Mike Koozmin/The ExaminerThe San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency hopes to raise as much as $30 million annually by charging businesses that have free parking spaces.

San Francisco may charge businesses for free parking spots

Businesses that offer free parking in San Francisco could be dinged with thousands of dollars in fees each year.

Local businesses would be charged a $1,000 annual fee for each spot in a free parking lot under a new proposal being considered by the cash-strapped San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency.

The SFMTA, which operates Muni, estimates that there are 30,000 unpaid parking spots in The City, at locations such as the Stonestown Galleria, grocery stores and retail outlets. The “parking stall” fee could generate $30 million annually for the SFMTA, which faces a two-year, $79.7 million budget shortfall.

Not surprisingly, businesses are not thrilled with the idea.

Susan Houghton, spokeswoman for Safeway, said it doesn’t make sense for The City to punish businesses for offering a free service to their customers.

“This is not something we would support — on any level,” said Houghton.

To take effect, the SFMTA’s board of directors would have to put the plan before voters. Because the fee would be directed toward a specific city agency, it would need a two-thirds majority to be approved, with the vote likely coming in next year’s June or November elections.

Steven Cornell, owner of Brownies Hardware on Polk Street, said if such a measure passes, companies would have no choice but to charge customers for formerly free parking spaces in order to avoid The City’s fees.

“Businesses will either be forced to charge for parking or they’ll look into moving out of San Francisco,” said Cornell. “With all the other fees we face, I think most businesses would just choose to leave The City.”

Jim Lazarus, public policy director of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, conceded that the SFMTA needs a new revenue stream for its operations. However, he said that money should come from The City’s general fund and not from a parking fee.

Still, Tom Nolan, chairman of the SFMTA’s board of directors, said that all revenue options should be seriously considered by the agency. It faces a structural deficit and cannot manage its operations with its current funding sources, he said.

“We’ve said all along that everything must be on the table,” said Nolan. “And we’ve brought up some real interesting discussions about who actually owns the parking spots in San Francisco. I think this proposal could address those issues.”

wreisman@sfexaminer.com

Lot fees

Parking proposal facts:

$1,000 Proposed annual fee charged to businesses for each unpaid parking spot

30,000 Unpaid parking spots at San Francisco businesses

$30M Annual revenue generated for SFMTA under proposal

$79.7M Current two-year budget deficit for agency

Source: SFMTA

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