Illegal Sunday Parking in the Mission Could Soon Last All Damn Weekend

If you’re steamed about illegal parking in the Mission on Sunday mornings, good news: You might soon see it on Saturdays and Fridays, too.

Somehow, constant community grousing about churchgoers parking their cars on the medians week in and week out is slowly but surely translating into tacit endorsement of the practice from an SFMTA advisory committee — and possibly even an expansion of it.

[jump] For decades, Sunday worshippers in the Mission have been in the habit of leaving their cars any old place, provoking some decidedly un-Christian responses from neighbors.

Churches usually plead necessity: It‘s San Francisco, after all, and there‘s not enough parking. Short of a loaves-and-fishes style miracle (“There were but seven small parking spaces for some 4,000 drivers, but yea, he parked them all”) there’s just nowhere else for people to go.

SFMTA insists there is no special Sunday parking exemption and that there simply aren’t enough parking officers working Sunday mornings to nail the thousands of violators. In any case, the perceived double-standard that lets church parkers slide one day a week in places where six-day secular parking would net a fat ticket rankles many.

A survey circulated by the Municipal Transportation Agency earlier this year found that 53 percent of responders who live, work, or pray in the affected neighborhoods favored quashing median parking along Guerrero and Dolores Streets. Only 45 percent want to keep up the habit.

The who’s who of respondents was telling: 74 percent of people who live in affected neighborhoods want to see haphazard parking habits end, while 85 percent of people who attend church in those neighborhoods want it to continue.

So, the habit is popular with people most likely to do it and unpopular with everyone else. Which, yeah, of course.

In May of this year, the MTA formed a special advisory committee of nine people from the neighborhood to decide what’s to be done about this problem. (Because, again, just driving the scofflaws out apparently can’t happen.)

Today was supposed to be the final vote on their recommendations (which may or may not translate to a policy change), but an additional meeting is now scheduled because three members were absent and the remainder deadlocked on key issues.

The thing is, if you hear many of the committee members talk, they sound just as mad about the medians as anyone else.

“We’re deciding where the parking will be and what hours based on the church. We’re taking a public service and making all these concessions for a faith organization. That’s very inappropriate,” says Mission resident Gus Preston.

“SFMTA says it always ‘endeavors’ to enforce the law, but there is no enforcement,” gripes Gideon (no last name provided), the rep from the Mission Dolores Neighborhood Association.

“There’s no demand for parking except from a couple of churches. Nobody else wants to park there, and the churches make sure no one else parks there,“ says Elizabeth Zitrin of the Liberty Hill Neighborhood association, speaking of the trampling of plants on Guerrero Street medians. “This is a direct conflict between churches and the rest of the neighborhood.”

And yet, a non-binding “soft vote” of those present resulted in not only endorsing the legalization of pell-mell Sunday parking, but also on Saturdays and Friday nights on Dolores Street (but not on Guerrero), with support from even some of the more irate committee members.

The expansion is an attempt to avoid the impression that the city is specifically catering to a small number of churches. But that doesn’t help those who, like Gideon, are hopping mad that anyone gets to flout parking law for seemingly no reason.

John Knox White, the MTA liason to the committee, acknowledged that most San Franciscans find median parking obnoxious and that the survey “bore that out,” but points out that although public opinion is valuable, you can’t craft a good policy by survey alone.

(He also points out that the committee is a group of neighborhood representatives and that the MTA doesn’t decide how they vote.)

The committee ended up deadlocked over whether to endorse median parking on Guerrero Street, where it tramples the gardens created by the neighborhood group Greening Guerrero. Gillian Gillett, founder of Greening Guerrero, nearly broke down in tears while addressing the committee:

“Greening Guerrero is about giving us a sense of community. When we have plantings we get people who have lived across the street from each other for years but never even met because of all the traffic between their houses. It took us 10 years to raise $150,000, people writing checks for $20 and putting spare change into buckets.”

A final vote committee vote will take place in January. No recommendation has been made yet, and city policy will not necessarily change based on the final recommendation.

Correction: An earlier version of this story referred to the MTA as Metro Transit Authority rather than Municipal Transportation Agency. We regret the error.

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