By Thomas K. Pendergast
As the Sunset District struggles to fill vacant commercial buildings, some merchants along Taraval Street west of 25th Avenue wonder if the recent removal of about 70 parking spaces on the commercial corridor might also be the final factor that puts them out of business.
In an effort to reduce the number of L-Taraval light-rail riders from getting hit as they get on and off the trains, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) – which operates Muni – won approval for the L-Taraval project when its board of directors voted in September, 2016, to create “transit only” lanes between 15th and 46th avenues.
A study showed that 22 people were hit by motor vehicles while people were exiting or boarding the trains during a five-year period.
West of 25th Avenue, none of the proposed boarding islands have been built but the space needed for them was recently set aside with red and white paint, at the expense of parking in front of businesses and residences along that stretch of Taraval Street.
Clear zones, where the boarding islands are expected to go, and their accompanying red zones have already been painted, and some of the adjacent businesses are not happy about it.
“The first day that it happened, they didn’t call us in advance,” said Diana Anderson from the Avenues Pet Hospital, which is located between 32nd and 33rd avenues. “I came to work … and they’re painting the sidewalk in front of my hospital.”
She was well aware of the L-Taraval project and plans to build the boarding platforms but it still caught her by surprise.
And, right off the bat, it caused her problems.
“We had four clients call up and say, ‘I’ve been looking for parking and can’t find it. I’m going to cancel my appointment,’ on the very first day,” Anderson said. “So, now we have between four and 10 people a day calling, complaining, some canceling, some saying, ‘Will you come out and help me with my dog?’”
Dallas Udovch owns Oceanside Sheet Metal on Taraval Street, which has been in his family since 1947. He said he has lost more than half of his walk-in customer business since the parking spaces were turned into red zones, so now he’s worried.
“We’re being reduced to accepting the crumbs that come off their (SFMTA’s) table.”
– Dallas Udovch
“I want to leave my son something. It’s my right and it’s his legacy, to take over the family business,” Udovch said. “When it first happened it didn’t really hit me so hard and then as it progressed on…. As soon as they painted that red curb on the next block up, between 32nd and 33rd, I’ve had maybe two walk-in customers. And now, I can’t even find parking to park my service trucks.
“This is how we’re living now. We’re being reduced to accepting the crumbs that come off the SFMTA’s table. Well not me! I’m not going to settle for the crumbs that come off their table. There are a lot of people that feel the way I feel,” he said.
Albert Chow, the owner of Great Wall Hardware Co. on Taraval and president of the People of Parkside Sunset (POPS), worries for his fellow merchants.
“I like where I am,” Chow said. “I like the neighborhood and everything and I don’t plan on moving, but it makes it really hard. I didn’t lose parking in front of my store and I’m happy but I don’t live in a vacuum. I live in a symbiotic relationship with all of the other merchants on Taraval. So, if everybody else goes away, eventually, I’m going to go away.”
District 4 Supervisor Katy Tang has been working with Muni and local merchants throughout much of the Taraval project’s planning and implementation, trying to find solutions that will not put them out of business.While she supports the project overall, she’s not entirely happy with Muni either.
“I prioritize safety and I think that it is unfortunate that boarding islands remove parking and I wish that wasn’t the case,” Tang said. “But, what I’m most unhappy about is that even though I support boarding islands and safety, that when Muni was going to go and remove the parking spaces they should already have installed the time-limited parking zones around the businesses that would have been impacted.
“They should have already created, at least minimum, six different loading areas for passengers when they removed the parking. They shouldn’t have done the removal and then have to wait for the SFMTA board to go and approve these changes to parking. If you were to create six new loading zones that would help a lot,” she said.
Tang says loading zones around the corners on the side avenues are planned to serve businesses like Ristorante Marcello and Lou’s Sandwiches, a green loading zone is planned for 26th Avenue and Taraval Street next to El Burrito Express, a blue zone at 31st Avenue and Taraval, another green zone for Oceanside Sheet Metal and either a white or blue zone near 44th Avenue and Taraval for the NEMS location.
Because her business is a pet hospital, Anderson has doubts about just how useful a green zone just around the corner or the like will be to her or other neighboring businesses.
“We all have multiple deliveries a day and in addition we have about 100 clients a day with pets,” she said.
She noted that some people have to carry 40-pound dogs into the hospital because the animals are sick.
“And that’s if (the green zone) is open, and with a lot of people having multiple deliveries every day, probably it’s not going to be open,” Anderson said.
Udovch called the time-limited parking zones that Tang is backing a “band-aide solution.”
“She’s trying to give us Novocain to numb the pain but the fact is that when the Novocain goes away the pain is still there,” he said.
“I do not think this is a band-aide solution,” Tang responded. “I have to represent and think about everyone in the neighborhood. I cannot just only think about businesses. Of course they are an important part of our community … but the safety of the passengers is also very important.”