Newsom to city officials: Take the bus 

Mayor Gavin Newsom wants to yank free parking privileges from city commissioners and instead give them all Fast Passes to ride Muni.

People who serve on The City’s commissions have long had the right to park for free at the Civic Center Garage, within walking distance of City Hall, as a perk for serving while receiving no salary or, in some cases, small stipends of about $50 or $100 p meeting.

As the Municipal Transportation Agency board of directors was meeting Tuesday to discuss The City’s free parking policy, a mayoral aide read a letter from Newsom requesting the board examine doing away with the free parking policy for commissioners and instead provide them with Muni passes.

"Such a change would serve to promote our city’s Transit First policy and may demonstrate budget savings," Newsom said in the letter.

Commissioners who park for free at the Civic Center Garage are costing The City about $2,000 a month, according to Ronald Szeto, acting director of The City’s parking authority.

"It wouldn’t work for me. I would probably end up paying for my own parking," said Theresa Sparks, who serves on the Police Commission, which usually meets at 5:30 p.m. Sparks estimated she would end up spending $50 a month out of her own pocket on parking.

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The Examiner reported in January that Newsom would put a greater emphasis on attendance by city commissioners at meetings. Some unpaid commissions, such as the Landmarks Preservation Advisory Board and Film Commission, have suffered spotty attendance by members. Some of the paid and more demanding positions, such as police, fire and planning, have had better attendance records.

Newsom acknowledged in the letter that "in many respects" it makes sense to allow commissioners to park for free since they "spend hours per week serving the public with no salary."

While doing away with the parking privilege for commissioners may result in a "minimal inconvenience," it does move The City closer to Newsom’s "commitment to alternative transportation," Newsom spokesman Nathan Ballard said.

Ballard also said the free parking privilege has been abused in the past. "We can safely say that there are some commissioners who in the past have abused this privilege by racking up thousands in free city parking," Ballard said.

Newsom also said the free parking is "preferential treatment" and represents "a perk that provides privileges for some at the expense of local taxpayers," which was why when he took office he did away with a policy of free parking for employees who work in the Mayor’s Office, the letter said.

Newsom’s request comes during his election year, and in the wake of his recent announcement that he was examining the possibility of a fare-free Muni system.

When asked to comment on Newsom’s plan, Supervisor Jake McGoldrick said, "Is it just grandstanding? Is it just political gamesmanship? These people give years of their lives for nothing. He’s barking up some kind of weird tree." McGoldrick also pointed out that Muni is not a very reliable transit service.

The MTA board will review a more detailed study of Newsom’s idea sometime in May.

Each day until voters go to the polls Nov. 6, The Examiner lays odds on local figures beating Mayor Gavin Newsom. Check out our exclusive blog: San Francisco's Next Mayor?

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