Fate of Northwest Bernal Parking Zone Unclear as SFMTA Rewrites Rules

Streets initially proposed for a new northwest Bernal RPP zone. Source: SFMTA

Streets initially proposed for a new northwest Bernal RPP zone.  Source: SFMTA

There’s been plenty of confusion surrounding the proposal to create a new Residential Parking Permit (RPP) zone in northwest Bernal Heights.  There’s been a bunch of community meetings, and a petition drive, and yet another community meeting, as well as some controversy surrounding the data the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) uses to determine northwest Bernal qualifies as a new RPP zone.

Things got even weirder in January, when SFMTA quietly changed its published requirements for establishing new RPP zones. In December, the requirements published on the SFMTA website to create a new RPP zone were:

To create a new Residential Permit Parking Area, a petition signed by at least 250 households (one signature per household) in the proposed area must be submitted to the SFMTA. See “Expand an Existing Permit Area” for petition forms.

  • The proposed block(s) must be contiguous to each other and must contain a minimum of one mile of street frontage.
  • The proposed block(s) must be of a low- or medium-density residential character — high-density land use is generally not suitable for RPP
  • At least fifty percent of the vehicles parked on the street in the proposed area must be non-resident vehicles.
  • At least eighty percent of the legal on-street parking spaces within the proposed area are occupied during the day.

Today, however, if you go visit the same SFMTA webpage, the requirements are completely different.

The new requirements are:


To create a new Residential Permit Parking Area, a petition signed by at least 250 households or 50 percent of the residential units in the residential area proposed for designation (one signature per household) must be submitted. See “Expand an Existing Permit Area” for petition forms.

San Francisco’s Transportation Code has specific critera for designating a Residental Parking Permit Area. Per the Transportation Code, in determining whether to recommend that a residential area be designated as a Residental Parking Permit Area, the City Traffic Engineer shall take into account factors which include, but are not limited to the following:

  • The extent of the desire and need of the residents for residential parking permits and their willingness to bear the resulting administrative costs even if the SFMTA does so on its own initiative.
  • The extent to which legal on-street parking spaces are occupied during the period proposed for parking restrictions;
  • The extent to which vehicles parking in the area during the times of the proposed parking restrictions are not registered to residents of proposed Residential Parking Permit Area; and
  • The extent to which motor vehicles registered to persons residing in the residential area cannot be accommodated by the number of available off-street parking spaces.

So if it seems like SFMTA completely moved the goalposts halfway through the process of determining whether or not to establish a new RPP zone on northeast Bernal Heights, that’s because SFMTA did in fact completely move the goalposts halfway through the process of determining whether or not to establish a new RPP zone in northwest Bernal Heights.

Bernalwood reached out to Hank Willson, Manager of Parking Policy at SFMTA to explain what’s going on. Wilson tells Bernalwood:

The SFMTA is many months into its Residential Parking Evaluation and Reform Project, and that project has revealed some issues with the existing RPP program and process. The timing for North Bernal petition means it is the first entirely new area to be proposed since we’ve started drawing conclusions and formulating potential policies as part of the Reform Project. As it happens (and not unexpectedly), many of the key issues we’ve identified through the Reform Project show up in North Bernal, including:

  1. Parking impacts may be driven as much or more by internal than external demand, but RPP regulations only limit external demand
  2. Requiring petitions and signature collections before gathering parking data can make neighbors feel like they did a lot of work for naught
  3. Regulating some streets and not others risks pitting neighbor against neighbor
  4. Regulating some streets and not others risks moving the parking impacts to those blocks that are not included

We are keeping these issues in mind as we analyze the data gathered for North Bernal and hear questions and concerns from neighbors. The Reform Project has proposed potential policy solutions for each of these issues, and we’re currently talking internally to see if any of those proposals would be useful for North Bernal.

You can learn more about the Reform Project here.

OK, so in practical terms then, what does this reform effort mean for Bernal Heights, and the possibility of creating a new northwest Bernal RPP?

Bernalwood sent a series of questions to SFMTA about this, and late last week we received a reply from Kathryn Studwell, SFMTA’s Residential Parking Policy program manager.

Bernalwood: When was the RPP reform project initiated and what SFMTA staff is managing it? Will the public have the opportunity to comment on the proposed rule-changes before the reform proposal in implemented?

SFMTA: The RPP Reform Project started in summer 2014. In the following 12 – 15 months we conducted a comprehensive analysis of existing conditions relative to on-street parking in residential areas. Our project website went live in November 2015 when we began our four-phased public engagement program. I encourage you to visit the site as it has very informative research findings, presentations, and blogs. At this point, we have completed a 3 phase public engagement program involving a citywide household survey, five open houses, 15+ community workshops and meetings, including one workshop in each Supervisorial District, two focus groups and several public presentations. The District 9 community workshop was held on Thursday, May 19th, 2017 at CCSF on Valencia Street.

Bernalwood: It’s still unclear what specific, quantitative criteria SFMTA will use to determine if a proposed new RPP zone will qualify for inclusion in the program. For example, what is the threshold requirement for non-resident cars under the new framework?

SFMTA: We have not completed our evaluation of alternative policy approaches to reforming the RPP program. As you may imagine, any changes to the program impact several departments within SFMTA and we are working with all of them to make sure possible policy changes are both effective in achieving our goals and can be implemented with existing staffing and technologies. One early conclusion, however, is that we want to focus more on comprehensive neighborhood parking management rather than use of a single tool, such as RPP. While some streets are better managed with RPP, others are more suited to general time limits or paid parking. The specific tool used depends on the particular context. So by moving towards a more holistic approach to managing on-street parking, we would not need to use rigid thresholds to determine eligibility for one approach or another.

Bernalwood: So what’s the status of the Bernal Heights RPP now, given that SFMTA appears to have mooted its own requirements for creating a new RPP zone under the auspices of the reform project?

SFMTA: We are completing our analysis of petitions and parking occupancy and are getting ready to schedule another community meeting for later in the spring.

Stay tuned, but in the meantime SFMTA is posting documents and details about the proposed Northwest Bernal RPP Zone on it’s website.

10 thoughts on “Fate of Northwest Bernal Parking Zone Unclear as SFMTA Rewrites Rules

  1. Looks like SFMTA noticed that the proposed RPP didn’t meet the threshold of 50% nonresident cars, and changed the rules to wipe out the requirement. This verbiage should make everyone nervous: “their willingness to bear the resulting administrative costs even if the SFMTA does so on its own initiative.” My prediction is that SFMTA will implement a much larger RPP zone throughout the area, including on streets whose residents refused to sign on for the RPP. And it’s going to cost all of us.

  2. Here’s a question: how many times has the new rule-writing process been mentioned during community meetings that have taken place since 2015 on the Bernal proposed parking district? Sounds like they were never mentioned. Usually, if the rules change halfway through a project, the old project is grandfathered in under the old rules, that everyone knew about during the process. How about here?

  3. If the signature-gathering process and the community meeting process took place under the old rules, then the process needs to be restarted in order to give proper due process to all the residents and enable them to decide whether to sign the petition, and to present evidence and argument apropos to the new requirements. I think the SFMTA needs to recognize this, and if it doesn’t interested parties could file in court to enjoin the implementation of permit parking. It does sound like they do not intend to implement before this as-yet-unscheduled future community meeting, but that still doesn’t address whether signatures collected before the rule changes should be considered valid.

    • I agree. This is ridiculous. Either SFMTA should apply the old requirements to Bernal Heights, or it should do a full do-over and start the whole process from scratch once they settle upon new rules.

  4. You will pay through the nose for that permit and no one will enforce the 2-hour limit. We have had a permit in Noe Valley for over 15 years and no one enforces it but the fee for the permit has increased over the years from $30 to over $100. They don’t care about helping you park in your neighborhood, they just want your money. Trust me.

    • @jdawg – Anecdotally, when I lived in the RPP-zoned Inner Richmond (which might be tied with Lower Height for worst parking in the city), parking enforcement was draconian. You could count on a ticket if you stayed 5 minutes past your time, and all cars wheels were chalked. Always. Thankfully, I didn’t have that car that often, or for long. I guess we’ll see which scenario happens if this goes into effect here.

  5. Pingback: Wednesday: Community Meeting on Controversial SFMTA Parking Permit Plan | Bernalwood

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