September 22, 2014

Parking and the San Francisco waterfront

350x146_project-map2Height limits and traffic may the most visible issues about San Francisco shoreline development, but at the heart of every proposed project (see article) is parking.

The Port of San Francisco and gold were the original financial engines for the growth of the city, but now parking has become an engine for shoreline development. From the beginning the city grew by filling in the Bay; and the 1906 earthquake provided rubble for bayfill to first create a rail route, now Third Street, and later more land to help finance freight service and later transit to the Peninsula.

Originally the shore and piers were a state function. The Port was transferred to the city in 1969, when it became clear that the shoreline could no longer be used for its original port purpose, and today’s uses are still supposed to be governed by the state’s Public Trust doctrine (see September-October 2005, page 6). Maritime uses no longer provide the revenue to maintain the now-rotting piers. The Port aggressively prices its parking spaces to maximize revenue for this use.

The first example of attempting to shanghai land was the gift of land just west of Third Street to a railroad that soon became part of the Southern Pacific. In 1977, when the service ended, the land reverted to the city based on the original terms of the gift. This area is now the UCSF Medical School, Mission Bay Campus. When this campus was originally conceived, UCSF had lots of funding, and it constructed 5,300 parking spaces on its campus, even though the campus is closely served by the Muni Metro T line on Third Street.

The Port has a number of completed projects that help provide revenue for maintenance and improvements, including some offices and almost-hidden walks north of the Ferry Building. The Ferry Building itself is a fine example of seismic upgrades and renovation with a continuing maritime use along with attractive shops and restaurants. The Port, however, promised the developer a supply of parking to “attract” customers. The Port ran a small lot on the building’s pier charging $6 per hour or $50 per day until the pier was deemed unsafe for cars.

The Port currently has a parking lot with about 145 spaces a few blocks from the Ferry Building, where 8 Washington is proposed. The new garage would have 400 spaces, amounting to one space for every unit, plus about 200 commercial spaces, even though a few blocks away our planning code limits apartment houses to 0.75 spaces per unit, and the Planning Department did an excellent paper showing that 0.5 was adequate for South of Market and areas with excellent transit (see January-February 2006, page 11).

This project would also include commercial parking spaces “necessary to attract” customers and commuters, even though nearby downtown San Francisco has the world’s first low limit on parking provided with office buildings. Moreover, covering the high construction cost of the underwater parking is probably a major reason for the building being so tall. The cost of parking probably also reduced the land price the developer was willing to pay the Port.

Lot 337 is already the existing Giants parking lot, but a key part of the development proposal here will be keeping a new 2,690-space garage full on the 280 non-game days each year. The cars attracted by the garage will seriously impact Muni service. The good news is that Giants fans have frequently filled a 40,000-seat ball park with only about 2,000 dedicated parking spaces. Instead of building more spaces, why not take the next step to zero dedicated parking spaces? UCSF is just a couple of blocks away, and the Giants have already asked it to adjust its parking fees on game days to make 2,000 spaces available for fans with no net increase in driving. Some regular UCSF parkers will probably be willing to work at home, carpool, or use transit on game days in exchange for a reduced annual parking cost.

The Sierra Club will be requesting that reduced parking alternatives be studied for all projects near or on Port lands and that other locations be considered for the Warriors arena. The city will have to decide how to limit the shanghaiing of Port lands for private profit and parking.

Howard Strassner, Executive Committee, Sierra Club San Francisco Group

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