SFMTA Faces Criticism During Tense Meeting on Northwest Bernal Permit Parking Plan

SFFMTA parking policy manager Hank Wilson at the April 18 community meeting.

“This is a really good focus group.”

That’s  what Hank Wilson, the manager of parking policy at SFMTA, told a crowd of Bernal Heights residents last week at a contentious April 18  community meeting about SFMTA’s proposal to implement a new residential parking permit program (RPP) on select streets in northwest Bernal Heights.

During the meeting, more than a dozen Bernal Heights residents took turns scolding SFMTA for failing to provide timely information to local residents, repeatedly contradicting or redefining its own data about non-resident parking in Bernal Heights, and arbitrarily changing the rules that  will govern the proposed RPP in northwest Bernal.

The net result, as one Bernal resident pointed out, is that “[SFMTA is] pitting streets against each other, and neighbor a against neighbor.”

That was a recurring theme throughout the evening, as Bernal neighbors who both supported and opposed the parking plan described how the RPP program seems to have been designed from the outset to fuel neighbor-on-neighbor antagonism.

Source: SFMTA

Quite rationally, neighbors who want RPP in northwest Bernal are thrilled that SFMTA seems determined to make the new permit parking zone happen, regardless how much the agency botched the process along the way.  Meanwhile, Bernal neighbors who either oppose the RPP zone, or who live on streets just outside of it, or who never ever heard about it at all because SFMTA failed to notify them, were told that the new zone is more or less a done deal.

“These people have more of a right to park here than those people,” explained SFMTA’s Wilson. “That’s the basis of the program.”

SFMTA data shows that 32% of cars that currently park on proposed RPP streets belong to other Bernal residents living within 1/4 mile. (Source: SFMTA)

And so, on that cheerful note, what’s next for the Northwest Bernal RPP?

In a strange concession to SFMTA’s mismanagement of the Bernal RPP process, Wilson said that the agency has re-opened the petitions used to determine whether or not individual streets will be included in the northwest Bernal RPP.

SFMTA’s rule is that at least 50% of the households on each block must sign the petition to be included in the RPP zone.  Yet because SFTMA decided to reduce the maximum permit allocations from four permits per RPP household to two after the original petitions were submitted, Wilson said the petitions would be re-opened until May 17.

That means residents who previously voted yes on the RPP proposal, but who now disapprove of the proposed change, could use this opportunity to change their votes from Yes to No.

Meanwhile, Wilson said, northwest Bernal residents who previously voted No, or didn’t vote at all, now have until May 17 to sign the petition to get their street included in the new RPP.

If at this point you’re wondering, “Since SFMTA seems hell-bent on on implementing the northwest Bernal RPP, who would possibly vote now to remove their own street from the RPP zone?” — well, you’re right to wonder that. At this point, simple self-interest dictates that keeping your street in the new RPP is the rational thing to do. (cf. The Prisoner’s Dilemma)

And likewise, if you previously voted No to the RPP, but would now like to change your vote to Yes, well, that’s also a very rational thing to do, because who wants to live on a non-RPP block right next to a street that’s part of the RPP program? When the RPP program is implemented in northwest Bernal, parking on streets included in the RPP zone may or may not get easier. But it’s quite certain that the establishment of the new RPP zone will make parking on non-RPP streets nearby significantly more difficult.  (cf. The Prisoner’s Dilemma)

Of course, if you didn’t attend Hank Wilson’s community meeting on April 19, you probably wouldn’t know any of this.  To date, SFMTA hasn’t sent out postcards to northwest Bernal residents informing them of the re-opened petition, and SFMTA’s Northwest Bernal Heights Parking Pilot website hasn’t been updated to explain the outcome of last week’s community meeting or to indicate the new petition deadline.

And beyond that?

Sometime after May 17, SFMTA will release the tallies of the re-re-revised block-by-block petitions. With the final list of RPP blocks in hand, SFMTA will then push the northwest Bernal RPP proposal through the legislative process.

Because SFMTA is treating northwest Bernal RPP as an experiment,  it will require approval by the full SFMTA board of directors as a calendar item at an upcoming SFMTA board meeting (exact date TBD).  By all indications, this is likely to be a rubber-stamp gesture; Hank Wilson told the crowd at his Bernal Heights community meeting that he has never heard of an instance where the SFMTA board voted against an RPP proposal.

52 thoughts on “SFMTA Faces Criticism During Tense Meeting on Northwest Bernal Permit Parking Plan

  1. This is what you get when your destiny is in the hands of government burocracy and we keep voting for representatives that believe in the minimization of taxpayers’ freedoms.

  2. Let me get this straight – the city didn’t do a very good job of initially informing all residents that are potentially impacted by this new rule, changed the guidelines of this process halfway through (thus making our neighborhood a pilot that they’ll never undo), and are reluctantly allowing people to vote again (still not doing a good job of letting us know that’s an option) but no matter the outcome of said survey, they’re going to do what they want (implementing the RPP)? Makes perfect sense.

    Anyone know what HIllary Ronen’s take on this situation is?

  3. Prisoner’s dilemma be damned, I just re-voted NO on Coleridge. (I think I had ignored it the first time.) Thanks for posting. (And in fact, the thing that makes said dilemma hard is that the prisoners can’t communicate. Since the Venn diagram of people who are aware of the poll re-opening and people who are reading this comment is a single circle, we can coordinate and maybe reverse this thing.)

    • I wrote the following to another Bernal blogger and neighbor who is considering changing his vote from Yes to No because of concern that the vote was undemocratic in the sense that many in the pilot area were not aware of the online survey, resulting in a situation that pits neighbor against neighbor. Here’s my somewhat edited comment to him:

      “I take your point and applaud your desire not to pit neighbor against neighbor. The meeting was not a pretty sight nor an example of people trained in clear and non-violent communication.

      It’s not quite correct to say (about people outside the “blue zone”) that “a vote was not offered to them in the first place.” Going online to complete a survey (voting for or against your street joining the City’s designated “Northwest Bernal RPP Pilot”) has been an option since the beginning of this effort.
      The problem here was the City’s overestimating what it would take to inform people that they had this option and the decision to allow us to simultaneously organize to establish a new zone under the old rules. At first they told the original parking committee of residents from Mirabel, Precita, and Montezuma that as part of the development of the pilot, we probably wouldn’t even have to go door to door because everything was going to be computerized. The City would send out postcards and the votes would come pouring in.

      We lost months of organizing time waiting for that to happen and eventually realized that the postcards fell way short of getting out the vote. We switched our approach to knocking on doors, going back again and again until we found people at home, talking to them, and actually getting hard copy signatures from those in favor. This proved to be the only way we could get the required minimum of 50%, and it took us months, especially on the longer blocks with many vacant properties.

      I guess you could say that, in the same way that our country’s democracy is flawed by voter laws that make it hard for people to vote, this process too was not as democratic as it should have been. Our GOTV campaign was concentrated in the area where residents were organized to talk to people and put forward their solution to this worsening parking problem. I believe that postcards with voting information were in fact sent to all or at least the great majority of addresses in the pilot area. But even on my own street where we knew they were coming, people said they “never got them,” “probably threw them in the blue bins,” etc. The design of the second round was better than the first, but there was no design that could make them stand out from others in the mass mailings that clog our snail mail boxes these days.

      What now? Several months ago, toward the end of the signature gathering and after we had met the minimum one-mile frontage required, there were a few adjacent blocks and streets that became aware of the new zone and how it would impact them. At that point, they organized to get people on their block to vote and were added to the “blue zone”. I believe this can still happen to more blocks within the greater pilot area as long as they are contiguous to a block that has voted “in.”

      I’m leaving my vote as Yes, even although–through a stroke of luck and a kind neighbor willing to clean out his garage and share–my car currently parks in a garage! I think the RPP is worth a try. It will hopefully at least keep the situation from getting worse and it might help. (Contrary to what was assumed by another poster here, it can also be retracted if residents find it isn’t what they hoped for.) I’m hoping that the meeting will lead to our neighbors on adjacent blocks getting organized asap to spread the word that they can still vote to be included in the new RPP zone, and that they will give the RPP a chance to lessen even by a little the serious parking problem experienced especially by those without garages.

      Thanks for listening.

      • Do you honestly think that once the RPP is in place there is any chance whatsoever of retracting it?

      • Yes. It happened. From an article in Hoodline on the current effort in NW Bernal: “Bayshore residents voted to rescind their RPP zone in 2001, and the letter “Q” was recycled for a new area around Alamo Square and the Panhandle that was established in 2015.” This was also mentioned by SFMTA at the meeting last week.

  4. “Hank Wilson told the crowd at his Bernal Heights community meeting that he has never heard of an instance where the SFMTA board voted against an RPP proposal.” — Well there’s always a first, and this botched, overbearingly bureaucratic process is as good a time as any.

  5. Asking purely from a logistical and general standpoint: If the RPP does pass – when will we be notified of what the decision was? And how long would it be after the decision is reached that the permits will be required? Is this something that residents will be notified of, or will the signs just pop up one day?

  6. Some good questions about the process. What is it? No one seems to know. You should talk to the folks on Potrero Hill and Dogpatch who are also going through this farce.

    How many RPP pilot projects does SFMTA have going right now How many do they need to research their theories. Are testing different options in all the neighborhoods? What exactly do they expect to learn from the pilot? How long will it last and when will the data be released? Be sure to include the total new income derived from the fees and fines collected in that report.

  7. I changed my vote from yes to no. I voted for this initially on the false pretense that this would free up parking from those from outside the neighborhood who stash their cars here. When that turned out not to be true (from a license plate survey) , SFMTA changed the rationale of the program, to limit the number of cars per household. The real effect of this program is to siphon money out of the neighborhood via parking permits and parking tickets, with little effect on the ability for residents to park near their homes.

  8. As a household with several adults who need cars (a landscaper, a woodworker, and my mother) this new proposal would really screw us over. We will have virtually no parking options for the extra car. Our street is tiny, so we feel trapped 😦

  9. What about all the empty garages everywhere! If a house has a garage, it should have a car in it. Is that too much to ask? Please!!

    • Thank you Nika. I agree strongly that people with garages should park in them and feel lucky they have a garage. They also have the option of getting a permit so it is a win-win for them.

      • So lets say you have a garage but need a van to accommodate the family but it can’t fit in the garage then what? They are the bad guy?

      • Our car does have a garage in it- in fact we had to get a Mini Cooper because we couldn’t fit the other car in the garage. a lot of the older garages around here are only marginally useful for cars.

      • You could get two extra parking spaces at a residence with a garage if SFMTA relaxed the rule about parking in a driveway. You already have the option of parking across your own driveway so you could get as many as three parking spaces at each garage, depending on the size of the garage and length of driveway. If you care, you might want to oppose any further restrictions on off-street parking as this is one of the primary tools SFMTA is using to force you to give up your car.

    • Thank you, Nika. 10 years ago I started this whole process by putting flyers in all mailboxes in the neighborhood asking/pleading with people to use their garages. That got nowhere, and 10 years later here we are with a situation that gets worse every year. I am hoping that RPP will clear the streets of free loaders (park here for week+ because there are no restrictions & people with extra cars that they do not use, but rather store on the street) or force people to USE their garages. Since almost every other neighborhood has restrictions we are one of the last free range parking areas in the city. That is why we started this process over 2 years ago. For those who say SFMTA is pushing this, you are wrong, this was started by grassroots concern with how to alleviate our parking problems & rid our streets of cars from outside the neighborhood who park here for days & weeks with out impunity. At least once every 2 weeks we have to call on cars who are parked here for 3+++ days on our block. This has been a frustrating & grueling process. Trust me none of us has wanted to expend all this time & energy but we are doing it to try to help!!!!

      • But the the survey proved that cars from elsewhere is not a problem.. Less than 20% from farther than 2 miles, and most of those are probably neighbors who haven’t bothered to change their registration, or girlfriends, boyfriends, babysitters, grandparents, housecleaners, etc.. This is not a big problem.

      • Genuinely curious why RPP would force garage owners to use their garages? Wouldn’t they also be eligible for permits? If anything, I would think it would encourage them to keep parking on the street.

  10. I don’t own a car. Happy that someone that needs to can park in front of my house. But – when needed I rent a car. If I understand this correctly, I would be unable to park it in front of my house for more than 2 hours during the day. Friends that visit also could not park in front of my house for more than 2 hours during the day. As most of the neighboring blocks would be in the same program, they could not park on those streets either. Is the intent to make parking lots more profitable?

    • You are correct Jeff. If you haven’t voted, please vote ‘no’. There is hope to turn this thing around.

      • My understanding is you can buy day passes for guests or if you have a rental car (not sure if you can do this online or day of). But that means more money into the city coffers on top of the yearly parking permit fee you’ve already coughed up.

    • Also wonder what happens if your car is being serviced so you have a loaner car, or if you have family/friends visiting with a rental car?

      • But nannies can get a special parking deal. At least they can in some residential neighborhoods. How about people serving food and services to the sick and indigent? What about the robots being developed to deliver food and other items? Will they “park” on a sidewalk or street? One assumes they will not climb the stairs any time soon.

    • I believe you can get passes for a day or a few days for guests or loaner cars. That said, I’ve lived in other permit zones and have never known someone to get a pass. Usually they go park in a non-permit zone and I go pick them up with my car.

      • Yes, you can purchase day passes, up to 20 a year. So, as long as you keep your daytime visitors to fewer than 2 a month (and don’t mind paying the extra fees) you’re good!

      • Or have enough advance notice that you need this extra permit. Last minute sick baby, important meeting and need your mom to spend the day at your house, oh well you can pay mom’s ticket. Previously I lived in a RPP zone, there was plenty of parking from 9 to 4 when everyone’s at work, but still no evening/night parking.

    • Jeff,
      RPP is implemented all over San Francisco and many people get rental cars and have visitors. There is always a way to make it work so I am not sure why so many are acting like RPP was just invented? We in Bernal are way behind the curve on this and it should have happened a long time ago. Every major city has programs implemented like this in residential neighborhoods. Short of having a garage there really is no other option to getting back resident parking spaces in our area. We just have to face the fact that Bernal is very popular now and has NO restrictions on parking….those two don’t mix at all.

      • “has NO restrictions on parking”

        That’s not true though, there is a 72 hour parking limit. which solves all these perceived problems.. out of neighborhood (proven to be a minor problem), extra/unused cars (also a minor problem), etc. etc.

        Call the DPT when you see a car you don’t recognize parked here for more than three days. Problem solved, without all the headache and cost and strife pitting neighbor against neighbor.

  11. If you have switched or are thinking about switching your vote from ‘Yes’ to ‘NO’, thank you so much! It is something you should feel proud about. If you are on the fence about switching, please consider 10 good reasons to oppose RPP in Bernal:

    SFMTA expressly does not guarantee increased parking availability or guarantee parking for anyone, anywhere once you pay your $127 annual fee.

    RPP creates bad blood among neighbors who live on the perimeters of the zone (I can park in front of your house, but you can’t in front of mine).

    The SFMTA changed the parking criteria after signatures were gathered. This is not what people signed on for and delegitimizes the vote.

    The new 2 car per household plan allows for three and a half more parking permits than parking spaces available. This will reduce available parking in the blue zone, not increase it. (1652 permits for 471 available spaces)

    RPP negatively affects poorer people living within the zone. Those who can’t afford the permit will have to park outside the zone, away from home (in front of your house if you are on the periphery).

    RPP works like a virus to pressure neighboring streets who do NOT want RPP to sign on due to the negative impact of the surrounding zone. This creates further bad blood among neighbors.

    Our children’s elementary school teachers at Leonard R Flynn park in the zone during the work day. They do amazing work in a challenging environment. RPP would be a cruel cut to these amazing teachers.

    RPP won’t solve the parking problem at night as restrictions effectively end at 4pm.

    RPP allows SFMTA to collect fees and the fines without providing any service to the community.

    RPP privatizes public space. Our taxes pay for the streets and neighbors should have equal access. Get rid of the (few) long term and out of town cars by demanding ’72 hour rule’ enforcement and weekly street sweeping on streets without it!

    Thanks for reading this far if you did. If you agree with any of these points or have more to add, please join our cause. Email: norppinbernal@gmail.com

    • +1
      It’s been repeated numerous times that this RPP is an SFMTA money grab. The lack of communication and rule-changing by the SFMTA makes it pretty obvious they want to ram this through. Then they can focus on converting adjacent neighborhoods. Stop this now.

      • Under the law, the RPP program must be “revenue neutral,” meaning the City cannot charge more for permits than it costs to administer the program. This too was explained at the meeting.

      • Mirabel Neighbor– yes, it’s a fee program and so is only supposed to be the cost of the program, but did anyone explain how they calculate it or how narrowly or broadly “the program” is? It may mean something as broad the fees roughly pay for entire RPP program for the city. It might even mean that it pays for the parking enforcement programs as a whole (e.g. all metering enforcement, RPP enforcement, street cleaning, etc). I think it is very unlikely that the dept calculates the cost of each RPP program for each RPP district and charges fees based on that – in that case, it would seem the fees would vary based on where in the city the program was, how much time was spent on enforcement. It would not be workable for a city program to operate that way.

      • Yes, the permit fees themselves must be revenue neutral.

        However, that’s not true for all the revenue SFMTA derives parking tickets and enforcement within an RPP zone.

    • If restrictions effectively end at 4pm, then this plan makes absolutely no sense at all. Voting NO.

      • Ending hour will be either 6pm or 8pm Monday through Friday. I understand this still needs clarification. 6pm was announced at the meeting.

  12. This whole process sounds just like one of Trump’s executive immigration orders, a lawsuit waiting to happen…

  13. You can sign up for email alerts when SFMTA makes announcements related to “North Bernal Residential Parking Permit Petition” and “The Residential Permit Parking Evaluation & Reform Project.” Enter your emaill address at the link below, and on the following page those two items are the last two checkboxes. I don’t remember when I signed up–it was a long time ago–but I assume that’s how I keep getting emails about these meetings.


  14. I have nothing particularly novel to say, just a vote of support for the “no option” for the following reasons:

    – This is unlikely to solved the intended (parking) problem.

    – It will certainly make parking harder for you neighbors outside the zone.

    – If you live in the zone you’ll get more tickets (e.g. for parking facing the wrong way), simply because
    there will be DPT scooters on patrol regularly.

    – It will be a hardship for those who need more than 2 cars.

    – It will be (at best) a bureaucratic hassle when you have visitors, handy-persons, or a rental car; more likely you or your visitors will just get tickets.

    In conclusion, *ugh*–why?!

    • You can pretty well bet that if the SFMTA supports something it will not benefit you. It will create more work for staff and they will raise the RPP fees to support that extra work. If you read SFMTA documents you know RPP is not enforceable because of the human labor required. That is why they want machines to hand out tickets. When offered a gift by SFMTA consider it a Trojan Horse. Rule of thumb is JUST SAY NO to anything the SFMTA offers.

  15. In practice the 72 hour rule takes a week to enforce. They’ll show up weekdays only, 9 – 5 only to mark the cars.

  16. The only way we’ll get king trump out of the white house is to impeach his ass.
    The only way to stop the trump-ish shenanigans of the sfmta is to vote no and make them go away.
    Time to grow some balls and say No, people.

  17. Having lived in Russian Hill for 16+ years before Bernal…HA
    It really doesn’t help you to get a park when you need it. It costs a fair bit to purchase a permit and it gets more costly every year. You only screw your nanny, housekeeper, gardener, plumber, friend etc. when they stay longer than two hours or whatever the allotted time is.
    also, I would encourage all non permit holders to photograph their car before walking away. SOME of meanies that they hire to troll the streets, LIE. They will give tickets even though you have not over stayed.
    (Not all but enough where that very expensive ticket will make you want to vomit.)

    Oh one more thing… I can’t believe I am saying this as a liberal..how many SF employees can we carry before the bottom falls out.. The whole mismanagement of Bart, Muni, pensions galore…. Worried

    • THANKS! A lot of “liberals” are concerned about the balance of public to private workers and the growing size of government and controls over our lives.

  18. My spouse has been working in LA, so we now have an apartment there, as well as our home in Bernal. RPP there is a nightmare– for one, parking is RPP only on one side of the street (2 hours on the other) during the day, and RPP only on both sides from 6pm-8am. And visitor passes there are only good on the block one lives on– and our block is usually full, but I can’t park across the street on the next block with a visitor pass. Since one of our cars is registered in each city, if I want to drive to LA– as I have to do to bring our dog down there– I am entirely unable to park in our neighborhood in LA. Now SF’s RPP program is saner than LA’s, but RPP programs can go awry, and it is distressing that SFMTA is already changing the rules before it’s already been instituted here in Bernal. I’m not convinced that the benefits outweigh the costs and the potential harm.

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