The Department of Emergency Management sought additional parking spaces for employees at 1011 Turk St., next to the Margaret S. Hayward Playground in the Western Addition. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

City stalls request for more parking for 911 dispatchers, citing ‘Transit First’ policy

SFMTA board says city staff should be ‘leading by example,’ discouraged from driving

One by one, in transportation project after transportation project, San Francisco has sought to eliminate parking spaces to favor speeding up transit.

That is, except when it comes to its own city agencies.

On Tuesday, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency sought to convert 20 parking spaces on a section of Turk Street into 24-hour-a-day permit-only parking for Department of Emergency Management employees at the agency’s 911 call center and headquarters at 1101 Turk St.

But in a rare, once-in-a-blue-moon move, the SFMTA board deadlocked on the proposal Tuesday, pointing out the agency’s hypocrisy in seeking transit-first solutions for The City while encouraging more parking for its employees while removing parking spaces for residents in other parts of town.

And that failed vote will prompt the SFMTA Board of Directors to discuss a parking and transit policy for San Francisco’s roughly 29,000 employees at the board’s January retreat, they said.

The SFMTA Board of Directors rarely rejects a proposal put forward by staff.

Instead of deadlocking or voting down a measure, the board favors tabling discussions when there is disagreement so SFMTA staff can modify a project and bring it back when consensus is reached.

When asked, SFMTA staff could not recall the last time a nay vote managed to block a proposal’s passage at SFMTA.

“The direction of The City is against offering more parking for people,” Gwyneth Borden, SFMTA Board of Director’s vice chair, said during a discussion of the proposal Tuesday.

“I’m sure everybody in San Francisco would like a free on-street parking space, but this does trouble me,” SFMTA board director Steve Heminger said. “People get mad at City Hall for a lot of reasons, but one reason is ‘do as I say, not as I do.’”

Heminger added, “I just think city employees ought to be leading by example, and we shouldn’t be in the business of providing a bunch of on-street parking space for their own cars.”

Department of Emergency Management spokesperson Francis Zamora said the agency’s staffing levels have risen to meet the demand for emergency call volume in The City.

“The Department of Emergency Management has proposed a parking solution that ensures there are enough parking spaces for 9-1-1 dispatchers, emergency managers and other first responders during peak operational hours while restoring parking for the public on nights and Sundays,” Zamora wrote, in a statement. “We look forward to discussing this win-win solution with the SFMTA Board.”

The department already has 40 on-street parking spaces reserved for its employees, and Tuesday’s proposal would’ve expanded that total to 60. Some of the spaces proposed would be for all times, while some of the proposed 20 spaces were reserved for the department during bankers hours — 6 a.m. until 6 p.m — so they could be used by the neighborhood at night.

SFMTA staff told the SFMTA board there are roughly 241 employees at that site, including 911 call staff and others who help coordinate The City’s response to intense heat, earthquakes, and other crises.

There used to be a parking lot for emergency employees, which was developed later on.

“We did feel that, given these employees cannot be late for work, and since they did have parking that was removed permanently,” that this would be an exception to the transit-first policy, SFMTA Acting Director Tom Maguire said.

This would give them “partial relief,” he said, “We’re not trying to create one-for-one parking replacement.”

In the intervening time, the Department of Emergency Management has suffered under-staffing in its call center, which the San Francisco Examiner has previously reported. SFMTA staff said hiring troubles were one reason they were inclined to offer expanded parking.

Another reason to offer parking despite San Francisco’s Transit First policy is the 24-hour, seven-day-a-week nature of 911 call center employee’s hours.

“These are 911 dispatchers. They have to arrive in the morning, every morning, at times when transit isn’t running as frequently,” SFMTA staff told the board.

But SFMTA directors said this flies in the face of their own policy for the rest of San Francisco.

The board split 3-3, with directors Heminger, Amanda Eaken and Art Torres voting nay, and directors Borden, Cheryl Brinkman, and Cristina Rubke voting to approve the parking changes.

SFMTA Board of Directors Chair Malcolm Heinicke was absent for the first portion of the SFMTA Board of Directors meeting, and his vote could have split the tie.

The six SFMTA board directors then voted to rescind their previous failed vote and continue the discussion at a later meeting after gathering more data.

joe@sfexaminer.com

This article has been updated to clarify more detail in the parking restrictions up for approval Tuesday.

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