January 12, 2010

More about sidewalks and front yards

Another motorist who thinks he/she owns the sidewalk.

A reader comments on SFDSP:
You are awesome!

Hey, I read your interview on Streetsblog and I wanted to comment on the part about your neighbors paving over grass to make a parking space.

I'm not sure about the planning code in your area of the city, but my (possibly WRONG) understanding is that removing a lawn and replacing it with concrete is illegal in most parts of the city unless you get a permit first. And nobody does. Not sure if you can do anything about it when it's done rather than in-progress, but you might want to look into that.

And if you do find out the deal-i-o on that, I would love to know what it is.

Thanks, Martin! (And, since I haven't mentioned it here yet, mega thanks to Streetsblog for the interview!)

I actually do know some things about this. It is true, concreting over front yards in front of houses without a permit is illegal. In fact, District 11 ex-Supervisor (now Judge) Gerardo Sandoval has introduced legislation in 2008 targeted at illegal concreters.

The City could start issuing citations to property owners who pave over their front yards or violate any other planning code.
A citation for a violation would carry a fine of $100 if it was not fixed after 30 days, and $500 if not fixed after 90 days.
Supervisor Jake McGoldrick said that “giving the department some tools to do some of this enforcement is extremely important and hopefully [the Planning Department] will use it.”

Sounds good! The problem? To my knowledge, this law has never ever been enforced. I did report the concreting of the front yard which I witnessed, to the Planning Department. They told me they would assign an inspector to investigate, but the concrete is still in place and frankly I am not expecting it to be removed. (I just can't wait until the cars show up over the newly created sidewalk "parking spots"!)

It gets better, though. There is actually another, older and little-known entry in the planning code (Section 132(g)) in San Francisco which stipulates that "at least 20 percent of the front yard to be devoted to landscaping or plant material". Of course, that requirement is also routinely violated or "forgotten".

In general, I think a few words about the sidewalk and front yard in front of properties are in order. While property owners are generally required to keep "their" sidewalk section clean, accessible, and also pay for any repairs, they do not own the sidewalk. They (or their renters) cannot park there, they cannot put anything there without a permit. The city encourages (in fact, as we have seen, requires) the installation of front yards - which benefit the community and the environment in a variety of ways -, and may also issue permits for "permanent encroachments" (benches, planters etc - I have no experience with these permits but maybe some of you can chime in), but that is about it.

See it this way: with property ownership and renting come rights and responsibilities. Caring for the sidewalk in front of your house and keeping it in good order is one of your responsibilities. Yet so often, people somehow turn this into their (supposed) right to do as they please and park their vehicles on the sidewalk. They clearly are on the wrong side of the law - and of human decency.


  1. Thanks for the response and keep doing the Lord's work!

    1. how is this the lords work? i thought there was a seperation between church and state?

  2. A law that has never been enforced is no law at all.

  3. The only benefit in this is the stupid government. DPT is government, permits are government...My money going there.. They get too much money already! why is this such a big deal? It's their from yard, then it should be fine, as long as they try to leave three blocks out... Right? Be fair to us and be fair to government!

  4. Lawns suck precious taken-for-granted water. Better concrete than grass. Better wild plants than concrete.

    Human decency? Perhaps a bit hyperbolic.

  5. Nobody on this site, or in the SF government advocates lawns in the front yard. And I don't know, to me parking your car across the sideWALK seems an indecent thing to do.

  6. Ha, I live on Judah St, and apartment dwellers on the block and customers from businesses on the block treat my driveway as their private parking space. They think they're entitled to park since it's convenient. I confronted them in person, I called cops, and dpt, nothing works. Many times, they'll leave right before the cops or dpt gets here. Don't know what else to do. On the other hand, we try to get a permit to pave the front yard of my parents' house because damn dogs and cats pooped there because all the other front yards have been paved.

  7. Eh, I'd rather we let people park in their own driveway provided enough room is left for pedestrians. I've never been bothered by walking around a car, and indeed, will gladly do it as often as needed provided I don't have to park blocks away myself during tough times. Hell make it a privilege and charge for it. These are silly laws for revenue generation, they don't make it any easier or nicer to live here in the city.

    But then again I've never really gotten a sense that the DPT cares about anything other than generating revenue, sentiments on this blog notwithstanding.

  8. It is clear that this group of brain dead citizens has no consideration for those who have cars and must park them on the street. In some cases people are not using garages to park cars - these garages are used to store stuff, or have been configured as illegal in-law apartments or used for commercial activity. In these cases there should be a process to force property owners to use garages to park their cars.
    I would suggest that instead of calling the Department of Parking Gestapo, you talk to your neigbors or engage in mediation. After all person to person efforts to resolve the matter have failed, then you have the right to go to DPT if that is what you think is best.
    There are many of us who live in the city and work outside of San Francisco. In my case, public transportation did not make it easy for me to use to commute. A car was a necessity for my daily 40 + mile commute. While I would love to walk to work and not have to have a car or use Zip Car. Many times on Fridays when I get home, there are no parking places in the neighborhood because someone is having a party or people have parke in the neighborhood to go to the nearby trendy bars and restaurants. And I need to park somewhere, so I park on the sidewalk in front of my house. The sidewalk is at a 45 degree angle and there is 3 feet of free space. Someone calls DPT and I find a complaint ticket on my windsheild in the morning when I got up at 6 AM to move it.
    This kind of neighborliness does not create strong coheasive and caring neighborhoods. This behavior divides us and turns us all into snitches. This group ought to be looking for ways for neighbors to creatively and cooperatively solve their problems rather than call the gestopo.

  9. This article seems quite like a biased elaboration. Or perhaps someone does not understand the actual difficulties in raising a family while trying to earn a decent living in San Francisco. On top of the whistle blowers like this blog site is trying to appeal to, San Francisco is taking away more parking spaces to make room for bike lanes extended cafe/restaurant seating and dining areas which is not wrong but its not fare to those of us with a family with just ONE car while many others have three or even four that take up the rest of the street. Then some irritated/biased person has to try to play MR Erin Brockovich as if his/her neighbor decided to dump toxic radiation on the sidewalk. Because lets face it they closed the bayview/hunters point power plant in 2006 but anyone who actually lives and cares about San Francisco knows there’s still HAZARDOUS substances and chemicals in our water ways which we should be addressing(http://greenaction.org/campaign-bvhp-cleanup). Oh no wait it was just your neighbors car which happens to not be a rust bucket and actually minds their own business and leaves plenty of room for pedestrians and people with wheelchairs. Please there are actual factual problems with society especially in a city which considers low income to clock in at or around $45,000 and extremely low at $29,000 or below a year. We all cant live in either a gated super community or a low income housing community where they don’t necessarily have to worry about these kinds of problem.