Get SF Weekly Newsletters

September 10, 2007 Slideshows

Share on Facebook
Tweet
Submit to Reddit
Email

Aparkalypse Now II 

Matt Smith
Six years ago, during the last moments of the dot-com bust, skyscraper owners and developers were whipping San Franciscans into a parking frenzy. San Francisco's newspapers obliged. They conjured story after story about a supposed parking meltdown.
Matt Smith
Fearing San Francisco might become infected with a backward mindset where apartments, parks, stores, sidewalks and workplaces would be crowded out by parked cars, SF Weekly created a graphic novel about parking policy, entitled "Aparkalypse Now." By 2007, however, it seemed our 2000 lesson -- that it's unwise to crowd out people spaces with car spaces -- had worn off.
Matt Smith
Campaign cash, deceptive advertising and the machinations of professional political strategists long ago undermined the Progressive movement's 1900s dream that the ballot initiative process would empower and elevate citizens.
Matt Smith
In 2007, the so-called "Parking for Neighborhoods Initiative" -- more helpfully known as the Fisher Initiative -- is a sublime case in point. For weeks, aid canvassers have been gathering signatures to qualify this loser for San Francisco's November ballot.
Matt Smith
A truly awful ballot measure begins with repulsive financial backers. This one was launched with $30,000 from Gap founder Don Fisher, a Republican billionaire known for orchestrating his family's 1998 decision to buy and log 235,000 acres of endangered redwood forests; and another $30,000 from Webcor, a giant condo builder standing to benefit from the ballot proposition.
Matt Smith
The worst voter propositions screw the poor while enriching the wealthy. The Fisher Initiative lets condo developers off the hook from having to pay millions in low-income housing subsidies. It would also slow and disrupt bus lines, in order to make it easier for rich homeowners to improve their property values by adding parking garages to pre-automobile Victorians.
Matt Smith
At its most destructive, the California voter initiative process is used to disempower ordinary voters, tricking them into worsening their own lot in life.
Matt Smith
The example in question forces neighbors around Glen Park to scrap plans they crafted during years of community meetings to turn their streets into walkable, park-filled transit villages, complete with subsidized child-care centers, lower-income housing, libraries, and recreational facilities -- amenities that were to be paid for by extracting subsidies from developers.
Matt Smith
The most deplorable ballot initiatives mislead the electorate about their true effects, couching their bogusness in language that's all but impossible for ordinary people to understand.
Matt Smith
Fisher's so-called "Parking for Neighborhoods Initiative" wouldn't do very much to make it easier to park in the city. But if successful, it would go a long way toward making it harder to get around by car, bus, on foot, or by bike. It would eliminate new affordable housing all over the city. And it would contribute significantly to congestion, to urban ugliness, and to smog.
Matt Smith
On its face, The Fisher Initiative seems benign: "What's wrong with more parking?" But the awfulness is in its details. Promoted as a way to make city driving more attractive, it's most notable effect will be to raise housing costs. And just as it will help drive more low- and middle-income people from San Francisco, it will also make life less pleasant for people of all incomes.
Matt Smith
The question of livability versus parkability is exploding near downtown, as plans are in the works to turn the former warehouse districts south of Market Street at Rincon Hill, at China Basin and dozens of blocks in between into a vast urban village, complete with new apartment towers, shopping districts, parks, libraries, day care centers and, of course, coffee shops.
Matt Smith
Indeed, the city has begun to truly revive after the 2001 dot com bust. An influx of jobs, apartments, and places to shop and play, promise to turn SoMa's post-industrial wasteland into a new Vancouver south. But just like seven years ago, economic vigor has spawned a dillema: With flocks of new people living and working here, how will they get to work, to shop, to play?
Matt Smith
As before, the answer is reflected in our cars.
Matt Smith
As Don Fisher sees it, providing transportation means creating more space for cars. His initiative would nullify current downtown development rules, which limit apartment developers to building only one parking garage space per four apartments. As the law stands, developers are allowed to build additional parking spaces only if they kick in extra subsidies for lower-income housing.
Matt Smith
The idea behind those rules is simple: San Francisco needs more apartments that are affordable for middle- and lower-income people. And it doesn't need more cars choking up downtown.
Matt Smith
The new condominium towers south of Market are next to BART, Caltrain, dozens of Muni lines, and bike-lane networks. They're also next to the financial district, meaning walking to work can be a snap. If new condo residents bring new cars, their driving will clog streets, impede transit, make walking dangerous, and generally cause SoMa to feel like a traffic-clogged Los Angeles.
Matt Smith
The alternative, backers of the Fisher Initiative say, could strangle San Francisco's growth. Without more parking, San Francisco's glow might fade. Technology companies and their workers will flee for the vast parking opportunities of Fremont and Daly City. Could a lack of parking turn the clock back to 2001? Economic recession? San Francisco a no parking ghost town?
Matt Smith
Without more, and more, and more parking spaces, downtown residents will drive around, and around, and around looking for a place to stop.
Matt Smith
Their motorized wanderings clog the streets. Frustration will mount; motorists will yell, honk and gun their engines at each other, at pedestrians, at the miserable parking-scarce San Francisco itself.
Matt Smith
Seven years ago when San Francisco was thus adrift, I turned my eyes eastward, toward the office of Allan Jacobs, the all-knowing-all-being-master-of-San Francisco planning. Jacobs directed the city's planning department during the 1960s and 70s, at the dawn of San Francisco's transit-first revolution. He now chairs U.C. Berkeleys department of regional and city planning.
Matt Smith
Jacobs said in 2000, the best path is sophisticated, yet simple: Do nothing. "People will find places other than driving to be if no parking is available Cities that are obsessed with the movement of cars, and spend a lot of time and money trying to avoid or solve traffic problems, are invariable less livable than cities that dont," Jacobs said. "So dont worry about parking."
Matt Smith
Simple. Even simpler than it seems, actually. Because the alternative is horribly, disastrously, hideously complex. Building the thousands of new parking spaces that some desire will create worse problems than it solves. Every added parking space draws another car, further clogging downtown streets, impeding buses, pedestrians, and other cars.
Matt Smith
And on its daily rounds, each additional car requires seven or so additional parking spaces at stores, offices, government buildings, parks, and anywhere else an automobile might go. The more parking spaces there are, the less room there is for anything else. So additional condominium parking spaces mean it becomes more difficult to park, drive, walk, or ride the bus anywhere else.
Matt Smith
Fears that the city might someday drown in a surfeit of parking spaces are not new. During the early 1980s, when banking, insurance, and real estate companies were growing in the city like kudzu, planners, business leaders, and civic leaders realized that the city's development boom could end in gridlock if it were built on the backs of automobiles.
Matt Smith
Unless development went ahead without added parking, the Baghdad by the Bay appeared doomed. San Francisco's Downtown Plan, drafted in 1983 and still the presumptive guiding document behind city planning, made clear the official aversion to new parking. In 15 years, from the mid-'60s to the early 1980s, the square footage of downtown office space doubled with no appreciable increase in parking.
Matt Smith
Huge hotels, such as the downtown Grand Hyatt, were built without parking spaces. Today, downtown San Francisco is the most bustling, pleasant, walkable city center in the western United States.
Matt Smith
How did San Francisco do this? By heeding the urban planner's parking mantra. Let it be. This Zen approach was seen at work this July 10th in another Zen-like endeavor: baseball. Major League Baseball's hosted its All Star Game in downtown San Francisco, with only a fjord, rather than other cities oceans, of parking.
Matt Smith
They were able to do this because when the Giants moved into their stadium south of Market in 2000, the team hired Allan Jacobs' former student Alfonso Felder as a special ballpark 'transit director.' The team then embarked upon a mission to drill into fans this message: there are a number of ways to get to the Giants stadium, with public transit and walking being the most practical.
Matt Smith
The Giants aren't the only ones letting parking be. Since 2000 the Planning Department has been working with local residents to create plans for new "transit villages," new neighborhoods specifically designed to allow residents to take Muni, instead of their cars.
Matt Smith
The city spent more than $1 million creating plans to locate housing, stores, parks, libraries and other amenities in new North Beach style neighborhoods locatd where public transportation is or will be most plentiful. The idea is people will be able to access things and places pleasantly by walking or riding their bikes.
Matt Smith
The Fisher Initiative would ruin these plans. A key component of the plan guides developers to build apartment buildings with fewer parking spaces than the one-space-per-unit that's de rigueur elsewhere in the city. With parking garages taking up less space, buildings will have room to add more apartments.
Matt Smith
City rules currently require new apartment projects to provide 15 percent of their units at a subsidized rate affordable to moderate-income buyers or low-income renters. So for every additional six or seven apartments builders can fit on a lot thanks to parking spaces they didn't build, San Francisco gets another builder-subsidized apartment.
Matt Smith
This isn't a builder-friendly equation. Apartments without parking garages attached to them tend to sell for less, meaning developers must target a downscale segment of the condominium market. That's a bonus for those who'd like see middle-income people able to live in San Francisco. But it's a drain on developers' profit margins.
Matt Smith
The Fisher Initiative's "primary benefit is to business, to big companies, and well-heeled residential developers," notes S.F. architect Howard Wong.
Matt Smith
"When the message is, 'There will always be a place to use your car,' the reaction is, 'OK, I'll use my car.' So you get this constant congestion," says Gordon Price, director of the city program at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, and one of the advocates behind that city's world-famous effort to build an environmentally sensitive, densely populated, walkable downtown.
Matt Smith
The opposite path allows San Francisco to become more affordable, safer, and environmentally sustainable. It might allow wonders to unfold.
16/37
Matt Smith
The idea behind those rules is simple: San Francisco needs more apartments that are affordable for middle- and lower-income people. And it doesn't need more cars choking up downtown.
Play Slideshow

Slideshows

  • clipping at Brava Theater Sept. 11
    Sub Pop recording artists 'clipping.' brought their brand of noise-driven experimental hip hop to the closing night of 2016's San Francisco Electronic Music Fest this past Sunday. The packed Brava Theater hosted an initially seated crowd that ended the night jumping and dancing against the front of the stage. The trio performed a set focused on their recently released Sci-Fi Horror concept album, 'Splendor & Misery', then delved into their dancier and more aggressive back catalogue, and recent single 'Wriggle'. Opening performances included local experimental electronic duo 'Tujurikkuja' and computer music artist 'Madalyn Merkey.'"

Popular Stories

  1. Most Popular Stories
  2. Stories You Missed