Finding a parking space in San Francisco can be a needle-in-a-haystack endeavor, and those who overstay the time limit face some of the country's stiffest fines.
But one category of drivers may soon get a break, thanks to a group of local parents who are lobbying for car-owning nannies to be included in the city's residential parking permit program. They have caught the ear of the San Francisco Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which is considering issuing a new class of annual street parking permits available exclusively to childcare providers.
If approved by the SFMTA board of directors, San Francisco would be the largest U.S. city to offer a nanny parking permit, transportation officials say. The board is scheduled to take up a proposal drafted by transportation authority staff at its meeting Tuesday.
"People hear 'parking for nannies' and assume it's some elitist thing, but we're working parents and this is a huge safety issue," said Roxanne Stachon, a civil engineer and mother of two from the city's Russian Hill neighborhood, who is leading the charge for the special permits.
Stachon said her longtime nanny often has to leave the children — ages 2 and 10 months — unattended for up to 10 minutes every two hours while she searches for a new parking spot.
Stachon has tried short-term fixes such as 24-hour visitor parking permits or borrowing space in a friend's driveway. But she says the only realistic solution is for the city to allow childcare providers the same extended parking privileges it already grants to other special groups such as in-home health aides.
That proposal has drawn criticism from those who say nanny parking is a problem that affects only a small number of San Francisco's 815,000 residents. Others argue that further reducing parking-space turnover makes little sense in the second-most densely populated city in the nation.
"If you keep letting people get permits, it places another strain on a fragile system and eventually it will reach the breaking point," said Tom Radulovich, executive director of Livable City, a group that promotes transportation reform in San Francisco.
Radulovich said his group doesn't take a position on the parking needs of the city's nannies, but he said there may be ways to make the concept more palatable to skeptics, including using some the profits from the permit sales for neighborhood improvement projects.
The SFMTA officially promotes public transportation — a citywide "transit first" policy — and tightly regulates how many $98-a-year permits are issued through its residential parking program, which was established in 1976 and covers about 25 percent of city streets.
But transportation officials say they are eager to stop the exodus of San Francisco families to the suburbs, and increasing the flexibility of the parking permit program could help.
"We're being tugged in different directions, and it's kind of hard to draw the line and say, 'You're OK to park here' when there are other groups that feel just as worthy," said Bond Yee, director of the transportation agency's Sustainable Streets program, who supervised the creation of the nanny-parking proposal.
Under the draft plan, a household would be able to trade one of its four allotted annual parking permits for a childcare-provider permit, Yee said. The family would have to provide a birth certificate proving that at least one of the children in the household is age 12 or younger, as well as a signed affidavit swearing that the permit will be used solely for childcare purposes.
While other major cities offer extended visitor or special-use permits that can be used at the residents' discretion, San Francisco would be the largest to offer a permit category solely for childcare providers, according to a review by The Associated Press of parking permit programs in the 12 most populous U.S. cities.
Yee said he was not aware of any other cities that issue such permits. He estimates demand for the permits would be "in the several hundreds" if they are approved.
Stachon and her fellow advocates — a core group of about two dozen mostly moms — say decisive action by the SFMTA board would send a strong message that the agency cares about the needs of local parents.
"When you're told childcare is not a valid exception to the existing policy, it creates a very unfriendly environment for families," Stachon said.