The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s proposal to extend parking meter hours inspired a cacophony of public input at today’s meeting, with many voices raised in opposition, or hesitation.

One week after details of the parking proposal were first made public, MTA Chief Financial Officer Sonali Bose presented board members with a study and resulting plan to extend meter enforcement hours evenings and Sundays. Bose said such a move would increase turnover to free up more spaces, decrease congestion and generate $8.8 million in annual revenues.

The proposal would extend meter enforcement to 9 p.m. in many areas, and as late as midnight in North Beach, the Inner Mission and Geary west of Union Square. Many other areas would see midnight enforcement on Friday and Saturday nights and meters citywide would operate Sundays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Bose noted that a one-size-fits-all approach to altering meter hours would not work in San Francisco’s diverse neighborhoods. Current meter hours have not changed since the city’s first meter was installed in 1947, she said. The existing enforcement, generally 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday, is a throwback to the days when businesses were not open evenings or on Sundays, she said.

MTA executive director Nathaniel Ford noted that the proposal is merely a starting point for discussions among community members and officials. “It’s an issue people feel passionately about,” he said.

Business owners, residents, local groups and others filled the board chambers, with an overflow audience spilling into a holding room downstairs. Nearly 50 people voiced their opinions at the three-hour meeting.

A number of speakers said the plan would be a hardship for residents who come home from work and park overnight at expired meters because they live in congested areas. Many said that having to feed the meter through the evening would be a hardship and an expense, as would the increased likelihood of parking tickets and tows.

“MTA is causing a very hostile environment…every time rates go up, assaults go up. At night it’s too dangerous.”Tina Landis from the group ANSWER Coalition said such a measure would “push the burden of the economic crisis onto the workers.” The group is mounting formal opposition to the plan, she said.

While the MTA advocates the plan as a means to drive more people to local businesses, business owners and local commerce groups also expressed doubts about the plan.

For businesses in West Portal, extending meter hours “will drive people to Stonestown, where there’s ample parking, it’s all free and you’re never ever going to get a $56 ticket,” said Elliot Wagner, who owns a business in the area.

Many business groups requested further study, a pilot program, or a chance to discuss alternatives.

Public transit riders and bicyclists were also on hand to cheer the possibility of drivers sharing the burden of increased fees.

Resident Fran Taylor disputed the idea of anyone who owns a car being in dire financial straits.

“The real working class, the real poor are there on the bus, and we need this for the buses,” she said.

Daniel Murphy, head of the MTA’s citizens’ advisory council, said evening and weekend parking spots don’t really provide free parking. “It’s a random distribution of free parking to a certain number of people.” He praised the idea of extended metering “to distribute that a little more fairly.”

Parking control officer Dominic Garrett, wearing his blue uniform, said he opposed the nighttime hours because of the added danger for those who actually write the tickets.
“MTA is causing a very hostile environment,” he said. “Every time rates go up, assaults go up. At night it’s too dangerous.”

Ford said agency staff will map out a strategy for public outreach, which they will share with the board by next week. The plan will involve a variety of meetings, held by neighborhood, as well as special meetings for affected groups like business owners.

After a thorough outreach effort, staff will bring the board a modified proposal, based on the input and discussions at these meetings, Ford said.

No timeline exists for an MTA vote on the plan.

“These things don’t happen overnight,” noted MTA board chairman Tom Nolan. To those who spoke against the agency looking to parking meters to fill its budget gap, Nolan said “we are exploring all type of revenue activities.”

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