permits were originally intended to keep “commuters” from parking all day in low-density residential neighborhoods. But when one block gets permits, the commuters just move to nearby permit-free blocks. One block’s solution becomes another block’s problem.

I went to City Hall for a hearing on a proposal to expand residential parking permits near my house. The woman who wanted the permits secured, as required, more than 50 percent of the people living on the block to sign a petition requesting permits.

The problem is that no one else knew about it, including some people who live on the block in question. Turns out, there’s no requirement that all residents on a block be notified of a petition. So some of the people most affected may never know about the permits until it’s too late. Why doesn’t The City require the notice of a proposed permit be mailed to everyone who lives within a few blocks?

On my street, one neighbor just happened to stop and read a notice of the hearing taped to a light pole and posted it to Nextdoor about a week before the hearing. That was when most neighbors first learned of the proposal. People felt blindsided and angry.

My neighbors worried the proposed permit will lead to an increase in parking on our adjacent blocks, and that, in turn, will lead to pressure to get parking permits on our blocks, too. This block-by-block expansion of the parking permit zone means that, over time, the entire neighborhood will end up requiring permits, with all the fees, fines and loss of parking access for visitors and workers that permits entail.

At the hearing, the person who wanted permits (who doesn’t have a garage and must park on the street) said it was to stop commuters from parking on the block. But she also noted her annoyance with neighbors who have garages but don’t park their cars in them and those who have multiple cars. She complained about cars that aren’t moved for weeks at a time. She expressed her frustration at going out at night, then returning to find she can’t park close to her house. Residential parking permits, however, won’t stop neighbors from parking on the block — each house can secure permits for up to four cars — nor will they impact parking at night when the permits are not in force.

It’s not clear if parking permits will actually address her concerns. But it did seem she also hoped the permits might encourage her neighbors to use their garages and have fewer cars.

That feeds into the concern of many of my neighbors that the residential parking permit program has evolved from one designed to keep commuters from taking all the parking to one intended to discourage residents from having cars … and to generate revenue for The City. Permits can cost neighbors thousands of dollars in fees over the years.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency is currently reviewing the parking permit program. My fear is that rather than focusing on how to make the process more fair, transparent and inclusive, the SFMTA will use the review as a way to further discourage people in low-density neighborhoods from having cars, e.g., by converting some parking spaces on a block to spaces for car share companies. That will only lead to more conflict.

Due to the opposition of many neighbors, the SFMTA put off a decision on the permit for my street until fall. But people have been riled up and feelings have been hurt.

In the meantime, every new proposal for parking permits on a block pits neighbor against neighbor, block against block and street against street. The City should do everything it can to reduce tensions between neighbors, not push a residential parking permit process that increases conflict.

Sally Stephens is an animal, park and neighborhood activist who lives in the West of Twin Peaks area.

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