Out-of-town motorists finding new free spots in SF neighborhoods 

Every morning, a familiar phenomenon begins to take place in the small San Francisco neighborhood of South Park.

Cars begin flooding the narrow South Park street, queuing up in long lines to find a coveted spot in the half-block of the thoroughfare that lacks meters and isn’t zoned for residential parking. Just a block away, scores of metered-spots remain empty, but these commuters are interested in only one thing — all-day free parking.

“It’s pretty much like clockwork,” said Toby Levy, an architect who lives in the neighborhood. “People will do just about anything to get that free parking spot.”

In 1976, San Francisco adopted its residential parking program, an initiative aimed at preventing out-of-town commuters from hogging up free on-street spots. There are more than 80,000 residential parking permits and 27 zoned areas in San Francisco, but after 25 years of the program, commuters are still finding ways to beat the system.

Nearly all of northeastern San Francisco is blanketed by residential parking zones, a move aimed largely at deterring commuters coming in from Marin County. However, neighbors in the South Park, North of Panhandle (NoPa), Alamo Square and other communities are beginning to notice a large influx of commuters who park their cars in unpermitted zones, and then leave for a full day of work in downtown San Francisco.

“It’s becoming quite an issue here,” said Ben Allison of the Alamo Square Neighborhood Association. “Parking was never usually a problem, but now we’re seeing more and more cars stay in these spots all day. It makes it much harder for residents to find spaces.”

Leela Gill of the North of Panhandle Neighborhood Association echoed Allison’s sentiments, saying that the flood of vehicles into non-permitted areas has become the top concern for local residents.

The NoPa neighborhood is partially covered by a residential parking zone, but Alamo Square has mostly free spots. Establishing a new zone is no easy feat — neighbors must band together and show that a significant majority want the changes, according to Bond Yee, parking director for the Municipal Transportation Agency. New zones are not frequent — the last approved one came two years ago, near Lowell High School. Before that, The City had gone six years without a new residential parking zone.

Allison said his neighborhood group has been considering applying for a residential parking permit.

For now, though, there is little Allison or anyone else can do to prevent out-of-towners from taking up prime parking spots.

“There is nothing illegal about parking in a free space,” Yee said. “If they want to go through all that trouble with finding a spot, they can.”

Nannies seek nonresident exemption

While local residents stew about the spate of out-of-towners parking in their free spots, a new ruling could open up San Francisco to even more commuters driving into The City.

The Golden Gate Mothers Association, a 4,000-member organization, has members who are pushing for exemptions that would allow nannies and child-care providers to become eligible for San Francisco’s residential parking program.

The program, established in 1976 as a way to deter distant commuters from parking all day in free spaces, is only available to residents with a San Francisco address. However, some workers, like teacher and health care employees, have won exemptions from the plan and are therefore able to park legally at permitted spaces.

Following that lead, the mothers group is hoping to qualify nannies for the exemptions. Roxanne Stachon, a member of the group, has said that nannies have to move their cars every two hours, leaving children unattended in the home. Providing them with permits would prevent potential safety issues.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which manages parking in The City, has proposed allowing each eligible household one transferrable permit for the nannies to use. To qualify for the exemption, the house must provide a signed affidavit, indicating the permit is only for the nanny, as well producing a birth certificate indicating the child is under 12 years of age.

On Tuesday, the MTA’s board of directors will vote on whether to approve that policy.

Snagging a spot

27: Neighborhoods in The City with residential parking program
80,000: Residential parking permits
441,541: Total parking spaces (paid and unpaid) in San Francisco
$98: Cost to purchase a residential parking permit
4: Number of permits allowed for each household
2009: Last time a new residential parking area was established
2001: Previous time a new residential parking area was established
0: Number of current petitions to establish new residential parking area

Areas that fall between the cracks, as they are not part of the residential parking program and don’t have meters

- North of Panhandle
- Alamo Square
- South Park
- Western Addition


Correction: This article was corrected on Jan. 31, 2011. The original article misstated the role of the Golden Gate Mothers Association in the parking debate . The group has members who are pushing for exemptions that would allow nannies and child-care providers to become eligible for San Francisco’s residential parking program.

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Will Reisman

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