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MTA approves parking on medians in the Mission

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For a one year pilot, at least

Non-churchgoers in the Mission may have to summon up a sense of pious charity for the next 12 months, as the Municipal Transportation Agency board voted Tuesday to allow worshippers to continue parking on street medians around Dolores and Guerrero on weekends, at least for a year.

The practice of parishioners planting cars on the median when houses of worship run out of space goes back decades. And some neighbors have been seeing red about it for at least that long too. Median parking is of course illegal, but nobody ever seems to get ticketed or towed for it on those days.

The city usually denies allegations that it turns a blind eye to holy parking. Critics allege that a few churches (and one synagogue) are getting de facto permission to flout the law one day out of the week.

The temples themselves tend to make a bid for sympathy, pointing out that there are only so many parking spaces for so many worshipers. Barring a loaves and fishes miracle that fits 1,000 cars into 400 spaces, people have got to improvise.

A nine member advisory group composed of community members spent the better part of a year wrangling potential solutions, ranging from simply booting parking scofflaws up to officially permitting and even expanding median parking access. Transit planner John Knox White told the board on Tuesday that the issue is so contentious that the committee simply couldn’t come to a consensus, even after nine months.

Advisory committee member Elizabeth Zitrin contradicted that assessment, though. "Our recommendation was that there be no median parking," Zitrin told the board during public comment. "I would say that under oath as a member of the bar. The churches want special privilege illegally," she added.

Zitrin all but accused the MTA of suppressing the committee opinion, calling the meeting an "illegitimate process." When she asked for more time to speak and was told "The rules are the rules," Zitrin fired back, "No, the rules are not the rules."

Touchy subject.

Many worshipers at the churches and synagogue along the two Mission byways pleaded the necessity of the parking situation, citing the needs of the elderly and disabled and suggesting that some churches would have to close their doors if members couldn’t find sufficient parking.

Other speakers accused the church groups of courting special favors, and even speculated that holy parking permission would violate First Amendment prohibitions on mixing church and state.

Although several board members sounded anxious about the criticisms (director Joel Ramos commented, "I’ll support this, but I speculate we’re going to be back here in a year,"), the body approved a one year pilot program permitting some median parking while also exploring means to regulate it for safety issues.

So, for the most part, not much will change, at least right away. Churchgoers will continue to park as they always have, and critics will continue to be steamed.

An SFMTA survey from December showed that 74 percent of neighborhood residents and 79 percent of park goers an frequent visitors want median parking gone. On the other hand, 95 percent of those who attend nearby churches want to keep it around.