A parking attendant works the cashiers desk at the Fifth and Mission Street Garage on Monday, June 17, 2019. (Lola Chase/Special to The Examiner)

Staff cuts leave city garages unattended

Attendant positions cut in response to reduced demand for parking, improved technology

Parking attendants are becoming an endangered species in San Francisco’s city-owned garages, but city supervisors are pushing for them to make a comeback.

Attendant jobs are being eliminated one-by-one as demand for parking garages in San Francisco shrinks, in part due to the rise of Uber and Lyft, and as transportation officials modernize with computers and video cameras.

But at a Board of Supervisors Land Use and Transportation Committee hearing on Monday, supervisors said the change is turning garages into unwelcoming, dangerous-feeling empty spaces. Computers, they noted, can’t greet parking customers or make them feel safe walking from the sidewalk to their cars.

Supervisor Ahsha Safai, in particular, who represents the Excelsior, Outer Mission and Crocker-Amazon neighborhoods, called on the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency to place a moratorium on reducing staff.

“If there weren’t people in that garage, I would not want my wife parking in that garage,” Safai said. “You’ve literally reduced something that was our first class jewel to, it sounds like people hate it now.”

San Francisco owns and operates 22 parking garages and numerous parking lots, and in 2016 started modernizing them with “Parking Access Revenue Control Systems,” a capital investment of roughly $32 million. Those upgrades are still ongoing but include equipment and software that help run a parking facility, including ticket machines, license plate readers, radio systems, gate arms, payment machines and camera systems, according to the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency.

At the committee hearing, SFMTA Parking Director Ted Graff defended the upgrades. SFMTA data shows car break-ins are down 18 percent so far this year from last year, violent crime in garages is nearly non-existent, and the number of scofflaw, non-paying parkers has declined by 17 percent from 2015 to 2018.

Graff did acknowledge that citywide, parking garage staffing levels have dropped off from 233 to 195. But, it’s not that simple, he said.

The City doesn’t directly employ those staffers, and instead contracts to third parties, like LAZ Parking. Those third parties have helped parking attendants get other jobs in their companies, Graff said, and some valets and other workers became SFMTA garage “ambassadors,” shifting the work they perform.

“Just to be clear: Zero job loss,” Graff said.

Graff said a reduction in parking demand is driving the need to lose some staff positions. SFMTA have to be “responsible stewards of our assets,” he said.

But fewer human beings patrolling garages led many of those testifying to the committee to describe unsatisfying parking experiences. Some parking attendants said publicly that there are so few people working the garages now that they’ve become “slum garages” and unsafe “caverns” pocked with urine, feces and needles.

Parking customers echoed those sentiments.

“I have felt palpably less safe without these personnel who are dedicated to the safety of paying customers,” said Veronica LaBeau, who works in the Flood Building downtown and utilizes a nearby city parking garage. LaBeau collected more than 200 signatures from people in the building who want to see attendants brought back to the parking facility.

Patrick Isenburg, who said he owns a hair salon on Grant Avenue, lamented the lack of people in the city-owned garage he frequents.

“I don’t think that it’s fair to myself or other customers, walking by people smoking crystal meth or shooting up heroin near my kids,” he said. “It’s just not OK.”

And while Graff said the parking workers were taken care of, the unions representing those workers disagreed.

Teamsters Local 665 Vice President Tony Delorio called the work reduction a “calculated attack on our members.”

“They have made it clear the cuts will continue,” Delorio told the supervisors. He added that the majority of his union members are “of minority descent” and are also mostly San Francisco residents.

“Did we expect some staffing cuts with implementation? Sure,” he said. “But we did not expect cuts of this magnitude.”

Supervisor Aaron Peskin told the committee he understands that “the world has changed” and that more people take Uber and Lyft nowadays, instead of driving, but “I miss paying that person in person. I miss that human interaction I had with somebody who was my neighbor who I knew for years. I really don’t want to get rid of that human element.”

Ultimately, Peskin and Safai asked SFMTA to meet again to discuss possible parking layoff moratoriums, and how to structure work at parking garages in the future.

joe@sfexaminer.com

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