Why Doesn't San Francisco Enforce Double Parking on Sundays?

On Sundays, Cornerstone Church's volunteer parking attendants help their members double-park on Guerrero between 17th and 18th streets. When services are finished around 1:30 p.m., they call SFMTA to ticket anyone still parked in the street. (Jeremy Raff/KQED)

As part of our series Bay Curious, we’re answering questions from KQED listeners and readers. This question comes from Eric, who wanted to know:

Why Doesn't San Francisco Enforce Double Parking on Sundays?

Parking in San Francisco has long been difficult, and it’s getting tougher as the city gets more crowded. But there’s one time of the week when all the parking rules strictly enforced by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority seem to go out the window -- Sunday morning.

Drive around San Francisco on a Sunday between 10 a.m. and noon. It's common to see cars parked in center-turn lanes, along medians or boxing in the cars parked closest to the curb.

It happens all over the city and it’s been going on for decades.

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KQED listener Eric wants to know why, but he doesn't want to be blamed for pushing churchgoers out of the Mission. We agreed to use only his first name.

“I would call it a traditional accommodation,” said Carlos Jimenez, a pastoral staff member at Cornerstone Church on 17th Street in the Mission District. “I don't think anyone can point to where that started. Many people have asked if it's formal. It is not formal, but it's something the city has always accommodated churches.”

My conversation with Jimenez was interrupted periodically so that he could help people park as they arrived at church. Cornerstone has recognized that parking is tricky in the Mission, and is trying to be a good neighbor by having a crew of volunteers help parishioners park efficiently.

Jimenez and his crew of 12 work to shepherd cars into an underground garage, along the median on Guerrero Street and even into street spots. Even with all this careful planning, Jimenez says other San Francisco drivers get angry sometimes.

“We're the ones people yell at,” Jimenez said. “They scream; they curse at you; they're upset. And that's just something we have to get used to as a crew.”

The church crew parks along the median only when services are going on, Jimenez says. After that, they clear cars away and then call the SFMTA to ticket any cars left in the median.

San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency spokesman Paul Rose insists that the parking laws are not different on Sundays.

“The law right now is basically the rules of the road in terms of illegal parking or double parking,” Rose said. “Whatever the sign says, that's what you're supposed to do. But in this case we have limited resources, so we have to enforce by complaint.”

Jimenez says sometimes looking official means his parking crew is verbally assaulted by drivers, especially when big events happen like Bay to Breakers.
Jimenez says sometimes looking official means that his parking crew is verbally assaulted by drivers, especially when big events happen like Bay to Breakers. (Jeremy Raff/KQED)

In other words, there aren’t many parking control officers patrolling the streets and handing out tickets. And the ones who are working mostly respond to called-in complaints. Rose didn't respond to requests for the number of such complaints his agency receives.

Between 25 and 30 parking control officers work on Sundays, compared with more than 160 on other days of the week. In the first three months of 2015, a total of 255 double-parking citations were issued on Sundays by SFMTA enforcers, police officers, Muni employees and UC police officers. That averages out to about 20 per Sunday. There were a total of 7,874 double-parking citations issued on other days of the week in the same time period. That averages out to about 102 per day.

But Rose also said there are rules for how churchgoers should double-park during services.

“They're allowed to use this median parking if they have a monitor in place, if they aren't blocking the roadway and they aren't creating a hazard,” Rose said. "If any of those things happen, we do enforce.”

Are you seeing the contradiction here? Double parking is still illegal on Sundays, but the SFMTA has rules for how churches should manage their double parking.

KQED listener Eric wondered how these rules apply to First Samoan Congregational Church on 26th Street, which seems to violate some of the rules Rose set out. The church is on a smaller street, and double parking there leaves only one lane passable.

A deacon at First Samoan, Tama Lemauu, said the church does its best with parking in short supply. He noted that many members have moved out of the city seeking cheaper housing, but return on Sundays to the church in which they grew up.

That means a lot of people have to come by car.

The congregation has had its fair share of ugly run-ins with angry neighbors.

“Some neighbors don't tolerate it and they just start honking their horn,” Lemauu said. “Some walk right up inside our services, right in the middle of our services and just stand in the middle of our church and start going off ... even during funerals.”

Church leaders considered painting the curb in front of its property white -- to reserve parking -- but didn’t want to inconvenience neighbors by taking away street parking.

Some non-churchgoers have learned to take advantage of the weekly parking reprieve. On the Sunday that Eric and I were walking around, we caught Bruce Ponte stepping into his car after running a quick errand -- parked in the middle-turn lane on Valencia Street.

“I've lived in the neighborhood for years and I know you can park on Sundays,” Ponte said. “It's not a busy day on the street for traffic, and parking is tight.”

Recently, people living and worshiping near Dolores Park have been making noise about park revelers taking advantage of the Sunday-morning church pass to park along the median on Dolores Street.

This gentlemen's agreement between the city and churches didn’t really satisfy Eric, who raised the question in the first place. He thinks it’s unfair to ask neighbors to enforce parking laws by calling in complaints.

Still, now that he knows the parking authorities won’t be out in force, he may take a page out of Ponte’s book.

“When I'm looking for parking, maybe I'll do what this guy here just did, and that's where I'll park when I go get my bread from the bakery or something,” Eric said.

Eric's strategy may work for a short Sunday-morning errand, but don’t expect to get so lucky any other day of the week.

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