Noe Valley Voice May 2009

Where the Sidewalk Ends... Perhaps Not Where You Think

By Lorraine Sanders

Why do we park in a driveway and drive on a parkway? If you think that automotive conundrum is confusing, then it's safe to say you probably don't reside along the 300 block of Clipper Street in Noe Valley, where a group of residents is having trouble understanding why they've been hit with $100 tickets for parking vehicles in their own driveways.

"We were shocked," said Theresa Fay-Bustillos, recalling the first of two tickets she received in January on a car she'd parked in her driveway on Clipper almost daily for the past nine years.

In talking with her neighbors, Fay-Bustillos discovered she wasn't alone. Residents up and down the block claimed they also were receiving tickets for parking in their driveways, after years of doing so without consequence.

The reason? California state law prohibits parking on any portion of the sidewalk. Problem is, on some San Francisco streets, the driveways and sidewalks appear to be one and the same.

"The sidewalk is defined as any portion from the property line to the outside of the curb. The purpose of it [the law] is to make sure there's unimpeded access for pedestrians," explains Judson True of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA).

Far from being just another nuisance of urban living, an obstructed sidewalk can easily turn hazardous, especially for those with special needs such as the blind or wheelchair-bound. If a vehicle is blocking the path, a pedestrian can be forced off the sidewalk and into the street.

"It's a disability access issue," said Nicolas King, an aide to Supervisor Bevan Dufty who has fielded calls from residents who've been ticketed. "People will say, 'Nobody on this block is disabled, so why does it matter?' or they'll say, 'There's plenty of room between my car and the street, so why does it matter?' The law isn't there to protect people who are residents necessarily.... The streets aren't just for the people that live on them."

A Night Raid

But it's not the sentiment of the law itself that's irking ticket recipients.

"It's a new thing. I've lived here for four years, and they've never ticketed us, ever. And then all of a sudden...," says Jason Yurasek, a thrice-ticketed Clipper Street resident who recently learned the hard way that leaving his vehicle unattended in the driveway for even a few minutes can result in a parking citation.

At about 10:30 p.m. on a weeknight in late April, Yurasek moved his car from his garage into his driveway so he could maneuver residential garbage bins to the street curb.

"As I was just about finished, I sliced my finger on a piece of glass and received a bloody gash. I ran inside a bit too dramatically.... But my wonderful wife cleaned and dressed the wound and sent me on my way. I was gone perhaps three to five minutes," Yurasek wrote in an e-mail to neighbors, Supervisor Dufty, and the SFMTA.

Readers will surely guess the story's conclusion. While Yurasek was inside his home tending to his finger, his car received a fresh ticket. While it wasn't the first one he and wife Bodhanna Kesala have received this year, Yurasek was particularly annoyed to be cited so quickly at night.

From the Building to the Curb

Other residents, equally frustrated with the sudden rash of tickets, complain that the city's definition of "sidewalk" is overly strict and, in some cases, absurd.

"I got a ticket for parking outside, where actually my stairs went out further than my car does. I don't see why they don't ticket my stairs," said Jamie Howell, who has lived on the 300 block of Clipper Street since 1974 and can remember only one other period in 35 years when people were ticketed for parking in their driveways.

According to San Francisco City and County Surveyor Bruce Storrs, the city owns "the right of way in fee" from the front of the buildings to the street for this block of Clipper Street. While this assertion effectively puts an end to any arguments from residents claiming the legal right to park in the driveway, it raises yet more questions about sidewalk maintenance and residential liability for problems like damaged concrete.

"Okay fine, I can't park in this driveway because it's not my property. Then how can [the city] hold me liable for the maintenance of a sidewalk and the liability of a person who trips?" asks Yurasek.

'Just a Revenue Source'

Another issue concerns the unusually wide sidewalks that front the homes along this particular block of Clipper Street. While many San Francisco streets have narrow sidewalks that can easily be obstructed by vehicles, homeowners here say their block has sidewalks wide enough to allow pedestrians to comfortably pass, even when cars are in the driveways.

"We're not even blocking the sidewalk. This is just a revenue source," said Howell, who believes the city is unfairly targeting the block.

So has the city increased enforcement on Clipper Street?

When Kesala approached a parking control officer in the process of ticketing a neighbor's vehicle earlier this year to ask that very question, she said she was told that he was "just following orders."

"I asked if there had been any complaints, and he said, 'No,' that these were specific orders for the whole block and other blocks in Noe Valley," Kesala wrote in an e-mail.

But Supervisor Dufty maintains otherwise.

"It's consistently said to me that parking control officers do not go and look for these violations, that they are complaint-driven. I'm confident it is complaint-based," he said.

King reiterated this idea, saying, "Any resident can call and say, 'I see a violation,' and the police will send out an officer."

Changes in Patterns

However, the SFMTA's True hopes a meeting that's now being planned to connect concerned residents with representatives from his agency through Supervisor Dufty's office will help everyone involved learn more about changes in ticketing patterns and why they are happening.

"That's why we want to sit down and work with people. We have had some changes in our deployment of parking control officers," True admitted.

In a letter to Clipper Street residents, an SFMTA enforcement officer laid out the reasons: "The disability community has consistently expressed a strong safety concern about vehicles parking on the sidewalk, not only creating a physical obstruction for the disabled, children, the elderly walking on the sidewalks, but also the hazardous leakage of fluids from these same vehicles."

Because sidewalk parking has been challenged in the past to no avail, neither True nor Dufty expects the policy to change.

"Unless there's a will at the state level to make exemptions or make distinctions, I don't see what we can do here," Dufty said. "What I advised people to do is to create as much goodwill as you can in your neighborhood.... I don't think there is a lot of latitude in the situation."

Meanwhile, other parts of the neighborhood are feeling their own parking pains. In April, flyers warning residents against parking vehicles on public streets for more than 72 consecutive hours were placed on cars along 29th Street, and merchants along the 24th Street business corridor reported an increase in tickets issued for expired meters.

Common Parking
Violations and Fees

Parking on the sidewalk $100

Vehicles parked for over 72 hours $85

Parking during streetcleaning $50

Blocking a residential driveway $85

Double-parking $75

Car parked facing the wrong
direction $45

Parking adjacent to a median or
island (e.g., Dolores Street) $60

Overtime parking in residential
permit zone $60

Illegal parking in a blue zone $300

Parking on or in a crosswalk $85

Data source: