Political Strategists Confident Extended Parking Meter Plan Is Dead -- But Maybe It's Only *Mostly* Dead

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Can some manner of Miracle Max save the extended parking meter enforcement plan?
In retrospect, the Municipal Transportation Agency's proposal to extend parking meter hours to 9 p.m. or midnight through swaths of the city and from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sundays could have been more badly timed. This, however, would likely have required a Zodiac-type killer making threats regarding the extension of parking meter hours before the MTA blithely announced its plan.

Here are the facts as they stand: Whatever its merits -- and there are many -- the MTA's proposal would force San Franciscans (unemployment rate: 10.1 percent) to pay for services that are currently free and monitor which of five time enforcement zones they've parked in. It comes on the heels of a meter extension debacle in Oakland in which a group of indignant citizens loudly and publicly forced the city's elected officials to back off. The Oakland situation provided an ace in the hole to anyone opposing extended meter hours in the Bay Area. Forget reason and logic. Now uttering "But, Oakland!" is enough to curtail the argument.

Finally, Mayor Gavin Newsom preemptively pulled a Quincy Wagstaff on extended meter enforcement -- whatever it is, he's against it -- and the MTA board that will vote yes or no on the proposal is entirely Newsom-appointed. Is it cynical to think they'll go along with hizzoner? "You bet it's cynical," weighed in political consultant Jim Ross. "But that doesn't mean it's wrong."

SF Weekly called around the city to several political strategists to gauge the chances of the MTA's proposal. Guess what? They're not optimistic. But, to crib a line from The Princess Bride, perhaps it's only mostly dead.    

But let's start with the negatives. Separate from the merits of extended parking meter hours, consultants agreed that the recent well-publicized nose-bloodying of Oakland's politicians by anti-meter activists was a massive setback for the MTA before it even started attempting to pitch its ideas for San Francisco. Granted, Oakland and San Francisco's situations are only superficially related. In Oakland, elected officials decided, by fiat, to raise enforcement hours from one day to the next. In San Francisco, transit experts spent three months formulating this study and sought input from various city communities for a proposal that may or may not get approval from an independent board. On the other hand, "But, Oakland!"

Even Muni officials confided to SF Weekly that the Oakland debacle made this proposal a tough sell, and a City Hall advocate of this plan earlier told us that Newsom was engaging in "cute populism" by swatting down potential extended meter hours. That may be, but it's a hell of a lot easier to get people riled up about paying for stuff that's free than engage in a nuanced discussion about parking turnover and good civic policy. Ross notes that, 15-odd years ago, then-Mayor Frank Jordan floated a plan to extend meter hours and it was vociferously shouted down by the body politic. And that was a far different economic climate than the current one.

"As far as Muni strategy goes, it's ill-timed," says consultant David Latterman of Fault Line Analytics. "While there are good points here and aspects of this make really good policy sense, it's going to piss a whole lot of people off. A lot of people are going to look at this and think, 'What the hell?'"

When SF Weekly yesterday asked MTA CEO Nat Ford who were the allies he would be relying on to fight this uphill battle, he didn't name names but stated "Transit-first advocates." We saw this as a loser proposition -- these transit-first advocates decidedly do not have the ear of the MTA board and can easily be portrayed as anti-car, anti-middle class, anti-just about anything. While it's not an unfair proposition that car drivers should "share the pain" of public transit riders, it's an easy argument to beat with emotional tactics. Accordingly, Latterman noted that, at this point, the extended meter hours proposal has been framed in the mainstream media as "progressives say FU to car-drivers." Well, that's a problem there. 

So, let's get back to "mostly dead." Ford told SF Weekly that it would be easy to break the proposal into bits and calculate the cost benefits for the city: While the whole shebangabang would bring an estimated $9 million of revenue into MTA's coffers, just enforcing up to certain hours in certain zones -- or, mark our words, adding Sunday enforcement but no extra time during weekdays -- can be added up, too. To use a martial analogy, the MTA appears to have left itself a clear path of retreat when the initial plan runs into resistance. 

If need be, "I hope [MTA] compromises, because a compromise is something rather than nothing," said transportation expert Dave Snyder, until recently with the think-tank SPUR. "I'd hate to see them stick it to transit riders even worse."

And yet, in the past, it has been drivers who have complained louder and gotten their way. And San Francisco drivers seem to want it all.

"They want to drive and park like in Los Angeles but they don't want San Francisco to look or act like Los Angeles," said Ross with a laugh.

Good luck with that.

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