The SFMTA may further limit the number of residential parking permits a household can obtain. The restrictions would first be part of a pilot program in northwest Bernal Heights and the Dogpatch. (Daniel Kim/Special to S.F. Examiner)

SF households may lose parking permits to free up spaces citywide

Can’t find a parking spot near your home in The City? You’re not the only one.

To ease neighborhood parking woes, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency is undertaking its first major overhaul of residential parking permits since they were established in 1976.

But first, the agency is starting small.

The SFMTA Board of Directors will consider on Tuesday approval of a pilot program to slash the number of residential parking permits per household in two neighborhoods — northwest Bernal Heights and the Dogpatch — which may become law citywide by 2019.

Under the original parking permit rules still in place today, The City grants more parking permits than there are spaces available, SFMTA staff told reporters Wednesday.

“It’s been over forty years, and we haven’t changed [the program] at all since then,” said Kathy Studwell, residential parking permit program manager at the SFMTA. “The City has changed drastically.”

Parking permits were first established to protect neighborhood parking from out-of-town visitors, SFMTA staff said. But over the decades, some neighborhoods have become increasingly mixed with industrial and merchant spaces.

The Dogpatch was chosen as a pilot area, in part, because it features residential blocks dotted throughout industrial zones.

There are currently more than 78,000 permitted parking spaces in San Francisco, with about 153,000 households eligible to apply for them, according to the SFMTA. About 95,000 permits are issued annually.

And though the proposed rules will mostly affect the two pilot program areas, new rules may be proposed for The City’s 29 permit areas following evaluation of the pilot.

Studwell said the bottom line is, “There’s really too many cars and not enough curb.”

Under the current rules, households may be granted up to four residential parking permits. Residents must apply for an exemption for five or more. In the two pilot areas, however, that number will be limited to one permit per driver, and two permits per household.

The four-permit limit “was in response to the story of Danielle Steel,” according to parking policy manager Hank Willson.

In 2002, the Board of Supervisors limited parking permits for the first time since 1976 after Pacific Heights neighbors complained that Steel, a best-selling romance author, was clogging up nearby parking with her 26 permitted vehicles.

Similarly, the board will consider eliminating the option for households to obtain five or more on Tuesday. That particular consideration won’t necessarily have a large impact, Studwell said, because only 12 households citywide currently hold five or more parking permits.

Currently, 71 percent of eligible households have only one residential parking permit, 23 percent have two permits, and five percent have three, according to the SFMTA. About 1.3 percent of eligible households have four parking permits.

For zones like the Dogpatch, the SFMTA is hoping to float a permit-pay hybrid option, in which meters would be used in residential parking permit zones. Studwell said this may help businesses that are in residential parking permit areas by giving employees and customers an option to pay to park longer.

“What we’re proposing is to have paid plus permit parking, where the resident with the permit still parks for free with no time constraints,” Studwell said.

The way residents create or extend residential parking permit areas would also change under the new rules. Currently, residents who wish to establish a new permit zone, or extend an existing one, must obtain signatures from at least 50 percent of the neighborhood.

Under the new rules, the petition system would no longer be required, and the SFMTA would institute a normal “planning process,” Studwell said, which would also solve the problem of the ever-growing, spontaneously established residential parking permit zones.

The process previously was not data-driven, staff said, leading to parking zones expanding based on some neighbors demands, while also not necessarily providing enough opportunities to allow other neighbors to weigh in.

“The current process doesn’t allow for enough public engagement,” Studwell said. “Which streets are in? Which streets are out?”

The current process, staff said, has led to oddly shaped parking zones that may not serve the community, like Zone I, which snakes through portions of the Mission District with myriad holes throughout.

Many of those ideas came from extensive public outreach SFMTA staff conducted over the last three years. The final overhaul of the residential parking permit program may not be proposed until 2020, staff said.

Why the long wait?

“The program has not changed substantially in 40 years,” Willson said. “This is the most comprehensive evaluation we’ve ever done.”

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to reflect the correct spelling of Hank Willson’s name.

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