Supes squash bid to revive Sunday parking meters

Transit advocates Tuesday were unsuccessful in overturning a decision by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency to stop enforcement of parking meters on Sunday.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted 9-2 to reject a California Environmental Quality Act appeal of the SFMTA’s two-year operating budget specifically targeting the decision to stop enforcement of Sunday parking meters.

Attorney James Birkelund, representing transit advocacy groups Livable City and San Francisco Transit Riders Union who filed the environmental appeal, said decision to disband Sunday parking meter enforcement is not exempt under the rates, toll, fares and charges CEQA provision.

Birkelund argued that the exemption only applied to meeting operating expenses. He said the SFMTA’s board decision back to April to stop enforcement of Sunday parking meters between noon to 6 p.m. lowers the revenue for the transit agency.

The transit agency had projected to earn about $11 million per year if Sunday parking meter enforcement continued.

He also cited a study by the SFMTA last December that showed the benefits of Sunday enforcement including more parking turnover and less congestion.

Mario Tanev, a member of the transit riders union and named in the appeal, said supervisors should treat this as narrow exemption by just focusing on the Sunday parking meter enforcement decision and not on the entire SFMTA budget.

The Planning Department determined that SFMTA’s board decision to bring back free parking on Sunday was part of the overall transit agency’s budget.

The department and transit agency said the budget falls under the statutory exemption — which does not require projects such as the SFMTA’s budget — to go through a CEQA review despite any environmental impacts.

Supervisor John Avalos, who voted in favor of the appeal, said the statutory exemption for the SFMTA was to help the transit agency to meet budget challenges, not to reduce funding:

“We’re actually reducing the amount of money and preventing the MTA from meeting its operational needs, which was the exemption was built for.”

Supervisor Scott Wiener said voting to approve appeal would set a very broad precedent:

“We would start to see appeals around all sorts of decisions around fees and reductions. We would probably end up with high level of CEQA review.”

Wiener, who voted to reject the appeal, said supervisors should focus on the appeal and not on whether or not they agreed with the SFMTA’s policy decision:

“Rejecting a correctly applied statuary exemption because one might disagree with the underlying policy decision and trying to force it into a higher level of CEQA review has profound implications not just for this issue but for the many, many other situations that MTA and other agencies deal with situations fees, fines and fares.”

Supervisor Eric Mar, who joined Avalos in dissent, disagreed with Wiener’s assessment and referred to Mayor Ed Lee’s call to the SFMTA to get rid of Sunday parking meter enforcement back in January during his State of the City address:

“I think the precedent set by tucking a bad decision by the MTA board within their full budget without any analysis… it’s a bad precedent to hide the political elephant in the room which is a mayoral decision to roll back a policy that was to protect the environment and lots of important benefits without any discussion and without a thorough review of the environmental impacts, which I think are significant.”

Parking at meters in The City will become free again starting July 1.