Parked cars sit along Lower Great Highway by the public restroom at Taraval Street near Ocean Beach on Tuesday, July 2, 2019. An SFMTA project could remove nearly 100 parking spaces from along Great Highway for around three years. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Sunset merchants up in arms over plans to cut parking spaces on Great Highway

Three-year SFMTA project could remove nearly 100 spots between Santiago and Ulloa

When even a single parking space is threatened by a public streets project in San Francisco, merchants are quick to sound the alarm.

Take that uproar and multiply it by 96, and you’ve got an idea of just how ticked off Sunset and Parkside merchants are right now.

A city effort to replace sewers and pipes as part of the L-Taraval Improvement Project was initially slated to eliminate up to 100 parking spaces along lower Great Highway for up to three years.

“That’s ‘putting us out of business’ numbers,” said Doug Marshke, owner of Underdogs Too on Taraval Street, just a stone’s throw from where the parking spots are slated to disappear.

Making things worse, The City failed to tell merchants or residents about the projected loss of parking until just weeks before the project was set to start on July 1, according to Supervisor Gordon Mar’s office.

The resulting outcry was enough to force The City to back off temporarily and reconsider.

When it’s complete, the L-Taraval Improvement Project will bring safer transit to the more than 30,000 daily riders of the L-Taraval line, according to the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency.

Whereas many of those riders now disembark from trains directly into oncoming traffic in the middle of Taraval Street, newly constructed medians will provide a safe haven. Widened sidewalks will also make crossing safer for all pedestrians, and transit priority signals paired with a transit-only lane will speed up Muni service.

The City also plans to conduct sewer, water and roadway repair work as part of the project.

SFMTA officials said construction contractors need the parking spaces to stage their equipment along Great Highway and to allow traffic lanes to be shifted.

The number of parking spaces expected to be removed, 96, was a “high-ball” estimate made out of an abundance of caution, said SFMTA spokesperson Erica Kato. Those spaces would be removed on lower Great Highway from Santiago to Ulloa streets.

But The City only notified residents and officials of the loss of parking two weeks before the project was slated to start on Monday, July 1, sending Supervisor Gordon Mar’s office scrambling to find alternatives.

“We never got any word on that happening,” said Albert Chow, owner of Great Wall Hardware on Taraval, who also heads the local group People of Parkside and Sunset.

Now SFMTA is re-evaluating the parking situation along with Mar’s office, but Chow said it should have been discussed with the community in the first place.

“We all know we have to take a couple punches here to make this project go forward, but that was just unreasonable,” Chow said of the lack of notice.

When finally presented with parking alternatives in a neighborhood survey, residents voted them all down, a result Mar’s office attributed to the last minute-nature of the effort.

“This project is essential — for necessary sewer and water line improvements, and also for much-needed pedestrian and Muni passenger safety improvements,” said Mar in a statement. “But moving quickly does not mean moving carelessly, and the urgency of these projects makes it all the more frustrating that our office, residents and merchants were not given adequate notice or input in decisions that will impact their lives and livelihoods for three years or longer.”

Following the vote on Monday, Mar sent a sternly-worded letter to SFMTA Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin calling for a three-month halt to the project. SFMTA has agreed to hold off until the end of July to figure out parking alternatives, Mar’s office said.

“We are looking into a reconfiguration plan for the staging area and are likely to reduce the number of parking spaces needed,” said Kato. “Right now, it depends on the traffic engineering team’s street study as well as taking into consideration auto vehicles’ turning radius, safety of drivers and pedestrians in the area and construction constraints.”

Kato said the project leads will have an update “next week.” Mar plans to seek community input on the proposed parking loss at a safe streets town hall on Saturday, July 13 at Wah Mei School on 1400 Judah Street.

For now, nearby merchants are now in limbo, worried the parking loss will wash up their profits, tanking their futures like a diving gull at Ocean Beach.

Marshke, in particular, just opened his second Underdogs restaurant. The first, on Irving Street, has been a beloved fixture of the neighborhood for 12 years. But to open his new location on Taraval Street, he had to take out a bank loan against his house and all the property he owns, he said.

Additional parking was the whole reason Marshke opened his second restaurant on Taraval, he said, since his Irving Street customers often complain they can’t find a spot to park.

When speaking to the San Francisco Examiner, he calculated each parking space the neighborhood might lose along the Great Highway in terms of how much each customer may spend, rattling off figures from the top of his head while voicing increasing concern.

“We’re only six months old. We’re not profitable yet. If we don’t make money, I could lose my house,” he said. “I could lose everything.”

joe@sfexaminer.com

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