San Francisco nonprofit garage given lease renewal

Despite concerns over the unusual agreement with a nonprofit overseeing management of the Japantown public parking garage, a new 10-year lease was approved Tuesday by the Board of Supervisors.

In the 1950s, the nonprofit parking garage model was established for debt issuance. But when the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency was given debt-issuance authority by voters in 2008, that function became obsolete. Since then, a city controller’s audit has advised discontinuing the practice. Such arrangements have been terminated in other garages.

But the transit agency proposed continuing the relationship with the 11-member Japan Center Garage Corp., which oversees the 920-space garage that serves the Japantown and Fillmore neighborhoods. The politically well-connected group turned out to strongly support the deal.

Supervisor Mark Farrell had previously criticized the deal, but supported it Tuesday. He said he changed his position for two reasons: because he would invest the same amount of money in neighborhood commercial corridors if asked, and, “It meant a lot to hear from [supporters] how this board was structured, how much it meant to the merchants, but also to the community members.”

The nonprofit’s board members serve for free, but the transit agency pays the organization’s management costs. Costs totaled $276,782 last fiscal year and will increase to $319,000.

Supervisors Carmen Chu and John Avalos opposed the deal. Both said the benefits of the nonprofit have not been measured fiscally and The City should be moving toward having the transit agency operate the garage.

Supervisor London Breed, whose district includes the garage, backed the deal.

“This corporation comprised of business owners and leaders in the community have served as a check against the injustice, a voice for the neighborhoods,” Breed said. “That voice is far too valuable to silence it now in the name of cost savings.”

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