Dan Gillmor

Why We'll Avoid San Francisco for a While

On May 14 we attended a dinner in San Francisco. There was a valet parking stand, and when we arrived the valets were fairly backed up. We got behind several other cars and waited.

A few minutes later one of the city’s parking police came up behind the line. I asked one of the valets what was up, and he said they were out of parking spaces, though one might come open again if someone left. But, he said, the city was starting to ticket cars waiting in line.

We waited a minute, hoping someone might leave, and then pulled out and found our own parking.

A few weeks later I received a notice from the city, saying we owed money for illegal parking that evening. I filled out the protest form, noting that no one had handed us any ticket or put one on our windshield, and, moreover, that we’d moved the car. To repeat: The parking cop never handed us this phantom ticket, nor did he/she put on the windshield — and we were sitting right there.

Months went by, with two more letters saying the city was looking into the situation. Then, a couple of weeks ago, we got another letter saying the city parking department had decided we did owe for illegal parking. In other words, whatever its own employee — remember, the one who never actually handed us any paper — told them was considered true. Or maybe they just figured they could get away with going ahead with this bogus ticket.

Well, they did. As the city knows from the vehicle registration, I’m living a majority of the time in Arizona and can’t possibly take the time or justify the expense of challenging this ticket. So I’m sending the $100. I’m tempted to send a pissed-off letter to the mayor, but realize what an empty exercise that would be.

Instead, for the next few months, when we’re at our Bay Area place and thinking about going out to dinner or a movie, or going shopping, we’ll head somewhere other than San Francisco. At some point we’ll figure we’ve avoided paying enough city parking and other taxes/fees, etc. (including the local version of the multiplier effect — spending causing more economic activity), to have denied the San Francisco treasury somewhere in the vicinity of the $100 its parking police docked us. I regret that this means some restaurants and stores in the city won’t be getting our business during this stretch, but they’ve chosen to be where they are.

I assume this kind of thing happens all the time. Parking tickets are a fabulous source of revenue for a city like San Francisco. I also wonder if the people who govern the city realize how annoyed they make people with such tactics. I assume they don’t care. In the long run that’s poor policy.