Noe Valley Voice June 2001

No More Free Ride: Parking Stickers Arrive in Noe Valley

By Kathy Dalle-Molle and Alison Pence

Noe Valley is one of the last havens for free parking in the city. You might circle the block 20 times, but once you find a legal spot, you can park your car here all day.

Well, all that is about to change. After years of complaining about the parking crunch, residents in the western part of the Mission and eastern part of Noe Valley -- often called Baja Noe Valley -- have convinced the city's Parking and Traffic Department (DPT) to map out a residential parking permit zone. The zone, if given the green light, would restrict cars without permits, to two-hour parking in any one spot from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday.

The proposed permit area, to be labeled Area Z, includes 47 blocks. It starts at 23rd and Dolores streets, and extends south as far as 29th Street. On the east, it includes a long stretch of Guerrero and parts of San Jose Avenue. On the west, it runs along 27th Street from St. Luke's Hospital up to Sanchez.

So far, the zone's prospects look good. At a Parking and Traffic Commission meeting on May 1, attended by more than 100 people, commissioners voted 5 to 0 to send the matter to the Board of Supervisors' Housing, Transportation, and Land Use Committee. The committee will hold a hearing on June 14.

Barring any serious objections from residents, the proposal will move to the full board for a vote sometime this summer, then on to the mayor for his signature. If approved, street signs denoting the newly designated Area Z will be installed throughout the zone, most likely by early fall. DPT will notify residents by mail as to how to obtain a special permit sticker, which will cost $27 per year per vehicle.

To establish a new parking permit zone, the city requires that residential areas meet certain criteria: Blocks must be contiguous to one another, and the zone must have at least one mile of street frontage. In addition, a petition signed by at least 250 households in the proposed area must be submitted to the Traffic Engineering Division. DPT must then certify that at least 50 percent of the vehicles parked on the streets in the proposed area are those of nonresidents, and at least 80 percent of the legal on-street parking spaces are occupied during the day.

In a field survey of the proposed Area Z conducted earlier this year (before the Noe Valley streets were included), DPT employees matched car license plates with street addresses and found that 61 percent of the cars belonged to people who did not live in the area. They also found 101 percent parking occupancy, meaning that at the time of the survey, all legal parking spaces were taken, as well as some illegal ones.

Prior to the May 1 commission meeting, the proposal also went through public hearings organized by DPT on Dec. 9 and March 10. More than 100 people attended those hearings, held at the Salvation Army Building on Cesar Chavez Street.

There's a Domino Effect

Not surprisingly, the more neighbors who learn about Area Z, the more who start gathering names on petitions for their blocks. If they aren't a part of the permit zone, they fear that nonresident parkers will spill over into their neighborhood.

For these new blocks, a petition signed by more than 50 percent of the households on the block must be submitted to DPT's Traffic Engineering Division.

"The list of streets has tripled since our first hearing in December," says Lori Oshiro, who is spearheading the effort and is a five-year resident of Guerrero Street between 25th and 26th streets. "When people find out about it, they say, 'Well, what about our street?' They think they are going to be left out and that all the daytime parking is now going to roll over onto their street."

In fact, Kathleen Zierolf, coordinator of DPT's Residential Parking Program, anticipates that neighbors will continue to petition to add streets right up until the supervisors' final vote this summer.

Harvey Elam, a 15-year resident of a garageless apartment building on 27th Street near Church, says he began collecting signatures on his block after he spotted a notice posted on a utility pole near his home last December.

"By that time, the plan was well under way," he says. "It's been pretty much rolling notification about the permit zone, as more blocks are added and more blocks find out about it."

Elam is one of many local residents who favor the zone because they believe it will discourage nonresidents from snapping up all the parking. He is particularly annoyed about workday commuters parking their cars in Noe Valley and hopping on the J-Church streetcar to commute to their jobs in the Financial District.

"I live on a corner, right above a Muni stop," says Elam, "and from my window every morning, I see people who don't live around here park their car, take out their briefcase and coat, and hop on Muni. They drive to Noe Valley on 280 from the Peninsula to avoid paying $25 per day at the downtown garages. I'm sympathetic to their plight, but it adds to the neighborhood congestion, and it's quite hard for me to find parking when I come home at night."

A Hardship for St. Luke's

Although a small minority, there are a number of Noe Valley residents who do not support the permit zone. They resent the hassle of having to purchase a permit, and are afraid that the parking zone will inconvenience visiting friends and relatives.

"I work from my home and have people over for meetings," says one neighbor who wishes to remain anonymous. "What if the meeting lasts longer than two hours? I just don't think it's right that I be forced to buy a permit to park on the street where I live."

Perhaps the most vocal opponents of Area Z are the employees of St. Luke's Hospital, who say they will have a tough time finding street parking near the hospital if the permit zone goes into effect. About 10 employees attended the two public hearings to express their concern.

"I don't see having permit parking as a very effective solution to anyone's problems, and it creates new problems for us," says John Jordan, an organizational development specialist at St. Luke's. "It is a solution born out of frustration, not creativity, and because of the limitation of what the city is offering them [the residents]."

According to Jordan, about 100 of the 500 St. Luke's staffers who work during the day park on the street. He believes that the "vast majority" are gone by 5:30 p.m.

"I park on the street four days a week, arriving around 8:15 or 8:30," says Jordan, "and I almost always find it easy to locate a space within a block or two of the hospital. This suggests that residents have already left by the time I'm getting to work. Then, I and other day staff of the hospital leave at 5 p.m., which is in time for residents who are coming home from work and looking for a space."

Jordan notes that 175 employees are on the St. Luke's night shift, but for safety reasons prefer to park in St. Luke's two-story parking garage on San Jose Avenue. He also says that about 100 doctors, 200 visitors, 100 in-patients, and 600 outpatients come through the hospital's doors each day, but that "a strong majority" of the patients do not drive to the hospital, but get dropped off, walk, or take public transportation.

"I wish neighbors could look at St. Luke's as a resource and be open to considering our parking garage for nighttime parking," Jordan says. "St. Luke's has the need for street parking during the day; neighbors have a need for parking at night. Could we trade daytime curbside parking if we assure them we'll be gone at 5 p.m.?"

Jordan is currently preparing a survey of hospital employees' transportation habits. He hopes to "create solutions targeted at those people who drive in," such as organizing carpools or getting the hospital to rent additional parking.

He says St. Luke's has designated 150 of the 270 parking spaces in its parking garage for staff, with an additional 40 spots being made available in a nearby lot reserved for physicians. Still, Jordan says, the parking garage is at capacity several times a week.

"This is not just a convenience issue for us," he says. "When our clinical staff arrives, we've got to make sure they can get in the door immediately so that our patient care isn't impacted."

'We're Being Squeezed Out'

But in the eyes of the residents, "Having permit parking is really our only alternative," says Oshiro. "We're realistic about what we can get done. We can't fight City Hall, as they say. It would be years before anything got done."

When the idea for residential permit parking was first broached two years ago, it was the residents around St. Luke's and the Muni stop at San Jose and 30th who were most distressed about the invasion of cars. So the Cesar Chavez Neighborhood Association took up their cause. Then about a year ago, when members no longer had time to devote to the project, they approached the Southwest Mission Neighborhood Association, and Oshiro, who is secretary of the group, agreed to adopt the project. Once Oshiro took over, she proposed to add permit parking around the 24th Street BART Station.

"Five years ago, it used to be that around 10 or 11 in the morning, parking was fine," says Oshiro, whose family has owned her residence on Guerrero since 1947. "Now it's all parked up. Sometimes, it takes my husband 45 minutes to find a space 10 or 15 blocks away. We're being squeezed out."

She and her husband Don share one car, and take BART to work each day. But they recently purchased motorcycles, which they can park in their front yard.

"We had to do something because parking is such an issue for us," she says. "Before we go out in the evening, we ask ourselves if whatever we're doing is worth all the trouble we're going to have finding a parking space when we get home. And we know never to get home past midnight, because then we can definitely forget about finding a parking space."

Eight-year resident Todd Hanson, who collected signatures for his block of 27th Street, is equally frustrated.

"I've had several knee surgeries in the last couple of years and have been on crutches, and it's incredibly difficult to get around because of people parking on the sidewalk and pulling in halfway to driveways and blocking the sidewalk with their cars," he says.

Hanson figures that once Area Z is established, the city's parking control officers will pass by more regularly and ticket the offenders.

"It's a shame that excessive policing has become necessary," he laments, "but parking enforcement is a gentle way to remind people to be more thoughtful."

Both Hanson and Oshiro are aware that permit parking won't solve all their parking woes.

"We're just hoping that having these permits will open a few more spaces to us in the evenings," says Oshiro, "and that the permits will discourage people from using our street as a parking lot."

The Board of Supervisors' Housing, Transportation, and Land Use Committee is scheduled to hear testimony on Area Z on Thursday, June 14, 10 a.m., in Room 263 at City Hall. For more information , contact DPT representative Kathleen Zierolf at 554-2339.