San Francisco supervisors question parking garage deal that has community support 

click to enlarge Local advocates say the Japantown garage nonprofit is valuable to the community. - S.F. EXAMINER FILE PHOTO
  • S.F. Examiner File Photo
  • Local advocates say the Japantown garage nonprofit is valuable to the community.

Well-connected community members rallied Wednesday in support of extending an unusual Japantown parking garage lease with the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency as members of the Board of Supervisors questioned the deal.

The nonprofit parking garages begun in the 1950s allowed The City to issue bonds to expand and improve the structures. The main role of such organizations became obsolete when voters in 2008 approved a ballot measure granting the transit agency the power to issue bonds.

But the 11-member Japan Center Garage Corp. could survive. Its lease renewal for continued oversight of the 920-space garage that serves the Japantown and Fillmore neighborhoods is pending approval by the Board of Supervisors.

Supporters say the nonprofit has morphed into a valuable community asset and should continue, even though the organization’s management costs, which come out of the transit agency’s operating budget, totaled $276,782 last fiscal year. The bulk of the money pays for an accountant and a corporate manager.

That doesn’t sit well with Supervisor John Avalos, who on Wednesday said the nonprofit was engaged in “superfluous types of activities.”

“To me, it doesn’t make a lot of sense that the nonprofits are making decisions about how these garages can benefit the businesses themselves,” Avalos said. “They are really about people trying to find parking.”

Transportation Director Ed Reiskin said his transit agency can operate the garage — it currently manages about 20 — but the nonprofit is at “a level closer to the ground than we would be” from the agency’s headquarters. “How exactly to value the worth of that, frankly, it’s difficult to do,” Reiskin said. “But it’s a function they’ve been serving for more than 50 years.”

Committee chair and Supervisor Mark Farrell, a moderate who often disagrees with the more progressive Avalos, also criticized the deal.

“This seems to be a middle-man thing,” Farrell said. “Why are we are paying them a few hundred thousand dollars? That to me doesn’t make sense.”

But the deal drew a lot of support from the community and garage board members, such as a representative of Sundance Cinemas; the Rev. Arnold Townsend; Monetta White, owner of 1300 on Fillmore restaurant; Emily Mitra, owner of Dosa restaurant; and Bob Hamaguchi, who sits on the San Francisco Japantown Foundation. They said the nonprofit’s oversight is valuable to the area, and it helps preserve history and revive commercial corridors.

The committee moved a decision on the deal to the full board’s Feb. 26 meeting.

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