Parking search may get tougher 

Motorists trying to find a free parking space in San Francisco could be looking harder under a proposal to add up to 1,000 more meters to city streets, a move being debated by business owners who are normally champions of paid parking spots.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, facing a $56.4 million shortfall next fiscal year, manages parking and transit in The City. It has projected that the 1,000 new meters would generate $3 million annually. There are currently 25,000 meters installed on city streets.

Meters are usually favored by merchant groups because they encourage parking turnover and free up spaces for potential customers in front of business. But Stephen Cornell, owner of Brownie’s Hardware on Polk Street, questioned the need for any more paid spots in San Francisco.

“If there is an area in The City where there is not enough turnover, than I’m all for more meters,” Cornell said. “But I can’t honestly think of a place where that is an issue. Otherwise, this is just a revenue-generating proposal.”

The MTA hasn’t released information about where the 1,000 new meters could be potentially placed, but SPUR, a local think tank, has identified several areas where paid parking is underused.

According to the organization’s transportation chair, Gillian Gillett, there are plenty of spots near the Caltrain Station, Civic Center and Fisherman’s Wharf that could use parking meters.

“We feel that these spots are low-hanging fruit for the MTA,” Gillett said. “There has to be at least a couple of hundred spots by the Caltrain Station they could target, and its usually pretty typical for cities to meter around transit systems.”

Jim Lazarus, public policy director for the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, agreed with SPUR’s assessment that meters could be added intermittently to The City.

“There certainly are spots within currently existing meter zones to add more paid parking,” said Lazarus, who mentioned streets around the Civic Center, SoMa and Hayes Valley as potential sites. “It can’t be some mass movement, but an infill of missing meter spots here and there would work.”

Russell Pritchard, president of the Hayes Valley Merchants Association, said there are concerns among business owners that the parking meters will spread to nearby residential areas.

“The residents in this neighborhood make up a strong customer base for me,” said Pritchard, owner of Zonal, an interior design shop on Hayes Street. “I would be gravely opposed to meters that encroach into residential spots.”

While businesses go back and forth on the merits of more meters, local motorists aren’t likely to offer much support for the paid parking proposal.

Scott Manley, 28, a city resident who uses his car daily as an account manager for Sam Adams, said more meters would pose problems for him.

“I get reimbursed for parking, but there is only a finite amount I can expense each month for parking tickets,” Manley said. “With more parking meters, I can almost guarantee I’ll be getting more tickets each month.”

With the MTA board recently approving a 10 percent reduction in Muni service — a move that drew much public outrage — the agency’s governing body has been much supportive of using vehicles instead of transit to raise revenue for operations.

Malcolm Heinicke, an MTA board member, emphatically issued his support for the 1,000 new parking meters at Tuesday’s board meeting. The MTA board will likely vote on the meter proposal by April 20.

Battling a deficit, one meter at a time

1,000 Number of new meters proposed
25,000 Current number of meters
$3 million Annual revenue the 1,000 new meters would generate*
$56.4 million MTA budget shortfall for upcoming fiscal year
$233 million Projected revenue collected by the MTA this year, in parking meters and fines
$3.50 Current hourly cost to park in downtown San Francisco

* After implementation costs
Source: MTA

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Will Reisman

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