Press Passes Pass Away

No more free parking for the city's journalists

As of midnight Dec. 31, San Francisco's press corps can kiss their precious pink parking passes goodbye, under a recent California Supreme Court ruling that revokes special parking privileges for the media.

The decision, issued by Judge David A. Garcia on July 18, states that the city of San Francisco has no legal authority to issue "working press vehicle parking passes" to reporters, photographers, and other news types. Garcia's ruling was the result of a lawsuit three San Francisco taxpayers filed last September.

Effective immediately, the ruling bars the city from spending any additional public money on the passes, which are issued by the Police Department. The 1,500 passes that were handed out earlier in the year will remain valid through 1997, but they will not be renewed for 1998. No new applications are being accepted.

Journalists in this city have had special parking privileges for the past 20 years. The 8 1/2 by 11 cards allow journalists to essentially ignore parking meters during "official news gathering assignments."

But many journalists had grown accustomed to extending the privilege beyond the rules -- from picking up dry cleaning to daylong parking. Particularly noticeable were the lax habits of reporters at the Chronicle and the Examiner, whose pink-press-passed cars are a common sight in the Fifth-and-Mission area.

Budget analysts at the Department of Parking and Traffic, which enforces the city's parking rules, have estimated that the misused parking passes deprive the city of roughly $1 million each year in lost meter revenues.

Last September, John Brady, Lorraine Duddy, and Sharon Samuel decided those abuses should end. So with the help of attorney Robert Schubert, of the San Francisco law firm Schubert & Reed, they sued the city.

And they won, on the grounds that state law specifically allows cities to give parking privileges to merchants and residents -- but not to journalists.

The City Attorney's Office is likely to appeal the decision, which would temporarily put the new rules on hold. So parking-pass transgressors can breathe easy for the time being.

But the ruling should hardly be a surprise to the city. As early as April 1994, as the Board of Supervisors revisited the parking-pass issue, city Budget Analyst Harvey Rose questioned the legality of the passes in a memo to the board:

"According to Mr. Lawrence Wayte of the City Attorney's Office, vehicle press cards are not specifically authorized under the State Vehicle Code and there is therefore some concern that San Francisco's issuance of vehicle press cards would be preempted by State law."

Bring on the meter minders.

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