Downtown’s sneaky parking plan

Pub date June 5, 2007
SectionNews & OpinionSectionOpinion

OPINION Two years ago this week, the mayors of many of the world’s largest cities gathered in San Francisco for World Environment Day and pledged to make their cities more livable and sustainable places.

San Francisco justly prides itself on being an environment-minded city made of diverse and livable neighborhoods. Thanks in large part to the city’s historic neighborhoods, designed around walking and public transit, San Franciscans generate fewer greenhouse gas emissions per capita than residents of any city in the country except New York.

Unfortunately, one of the most environmentally unfriendly measures to come along in a decade may be headed to the ballot. A shadowy coalition of downtown interests is gathering signatures for a measure, the brainchild of Republican financier Don Fisher, that would impose a one-size-fits-all parking "solution" on San Francisco’s distinct neighborhoods while removing protections for pedestrians, cyclists, and public transit from the city’s Planning Code.

This measure, blandly titled the Parking for Neighborhoods Initiative, threatens to reverse decades of progress toward a sustainable and livable San Francisco.

If this measure becomes law, it will negate the ability of neighborhoods to plan their own future, to provide affordable housing options, and to make their streets safe and livable. It will, in a stroke, overturn many years’ worth of neighborhood-based planning efforts, from downtown and South of Market through Hayes Valley and the Mission to Balboa Park.

Reduced-parking requirements, limitations on creating new parking spaces, have become a useful tool for decreasing traffic congestion, encouraging walking, cycling, and public transit use, and making housing more affordable in the city’s most dense and transit-rich neighborhoods. The city’s Downtown Plan, adopted in the 1980s, encouraged the area to grow as a diverse commercial, industrial, and residential district, oriented to transit rather than the automobile.

Many neighborhoods may not choose reduced-parking requirements, but where they fit, residents have embraced them as a way to preserve their neighborhoods’ livability, character, and affordability. Nearly a third of San Francisco households live without a car. A UC Berkeley study showed that units without parking spaces are affordable to twice as many households as units with them.

The measure would also prohibit programs to make San Francisco’s mean streets safer places for all of us, particularly children, elders, and the disabled. It arrogantly asserts the right of developers to cut new driveways and garage entrances wherever they want, regardless of the number of pedestrians, cyclists, and Muni riders who would be inconvenienced or even endangered.

Proponents of the measure are trying to give it a green gloss, invoking provisions about car sharing and low-emission vehicles. Don’t be fooled — this ill-conceived measure will make our city less sustainable, less livable, less affordable, and less safe. Don’t sign the petition! *

Tom Radulovich is executive director of Livable City (