crowded_parking_compr.jpgIn 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.”

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  • Xenu

    How would one file such a complaint?

  • Xenu

    How would one file such a complaint?

  • Katie Baker

    You should call your local (assuming the car in question is double-parked in your neighborhood) police station. For nonspecific complaints, Tomioka suggested people “write letters.” I would go with email, personally.

  • Katie Baker

    You should call your local (assuming the car in question is double-parked in your neighborhood) police station. For nonspecific complaints, Tomioka suggested people “write letters.” I would go with email, personally.

  • renegade

    What’s a few hours on a dead morning when a lot of people are still asleep? Leave it alone. Cyclists shouldn’t fight more battles. Geez…..

  • renegade

    What’s a few hours on a dead morning when a lot of people are still asleep? Leave it alone. Cyclists shouldn’t fight more battles. Geez…..

  • holly

    it’s odd that this is coming up now, because it’s been like this for years and years. Certainly at least 10 years. Is it just that the number of cyclists in the city has reached a high enough number that people are suddenly now noticing it? I think that an argument can be made that this violates separation of church and state, but I doubt that it’ll change anything. Write all the letters you want, it’s still a losing battle.

  • holly

    it’s odd that this is coming up now, because it’s been like this for years and years. Certainly at least 10 years. Is it just that the number of cyclists in the city has reached a high enough number that people are suddenly now noticing it? I think that an argument can be made that this violates separation of church and state, but I doubt that it’ll change anything. Write all the letters you want, it’s still a losing battle.

  • madenoughtocomment

    I’ll be out this Sunday photographing cars and licence plates for the SFPD to follow up on.

  • madenoughtocomment

    I’ll be out this Sunday photographing cars and licence plates for the SFPD to follow up on.

  • J.

    Wow, loosen up already! Since when did SF get all uptight? and about a little parking for a few hours on Sundays? Don’t you have better things to get all pissy about?

    5-10 years back, it seemed like there was a church on every block in my neighborhood. I always thought it was suspicious, but at the same time, thought it was kind of cool that this behavior was allowed. It was also never a problem to find someone to move a car if it was really in the way.

  • J.

    Wow, loosen up already! Since when did SF get all uptight? and about a little parking for a few hours on Sundays? Don’t you have better things to get all pissy about?

    5-10 years back, it seemed like there was a church on every block in my neighborhood. I always thought it was suspicious, but at the same time, thought it was kind of cool that this behavior was allowed. It was also never a problem to find someone to move a car if it was really in the way.

  • SoSlot

    This sudden reaction to parking around Churches has nothing to do with religion or bicyclists.

    It has everything to do with outrage over the high price of parking tickets that the City

    issues by the thousands. People are fed up and this is one way to vent anger at the

    crushing costs of parking tickets.

  • SoSlot

    This sudden reaction to parking around Churches has nothing to do with religion or bicyclists.

    It has everything to do with outrage over the high price of parking tickets that the City

    issues by the thousands. People are fed up and this is one way to vent anger at the

    crushing costs of parking tickets.

  • LibertyHiller

    It goes back at least 45 years; I’ve been here for half that time and it was a long-established practice in the late ’80s.

  • LibertyHiller

    It goes back at least 45 years; I’ve been here for half that time and it was a long-established practice in the late ’80s.

  • JonOrangeLotus

    From 1991 to 1995 I lived on the block of Dolores that’s home to the Mission Dolores church/basilica; I have EXTENSIVE experience with the parking patterns there. And I too developed a nagging grievance (that eventually became an outrage) that the local population was being punished by an unfair church/state collusion. But my gripe had nothing to do with the loss of a driving lane, oh no. Nope, I was pissed off because the city was using what I’ll call “the church exemption,” to nab local residents on parking violations. Here’s what happened:

    Came home very late on a Saturday night/Sunday morning. I parked in “the middle of the street,” i.e., in one of those huge gaps in the median divider that’s very specific to Dolores — in between the palm tree plots, which was (and, I assume, continues to be) a defacto, quasi-legal place to park. Parking perpendicular to the street this way, about 5-6 cars can fit in a gap, if memory serves. And if you parked there late enough at night, and moved your car before the meter readers started their job the next morning, you wouldn’t suffer a ticket. I.e., neither regular old cops nor any other type of law enforcement issued tickets. And this was true for ANY night of the week. You just had to move your car before the parking enforcement golf carts hit the streets, which if memory serves was around 7am.

    OK, so I park in the median divider gap. It’s probably 2:30am. I figure “Yay! For once I will be a beneficiary of the Sunday church parking. I won’t have to move my car. I’ll sleep in, and all the church goers will fill in their cars around my car, and I can move my car when they move THEIR cars, sometime late Sunday morning.”

    Next morning wake up; cars are parked on the street in one of the driving lanes, and in the median divider; regular old Sunday on Dolores between 16th and 17th. But my car has a F’ING TICKET! The ticket’s time stamp reads something like 5:55am. So what’s happened here is the parking department has sent out their golf carts early to sweep up all the local residents who’ve parked “illegally,” but also BEFORE the church attendees arrive with their cars. Total, utter bullshit.

    I made a couple of calls to various city services (can’t remember which ones) to complain about what I saw as a gross violation of church/state separation, and got nothing back but “But city allows this for Church services; you parked illegally, you’re SOL.”

    Outrageous.

  • JonOrangeLotus

    From 1991 to 1995 I lived on the block of Dolores that’s home to the Mission Dolores church/basilica; I have EXTENSIVE experience with the parking patterns there. And I too developed a nagging grievance (that eventually became an outrage) that the local population was being punished by an unfair church/state collusion. But my gripe had nothing to do with the loss of a driving lane, oh no. Nope, I was pissed off because the city was using what I’ll call “the church exemption,” to nab local residents on parking violations. Here’s what happened:

    Came home very late on a Saturday night/Sunday morning. I parked in “the middle of the street,” i.e., in one of those huge gaps in the median divider that’s very specific to Dolores — in between the palm tree plots, which was (and, I assume, continues to be) a defacto, quasi-legal place to park. Parking perpendicular to the street this way, about 5-6 cars can fit in a gap, if memory serves. And if you parked there late enough at night, and moved your car before the meter readers started their job the next morning, you wouldn’t suffer a ticket. I.e., neither regular old cops nor any other type of law enforcement issued tickets. And this was true for ANY night of the week. You just had to move your car before the parking enforcement golf carts hit the streets, which if memory serves was around 7am.

    OK, so I park in the median divider gap. It’s probably 2:30am. I figure “Yay! For once I will be a beneficiary of the Sunday church parking. I won’t have to move my car. I’ll sleep in, and all the church goers will fill in their cars around my car, and I can move my car when they move THEIR cars, sometime late Sunday morning.”

    Next morning wake up; cars are parked on the street in one of the driving lanes, and in the median divider; regular old Sunday on Dolores between 16th and 17th. But my car has a F’ING TICKET! The ticket’s time stamp reads something like 5:55am. So what’s happened here is the parking department has sent out their golf carts early to sweep up all the local residents who’ve parked “illegally,” but also BEFORE the church attendees arrive with their cars. Total, utter bullshit.

    I made a couple of calls to various city services (can’t remember which ones) to complain about what I saw as a gross violation of church/state separation, and got nothing back but “But city allows this for Church services; you parked illegally, you’re SOL.”

    Outrageous.

  • Equiman

    DPT has any number of “Most favored Guest Parkers” in the City of San Francisco.

    Unfortunately, the groussers are not on any of those lists.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=02FHNl9CTJM

  • Equiman

    DPT has any number of “Most favored Guest Parkers” in the City of San Francisco.

    Unfortunately, the groussers are not on any of those lists.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=02FHNl9CTJM

  • jacksprat

    That’s just the half of it. I was excited to go to Dolores Park on a Sunday so I could park on the wrong side of the road while at the park. Guess what? I got a ticket for parking on the public road while the church-goers did not! Who could tell the difference? Likely not DPT, my money is on the church-goers calling me in. It seems they thought they owned the street that day. DPT, it seems, agrees.

    It’s B.S.!

    Turn-about is fair play. Your turn is up!

  • jacksprat

    That’s just the half of it. I was excited to go to Dolores Park on a Sunday so I could park on the wrong side of the road while at the park. Guess what? I got a ticket for parking on the public road while the church-goers did not! Who could tell the difference? Likely not DPT, my money is on the church-goers calling me in. It seems they thought they owned the street that day. DPT, it seems, agrees.

    It’s B.S.!

    Turn-about is fair play. Your turn is up!

  • marcos

    I’m one of the first to stamp out default christianization of public policy.

    However, in the Western Addition, many of the churches there represent the thread that holds together the African American community that was literally decimated by redevelopment two generations ago.

    These folks live in diaspora from San Francisco, and their churches serve as a focal point to maintain generations long relationships.

    Chalk up one athiest cyclist in support of affirmative action for the church parking in the WA.

  • marcos

    I’m one of the first to stamp out default christianization of public policy.

    However, in the Western Addition, many of the churches there represent the thread that holds together the African American community that was literally decimated by redevelopment two generations ago.

    These folks live in diaspora from San Francisco, and their churches serve as a focal point to maintain generations long relationships.

    Chalk up one athiest cyclist in support of affirmative action for the church parking in the WA.

  • LibertyHiller

    At the time you were violating Traffic Code Sec. 56 (since late 2008, its Transportation Code, Sec. 7.2.34); the City has never treated those as “quasi-legal” spaces. My aunt was getting ticketed for that on Dolores as far back as the ’70s.

    Fortunately, I don’t have churches anywhere near my home, but it angers me to see this concession to out-of-towners.

    I have considered organizing church services in my home, just to see what happens when I tell DPT and the SFPD that we worship on Friday nights and expect to be able to block a lane of Dolores St., just like the Christians do on Sunday. This would be a temple of the North American Reformed Druids (the “reformed” bit comes from including shrubbery in our venerations).

  • LibertyHiller

    At the time you were violating Traffic Code Sec. 56 (since late 2008, its Transportation Code, Sec. 7.2.34); the City has never treated those as “quasi-legal” spaces. My aunt was getting ticketed for that on Dolores as far back as the ’70s.

    Fortunately, I don’t have churches anywhere near my home, but it angers me to see this concession to out-of-towners.

    I have considered organizing church services in my home, just to see what happens when I tell DPT and the SFPD that we worship on Friday nights and expect to be able to block a lane of Dolores St., just like the Christians do on Sunday. This would be a temple of the North American Reformed Druids (the “reformed” bit comes from including shrubbery in our venerations).

  • katgirl415

    This strikes me as the whining of jealous car owners who have paid too many tickets and religious intolerance. If this is about the safety of cyclists and not simply an anti-religion crusade by angry white people who have circled the block one too many times in their VW Bug, why doesnt someone bring these concerns up directly with the churches whose congregations are causing the problems? If both parties consider themselves part of a community maybe a compromise can be worked out one that honors the traditions and cultures of the neighborhood as well as the safety of the residents. And if you are that gung-ho about separation of church and state and want to do something about upholding our nations Constitution, find a better cause.

  • katgirl415

    This strikes me as the whining of jealous car owners who have paid too many tickets and religious intolerance. If this is about the safety of cyclists and not simply an anti-religion crusade by angry white people who have circled the block one too many times in their VW Bug, why doesnt someone bring these concerns up directly with the churches whose congregations are causing the problems? If both parties consider themselves part of a community maybe a compromise can be worked out one that honors the traditions and cultures of the neighborhood as well as the safety of the residents. And if you are that gung-ho about separation of church and state and want to do something about upholding our nations Constitution, find a better cause.

  • marco

    It’s completely disingenuous for the parking department to say “the City does not seek out double parking cases to issue citations” — routinely when the Church parking “monitors” leave and there are a few unfortunately stragglers left parked in the lane, DPT comes through and tickets and tows these cars — on Sunday afternoon.

  • marco

    It’s completely disingenuous for the parking department to say “the City does not seek out double parking cases to issue citations” — routinely when the Church parking “monitors” leave and there are a few unfortunately stragglers left parked in the lane, DPT comes through and tickets and tows these cars — on Sunday afternoon.

  • thomasinsf

    Aside from the fact that law enforcement actions should never be decided upon by “unwritten agreements”, the safety issues caused by allowing a non-specific number of vehicles to park in a non-specific number of unmarked temporary spaces for a non-specific time period are sufficient reasons to resolve this dilemma. Driving down Guerrero St. well after normal church service hours on a Sunday, one will most likely encounter a few stray vehicles parked in the inside driving lane. It is easy to mistake these vehicles as moving. Whether these vehicles belong to church-goers taking advantage of parking privileges or not is irrelevant. Rear-ending a parked vehicle at 25 MPH can result in serious injuries and/or fatalities. This problem can be resolved in a number of ways, yet we do nothing, being afraid to step on toes. Waiting for the inevitable fatal accident to occur and then stating, “I’ve said for years this would happen…”, does no good, whatsoever.

  • thomasinsf

    Aside from the fact that law enforcement actions should never be decided upon by “unwritten agreements”, the safety issues caused by allowing a non-specific number of vehicles to park in a non-specific number of unmarked temporary spaces for a non-specific time period are sufficient reasons to resolve this dilemma. Driving down Guerrero St. well after normal church service hours on a Sunday, one will most likely encounter a few stray vehicles parked in the inside driving lane. It is easy to mistake these vehicles as moving. Whether these vehicles belong to church-goers taking advantage of parking privileges or not is irrelevant. Rear-ending a parked vehicle at 25 MPH can result in serious injuries and/or fatalities. This problem can be resolved in a number of ways, yet we do nothing, being afraid to step on toes. Waiting for the inevitable fatal accident to occur and then stating, “I’ve said for years this would happen…”, does no good, whatsoever.