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Supreme Court Conjures Corrorboration of Anonymous Tip Out of Thin Air To Justify Traffic Stop

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Today the United States Supreme Court decided Navarette v. California, upholding a California court's determination that a traffic stop of Navarette's truck — which, as it turned out, contained drugs — was supported by reasonable suspicion, and therefore constitutional. The opinion is here. It's a 5-4 decision, with Justice Thomas writing the majority opinion and Justice Scalia writing the dissent. It should have gone the other way.

The issue at hand is the power and reliability of anonymous tips. Here the California Highway Patrol received an anonymous tip through a 911 dispatcher that a silver Ford 150 pickup on a particular highway had run the tipster off the road. The CHP saw a truck matching the description on the highway and stopped it on suspicion of drunk driving — but did not first observe the truck doing anything illegal or reckless. In fact, the cops followed the truck for five miles without observing any traffic violations. The cops approached the truck and (allegedly) smelled marijuana, which led to a search and the discovery of a substantial amount of marijuana in the truck bed.

The Supreme Court has found that the Fourth Amendment permits brief, investigative stops of vehicles based on reasonable suspicion alone — that is, a "particularized and objective" basis to believe some crime is being committed. That's not new. Nor is it new that an anonymous tip can form part of the basis for reasonable suspicion or probable cause — if the tip is corroborated.

What's novel here is that the majority agrees that reasonable suspicion can be premised entirely on a functionally anonymous tip.1 Traditionally the key to corroboration has been confirmation of incriminating details, not details that any observer could make about a innocent subject. So, for instance, if you call in an anonymous tip that I am running a meth lab in my blue house on the corner, and the cops confirm that I have a blue house on the corner, those details are not meaningfully corroborative. If the cops find evidence of witnesses seeing me move precursor chemicals into my blue house on the corner, that's meaningfully corroborative. Here, the police observed no erratic driving or other corroboration of meaningful facts. In fact, they observed five minutes of unremarkable driving. The only corroboration was the innocent fact of the truck being present on the highway.

The majority uses sophistry to turn innocent facts into facts that corroborate the anonymous typster:

By reporting that she had been run off the road by aspecific vehicle—a silver Ford F-150 pickup, license plate 8D94925—the caller necessarily claimed eyewitness knowledge of the alleged dangerous driving. That basis of knowledge lends significant support to the tip’s reliability.

. . . .

A driver’s claim that another vehicle ran her off the road, however, necessarily implies that the informant knows the other car was driven dangerously.

. . .

There is also reason to think that the 911 caller in this case was telling the truth. Police confirmed the truck’s location near mile marker 69 (roughly 19 highway miles south of the location reported in the 911 call) at 4:00 p.m.(roughly 18 minutes after the 911 call). That timeline of events suggests that the caller reported the incident soon after she was run off the road. That sort of contemporaneous report has long been treated as especially reliable.

. . . .

Another indicator of veracity is the caller’s use of the 911 emergency system. See Brief for Respondent 40–41,44; Brief for United States as Amicus Curiae 16–18. A 911 call has some features that allow for identifying and tracing callers, and thus provide some safeguards against making false reports with immunity.

The majority is turning three things into corroboration here: (1) the fact that the person claimed something happened immediately after it allegedly happened, (2) the fact that a person predicted that a particular car would be on a particular highway, and (3) the fact that the person called 911 and made the claim. But the 911 caller could have claimed anything — that someone was pointing a rocket launcher out the window of the truck, that someone was stabbing a nun in the back of the truck — and gotten the same result. (1) and (3) are just restating the premise "we got an anonymous tip about this," and (2) is a purely innocent fact that any public observer could know. This approach renders the concept of corroboration almost meaningless by making calls to 911 about highway behavior effectively self-corroborating. If I want to call 911 and report that you are weaving in and out of traffic and appear drunk, under this decision, I just created reasonable suspicion to stop you. The cops can pull you over without observing you driving oddly at all — in fact, they can stop you even if they follow you for five minutes and you are driving perfectly.

Justice Scalia's dissent is thorough and merciless, as it should be. Here's how he ends it:

The Court’s opinion serves up a freedom-destroying cocktail consisting of two parts patent falsity: (1) that anonymous 911 reports of traffic violations are reliable so long as they correctly identify a car and its location, and (2) that a single instance of careless or reckless driving necessarily supports a reasonable suspicion of drunkenness. All the malevolent 911 caller need do is assert a traffic violation, and the targeted car will be stopped, forcibly if necessary, by the police. If the driver turns out not to be drunk (which will almost always be the case), the caller need fear no consequences, even if 911 knows his identity. After all, he never alleged drunkenness, but merely called in a traffic violation—and on that point hisword is as good as his victim’s.

Drunken driving is a serious matter, but so is the loss of our freedom to come and go as we please without police interference. To prevent and detect murder we do not allow searches without probable cause or targeted Terry stops without reasonable suspicion. We should not do so for drunken driving either. After today’s opinion all of us on the road, and not just drug dealers, are at risk of having our freedom of movement curtailed on suspicion of drunkenness, based upon a phone tip, true or false, of a single instance of careless driving.

Justice Scalia is right. This decision waters down corroboration to the point that it is meaningless, effectively making any anonymous tip of a driver's behavior sufficient to justify a traffic stop. That's a bad result.

See also Jonathan Adler.

Supreme Court Conjures Corrorboration of Anonymous Tip Out of Thin Air To Justify Traffic Stop © 2007-2013 by the authors of Popehat. This feed is for personal, non-commercial use only. Using this feed on any other site is a copyright violation. No scraping.

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3602 days ago
San Francisco, CA
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SFMTA Board Repeals Sunday Parking Meters

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Get ready for the return of Sunday traffic dysfunction and double parking. Photo: Aaron Bialick

The SFMTA Board of Directors todaycaved to pressure from Mayor Ed Lee by removing Sunday parking meters, a move folded into its approval of the agency’s two-year budget.

The Sunday meter reversal was supported by all SFMTA Board members, who are appointed by the mayor. The change went unopposed even by the most progressive board members, like Cheryl Brinkman andJoél Ramos, who had supported Sunday parking meteringwhen the policy was approved in 2012. Brinkman and Ramos said they agreed with Mayor Lee’s strategy of bringing back free Sunday parking to win support for transportation funding measures headed to the ballot in November, and that SFMTA needed to do more education about the rationale behind parking metering. metering.

“I know Mayor Lee has some of the best political minds in the city working with him in his office, and that they are very focused on helping to solve the city’s transportation funding issues,” said Brinkman, who is up for re-appointment at the Board of Supervisors Rules Committee on Thursday. “It sounds like the mayor’s office is certain that this is going to help us in November.”

Brinkman said she’s “calling upon the mayor’s office to work with the MTA Board around education and community involvement in San Francisco’s parking problems. I feel we need to step back and find a way to work with our communities to really explain the reasons behind, and the need for, progressive parking management.”

“We have failed, frankly, to convince the great majority of people” of the benefits of Sunday meters, said Ramos. “You can listen to Matier and Ross, or read the papers, and see that the general sentiment of it is a negative one.”

Mainstream news reporters who have covered the Sunday metering issue, like columnists Phil Matier and Andrew Ross at the SF Chronicle and CBS affiliate KPIX, typically don’t mentionthat the SFMTA foundthat meters cut cruising times for parking in half and increased turnover for businesses by at least 20 percent. Instead, parking meters have typically been framed as a way to collect

revenue, even in the Chronicle report on today’s vote.Mayor revenue.Mayor Ed

Lee issued this statement about “reinstating free Sunday parking in San Francisco”:

Repealing Sunday parking meters is about making San Francisco a little more affordable for our families and residents on Sunday, plain and simple. Paid Sunday meters were implemented in 2013 as a response to record budget deficits at Muni, and I thank the SFMTA Board of Directors for moving a budget forward today that eliminates this practice. Instead of nickel and diming our residents at the meter on Sunday, let’s work together to support comprehensive transportation funding measures this year and in the future that will invest in our City’s transportation system for pedestrians, bicyclists, transit riders and drivers alike.

As we reported, there’s no evidence to support Mayor Lee’s claims that anyone besides church leaders have pushed to give away Sunday parking. Indeed, the only speakers who showed up to encourage the SFMTA Board to repeal Sunday meters were the same church leaders who campaigned against the policy in the first place, including SF Interfaith Council Executive Director Michael Pappas.

Two church ministers who did speak seemed more worried about double parking ticketsthan parking meters, although enforcement was not on the agenda. Reverend Arnold Townsend complained that after a non-Sunday service at Third Baptist Church, located at Pierce and McAllister Streets, “Two parking control officers were outside rudely telling [churchgoers] that if they did not move their cars immediately, they would be towed or ticketed.” Typically, drivers at Third Baptist double park on McAllister, a Muni and bicycle route. Townsend said the parking enforcement director had “assured” the SFMTA Board earlier that day “that they would not be pursuing double-parked cars outside churches.”

“We are here because of our concerns about fair and equitable treatment,” said Reverend Keva McNeill a pastor from El Bethel Baptist Church on Golden Gate Avenue at Fillmore Street, which has no parking meters on its street front, but where congregation members typically double park on Sundays. “The churches have been engaged in the practice of double parking for over a half century. The previous agreement did not present any opposition until recently, it seems.”

Notably, Supervisor John Avalos showed up to the SFMTA board meeting to support Sunday parking meters — the first elected official known to have publicly done so in recent years. “We talk about being a transit-first city… but we don’t always live up to that,” he said. “We’ve seen that Sunday meters actually has been a success. I think it works for our commercial corridors. You’ll see cars not spending all day sitting in front of a shop, but actually rotating in and out.”

Supervisors Eric Mar, David Campos, and an aide for Supervisor Jane Kim also pulled away from a Board of Supervisors meeting to speak to the SFMTA Board, but they didn’t mention Sunday parking meters. Each supervisor spoke in support of expanding the free Muni pass program to low-income 18-year-olds, seniors, and people with disabilities.

Of the dozens of speakers at the board meeting, the vast majority testified in support of those programs, and the budget was approved with an extension of the free Muni for youth program to 18-year-olds. Sunday meter advocates noted that the estimated $9.6 million to be lost from the meter repeal could’ve gone towards funding such programs.

Notingthat the continuation of the free Muni for low-income youth program was funded by a $6.8 million donation from Google,Mario Tanev of the SF Transit Riders Union pointed out that “you’re essentially going to have Google sponsor free parking, instead of free Muni for kids.”

Tanev said the parking meter reversal “violates all semblance of competence in government and public process. Your own report shows that meters are beneficial to businesses and shoppers, reduce congestion and increase pedestrian safety.”

“Sunday meters were passed in collaboration with many stakeholders, including the Chamber of Commerce. It is a betrayal that they are revoked without the same process applied when they passed.”

“You’re nobody’s puppets,” Tanev told the SFMTA Board. “You work for free. Be willing to be fired, do the right thing, and let the politicians take the blame if they interfere in your work.”

Sunday parking metering is scheduled to end July 1.

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3609 days ago
San Francisco, CA
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Controlling Public Art By Lawsuit: Japanese-American Citizens Sue To Remove "Comfort Women" Memorial

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I have written about many maddening lawsuits at Popehat. But I cannot remember a lawsuit that so immediately repulsed and enraged me.

During the Second World War, the Empire of Japan sexually enslaved women — at least tens of thousands, and perhaps hundreds of thousands — to be raped by its troops. They were forcibly seized from the countries Japan occupied, primarily Korea. Though Japan officially apologized in 1993, in recent years right-wing forces in Japan have been seeking to retract those apologies, asserting that the enslaved women were actually voluntary prostitutes, or that the Empire itself wasn't involved in any coercion. This attempted walkback can best be understood in the broader context of Japanese nationalist politics, in which right-wing politicians play to their base by doing things like visiting shrines honoring war criminals.

Now Japanese-American plaintiffs, served by American megafirm Mayer Brown, are pursuing the agenda of reactionary Japanese politicians through despicable litigation.

Glendale, California is a suburb of Los Angeles. I grew up next door and still live there. It's incredibly diverse with many thriving ethnic communities. In 2013 the City of Glendale erected a modest memorial to the comfort women of World War II in a public park next to the library. Japanese politicians were enraged and have repeatedly demanded that the memorial be removed. The federal lawsuit filed by Mayer Brown seeks to have the memorial removed by force of law.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit — which I have uploaded here — are Glendale resident Michiko Shiota Gingery, Los Angeles resident Koichi Mera, and GAHT-US Corporation, which says it is in the business of providing "accurate and fact-based educational resources to the public in the U.S., including within California and Glendale, concerning the history of World War II and related events, with an emphasis on Japan’s role." The plaintiffs complain that the presence of the comfort women memorial in Glendale causes them to suffer "feelings of exclusion, discomfort, and anger because of the position espoused by her city of residence through its display and endorsement" of the monument, and that they avoid the park because it shows a "pointed expression of disapproval of Japan and the Japanese people" and diminishes their enjoyment of the park. Though the lawsuit discusses a controversy over what the Empire of Japan did to women in the war, the complaint unsubtly conveys a position: "These women are often referred to as comfort women, a loose translation of the Japanese word for prostitute."

Plaintiffs argue in part that the City of Glendale did not follow its own rules in approving the exact language on the memorial. But their primary argument — the most shocking one — is that the City of Glendale cannot erect such a memorial because it violates the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution and interferes with the federal government's sole right to conduct U.S. foreign policy.

Glendale’s installation of the Public Monument has a direct impact on U.S. foreign policy that is neither incidental nor indirect. By installing the Public Monument, Glendale has taken a position in the contentious and politically sensitive international debate concerning the proper historical treatment of the former comfort women. More specifically, given the inflammatory language used in the plaque that is prominently featured alongside the statue, Glendale has taken a position at odds with the expressed position of the Japanese government.

Though the plaintiffs make this argument about the comfort women memorial in Glendale, it is nearly limitless in its application. For instance, though this fight is over a memorial, it could just as easily be about a city council resolution recognizing a day to remember some historical event. Similarly, though this fight is about the agenda of reactionary Japanese forces that seek to suppress discussion of wartime conduct, it could just as easily be about a hundred other historical disputes. If you think that's mere speculation, think again. Glendale, California and the surrounding communities are also home to one of the largest Armenian diaspora groups in the United States. Will Mayer Brown next be suing to force the removal of memorials to the Armenian Genocide, or to prohibit city councils from recognizing it, because it is extremely controversial to apologist forces in Turkey? Given the delicacy of U.S. relationships with the new government of Afghanistan, will someone use the federal courts to police the language of civic war memorials and commemorative statements across the nation, to make certain that they portray the Afghans as our allies?

This is not a First Amendment issue, exactly, because government entities don't have First Amendment rights. But it is an issue of federalism, of local self-determination, and of citizenship. Local citizens, through their local elected government, wished to recognize a historical atrocity using local government money on local government land. Their city did not purport to engage in negotiation with any foreign government or to take any position on behalf of the United States — they just took a position on behalf of its citizens. They did not do anything prohibited by the Constitution, like establishing a state religion. The notion that the federal government or the federal courts should regulate this expression is noxious.

Moreover, the argument against it is vague, unprincipled, and endlessly malleable. If a case like this succeeds, what will the courts say to a Holocaust denier who argues that a memorial is too harsh in condemning Germany, a nation with whom we have dicey relations? The plaintiffs here might argue that the difference is that recognition of the Holocaust isn't controversial and wouldn't anger most Germans, while the comfort women issue has angered Japanese politicians. But that's just another way of saying that foreign politicians should be able to dictate what American towns put on their civic memorials. The more that foreign politicians are willing to make demands and issue denunciations, the less free American towns would be to commemorate historical events. This would drive exactly the sort of entitled, thuggish behavior that Japanese politicians have shown issue, issuing churlish demands that a foreign city shut up about their nation's history.

This lawsuit is thoroughly contemptible. It should fail, and everyone involved should face severe social consequences.

Controlling Public Art By Lawsuit: Japanese-American Citizens Sue To Remove "Comfort Women" Memorial © 2007-2013 by the authors of Popehat. This feed is for personal, non-commercial use only. Using this feed on any other site is a copyright violation. No scraping.

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3658 days ago
San Francisco, CA
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1 public comment
3657 days ago
I suppose it's not surprising that there are people that claim to be both Americans and apologists for Imperial Japan....
New York, NY

Dropbox adds arbitration requirement

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In 2011, for about four hours, Dropbox allowed any password to log into any account. For a service that stores unencrypted personal data, a bug of this scale is a major failing.

In 2012, due in part to lax employee password requirements, company documents were stolen and the email addresses of customers were spammed.

In 2013, emails were again exposed, and Dropbox’s support moderators mocked reports until employees stepped in to create a line of communication.

Today, Dropbox added a legally-enforceable arbitration requirement to their Terms of Service unless you opt out. Dropbox’s terms also now forbid class action lawsuits:

You may only resolve disputes with us on an individual basis, and may not bring a claim as a plaintiff or a class member in a class, consolidated, or representative action. Class arbitrations, class actions, private attorney general actions, and consolidation with other arbitrations aren’t allowed.

It’s the tone that makes it hard to swallow. A comment on their blog really captures it:

Nobody would ever opt-in because it is nowhere near the customer’s best interest, and putting a policy that is not in my best interest as the default option and placing the burden on me to recognize it doesn’t sit well with me.

I want a company that I trust with my data to be willing to defend itself in open court should it ever commit a violation against me that warrants legal action.

My trust in Dropbox hasn’t been high for a while. I really love the service, and there’s nothing that comes close. I wish I could use it for more than just syncing my 1Password keychain without feeling exposed.

Realistically, I’m never going to sue Dropbox. Now, nobody else is, either.

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3662 days ago
San Francisco, CA
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SFPD Commits to “Vision Zero” With Policy Reforms to Back Up the Rhetoric


The conversation is changing when it comes to the SFPD’s approach to traffic violence. That much was clear at a four-hour hearing at City Hall last night, where SFPD Chief Suhr and Traffic Company Commander Mikail Ali pledged to pursue Vision Zero, the call to end traffic fatalities within ten years.

SFPD Chief Greg Suhr speaks at the hearing alongside SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin. Photo: ##http://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com/2014/01/17/san-francisco-pledges-to-boost-traffic-safety-after-deadly-crashes/##CBS 5##

SFPD Chief Greg Suhr speaks at the hearing alongside SFMTA Director Ed Reiskin. Photo: CBS 5

Suhr told city supervisors and the Police Commission, in a room packed with citizens and every police captain, that “we are committed to a new normal in San Francisco.” And the SFPD backed up the rhetoric by announcing real performance metrics and procedural changes.

The raft of SFPD changes to investigations, citation issuance, and arrests marks a “seismic shift in policy,” Suhr told the Bay Guardian in a video interview after the hearing. It’s too early to say how deep and lasting these reforms will be, but there is real substance to them.

For the first time, SFPD presented a goal to measure the performance of its “Focus on the Five” program: At least 50 percent of tickets issued should be for the five most common violations in crashes in pedestrian crashes — drivers’ violation of pedestrian right-of-way, speeding, running red lights, running stop signs, and turning violations. In 2013, during which the program was in effect, the number was 22 percent, according to Ali.

A policy change initiated in 2013 also allows officers to arrest drivers in fatal crashes where there appears to be “probable cause,” Ali said. That appears to explain the unusual instance of two drivers being arrested for killing pedestrians on New Year’s Eve.

In a new policy change for 2014, Ali said SFPD can now also issue citations to a party found to be at fault. Previously, police policy was not to issue a citation in a crash unless the officer witnessed the violation him or herself. One major reason SFPD said they often refrained from issuing tickets was to avoid double jeopardy — charging someone for the same crime twice — the theory being if the SFPD issued a citation, the district attorney may not be able to legally file charges as well.

Police will also issue citations or make arrests off-scene, when an investigation later determines fault in a case, said Ali. In fact, Suhr said that SFPD would review collision cases throughout the past year for such opportunities, including that of Jikaiah Stevens, who was hit by a driver who admitted to running a red light, yet faced no penalties. Stevens spoke at the hearing after a short documentary telling her story was shown.

“That driver will be issued a citation,” Suhr said. “Going forward, we’re committed to making a decision at the scene and/or doing a mailer if it requires follow-up investigation.”

Suhr also apologized for the botched investigation of the crash that killed Amelie Le Moullac on her bike last August, as well as the behavior of Sergeant Richard Ernst at her vigil. “Our initial investigation was lacking,” he said. “We’re better than that.”

According to an SFPD presentation, a significant drop in citations in the past year has correlated closely with all-time low police staffing levels, due to funding cuts for the police academy. While city officials said that might partly explains a rise in crashes, it’s also crucial that police use data to direct their limited enforcement resources to make the biggest impact on saving lives.

The recent shift in tone from SFPD’s top brass is promising. Suhr and Ali have moved away from wagging fingers at “distracted” pedestrians, instead acknowledging that most crashes are the result of driver error, and that drivers have the most responsibility to keep people safe on the streets. Ali also stressed the importance of avoiding the term “accident,” using “collision” instead, while Suhr cited survey statistics on the growing problem of distracted driving.

Read more on the discussion from supervisors, police commissioners, and the dozens of public commenters that spoke at the hearing from KQED, the Bay Guardian, the SF Chronicle, and the SF Examiner.

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3697 days ago
San Francisco, CA
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Mayor Lee’s Spineless Sunday Meter Reversal: Bad for Business, Bad for SF

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Sunday parking meters have cut cruising times in half, according to an SFMTA report. Mayor Lee wants to undo that.

After a years-long push to implement a smart parking policy in San Francisco, leave it to Mayor Ed Lee to take us back to 1947.

The mayor wants to repeal parking metering on Sundays, undoing the slew of benefits that the policy has brought to the city in its first year. As a recent SFMTA report lays out, Sunday metering has increased turnover for businesses and reduced car traffic circling for parking in commercial areas. Previously, meter hours hadn’t been updated since 1947, when businesses generally weren’t open on Sundays.

Mayor Lee. Image: CBS 5

By pandering to drivers complaining about parking tickets, the mayor appears to be betting he’ll win support for transportation funding measures expected to hit the ballot in November. But reinstating free parking would come at incredible cost in the form of extra traffic, while undermining the SFMTA’s ability to implement rational transportation policy.

Lee’s absurd argument is that SF doesn’t need Sunday metering because Muni will have sufficient funding once voters approve three ballot measures. It’s an insult to the transit-riding public, and it shows how out of touch he is with the city’s transportation needs. Explaining why he didn’t stand in the way of Sunday metering when it was adopted, he told the SF Chronicle this week, “I’ve always felt uncomfortable with it, but Muni was suffering and we needed the money,” as if parking meters serve no purpose other than revenue collection.

Yet the Chamber of Commerce backed Sunday metering — and it still does, because it’s good for business, said Jim Lazarus, senior vice president for public policy. “In most commercial corridors, virtually every business is open on Sunday,” he said. Without metering, “There are neighborhoods where it’s difficult, if you have to drive to do any business, because parking is just not available from Saturday night until Monday morning.”

Sadly, it  looks as though the Mayor is playing political games instead of responsibly managing the city’s transportation system,” said Livable City Executive Director Tom Radulovich. “Aside from the revenue hit to Muni, what’s disappointing about the mayor’s move is that the facts show that Sunday metering was working – parking availability and turnover increased in commercial districts, which is helpful to merchants and shoppers.”

“Improved parking availability reduces cruising for parking, which in turn reduces danger to pedestrians and cyclists, traffic congestion in neighborhoods, air pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions.”

The benefits were demonstrated in a December SFMTA report [PDF] on the impacts of Sunday metering in 2013:

  • The average time drivers took to find a parking spot during Sunday meter hours was cut in half, from over four minutes to two.
  • Turnover increased by at least 20 percent, meaning that more customers were using the same amount of parking spaces.
  • The average availability of parking on Sunday doubled during metered hours, increasing from 15 to 31 percent.
  • The city’s underutilized parking garages are being used more: Garage occupancy on Sundays from 12pm to 6pm increased by 13 percent.

Meanwhile, Mayor Lee claims that the city still receives a litany of complaints about Sunday meters, and he hopes to appease those folks. But as of September, 2013, the city’s 311 service had received just 23 calls and emails complaining about Sunday metering, according to the SFMTA report.

Regardless of whether the mayor’s anti-meter mob is real, reversing great policy to appease complainers is a terrible idea. Using the stats in the SFMTA report, the mayor’s position could be framed another way. Mayor Lee wants to:

  • Double the average time drivers take to find a commercial parking spot on Sundays.
  • Reduce turnover by at least 20 percent, meaning that fewer customers can park in each space.
  • Cut the availability of commercial parking during Sunday business hours in half.
  • Reduce occupancy of underutilized parking garages on Sundays by 13 percent.

Additionally, by arguing that we can do without Sunday meter revenue because voters will be asked to approve transportation funding measures (for capital improvements, not Muni operations), Lee is basically saying he wants San Francisco taxpayers to bankroll free parking on Sundays.

Ninth Avenue in the Inner Sunset. Photo: Aaron Bialick

Ninth Avenue in the Inner Sunset. Photo: Aaron Bialick

“Announcing the cancellation of a successful parking management program, and the revenue it generates, dents the mayor’s credibility on transportation management and financing; he can’t reasonably argue that Muni needs additional funding, but doesn’t need all the revenue it is currently receiving,” said Radulovich.

Even accepting the argument that Muni doesn’t need this revenue, other purported goals of the mayor — like infrastructure for safe biking and walking — could definitely use it. “Ironically, the Mayor suggested ending the Sunday parking meter program because the revenue is not needed, while, at the same time, his team claims funding is not available to act more decisively for on-street safety improvements,” the SF Bicycle Coalition pointed out in a blog post today. “Where is the urgency? Where is the commitment to use the power of the mayor’s office to make the streets of San Francisco less deadly for our sons and daughters and grandparents and friends?”

Of course, revenue is not the main reason for parking meters — management of parking demand is, even if that fact is ignored by Mayor Lee and the media outlets that are reporting on his free parking campaign.

But the revenue does provide much-needed funds to improve Muni, walking, and biking. The ballot measures recommended by the mayor’s T2030 Task Force, which would boost general transportation funding with a general obligation bond, a sales tax increase, and a vehicle license fee increase, “are not to replace revenue streams, it’s to enhance and supplement them,” said Jason Henderson, author of “Street Fight: The Politics of Mobility in San Francisco,” who called Lee’s move a “cynical, political maneuver.”

“It’s genius, what Ed Lee’s done,” he said. “He’s daring a progressive to defend Sunday parking meters.”

As Radulovich noted, “This move demonstrates that SFMTA’s governance model, which was intended to protect against crass tampering with transportation decision-making by politicians seeking short-term political gain, isn’t working as it was supposed to.”

If Mayor Lee simply wanted to reduce the pain of parking tickets, there’s a much less damaging way to do it. The SFMTA’s widely-lauded SFpark program, and the expansion of meters that accept multiple forms of payment, have led to steep declines in citations. On Sundays, parking citations have already declined slowly but steadily throughout 2013 as drivers adjusted to the new system, according to the SFMTA report.

The repeal of Sunday parking meters would need approval by the SFMTA Board of Directors, which Mayor Lee appoints members to. Lee already has Tom Nolan, the board’s chair, on board. SFMTA spokesperson Paul Rose told the SF Bay Guardian that the agency is “willing to partner with the mayor to address affordability.” Yes, the SFMTA is apparently abandoning its entire policy basis for parking management by re-framing free parking as an “affordability” issue. (It might work, if the added traffic and double parking makes SF a less desirable place to live.)

Of course, it’s no surprise that the SF Interfaith Council, which fought fiercely to keep parking free on Sundays on behalf of churches, are lauding the mayor’s push. An SFIC message sent to its members said it “reflects thoughtful appreciation for the broad, adverse impact of this policy.”

Mayor Lee is expected to elaborate on his position at his “State of the City” address tomorrow.

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3698 days ago
San Francisco, CA
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