Monday, May 08, 2006

Pleas of small businesses fall on deaf ears

From a transcript of the April 17, 2006, Board of Supervisors' City Operations and Neighborhood Services Committee (Dufty, Ma, and Mirkarimi sitting in for McGoldrick). This is the testimony of small business owners on Market St. between Van Ness and Octavia Blvd. against removing street parking in front of their businesses to make a bike lane. The committee brushed their testimony aside and approved removing the parking and installing bike lanes. At the request of the mayor, the resolution was rushed through the process so that the bike lanes would be in place in time for Bike to Work Day on May 18.

Supervisors, my name is Gloria Nieto. I’m the Executive Director of Lyon-Martin Women’s Health Center, which is located at 1748 Market Street. First of all, I want to say something about the film that was shown, that the cab that was shown out in front was out in front of Lyon-Martin picking up a woman with AIDS to take her to have surgery at San Francisco General Hospital. That is a normal occurrence at our primary healthcare clinic. We have ambulances, we have police, we have cabs that all need access to our clinic. In addition, we have---let me give you a concrete example. Our founders Dell Martin and Phyllis Lyon come to the clinic periodically for meetings with me. They cannot walk from the new parking places that are being designated to Lyon-Martin. They cannot do it. We have a number of people who are disabled. We have a number of women who are really sick who cannot walk from those new parking places. But they can walk from the front of the clinic. And I really want you to take that into consideration as you get rid of those parking places in front of us. While many people have talked about their own health, we have people who already are sick, who cannot access their primary care clinic because of parking, lack of parking. And I really want you to take that whole concept in---I’m sorry. I don’t mean to be insulting about that---I would like to suggest that you look at the fact that this is a primary healthcare clinic right in the area that you’re trying to take parking away and the impact that will have on those sick people. Thank you.

Hello, I’m Claudia Schwartz. I’ve invested 17 years of my life creating a business on Brady Street. I have a retail store that depends on convenient parking. Since the last hearing, we spoke with customers regarding parking as it is now. Many expressed their dismay about changes in the availability of parking. I attended the last meeting and came away with the feeling that the concerns of the merchants were not seriously considered. We’ve been making an effort to create unusual, independent businesses. We’ve paid city and state taxes and contributed to the welfare of the neighborhood. With reduced realistic parking, it’s difficult or perhaps impossible for us to remain in business. While the plan is to create new parking places while eliminating others, the proposed parking is completely unrealistic, particularly on 12th Street. There’s an unwholesome, unseemly aspect to that area. Many of my customers said that they would not park there, as it seems unsafe. There’s a large lot of 108 spaces, once available to the merchants in the area, and now rented by the city for exclusive use of its employees who ought to be taking public transportation or bikes to work. In the last meeting we proposed various solutions but feel that they have not been considered. Some compromise is necessary. Opening parking places would…anyhow, one of the things that I wanted to say is that city Planning is really important and has to be carefully considered---the sidewalks on Market Street are enormous. If we had planned years ago to have bike lanes…[chokes up, stops talking]

My name is Christopher Albanese. I have an antique business at 1645 Market Street, on the south side of the street on the corner of the alley. I have a seven-year lease of 3400 square feet of space. I rely entirely on parking spaces. My customers don’t come on bicycles. They don’t even come on foot. 95% of my business is from people who come by car. Many of them come from out of the area. They come from San Mateo, they come from Marin County, they come from the East Bay, they come from Pacific Heights. They carry things out that are quite heavy. They’re interior decorators. They’re not going to walk around the corner. They typically are women, couples with children, and they don’t want to walk around the corner by the Civic Center Hotel. The Bicycle Coalition is a very well-oiled political machine. We were given very little time to prepare for this. They have been preparing for it probably seven days a week for months on end. They obviously have the assistance of city officials. We were spun with this thing literally hours before the first meeting, and it’s only been several weeks. We’ve had no time to prepare. We’ve had no time to form a real coalition where we can contest this. I would suggest at the very least that you postpone it for a significant period of time so that we can address the issue. I also think that the Bicycle Coalition’s contention that Market Street is dangerous is exactly the argument for funneling the traffic in another direction. You’re going to eliminate business to satisfy a few bicyclists. After 11 o’clock in the morning, it’s a de facto bicycle lane on my side of the street, on the south side of the street from 6 a.m. until 9 a.m., and in fact most cars don’t start parking there until 11 o’clock when they’re going to Zuni or coming to my business, which opens at noon. I would contest some of the statements that this woman[Leah Shahum] made that we’re picking up more parking spaces. They’re just going to meter spaces that already exist on Gough Street. And most of my customers, in fact none of my customers, would actually park on 12th Street and walk, especially in bad weather. It’s infuriating to think that this was put before the Board of Supervisors giving us such short notice. I think we’re at least entitled to a little more time to prepare for this.

Good afternoon, supervisors, Zane Blaney. I’m the Executive Director of Access San Francisco. This is San Francisco’s public access television station located at 1720 Market Street between Gough and Octavia. All of you certainly support the element of bike lanes and concerns about bike safety, the elimination of the 13 spaces on this side of Market Street will definitely decrease the accessibility to the public access station. We’re open Tuesday through Friday, from 3 to 11, and on Saturdays from 11 to 7 p.m. We serve San Franciscans each month, volunteers, guests, other visitors. Some of them are disabled. Some are seniors. Many of the clients check out heavy equipment and need to load and unload equipment to cars, as well as deliver tapes. Establishing parking further down Market Street or converting the Brady parking lot will not really address our needs. We do support an alternative approach which would allow commute usage of the area during the highest times but leave the availability of street parking during the evening and weekend hours, our most heavily used times. Thank you very much.

Yes, good afternoon. My name is Christopher Leaf. I run Union Music Company on 1710 Market Street, between Gough and Octavia. We are a music company, we rent musical instruments to school kids of San Francisco. We rent approximately 400 or more instruments a year. We do need these parking spaces in front. We have a constant turnaround of people pulling up, renting the instruments and leaving again. We also have practice studios in our store. Without access to parking in the front, I believe we will lose a lot of our customers, a lot of our students. We’re the largest music store in San Francisco of this type that rents musical instruments. I think it will impact the school district, the way that parents rent. We need to have this accessibility to our store. I don’t believe there is adequate parking in the area for this turnaround. There currently is a bike lane in the afternoon, and at that time we lose most of our business. From 4-6 our business drops off considerably. I believe with the permanent bike lane, we will lose a great deal more and possibly have to lose the business. Thank you very much for considering this.

PATRICK O’CONNOR: Hi, supervisors. My name is Patrick O’Connor. I’m the owner of Octavia Lounge at 1772 Market. I thought that was a great video presented by the Bicycle Coalition, but I would have preferred that they had actually filmed it when there are actually no cars on Market. The demand for the bike lanes is very limited. After 7:00 O’clock there are few bikes going up and down Market Street. I think they should just extend the time-frame to allow the business owners to keep their parking spaces. I think the balance is unfair. I think you’re punishing business owners who are both new and long-term for a few riders. Thank you.

[later in the meeting] DUFTY: Is Mr. O’Connor still here? Okay. You might want to talk with DPT. I don’t know if you can consider valet parking. I mean that’s something that has been done. I saw it recently done on a portion of upper Market Street, which hadn’t had it before, and the neighbors did support it. So I just offer it as a possibility you should avail yourselves of the DPT that are here. It might be something to talk about possibly.

RAY MORESI (Moresi Real Estate):
Good afternoon. My name is Ray Moresi. I’m the owner of 1740-1772 Market Street, on the north side of Market Street, between Octavia and Gough Streets. I’ve owned the property since 1980. The property has three stores downstairs and upstairs four office suites---11,000 square feet downstairs, 11,000 square feet upstairs. Regarding your proposal to eliminate the 13 metered parking spaces on the north side of Market between Octavia and Gough, I’ve spoken with all of the tenants. Everyone is strongly opposed. Reasons: number one, economic hardship. It’s tough enough to run a business with parking; you take parking away, it’s very, very tough. You’re talking about economic survival with the tenants. Three of our tenants, concerning reason number two, Lyon-Martin Women’s Health Services, San Francisco Alano Club, and Vision of Hope Christian Fellowship---it’s a church---are non-profit corporations serving the general public. They have a significant number of handicapped and disabled patrons. This is especially true of Lyon-Martin. These people need parking. They need not only parking in existence, but any parking close to the premises. The leases were entered into with the understanding that the parking would be available. To eliminate the parking in this manner would be unfair and unjust to these tenants. Finally, the north side of Market is already a towaway zone. It’s a parking zone allowed during non-towaway hours. It’s towaway from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday. And when you take the bike traffic and you look at it outside of this period on the north side of Market, you have substantially and significantly less bike traffic outside of those hours 4 to 7 p.m. My point [Time Bell] Can I say one more thing?

DUFTY: I’ll ask you what was the last point you were going to make.

MORESI: Yes, the point is, Why penalize our merchants and our good store keepers who have been there for years, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for a situation where substantial bike traffic is 4 to 7 p.m. on Monday through Friday. Thank you very much.

Ladies and gentlemen of the Supervisors Committee, my name is Mike Valdez. I’m the property manager for 1740 to 72 Market Street. We stand to lose thirteen metered spots in front of our building if the proposed changes are approved, which I’m 100 percent against. Here’s why. I’m also a San Francisco native and bicyclist, and I’ve been riding all over San Francisco recreationally since I was nine years old in 1976. I used to ride a bike from my home in Cow Hollow to the central basin shipyards via the Embarcadero and Third Street. A few years ago, I almost took a job as a bike messenger but declined upon more careful consideration, realizing that I would probably kill myself within the first year on the job. As crazy as I am on a bicycle, there are a few areas of the city I avoid at all cost. The top of that list is Market Street between the Financial District and the Castro. I believe this area is unsafe and will continue to be unsafe as long as automobiles, buses, streetcars, bicyclists, not to mention pedestrians hell-bent on suicide, all operate in the same general proximity. I feel that the addition of more bike lanes coupled with the removal of metered parking, which is not currently hindering the flow of bicycles down Market Street, will not make this inherently dangerous stretch of roadway any safer for bicyclists. I would much rather ride down Mission Street from the Financial District than down Market Street, with or without the proposed bike lanes. I think there are better alternatives...Thank you for letting me share.

Good afternoon. I’m Mel Washington, San Francisco Black Chamber of Commerce. I’d just like to ask a question. Has it been considered, instead of taking the parking out, using bulbouts? Indentations to where you can keep some of the parking, even if it’s on a limited time basis, for the stores? It would be difficult to understand that---we have businesses that have been there for many, many decades---to see these small businesses impacted, or even forced to close. I myself as a small business owner require customers to just be able to park. It’s a coincidence, I have to go up to the music store after I leave here to return an instrument for my daughter. So I’m familiar with the area, and maybe some compromise can be found to help accommodate the small business owners as well as the bicycle people, creating that bicycle lane but also having the parking available for the merchants. Thank you.

My name is Cornelius Ross. I’m a black business owner on Market Street. You know, first and foremost, I’d like to say that this isn’t about the merchants against the bicyclists. A lot of us ride bicycles. I don’t in particular, but there are a lot of us that do. One thing that’s very clear to me is we have lived through the destruction of Market Street, tearing down the freeway, and we know the effect of what it does to our businesses, because we’ve lived through it. We’ve lived with the homelessness and how it interrupts our business, and we’ve done what we can do keep them at bay. Moving parking around the corners is going to do us some good, but it’s not going to help our businesses, because I think some of you know that while shoppers go into Zuni and many of the other restaurants to eat---that when you drive down the street and see something inside of a place that you might want ---most of our businesses are frontage businesses. My business is a custom furniture business. It doesn’t serve people who walk around in the area. Most of my customers come from out of the area. And when they come, they want to be able to park. If you look down Market Street farther down between 6th and 8th, I know what that area looked like before, when you were able to park there. Take the parking out of that area, and you’re going to have the same scenario, because what happens is that people start congregating. They start hanging out, and it just changes the whole flavor of the neighborhood. We talk about safety? Let’s talk about safety for one minute. Anybody that drives, walks, or rides a bicycle in the city knows that the bicyclists, not all of them follow the rules. And if there are any accidents that happen, many times they cause the accidents. I ask you all this question: Has a parked car ever run into a bicycle? Please consider not taking the parking out of there, because if that happens---just like some of the things that happen to us---like the meters, where you took the meters and changed them to where they only took quarters---and had to pull them right out again [TIME BELL] to take all coins. This is a mistake that once you’ve seen the impact of what happens, it’ll be changed again. But it will be too late for all of us who have businesses here. And again, this is not about us against the bicyclists. We welcome that they be able to ride [DUFTY INTERRUPTS] but we don’t want to lose our businesses behind it.

My name is Wyatt Landesman. I’m a merchant. I support the saving of the parking there. Our business would be severely impacted. We may not actually survive. I [inaudible] people being able to pull up close. Also our businesses serve the community. It’s not just the merchants for themselves. A lot of the businesses there do affect the community that’s there and serve the community. And there’s a broader group of people who are also served directly by the saving of those spaces as well. Thank you.

DUFTY: Could you tell us what sort of business you have, sir?

LANDESMAN: I have an antique collective.

Afternoon supervisors. I’m Paul Frohlich. I’m the President of Yum, a specialty food store located at 1750 Market Street. I’ve been listening to the comments today. I know it’s been a heated debate, and I’d like to revisit one statement that was made earlier that this is not an us-versus-them, a merchants-versus-bikes debate, at least not in our mind. When this debate first started, we actually launched or suggested an alternative proposal to flow some of the bicycle traffic down Mission Street. We were told that this is not an option. But there was no real open debate on this. I’d like to just emphasize that over the last seven years that we have been part of this neighborhood, we and other merchants have carved out a particularly small, vibrant community of destination businesses. So much so that we were recently profiled in 7 x 7 Magazine in its current issue. We depend on these parking spaces for our business, and it’s not just mere speculation that the loss or moving of these spaces will impact our business. We’ve had first-hand experience with the construction of Octavia Boulevard, when the construction crews commandeered those spaces in front of our store for their use. Our business dropped 30%. We were able to weather that on a temporary basis, but on a permanent condition, we will not be able to. We merchants are not only in business for ourselves, but we also pay local taxes and employ local people, support local charities, and are the first line of defense for the City to keep that neighborhood clean. Thank you.

TOM SCHWARTZ (Percent Jewelry):
I have a wholesale business in the area. My thoughts are that, as useful as this forum is, I don’t think it’s the best way to make a decision of such importance that affects the well-being, lives and livelihood of so many people. My wife has mentioned the advantage of not looking at the situation piecemeal but somehow taking that whole area and trying to come up with some comprehensive plan for it. There are businesses there that would be hurt if the parking were eliminated, and there are lots there that are being used by city employees for their commuting vehicles, and they are no longer available to her customers or other customers who might be coming into the area. I think that we have had very little time even to put our ideas together. The rush to do this within a few weeks could create a situation where again we have a piecemeal solution to Market Street and we do damage to it and to people who have spent a number of years trying to build something there.

ROBIN AZEVEDO (McRoskey Mattress):
Good afternoon, I’m Robin Azevedo with McRoskey Mattress Company. We employ 54 people and are a manufacturer and retailer in San Francisco. What I would request is a decision delay until all aspects are fairly considered and well- presented. We do look to a fair sharing of space and again think it’s a good idea to address availability after commute hours. This past week we took the time to do a count from seven through ten and saw the bicycle traffic peak and decline. We open business at ten, and if that is available parking, we’d appreciate that. We do have a parking lot. We have 25% of our customers---even though we have a lot---that park on the street to find us. Again, I urge a delay. I also have a question. You talk about added spaces---we’ll take the added and keep the old---but when are those going to be added? Is there a date for that?

DUFTY: Thank you, Robin. Colleagues from DPT, could you comment on when---given that these items are all together---would it be the intention to have the additional spaces come on line at the same time as the bike lane if they were all approved?

DUSTIN WHITE (DPT): Yeah, that would be the intention.

DUFTY: So roughly the time frame if this package were approved and approved by the board, what would be the implementation date, roughly? Some time in early May?

DUSTIN WHITE: Bike to Work Day is on May 18. I understand there is some interest in having at least the bicycle lanes striped then, so we would hope to make all the changes by that date.

Good afternoon, supervisors. My name is Derf Butler, and I’m a small business owner here in San Francisco. I’m here just to support my neighbors, the local merchants. I thought it was a very interesting commentary that’s been going about today. For instance, if you are a small business owner and you are a retail business, before you sign a lease, one of the factors you are going to factor in very highly is whether or not there is accessibility and parking. So to come back at this stage of the game to say that it’s not an issue is ludicrous, to be honest. Most businesses do factor that in as a very critical point for the success of their business. Two, one of the points that stood out the most today to me---and hopefully to everybody else listening---was a bicyclist that rode his bike every day but also was a merchant on this strip, and the one thing he asked was, Leave the parking. Now this was a person who was extremely dedicated to the same cause as the bicyclists but understood the impact it would be if you changed the parking in that area. The third thing is, the merchants are asking to compromise, the bicyclists are not hearing it, and the staff seems to have already kind of got their direction all in place. Because I didn’t hear any reason why they couldn’t do it on Mission except for it sounds extremely difficult. So I would say to the supervisors, Please consider, one, leaving the parking meters in place, making sure that you can’t park between early morning hours and late afternoon hours, which allows for compromise with the bicyclists to continue to be safe and drive down Market Street at the same time allows the merchants to continue to thrive after putting in ten, fifteen years into that district. It’s one of the most successful small business districts in San Francisco, and it would be a shame to see that district and those businesses dismantled because of a simple situation that can be compromised by being able to accommodate both parties. So I would just ask, one, maybe stop today and re-evaluate, because if you’re standing out there from 11:00 o’clock to 4:00 o’clock, you can count the number of bicyclists on your hands that come through there. But if you’re there seven in the morning to nine, there’s quite a few, and from four to six there’s quite a few. So take a look at it again or, secondly, make a compromise that’s going to be a win-win for all parties. Thank you. [applause]

My name is Chris Houston. And I also have a store on Market Street. I know for a fact that global warming exists. I don’t like cars. I don’t like SUVs. I support the expansion of bike lanes. I support a lot of what I heard from the bike organization today. I don’t support this proposal. I don’t support the details of this proposal. And I don’t support the way that it was brought about. I’ve heard some last minute assertions about how we might make concessions here about how long the meters would be, but we haven’t really looked at the south side of Market yet. This has been rifled through. It’s too quick. We need a postponement. We were not notified. We weren’t, and frankly I feel like this is actually hurting the bike cause, because it shows an absolute indifference to local commerce. You already have de facto bike lanes. I’m as worried as the next bicyclist about getting doored. You don’t get doored between six and ten a.m. or on the south side. And on Sunday, did somebody mention how many bikes go down there on Sunday? Nobody parks there Sunday morning. You’re not going to get doored. So until---if they want to expand bike lanes---I’ve even thought of joining some of these bike organizations. I want to see more bikes. I want to see less cars. I want to see more bike lanes. You do not need a bike lane in this spot. They’ve got this myopic view about this corridor. And I’ll tell you something else. Yes, you’ve expanded some parking off street. But guess what: Your car gets broken into. Let’s look at this neighborhood. I haven’t heard anybody today really describe the neighborhood. I haven’t heard anyone from the bike organization really acknowledge that they’ve really looked at the neighborhood. This is a neighborhood that’s a very thriving community. But it’s got a lot of hotels where you’ve got people who have drug issues, who could be in mental hospitals. It’s a mixed bag down there. It has local merchants---we help that neighborhood. We sweep the streets. We actually have people coming in and out. We get that turnover to happen so cars are less likely to get broken into. We’re good for the neighborhood. [TIME BELL] By the way, you’ve lost parking lots in the neighborhood. You have no problem bringing in more condos which impact the area. But you just take it out on local commerce. I think this should be postponed, and I think there’s a solution where everyone can be happy without taking it out on local merchants.

My name is George McNabb. About seven years ago I purchased a property on the 1700 block of Market Street. At that time it was a used car lot. And that block---I don’t know whether any of you remember---it was like a wasteland. It looked terrible. The sidewalks were just strewn with rubbish. There were all kinds of vagrants all over the place and so forth. I built a new building there, too. And when I built these buildings, the Planning Department required me to put in retail because they wanted more of a street presence. They wanted retail presence. And as you probably know, the first priority of the General Plan directs that existing neighborhood-serving retail uses be preserved. And that’s why. So since then I was able to bring in three businesses. Every single one of those businesses emphasize that one of the reasons they were going there was because of the parking. There were furniture stores. There’s a music store. And there’s San Francisco Access TV, which provides the TV station for the City and County of San Francisco. And parking is extremely important to all these particular businesses. During this time, a number of lots in the area have been removed. There were lots under where the Octavia Boulevard is. There’s another lot at Page and Gough Street that has been removed, and so forth. Since the buildings were built, there was a bike lane added between the peak hours on the south side of the street, between four and seven in the evening. And that seems--that was an imposition to the businesses-- but at least there was some rhyme or reason there, because it had somewhat of a purpose. There were a lot of bikers at that time. But I’ve been on this street many times, and I’ve observed basically during the day between the hours of 9 or 10 in the morning and 4 in the afternoon, you can count on your hand the number of bikers that go through every hour. There’s very few. So it seems to me there must be a less onerous alternative to providing bikers that happen to use the street during the day and the interests [TIME BELL] of the businesses and being able to operate their business and having parking. It’s very important. One last thing. I notice the addition of additional parking on Haight Street. There’s a lot of residents on Haight Street that need that parking. Cars are broken into all the time in the neighborhood. And people want to park their cars near where they live. So I don’t’ think that that’s a particularly good idea in that area. Thank you.

Hi, my name is Melissa Owens. I’m a member of Vision of Hope Ministry, which is on Market. And I wanted to stand up here to speak out on their behalf. We have a lot of members that go to our church who are handicapped, or elderly that come from distances. They travel long distances to get there. And for the parking areas that this proposal has created, it’s in neighborhoods where it’s really bad. Cars are broken into---you’re talking about church services that also go on at night time. And also, the weather that we’ve been having that is common in San Francisco. So you’re asking an elderly person that walks with a walker or cane to also have to hold an umbrella going through this rough neighborhood with their purse and their belongings. And how can they do that, when it’s so much more convenient when they can park in front of the church, go to the church, and enjoy the church service without having to worry about how they’re going to make it to the church? This proposal would cause some of those members not to even be able to come. But not only that. Also for the merchants that are in the area. They work hard. I’ve seen the struggle that it takes to start from nothing and go to something. And those people put their blood, sweat and tears into their businesses. And work hard to serve the community greatly. And they really have affected the community in a positive way. And you can check everything that you read, and you will see that this will be true. And for you to take the parking from them would be detrimental not only to them but to their families and for everything that they’ve worked for, everything that they’ve dreamed of with their businesses, all the accomplishments that they’ve done with their businesses. It would be detrimental for them, and they would lose their businesses, and some of them would have to close up shop because of this. You can always divert that bike lane somewhere else. Yes, we do need a bike lane but you can divert it in another direction where it can serve the community better, help them and help the merchants and the churches that are in the area so that we don’t lose the customers. If the money was coming out of those bikers’ pockets or out of your pockets, I’m sure that you would feel the same, that you would not want that to take place. They didn’t even have time to prepare anything [TIME BELL] And I would like you to consider that before you make that decision, because I don’t think that it’s very wise.

See also this, this, this, and this.

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