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By Corrie M. Anders
A San Francisco city agency has proposed to eliminate something Noe Valleyans have long taken for granted: free parking on 24th Street, at night and on Sundays.
Naturally, there are a lot of people unhappy about the idea. They are afraid fulltime parking fees will discourage trips to "Downtown" Noe Valley. But planners argue the change will have a positive effect, while raising cash for a financially strapped city.
Currently, the parking meters along the 24th Street commercial corridor operate Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. (at a cost of $2 an hour). The new plan would extend those hours until 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and to midnight on Friday and Saturday. It also would activate the meters on Sundays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. (The Sunday change would be citywide.)
The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (MTA) proposed the longer hours to speed up turnover of parking spaces, which it maintains would increase the number of potential customers at nearby stores and businesses. The city also would collect an estimated $8.8 million a year in additional profits.
Howls of the Night Owls
However, some wonder if the plan will backfire.
Twenty-fifth Street resident Gary Lindquist said he generally walks two blocks to patronize 24th Street restaurants and taverns. His out-of-neighborhood friends, however, drive to Noe Valley.
"It's an impediment, another obstacle to come to a neighborhood that offers nighttime entertainment," said Lindquist, a retired real estate executive. "It's not a good thing."
Pierre Letheule, the owner of Bliss Bar, which draws large weekend crowds, also votes thumbs-down.
"You're in a bar and having fun, and all of a sudden you have to go out and feed the meter until 12 o'clock," he said. "That's ridiculous."
Letheule added that "if it passes, we should protest and close businesses for a couple of days. This is unheard of."
Start Rolling Quarters
Robert Roddick, president of the Noe Valley Merchants and Professionals Association, said the majority of business owners on 24th and Castro streets were firmly against the extended hours.
"Who wants to carry a roll of quarters with them at night?" Roddick said, contemplating the extra money drivers would need to bring along on business and social outings.
He said store owners worried that the meter-minding--and the increased likelihood of getting an expensive $50 parking ticket--would drive shoppers away from the neighborhood.
"We're battling that as it is," he said. "This would be the coup de grāce."
Parking "More Convenient"
In an Oct. 13 report on a new Extended Meter Hours Study, the transit agency insisted that the changes would aid retailers, not hurt them. It said the plan would reduce double parking, parking in bus zones and at fire hydrants, and the endless circling around the block in search of legal parking.
"In short, metering parking at busy times...helps to create more open parking spaces, more turnover, and will generate more customers for local businesses," the report said. "Parking won't be free, but it will be more convenient."
The transportation agency first proposed a parking plan in April that was a more general, one-size-fits-all scheme. That proposal was refined this fall in an effort to tailor the longer hours to the unique conditions of individual neighborhoods.
Solidly Packed on Sundays
Last month, agency officials explained the plan to residents during meetings of the Upper Noe Neighbors and the Noe Valley Democratic Club. As outlined in the proposal, the changes would affect parking meters along 24th Street from Castro to Chattanooga streets (and on a couple of blocks of Castro on either side of 24th).
They noted that metered parking spaces along the 24th Street strip currently are 94 percent full on Friday evenings and jam-packed on Sundays between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., when drivers who illegally park on sidewalks and in driveways push occupancy to 102 percent.
In the new scenario, motorists would be allowed to pay for parking for a maximum four hours after 6 p.m. on weeknights--three more than the current one-hour limit on parking during the day. The proposed four-hour limit would also apply to Sunday parking.
24th Street Car Owners in a Pinch
Twenty-fourth Street residents, most of whom live in second- and third-floor apartments above shops and businesses, may be the ones most affected, should the longer meter hours go into effect. They park free on 24th Street after work on weekdays and all day Sunday--that is, if they can find a space. The new plan would force them to pay or find parking elsewhere.
"If I were a resident, I'd be more upset," said Carol Yenne, who operates Small Frys, a 24th Street children's clothing store. She wondered how 24th Street residents could host a dinner party, with their guests having "to go up and down two flights of stairs to feed a frigging meter."
Yenne suggested that the city give those who live on metered blocks special stickers that would allow free parking during the extended hours.
Debra Niemann, executive director of the Noe Valley Association, the community benefit district (CBD) that represents property owners on 24th Street, also wanted to tweak the parking plan.
"I think it will be more palatable" if some of the additional revenue is returned to Noe Valley, Niemann said. "I'm all for it if they give some of that money back to the community. The CBD is a great way to do it."
What's Driving the Measure
The extra metering does have fans in the neighborhood. Residents who have chosen not to own a car for environmental reasons (or who can't afford one) back the plan because it discourages driving.
And there is unspoken support among the merchants, said Gwen Sanderson, former president and current vice president of the merchants association. She said a number of restaurant owners have told her that a faster turnover of parking spaces will help their businesses, but they don't want to say so publicly for fear of alienating customers.
The parking situation "does need to be managed better," said Sanderson.
To gauge sentiment among its membership, the NVMPA began circulating a survey on the proposed changes last month. The results will be discussed at the association's Jan. 19 business meeting.
Does the new plan pass muster with the mayor and Board of Supervisors?
Mayor Gavin Newsom has indicated he is opposed to extending parking meter hours, and District 8 Supervisor Bevan Dufty is not inclined to make any changes.
"Until Supervisor Dufty hears from merchants that they are supportive of extending the hours of parking meters, he is not supportive of any changes," said Boe Hayward, Dufty's legislative aide.
You can view the Extended Meter Hours Study at www.sfmta.com. At press time, the MTA board was continuing to take public comment, but no vote had been scheduled.