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SF Churchgoers Complain About Sunday Meter Enforcement

| May 2, 2013
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by Emily Green

On Thursday, San Francisco once again takes up the controversial issue of parking meter expansion at a committee hearing. One issue will be Sunday meter enforcement, which took effect in late February. The change has angered many churchgoers, who say it is undermining community bonding and forcing people to pay money to worship.

Floyd Jones has attended the Jones Memorial United Methodist Church for the last 60 years. (Deborah Svoboda/KQED)

Floyd Jones has attended the Jones Memorial United Methodist Church for the last 60 years. (Deborah Svoboda/KQED)

Floyd Jones is one of those people. He has been coming to the Jones Memorial United Methodist Church in San Francisco’s Japantown neighborhood every Sunday for the past 60 years.

Jones is 88 years old, dapper and witty. He used to come here with his wife, Ruby. She died 5½ years ago. Now he comes alone, waving to friends as the service gets under way and singing along to the songs.

“With the way that things are going,  the social hour after church that we used to have — people stayed 20, 30 minutes and had little servings in here sometime,” said Floyd, standing outside the church. “But that’s all out.”

When services ended around 11:30, Jones headed to the church’s multipurpose room to catch up with friends over coffee and cookies.

Jones is part of a group of about 20 friends who gather in the church community room to exchange news about themselves and the neighborhood. Just about everyone here laments that the gatherings are getting smaller and not lasting as long. They blame Sunday parking.

LeVell McClain said congregants don’t stay around to socialize because they have to start feeding the meters outside the church at noon. It costs $1 an hour.

“Normally this room would be full,” McClain said. “But everybody [has] to leave because of the meters.”

McClain, a retired Muni operator who has attended the church for 25 years, said, “The fact that the church is kind of like the backbone of the average community – I would think the city could kind of back off a little bit on making you pay to come to church.”

A lot of members are not coming because they are on fixed income and they don’t have the money to pay for parking.”


The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency regulates the meters. Its spokesman, Paul Rose, said, “In the 1940s when most of the businesses were closed on Sundays, Sundays may have been sacred. It’s not sacred at this point, as far as parking is concerned.”

Rose said the Sunday meters should generate around $2 million annually, but contended that the change is not driven by money.

“There was a need for better parking management on Sundays,” Rose said. “There were very few parking spaces available. There was a lot of congestion, due to people circling or looking for parking throughout the city. They say that 33 percent of all congestion in San Francisco is due to circling or double parking or looking for that perfect parking space. And this will help with that.”

Only a handful of other cities in the country enforce parking meters on Sundays, including Sausalito and Los Angeles. Just this week, Chicago backed away from enforcing parking meters in residential areas on Sundays following a public outcry. In announcing the return of free Sunday parking, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel quoted one resident who said, “You shouldn’t have to pay to go to church.”

In San Francisco, businesses are split on the issue. A merchants’ association in the Castro neighborhood says it’s bad for business. But the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce supports it, as does the San Francisco Council of District Merchants. The council’s president, Henry Karnilowicz, says it’s all about turnover.

“We want to be able to have turnover traffic, so we don’t have people coming over and they are parking for the whole day,” Karnilowicz said. “Going to some sort of event, some sort of party and all that. And in the meantime, people who want to come to their business don’t have nowhere to park because these folks are parked for the full day.”

The Sunday meters start ticking at noon. So the churches that really feel the squeeze are those with afternoon services, such as St. Mark’s Institutional Baptist Church, located in the heart of the Mission District.

In midafternoon, Deacon Theodore Bennett stood outside in the street waiting to welcome guests for the 3 p.m. service. The city lets the church’s members park in the middle of the street, but Bennett said there is not enough space for everyone.

“A lot of members are not coming because they are on fixed income and they don’t have the money to pay for parking,” Bennett said.

In this neighborhood, the meter costs $4.50 an hour. That’s $9 for two hours. Bennett said he’s thinking about complaining but, like most churchgoers in the city, he hasn’t yet — even though he got a $65 ticket for a meter violation last month.

And with that said, he headed into church and began singing.

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Category: Government, Religion, San Francisco, Transportation

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  • Jason

    City wants more money to cover the outrageous overtime pay to its workers!!!

  • sotwr9

    Why does the city allow them to park in the middle of the street? Because you happen to be going to a church you are allowed to flout laws that are there to ensure everyone’s convenience and safety? Ridiculous. No-one else is allowed to park wherever they want just because of the activity they are attending – maybe people who go to the Fllmore for a show should be allowed to park in the middle of Geary?

    • http://twitter.com/Sparky403 Shane

      why do they allow 500k revelers on market st for the gay parade? Suck it up butter cup lots of folks in SF we all have to share the joy of living in very congested place…..

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Keith-Kemp/100001264381737 Keith Kemp

        Ask city hall Shane if your not that lazy

        • http://twitter.com/Sparky403 Shane

          wow – right down in the gutter now aren’t we?…. we allow it becuase we’re a city of tolerance we should use that same tollerance to understand that not everyone in SF rides a bike…you certainly can’t count on Muni to get anywhere…. it was broken before why did we fix it? Money obviously…. don’t tread on me and vice versa.. how did you get that I am some how lazy Keith?

          • Buck

            Do the Churches PAY to use the center of the street for parking? Do they have to BUY a permit from the City and PAY the police to be there to make sure that there are no problems? The Gay Pride people do .. as do ALL the parades around town. Lets have the same rules for everyone AND tolerance of the various practices.

          • http://twitter.com/Sparky403 Shane

            No they don’t – back to my analogy – do the gay revelers pay to use Market street for whole weekend? – Pay the police and paramedics? .no they don’t .
            The amount of money spend in that weekend is far in excess of the 1.7 mm that muni is going to get from parking meters (actually you might need to factor in the folsom street fair too).

          • Dr_Ace

            @Buck is right, they allow parades because the organizers pay for a permit that helps offset costs incurred by the city, and gives accountability to one group should anything go wrong. You may have read London Breed’s condemnation of 4/20 because it was not sanctioned and blatantly illegal.
            The system is broken now because density is increasing in The City and people could use those roads for driving on Sunday.

          • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1346725246 Elizabeth Frantes

            You do know that City politicians and workers are refusing to give up their cars and free parking, don’t you? I say no more free rides for anyone, let them use their own cars, and pay “market rate” for parking.

      • baloneybust

        The gay parade generates mils of $ for the city. That’s why. Churches don’t even pay tax.

    • Hugh EMC

      The issue is the parking meters being activated on Sunday. Not parishoners double parking. Most areas were people double park during church service are not metered. What’s wrong with allowing people latitude during a community event that helps bond the nieghborhood? I hate the way many bicyclist ignore road rules but demand you follow the road rules when it pertains to them. Nethertheless I accomidate cyclist. You should do the same with church goers. When has the double parking caused you any major distress? When will the sunday meter fees give you any personal gain? (Except perahps Beyond the satisfaction parishoners are having it stuck to them)

  • Eric Westby

    I take BART to church — should that be free too? Ridiculous. If the church itself wants to subsidize parishioners’ transportation, that’s one thing. But the city shouldn’t get involved, regardless of historical precedent.

    • http://twitter.com/Sparky403 Shane

      not even close as an analogy — bart has huge wages to pay, equipment to buy and service… etc… parking spots just sit there there is no over head.. certainly you must know this?… I am certain that for an 88 year old person, many of their friends have passed on – going to church is the some of the only social interaction they get… I think you should think past your needs and think about your some of the older folks that need the comfort from their community at church..

      • Shame on you

        That is the same “church” that say I can’t be married?

        • http://twitter.com/Sparky403 Shane

          apparently you worship to the church at the Church of the SFMTA?
          I think you’d have to look long and extremely hard to find a pastor in SF that didn’t support gay marriage (note I said “pastor” not religon).
          You seem angry enough so list them here if you can…. can’t wait to see your list… (or are you too lazy?)
          Too bad you don’t have the same tollerance you expect for your belives, as you do for folks that wanna drive their car to church… not very christian me thinks…. I can’t so neither shoud they? sheesh.. Get married all you want I think everyone in SF would appaulad…. how bout you for folks that wanna attend a service on Sunday?

  • ch24

    How about people who worship on Fridays? If you don’t have the money for parking use public transportation.

    • Pacificsun

      Maybe they should just let Churches issue passes for people going to their services. Like Teachers (among others) get a pass to park in a neighborhood because they’re involved with the school. I don’t think this needs to be Rocket Science, just considerate for a group of people who are just trying to do the right thing, and should be encouraged to continue. The City is very good at finding excuses and arguing rebuttals. Why not just cooperate with more people for a change? Let’s make life easier ….no so freak’n frustrating!

  • Paul Svec

    Holy moly! We already subsidize every church by giving them tax-free status, what more can non churchgoers do to help these folks? Certainly not free parking. Take any of the suggestions below if you can’t afford to pray and drive.

    • http://twitter.com/Sparky403 Shane

      so if they’re already sponsoring their churches why do they have to pay for parking for and Muni? is Muni somehow more noble?

  • Nicholas Farmer

    Probably God wants you to walk to church anyway.

  • zeorhymer

    “Just about everyone here laments that the gatherings are getting smaller and not lasting as long. They blame Sunday parking.”

    I don’t get it. So the gatherings are getting smaller and not lasting as long before the payed meters on Sun. Now the gatherings are still getting smaller after the payed meters. Then they blame it all on the meters? Something doesn’t add up.

  • dean

    Take the bus! It’s easy

  • http://twitter.com/mweldondesign Matt Weldon

    Too bad SF doesn’t have, you know, buses or trains or mass transit or anything like that.

  • Pacificsun

    This is a comment on the commenters. Dumb, young, and totally insensitive. The mentality? Let’s make a buck where ever we can. We got our’s, to hell with your’s. You haven’t READ the story because you’re so full of yourselves. Ever watch “Forever Young” …yeah …butt not. Anyway the point is, people who barely drive, but need to, or want to, for church. Not all older, or elderly people feel comfortable on mass transportation (probably you don’t bother to give up your seat either with your nose in your iDevice 24/7). It’s often not safe for them, or they have to walk to transit stops, stand and wait for buses. The weather gets bad. San Francisco (St. Francis) used to be a City of understanding and compassion! Accomodating its range of citizens. These older folks use church as a social network (remember the days when people talked instead of texting?). They feel they can’t stay for cookies and coffee. Maybe they used to stop and shop after Church, once they were out. It’s maybe keeping some church goer’s home. We need more people IN church not out. So why couldn’t the City offer a meter free Sunday morning say in zones around Churches. Oh yeah, a lot whining then about Synagogue on Sat. nites, and whatever on Friday after 3:00 and Mormons all day. I forgot this is a City that can’t agree on ANYTHING. Honestly how much could not collecting meters on Sunday AM be worth to the City. Instead, why not FINE people walking dogs who’s owners are not picking up the crap they leave behind? That’d be a way to make a few bucks!!!!

    • Dr_Ace

      “So why couldn’t the City offer a meter free Sunday morning say in zones around Churches.”

      It is free sunday morning. The meter’s start at 12 noon on Sunday.

      Read the article, “…yeah …butt not”

      • Pacificsun

        I did read the article and a meter free Sunday “morning” (or strict cutoff at noon) is obviously not resolving the complete issue or the article wouldn’t have been wirtten. Some Churches can only afford 1 or 2 services (for example). If a Senior or whomever else can’t get to the earliest service, then the second service might start later and go over the noon cutoff. Should the church goers be more worried about running out to feed the meters, or able to focus on spiritual concerns, and ideally enjoy the hospitality opportunities that follow. What if a late afternoon service wants to throw an after service Pot Luck. You know this isn’t just a senior citizen issue, nor a religious bias either. Originally speaking, was the “big” deal that people (probably Suburbanites) would park “all day” like in West Portal, to take Muni downtown or to the Ballpark? Isn’t the City always screaming to use public transit to these places?? Here’s the reality. I frequently enjoyed West Portal every single weekend and could ALWAYS find a parking space on the same block of the store of my choice. The City is using Sunday metering in these out-lying neighborhood boroughs, and around churches to make an easy extra buck, BECAUSE they don’t otherwise know how to manage funds. They ALWAYS need more money and a good question is WHY? And are the social services merely sustaining, or are they IMPROVING the circumstances of the people who most need the funds? Few people are using these specific spaces to park their cars indefinitely because they know street cleaning rules begin on and are enforced during the business week. Charging for Saturday shopping should be enough. That creates turnover, it make the point. Saturday is errand day for most people. Yet Sundays should be designed to be “enjoyed” – whatever the leisurely activities allow. As the article said, few Cities, except Tourist Trap venues, charge 24/7 and on Sundays. Isn’t it classy of SF to be thinking of itself, as just another …..expensive ….DisneyLand??? Let’s squeeze EVERYbody for their last buck. Signed “…yeah… butt not”.

        • Dr_Ace

          “So why couldn’t the City offer a meter free Sunday morning say in zones around Churches.”

          “Honestly how much could not collecting meters on Sunday AM be worth to the City.”

          Really seems like you thought they were metering Sunday morning, and that that was your main complaint.

          Also, it really is a religious bias. It’s not so absurd to consider “Synagogue on Sat. nites, and whatever on Friday after 3:00 and Mormons all day.” Giving one group a special privilege is the definition of bias.

          • Pacificsun

            Alright so they’re not metering Sunday mornings. Point taken. Guess I misread the fine print. More to the point is the other suggestion made, why not let religious institutions issue a pass to their Church Service goers? If you think this is too “biased” keep in mind the City allows the employees of it’s school system to park all day long in residential neighborhoods with restricted parking. Because these workers don’t live in those neighborhoods, they don’t get the stickers for their cars, except that special passes are created for them to use. So, now, we have one interested group (“Church Goer’s”) being denined but City workers receiving a privilege. How do we reconcile this inconsistency. And why not, JUST for a change let’s use some common sense, towards accomodating people as required. Yes, the school employees and the Church Goer’s or are all the Agnostics in the universe going to complain about THAT distinction. Frankly we have another priviledged group, except that everybody accepts their specific need to be privilieged, and that’s regarding “Handicapped Placards”. But we don’t call out pregnant women or the elderly who fear for their safety on public transportation (and don’t happen to have a chronic medical issue). This all gets into slippery territory. And it’s best to follow a charitable thinking process when in doubt.

          • http://www.facebook.com/nicasio.nakamine Nicasio Nakamine

            Public school teachers benefit us all and are paid for by us all. I don’t mind subsidizing their parking in exchange for the great benefit they provide for society.

            On the other hand, I don’t feel that one group – Sunday churchgoers, should get a special pass. We are free to worship or not worship as we please. I feel for people who are struggling with this change, but I also feel it’s improper for us to prefer one religious group over others or the non-religious.

          • Pacificsun

            To further the point, preferencial treatment either exists or it does not. And I think it’s impossible to make all things in life perfectly equal. I am also for teachers being permitted to park near work, as they do provide a community service. So do religious institutions who help the poor, the homeless, and help encourage positive social behavior in other ways. They can be a good influence on children too. Some churches are able to do their good work through the donations of the congregation. If the attendence is declining, or people have less money to put in the collection box, that makes it tougher to get the social service work done. My original suggestion was for churches (whatever denomination) be allowed to issue passes for whenever their service exists. This issue is just about raising more money for the City. I suggested there are other ways to do that instead, including citing dog owners for not picking up the crap they leave behind. Therefore any officer who witnesses this should be able to hand over a hefty ticket, or if a home owner recognizes a repeat offender on their property they should be able to report the owner, etc. This is just one idea using a negative to encourage a positive, instead of using a negative discouraging a positive. It is tough for people to see this difference. But as a society we should be trying to work together more positively, instead of creating issues that divide people.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1346725246 Elizabeth Frantes

      And why not enforce the dog licensing laws? They don’t enforce that, and as a result, have no money to help animals. That’s why they are dumping cats in GG Park, so the coyotes eat them and AC&C saves some money. It’s like those Canadian serial killers who fed their possibly hundreds of victims to their hogs.

  • Pacificsun

    So where’s the comment telling these Seniors all they need to do is ride their BIKES to Church? Problem solved!!

    • http://twitter.com/Sparky403 Shane

      Yah…. you try riding a bike at 88 years of age… really, could you be more insensitive?

      • sotwr9

        Why not? My 85-year-old mother owns three bikes and uses them as her regular means of transport.

        • http://twitter.com/Sparky403 Shane

          Well great for your grandma – your grandma as you must know is the exeption not the average….

  • http://twitter.com/PolkStGazette Polk Street Gazette

    @Pacificsun:disqus Well said!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Joseph-Angelo/725461557 Joseph Angelo

    The question is more about why do we need to have metered parking to begin with ,

    Metered Parking was designed to help turn over parking spaces so that shops could receive a steady stream of customers.

    In San Francisco this has little to do with Revenue and more about increasing the number of hours needed for Traffic Enforcement Staff.

    I say that we leave Sunday as a no fee day, and allow Worships the same considerations they have been given over the past few decades.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Steven-Wade/100003230303749 Steven Wade

    suck it up butercups and join the rest of society no free passes should pay as everyone else does that would definatly ease the economic probs in america tax the churches income too then make an outgo tax.

  • keenplanner

    SF is probably a better place to live because there are more agnostics and atheists than christians. What day can agnostics or atheists park free? How about all those Jews that go to various Saturday services?

    Many parts of the city has places of worship that are a demographic group that is no longer well-represented in those neighborhoods. Most of the African Americans who attend the church across from my flat no longer live in this neighborhood, so they must drive from other parts of the city, or the Bay Area, to attend church. They double-park for a couple blocks, but they’re so considerate about not blocking cars in that they have a church-member who acts as a parking attendant to make sure there are no problems. Although I normally would object to any religion having any “Special Rights,” everyone from the church that I’ve gotten to know has been really nice, so I can’t really protest. Also, having the street narrowed by the double-parked cars is a very effective at “traffic calming”, so there is slower, less-frequent car traffic on Sundays. A godsend.

    • Pacificsun

      I really don’t think this should need to be about religious groups getting special priviledges – anymore than whether or not they should permit school employees to park close to their schools (employment) in parking restricted (time enforced) neighborhoods. Do we say that if school employees get this exemption, then City Librarians should as well, and then any other City worker who is employed in a parking restricted residential area? That means the City is granting an exemption to it’s own employees, but expects all other employees to take public transporation to their work, or pay exhorbatent parking garage fees. See how inconsistent San Francisco is? This is what drives it’s citizens CRAZY. Just see the light, for a change, all you politicians – and make people pay 1 of the 2 weekend days to encourage turnover and better commerce. And make the 2nd day free so people can enjoy one day of the week for recreation and rest! It will encourage more people to come out, or visit the City, feeling perfectly comfortable window shopping, coffee breaking and everything else! It will just cast good vibrations for a City that used to pride itself as being singular and special. Not crass and greedy!

  • zrants

    The Muni can’t need the $1.7 million it anticipates from Sunday parking fees that much when it can afford to let go of $510 million dollars in transit fees. The city traded the cash for Muni for an in-kind traffic streetscape project that will reduce four lanes of traffic at the Dolores and Market Street to two lanes of traffic. How this helps Muni escapes me. Plans here:
    http://commissions.sfplanning.org/cpcpackets/2008.0550U.pdf

  • StopChurchfreeparking

    No one should get free parking! And definitely no one should get to double park and Block other people’s cars! Or park in the middle of the street. Very dangerous and an accident waiting to happen.
    Pay the meters (or vote out government unions, stop the sf pensions).’ Plus should an 88! year old senior being driving on the road?! Take public transportation.
    DPT should ticket all illegal parking — especially all the fake handicap placards that pay nothing, but seem to have every parking spot blocked.

    • http://twitter.com/Sparky403 Shane

      some how I doubt you’ll feel the same way when your family or you face these issues head on..- and trust me you will. .. In a city of tolerance of others Ideas, for many a generation, is now completely intollerent of those that want to worship on Sunday…
      Thanks Ed Reiskin for completely dividing the city..

  • emmesskay

    Let’s see… churchgoers can afford to own a car, park it somewhere the rest of the week, insure it, keep it minimally operational, license it, and fuel it… but can’t afford street parking for a couple of hours on Sundays? I don’t buy it.

    What equal freebie do non-churchgoers get in exchange? If I invite a hundred people for a BBQ in Dolores Park or out at Ocean Beach, can I get free parking and even double parking for all of them?

    The double parking thing is inconvenient and in most cases downright dangerous. I’m amazed SFMTA and SFPD allow it at all.

    Sure it sucks when a freebie goes away, but I think this is a bit overblown.

    • http://twitter.com/Sparky403 Shane

      You’re anlogy is de-void of logic… speaking for myself- I don’t have a parking pass and have to play chicken with the PCO’s it’s not fun nor does it make ecomonmic sense.. unfortunately I need my car… (belive me I don’t want it).
      though I do simpithize if you throw a bbq in delores park none of your friends are going to chip in Trust me but I doubt the couple hundred bucks is even worth thinking about for you.. ..
      What if a church goer can only afford the car… one of the people quoted in the article has to pay 9.50 for for parking x 52 weeks… = $500 bucks annually not an insignificant amount for someone on a fixed income… It’s not only the homeless that have little or no $$. many retired folks do as well.

  • tm17

    If religious organizations paid taxes like other secular non-profits, the city wouldn’t have to jump through so many hoops trying to raise revenue. The city could reclaim tens of millions of dollars if they revoked property tax exemptions for churches. But, there is more…

    Not only do churches receive income & property tax exemptions, they get a “Parsonage Exemption” which provides an overly generous tax exemption for housing expenses for “ministers of the gospel”. Because these ministers get such a generous tax break on all income related to housing, the church is able to pay them less. It’s a win-win for everyone except the taxpayers.

    Nowadays, one only has to declare a 501(c)(3) as a religious organization to receive these tax exemptions. And, once this is done, they don’t have to fill out other annual financial disclosure forms like other secular non-profits. Nationally, it is estimated that this black hole of a tax exemption costs the U.S. $71 billion each year.

    There is a real concern that churches are being established as a cover for money laundering by organized criminals. But, no one is willing to go after this third rail. Seems like a racket in more ways than one!

    And, with the Catholic church getting these same write offs, taxpayers are in effect helping to pay for all of the legal settlements from priest pedophilia. Joy!

    Anyone wondering why so many mega-churches have popped up across the country in the past decade?

    Visit http://secular.org/content/tax-policy for more details on this topic.

  • http://www.facebook.com/bill.wright.961556 Bill Wright

    Churchgoers have gotten a free ride for decades. No reason Churches should get an exemption that the rest of us in the city don’t enjoy. We have to pay to park to shop. They should have to pay to park to go to Church. That way, we all get treated equally.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1346725246 Elizabeth Frantes

    Well, this is what happens when you overdevelop a city to the point of urban hypertrophy. Note that our city officials and workers refuse to give up their free cars and free parking, but insist everyone who pays their salary go without cars. This is just some of the collateral damage of turning the city over to developers. Just wait until the big one hits, and all the new hirises fall down . … and since we built up the waterfront and let the docks rot, even if there are boats and ships, no way to get anyone in or out.

  • sfsoma

    SF is a nasty place. The politicos absolutely hate drivers regardless of how much income they bring the City. Ideological driven fools. How about the illegal church parking on the streets, that’s lucrative money for the City and truly is illegal