Passive-Aggressive Scenes from the Folsom Parking Wars

It seems that tempers are flaring on Folsom Street near Ripley, just below the entrance to Bernal Heights Park. Handbills have been slipped under doormats, and posted on telephone poles. There is much grumbling afoot.

A neighbor’s original handwritten note, shown on the left above, complained about a car which had not been moved for some unspecified period of time. The recipient’s response, neatly typed on the left, gave no ground in the quarrel, while mocking the original writer for having nothing better to do.  Meow!

To understand the issue, Bernalwood reached out to our Embedded Correspondent in the area, and we received this neighborly perspective:

This is a big problem. I know who wrote the handwritten note. He’s a wonderful neighbor and would never intentionally harm or threaten another neighbor. He’s just frustrated. The problem is bigger than it seems.

This section of Folsom is not street cleaned, and people can park here for days legally, sometimes weeks illegally, without having to move their cars. There are a handful of work trucks, second cars for folks, that live on this block.

The hostility would go away of those of us on this block were not charged with maintaining the street out front. Trash and tree debris is allowed to collect between perma-parkers and if I don’t want to see it I have to do something about it (it’s easy to argue that tree debris is not trash, but tell that to the folks who think leaf piles are rubbish heaps). Unfortunately 311 can take weeks to react to trash left near the park because of jurisdiction issues. Sweeping this block has become hobby (along with the man who wrote the handwritten note), and neighbors share their compost and trashcan space for maintenance. Apparently one neighbor is unaware of his or her neighbors’ contributions and care and has decided to make matters worse with another note.

I think this “parking war” is a misunderstanding and a waste of time. We need signage, street sweeping and no dumping to make this problem go away. Not sarcastic notes.

Equally valuable is the perspective provided by new neighbor RallyP, who moved to Bernal Heights from Boston about a year ago. Observing the controversy, Rally writes:

Alas, but what can you expect? Mired in the depths of a brutal San Francisco winter, bludgeoned by a never-ending barrage of 60+ degree sunny days, with only a rare chilly rainy evening to break the drudgery, it was only a matter time before our neighborly bonds would begin to strain.

PHOTOS: Top, RallyP

49 thoughts on “Passive-Aggressive Scenes from the Folsom Parking Wars

  1. Despite the best of intentions, it seems to me that anonymous notes are *never* a good idea. Unless they say something like “You are my favorite person ever and here are a dozen long-stemmed roses.”

  2. LOL. When I was a kid, I spent summers at my grandparents’ place in rural NJ. The bar down the road used to tell patrons to park on my grandfather’s land. He was a carpenter. So one night I helped him lay out 2x4s with nails thru them (home-made spike strips). One car popped a tire and one drunk stepped on a nail barefooted.

  3. Ah, I find myself sympathetic to both sides here. I also live on a block that attracts long-term parkers from time to time (it goes in waves, as if one long-term parker emits a dog whistle that summons others), and I agree that it really kind of sucks for neighbors who actually live on the street and find themselves without parking options, especially when they are carrying groceries, children, and pets (speaking totally hypothetically here).

    But I’m with notwho on the idea that anonymous notes never have the desired effect. (Maybe Bernalwood readers should start a campaign of leaving laudatory anonymous paeans to people who have helped them, and then a new era of anonymous civility will follow.)

    • SER, the person who was parked there said that they live on Folsom St and allude to the fact that they were out of town and/or super busy for the holidays.

      • Yes, my reply wasn’t very clear. Thank you for bringing that up. I was thinking of our block, which has experienced a different phenomenon, with nonresidents warehousing their campers there.

  4. I went to that street greening meeting for Manchester St a week or two ago, and man, that is one tight knit block. You’d never see a note like this on that street. If there were a problem car, they’d be calling each other to find out who it belongs to. I wish our block of Folsom St could be like that someday. My efforts, so far, towards community building (neighborhood watch) have failed. So I’m not sure. Might just be the culture of this block. People seem to know and like their immediate neighbors, but not many others up and down the block.

  5. when I first moved to Andover St., 1988, Euguenia street was a dumping ground for abandoned and stolen cars. It was also used for people who wanted to park extra cars that didn’t really run. In addition, it was used for long-term vacation parking. Vacation parking still happens all the time in Bernal, and I usually tolerate it, unless the car is there for more than 3 weeks. then I usually report it. A notice goes on the car, and it either moves, or it gets towed. It usually moves. I used to park my big sedan (Eugenia was also the ‘Cadillac’ parking area, and up on the curb) on Eugenia, and knew all the cars there. You didn’t park in the Lincoln’s guy’s spot, or Big Bone’s Buick spot, etc. We kind of all had our spots. I was new, so I didn’t. I had to squeeze in the Galaxie 500 wherever. I got so good at spotting abandoned/stolen cars and calling them in, that the DPT/police gave me a special number that bypassed the process of putting the red notice on the car. They would just come and tow it away. We went from having a crowded street to having a lot of space! It also helped locate a number of stolen cars. I still had to chain my hood down (a lock inside the grill) so my battery would still be there in the morning, but it was a small price to pay to live in Bernal. The best thing to do, if a car has been there more than a few weeks, is just report it. Not much else you can do. That way, if someone owns it, they move it. If they don’t live in the neighborhood, and are just basically storing the car, it gets towed. Personally making a list, etc, is too complicated.

  6. Oh yes… this is an issue which will garner the most responses. I live on a street without street cleaning but the next block over does. So, of course, those people which own cars (perhaps for the occasional road trip or weekend getaway) park them on our street. Leaving those of us w/o garages who require our cars for work to scramble. I don’t own the parking place in front of my house but every once and a while it would be nice to park there. Those people with garages don’t seem to park in them or in their own driveways. I need a dummy garage with a curb cut. Now, there is a business opportunity!

  7. I assume that many people (hopefully) who live in SF take public transit to work when they can. So why would they be moving their cars on weekdays unless they had errands to run in the evenings? There’s nothing wrong with parking your car on the street on which you live and no “moral” obligation to move it around for no reason.

    • I think weekly street cleaning is the good solution. The streets that don’t have it are the ones that end up with the big long-term parking issues.

  8. This is awesome (in a not so awesome way), just to see that parking angst exists no matter what. In Boston, I always figured that all that parking-induced rage was because we had all that snow hanging around forever, taking up space, turning all shades brown and grey, and making everyone miserable. I guess living in a city and parking is just one of those things that will always create friction.

    BTW, I thought it was kinda cool when I saw another note on another car the very next day complaining about the same thing – however, this note seemed much nicer…

  9. There’s nothing wrong with parking your car on the street on which you live and no “moral” obligation to move it around for no reason.

    But there is a legal obligation to move your car every 72 hours.

  10. The 72-hour rule is at odds with all of our city’s efforts to encourage people to get out of their cars and use their feet, bikes, and transit to get around. It’s genius, really. Drive your car every three days or else!

    The real problem is the “free” parking itself. There is no such thing as free parking. Folks who own a car and don’t have an off-street spot for it are all taking advantage of an implicit subsidy. There’s a reason houses with off-street parking cost more than equivalent houses without it. No one has a right to street parking. In particular, no one has a right to park in the space in front of his house.

    If you want a guarantee that there will be a place to park your car when you get home, buy one or rent one.

    • I agree that no one owns any particular spot, but that applies to the long-term parkers as well. It hasn’t been a problem on our block for a month or two, but there have been times when there was so little turnover on the block because of all the campers on the street (some of which barely ran/had flat tires/etc, as someone pointed out above) that it made life difficult for the actual residents. It would be great if everyone could take public transit or have a garage, but it’s not easy just to drop $100K to add a garage to an old house or only work at jobs accessible by BART or MUNI (or Google/Facebook Transit).

      It is true that there is no free parking. One way this is solved in other neighborhoods is via resident parking permits, but those come with negative consequences/inconveniences as well. I’d pay a fee for street parking, but that kind of a system would work well for about 10 minutes until some people figured out how to exploit it for their own financial gain.

      Back to the original posting: how could this sort of situation be addressed civilly and to the satisfaction of all? I don’t really know. On our block, people tend to tell the neighbors if they’re going on vacation. And if I am going on vacation, I have a neighbor look out for the dreaded pink notice and move the car if needed. My own approach has been to NOT call anything in unless it truly seems abandoned and instead to harbor deep, pointless resentments against the offending vehicles.

  11. I only report cars after the tell-tale signs appear- leaves gathering around the wheels, for example, and a really dirty windshield. But, I just see the cars around the house a lot, so after a while you just know which ones have been around for a couple weeks, and aren’t local.

  12. Parking is a continuous problem in Bernal Heights. Sometimes the nearby neighbors & I can barely get out of our driveways as many times it is blocked, particularly on the weekend. Being in a dead-end we come across people having sex, doing/dealing drugs, drinking, hanging out, vagrants setting up tent, etc. Cleaning up the aftermath is not pretty. Besiders outsiders it is also neighbors who park their cars &/or work trucks all over the place, which is irksome as all the houses have driveways/garages. Calls to DPT or police have been been made, & they are pretty good in coming out to give warning notices, tickets, getting cars towed, &/or make arrests. Sometimes the cars left over 3 days turn out to be stolen. And it can get scary – One night my husband & I were coming home & 2 guys were parked in front of our home doing a drug deal; they did move to let us in. When the situation was getting really bad, one of the neighbors printed up warning letters [even signed his name] & put in mailboxes, made a list of license plate #’s & emailed to Captains of Mission & Ingleside Police depts. Most of the cars were towed; quite a few had been stolen: some registered owners had a parole violations & were arrested; the neighbors parked their cars in their driveways/garages.

  13. I think the long-term solution is to use a system of parking permits and auction them off so that the city gets the benefit of market pricing instead of the individuals who live on a given street but don’t have need of a street space.

    To be fair to incumbent residents who made the decision to buy/lease based on the current scheme, the first round of permits would be given away to current residents (one per street address) with a single additional permit available to existing residents for $200 or so. These would be valid until the owner/renter moves, and future residents would have the option of paying for an off-street spot or purchasing an annual permit at whatever price folks were willing to pay.

    This generates revenue for the city, takes the vigilante/nosy neighbor issue off the table, and removes another externality from the equation of car ownership.

  14. I am a neighbor of the person who wrote the original note. I agree with many of the issues raised in this discussion.

    What hasn’t been mentioned is that there is a ton of parking in front of Bernal Hill Park just a short distance up the hill. We more considerate residents leave our cars in front of the Park when we don’t plan to use them for a while. That makes it more likely that the closer spaces will be available to our neighbors who have to use their cars more frequently, or to move awkward items between homes and cars — whether that’s lumber for a project or a few days worth of groceries.

    • Parking around the park is what I’ve done when I needed to leave a vehicle in place for a while (which happens about once a month for me), but it is somewhat risky. I’ve had one broken window and had my car be part of a hit-and-run within the last ~6 months.

    • I live on a corner with Bernal Heights Blvd and there is always plenty of parking. Lots of cars hang out for weeks at a time and we have never minded. This seems like a good solution.

  15. I live on Folsom a little further down closer to Precita and It seems like there are a handful of people who like to leave these passive aggressive notes on cars. I don’t get it, when I see one of those on someone’s vehicle I usually read it and then toss it in the trash sparing the car/scooter owner from having to read the writings of deranged, angry nimby’s with absolutely nothing better to do. I agree that everyone should follow the 72 hour rule, but some people lose their minds when they see a car that is parked 10 inches too far to one side. I know parking can be tough but really, get a life. Like in this case for example, where the car owner lives here but was away for a little while.

    • I’ve left notes on cars that are parked in such a way that they take up two spaces–the note is along the lines of “please park more carefully–you’re taking up two spaces.” This usually happens after street cleaning when everything is open. I doubt anyone intends to block more than one space, but if you’re new to the neighborhood then you may not know. As a neighbor, I would want to know if I was doing something unintentionally that made parking harder in my neighborhood. If that makes me a deranged, angry nimby…well, I guess I’ll have to chew on that for a while.

      • I’ve lived here for a while, but I was referring to the way the notes are written in a manner which makes the person writing them seem crazy, for example if your note had one of the words in big capitals as if the person writing it were screaming that one word. Your note is fine, but most are not written that way. Most have a tinge of passive aggressiveness to them. I have seen some notes that border on violent threats. Those are the kind of people I was referring to. The ones that make it a habit to keep track of every car and leave crazy notes, and count the minutes. Those people need to get a hobby or take a vacation.

  16. Parking in Bernal is a breeze compared to other city neighborhoods. Try living 1 block from a BART station, paying $150+ for a parking permit and still not finding parking anywhere on your own street. I lived in Bernal for 18 years, right off Cortland, never had a problem but then we got along with all our neighbors – even the kid downstairs who stole cars for a living.

  17. I don’t see anything in the typed reply that indicates the car owner was away. But if he was, that’s a particularly appropriate time to park up alongside the Park. Not terribly inconventient to have your car be a few hundred feet farther away if you’re not even in town.

    And the car has been parked in the same spot again since Friday afternoon. The one who needs to get a life is the one who purposefully parks where it is known to be annoying to others.

    • I just want to point out to the considerate people parking around Precita Park to make room for their immediate neighbors: Precita Park is the immediate parking option for houses around it and directly off it’s side streets. So, helping one neighbor further up Folsom or wherever is still taking up space for others. Also, as a complete aside, ever since Precita Park Cafe opened up, parking in the nearby area became a lot more difficult. No dig at the Cafe. Just a fact. Every choice has an impact. (Although I would like to see bike racks outside this cafe soon:)

      Full disclosure: I don’t own a car (by choice). I think owning a car makes life miserable. I use a bike, Muni and car share. It’s true, I work near Civic Center, but my brother does the same and he commutes to Sunnyvale by train and lightrail. He enjoys the reading time on his commute. I am never convinced by all the people who say they NEED a car. We so often create our own prisons. I vote for some kind of paid parking. Even if it’s just a tax hike embedded in car registration.

  18. I live in Bernal Heights and walk or bike to work most days– I only use my car on weekends. Why should I waste gas and time moving it during the week? It’s bad for the environment and totally unnecessary (except maybe it makes street cleaning easier?). We are very fortunate to have the parking situation that we do in Bernal, compared to other neighborhoods where it is often totally impossible to find parking. Let’s be grateful for the privileges that we have, and try to be generous with people who need to borrow our privileges every once in a while.

    • Why should you waste gas and time moving it during the week? Because you’ve chosen to live in an urban environment with rules. It sounds like you might want to live in the country.

      • Why should the city bias its parking policy in favor of people who drive every day (or every three days)? If having a parking spot convenient to your residence is that important to you, buy or rent a parking space. This has nothing to do with urban vs. country living. The folks in the country have paid for their parking…

  19. Our block seems to be the prime location for people from outside the neighborhood to either long term park / store or outright dump their vehicles. I’ve even seen people park and wait for the Airporter van to pick them up, leaving their car parked in front of my house for weeks. There is one person who parks on a regular basis to be picked up for his daily car pool to Quite often a stolen car is abandoned. It takes a litany of phone calls to get these cars towed but we make the calls and the expense of being towed is bestowed upon the interlopers. I’ve run short on the generosoity mentioned above…

  20. I honestly wouldn’t care about the 72 hour rule if it applied to everyone equally. We have two old cars that are parked on our block – so old, that they are in fact growing moss (I’m not kidding). I have seen DPT go up and down the street slapping those pink notices on half of the cars parked legally, but completely ignore these mini Titantics that only move on the street cleaning days. I’m convinced the guy who owns these monstrosities has paid off the DPT workers.

    • Maybe, and that would certainly explain that 50s car with packing tape for windows that has been parked in front of the OfficeMax next to Rainbow for about 15 years.

      • hey, the old Lincoln 50’s car moves around. they must push it. I remember when that thing ran and you’d see it around town.

  21. i’ve always felt that street parking is an “every man for himself” type of thing. unless you have a parking permit, no one can claim that they deserve to park in a particular spot or area more than anyone else. if parking is so burdensome that it’s keeping you up at night or straining neighbor relations, maybe you should reassess your lifestyle, job, or place of residence so you’re not driving yourself crazy. that said, if you have the time and patience to report everyone who violates the 72-hour rule, then more power to you.

  22. let’s all remember that the street is public right of way….

    • Exactly, nobody owns a parking spot on the street. And nobody should get mad because a car they don’t recognize parks in front of their house. I also completely understand/agree that nobody should abandon their car for a long time, but some people feel an entitled ownership to these parking spaces which are on a public street.
      Can you imagine how many crazy notes a car with out of state plates would get, even if the owner just moved here? There would be some crazy home owner who would absolutely have to know the story behind that car and probably leave a note saying “we’re watching you, these spots are taken”

  23. This conversation has been extremely enjoyable. It seems not to have changed much in the 20 years since I first became interested in the drama. I could self-righteously make mention of my bike and how it’s never a pain to park, but I just don’t think that’s useful. Good luck out there, kids. Be kind to yourselves and others. It does wonders!

  24. This is the first post in a long time that has made me *not* miss Bernal. From my spacious 2 br, 2 ba, 2 indoor-parking-spaces condo in downtown Minneapolis, I salute all of you, from the crazy note writers to the crazy note receivers. May the parking gods shine upon you, especially when your moving day arrives. I’m getting a case of post-traumatic sweats just thinking about that.

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  27. I realize this post/thread are a couple months old, but seemed a fitting place to report a parking experience I had tonight.

    I was circling the blocks around Anderson north of Cortland, looking for a place to park near my friend’s house. My third time around, on Eugenia@Anderson, I noticed a very large parking spot blocked by 3 garbage cans. I stopped the car, pulled the garbage cans up onto the sidewalk, and parked. When I returned to my car a couple hours later, I found a note under my wiper blade. “ASSHOLE.”

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