Parking, San Francisco, South Bay

“It would be a circus”

In light of the need to accommodate more housing in the Bay Area’s inner ring cities, this blog does not condone the cries of neighbors who protest height and density, simply to safeguard their parking spots or preserve their personal views.  But at the same time, it cannot condone the rubber stamping of every project proposal moving through the pipeline.

Ideally, the role of a planning commission is not to rubber stamp, but to review, refine, and scrutinize — in order to ensure that the projects that earn its approval are of high quality.  The commission should also ensure consistency with applicable General Plan policies.  In San Francisco, that includes the City’s policy to encourage the development of housing accessible to a spectrum of incomes; to expand a robust and successful city economy; and to make land use decisions that discourage dependence on the automobile, in part by limiting parking for projects near convenient transit options.

When it comes to implementing these general policies in the context of specific projects, the San Francisco Planning Commission has disappointed on more than one occasion.  But particularly with respect to parking, one cannot help but notice how Michael Antonini — a Republican originally appointed to the Commission in 2002 by Willie Brown, and then later reappointed by Gavin Newsom — has often singled himself out as the epitome of this phenomenon on the Commission.

As long as as the proposed project meets the bare minimum test of adding any housing or retail to a parcel where none existed before, Commissioner Antonini will probably stand ready to cast his approving vote — unless, of course, the amount of suggested parking seems somehow “inadequate.”  In that case, he has cause to object.  And so much the better if the project includes larger family-sized units, because then the Commission has the opportunity to bend over backward by signing off on the inclusion of extra parking.  It’s a knee-jerk reaction premised on this assumption: the probability that a family will get around town without a car ranges anywhere from unlikely to inconceivable.

Santa Clara 49ers Stadium Proposal
Rendering of the Santa Clara 49ers stadium proposal.

It’s not too surprising, then, to find that Commissioner Antonini offered this little gem to the Examiner regarding Santa Clara’s proposal for a new 49ers stadium, which will be put to the test when Santa Clara citizens evaluate Measure J in the June election:

“[The Santa Clara site] is so small and there’s no place to park,” Antonini said. “It would be a circus to have a Super Bowl there.”

Candlestick Park, which seats about 70,000 attendees, has parking capacity for 8,800 vehicles.  Santa Clara’s proposed stadium, which is comparably sized, would seat 68,500 attendees, with an option to expand to 75,000 seats for the Super Bowl.  Although fewer than 3,500 parking spots would be made available in a proposed structure and parking lots immediately adjacent to the stadium site, as many as about 38,000 existing parking spots located within a 20-minute walk of the stadium could be leveraged for use on event days.  Although it’s not yet clear just how much of that parking will be available on a given game day, it’s smart practice to recycle parking spots for different uses at different times of day, rather than build an independent parking supply dedicated to each use.  And that parking total even far exceeds the need, if travel patterns to the Santa Clara stadium resemble travel patterns to Candlestick.

But in advocating to keep the 49ers in San Francisco, is Commissioner Antonini really mocking Santa Clara for trying to manage transportation demand (both by taking advantage of existing parking supply and emphasizing the various transit options near the stadium site)?  And is he really implying that a Hunters Point stadium would be superior to the Santa Clara stadium because it could provide more parking?

How refreshing it is that decision-makers in this transit-first city are so eager to set a fine example for the benefit of our suburban neighbors.

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