For all of the current lobbying and enthusiasm over public transportation (including taxis and app-enabled car services), automobiles remain an inescapable fact of urban life. And that sure as hell means parking issues for city-dwelling car owners whose numbers have not appeared to dwindle as the latest tech boom rumbles on. Those issues have been magnified for me and my Russian Hill neighbors by the impending loss of parking spaces on Polk Street from McAllister to Union, purportedly in an accommodation to the bicycle lobby, right when Van Ness is being torn up to enable the construction of new rapid-transit bus lanes. Needless to say, merchants and residents are equally furious at the state of affairs.
The financial repercussions have been what you might suspect, considering the bottom-line attitudes shown by the local powers-that-be, starting with the city government. It should be no surprise that the cost of San Francisco neighborhood parking permits seems to jump up in increments of $20 each year. And the meters? These days, they eat more quarters (and deplete more payment cards) than a slot machine in a Reno casino on Seniors Night.
On the basis of a friend’s experience and my own research, the situation is pretty outrageous and may get worse. My fellow dual-city citizen Ellen has property in my S.F. ‘hood but lives much of the year in L.A. for business and social reasons, like yours truly. On a recent sojourn to the Bay Area, she was stunned by parking-meter madness in the Mission, where she went to dine with friends at a highly-touted new restaurant.
FEED YOUR FACE, FEED YOUR METER
During the dinner hour, Ellen pulled up to a metered space on a main thoroughfare — Valencia Street. She parked and locked the vehicle, and used her debit card on the meter, not expecting to be bilked like a tourist at a Fisherman’s Wharf souvenir shop. She then met her three companions for what she said was a delicious and reasonably priced meal consisting of small shared plates. Ellen and her crew lingered for a bit after eating. And when she emerged from the restaurant after a little more than two-and-a-half hours, she checked the cost of parking and only then realized that it was approximately $6.75 an hour. The grand total came to $20 — $2 more than her share of the dinner bill. She was, to say the very least, appalled. Then again, she has yet to go to one of those Market Street cafes where you can get a special “artisan” coffee brew for $12–15 a cup. One must assume that the beans are pre-soaked in some kind of 100-year-old brandy or infused with magic truffle oil.
I heard Ellen’s story, and I thought that she might have overstated the case. Until I looked up a detailed meter map of San Francisco, complete with the rates from sector to sector. According to official documentation I found from a year or so ago, S.F. meter pricing is variable, depending on where the parking happens and, more significantly, how many drivers are fighting for the spaces. I find this hard to believe, but it was noted that the cost can be 50 cents an hour in some areas of town. In those cases, we’re probably talking industrial blocks, or designated gang-warfare battlegrounds. On the other hand, the map listed a maximum cost of $6.25 an hour in a variety of heavily trafficked districts, adding that parking rates go up as high as $7 an hour when the city wills it during evening hours and on the streets around special events like baseball games at AT&T Park.
HEAD FOR THE HILLS
Contrast that with my own auto-logistical experience last month in Beverly Hills. Yes, the Hills of Beverly … swimmin’ pools and movie stars, etc. Usually, I manage to avoid paying parking of any kind in Los Angeles for my old but dependable Nissan. I have pretty much gamed the system in that regard. I read the signs. I know the restrictions in a wealth of different neighborhoods. I know where side-streets provide free parking spaces. But on this night, I was in a hurry to get to the Leica Gallery for the opening of a major exhibition by the rock photographer Danny Clinch. Furthermore, I had another destination targeted downtown within two hours. So I did what I had to do, and grabbed a metered space a block from the gallery.
Located 100 or so feet from my car stood what could only be called a mansion, which was next to another, and another. I eyed the block and wondered: Would the meter cost me a bar of gold and my first-born child for an hour of citation-free on-asphalt real-estate? No. It was a mere $2 — which, according to my research, is the maximum rate for metered parking in one of the most glamorous and upscale areas of the United States.
So what does this tell us about San Francisco — and, in particular, the longtime working-class Hispanic enclave known as the Mission? Just the obvious. This is not your abuelita’s Mission any more. And if you’re financially secure enough to live, drive, and park in Boomtown-by-the-Bay (and that means loaded), be prepared to pay the piper — and really feed the meter.