In October 2009, I wrote my very first Ask the Appeal column on “illegal” church parking, an issue that has irked me ever since. Back then, when I asked SFPD spokesperson Sergeant Lyn Tomioka why the SFPD doesn’t ticket cars double parked near churches on Sundays, she told me that the service is for “community activites,” not religious ones.
“I can understand the person that might consider it [an illegal violation of the separation of church and state],” Tomioka said at the time, “but it’s solely a public service, and we always make sure there is always at least one lane of traffic still available.” She said standard parking regulations are also lifted for Boys and Girls Club meetings and elementary school open house nights.
Today, The Bay Citizen wrote about the same issue. Interestingly, the city’s stance seems to have completely changed. Kristen Holland, a spokeswoman for the SF MTA, which oversees parking, told The Bay Citizen that “San Francisco does not have a policy to allow double parking for churches on Sundays.”
She said that both the SFPD and the parking department act on complaints. But, according to the article, “the city still does not ticket double parking during church services — even when congregants block dedicated bike lanes, a violation of the city traffic code that carries a fine of $105.”
I called Sgt. Tomioka to ask her if the city’s stance had indeed changed (when contacted by phone, Holland told me that if I wanted “real answers” I had to send my questions by email, which I did. If and when I get a response, I’ll update). She said she would speak with Holland, but that “double parking on Sundays is historically something that the community and the churches have worked out together. It’s not that we turn a blind eye, but historically, the community has accepted and almost condoned the double parking because, in most cases, the communities understand that people are going off to a religious meeting. It happens all over the city. It’s not just Christian churches – it’s temples, mosques, and so on.”
I was confused – by “community,” did she mean the SFPD and the parking department? “No,” said Tomioka. “The actual community – the people who live around the churches.” Hmm. I live in the Mission, and I don’t recall making any sort of deal with the priest at the Roman Catholic Mission Dolores Basilica! Yes, I’m being contentious – but isn’t it odd that the SFPD would assume that this “historic” (and illegal!) arrangement still stands?
Maybe not. According to Tomioka, the SFPD rarely gets complaints regarding double parked cars near churches.
How rare are we talking? “Most Sundays, we get zero complaints,” Tomioka said. What happens if someone does file a complaint? “The complaint can’t be anonymous,” Tomioka said. “It must be a specific complaint about a particular car.”
Do they ticket the vehicle? “That is an option,” she said. “Or we would go into the church and ask people to move their cars.”
I asked Tomioka whether the SFPD would reevaluate the “historic agreement” she kept referring to if they received more complaints. “Oh yes – absolutely,” she said. “We would definitely evaluate the unwritten agreement that they have in the individual communities.”
So, all you angry bikers/separation-of-church-and-state advocates out there: Complain! Write letters to the SFPD/parking department! Show city officials that you don’t think it’s fair for them to allow illegal parking for religious services — because, regardless of whether a few other community groups take advantage of this “agreement” (the only one Tomioka referenced in our conversation today was, again, the Boys and Girls Club), this phenomenon is very clearly connected with religion and, as author Stephen Elliott told The Bay Citizen, “Anybody that parks in a bike lane is worshiping the wrong god.”
Update: When asked via email if, per the Bay Citizen article the parking department would reevaluate the long-standing “agreement” between communities and churches (see today’s to more or less overlook double parking near churches on Sundays if more people
complained, SF MTA spokesperson Kristen Holland reiterated that says “San Francisco does not have a policy to allow double parking for churches on Sundays. However, it is common knowledge that various churches have working arrangements with their neighbors to double park on Sundays as long as access is maintained to all properties. San Francisco’s parking enforcement efforts are usually complaint driven on Sundays, so if there are no complaints, the City does not seek out double parking cases to issue citations. In cases where there are complaints, the City does issue citations and sometimes tow offending vehicles.”