San Francisco parking secrets revealed

November 13, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
In San Francisco parking is expensive and it's a hassle, but how would you like to get in on a little secret? ABC7's Alan Wang travels with a guide to learn all the tricks of the trade to finding choice parking spots all over the city.

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On the streets, you can play a daily cat and mouse game with parking control officer James Hudson and when you lose it touches a sensitive nerve.

"It touches a big nerve because I work too hard," says Sherice Youngblood, a motorist.

"You can't talk him out of it," says Sasha Young, a San Francisco resident.

And a ticket can cost upwards of $85.

Last year, San Francisco's Department of Parking and Traffic issued more than two million parking citations and collected close to $100 million in fines.

"The only time you're going to have interaction with us is if you violate the law," says Hudson.

"I find sweet spots every day. Yeah, they're around. They're hidden in plain sight," says David LaBua, a San Francisco parking expert.

LaBua estimates that he spent 52 hours a year just looking for a place to park. So he decided to research and write a book called "Finding The Sweet Spot." It gives San Franciscans an advantage in the game of parking roulette.

"If you park in this spot, you can park totally free all day," says LaBua. When asked how often he sees a spot that is free, he replied "All the time."

He says most people are intimidated by the collage of warning signs and colored curbs.

"I think largely they don't know what they mean, and when they're in effect and when they're not. But those are some of the best spots to park in," says LaBua. "I would look at white zones first because often they don't have meters."

LaBua says most of the passenger loading zones are only enforced during business hours and a lot of yellow commercial loading zones are only in effect until 1 p.m.

"Yellow zone, 'Oh we can't park here' everybody thinks. Well, let's actually get out and read the sign," says LaBua.

A red-capped meter in a yellow zone is for six-wheeled vehicles, but only during four hours of the morning.

"So a totally valid spot and we don't have to pay $12 to the valet guy," says LaBua.

An out of order meter means free parking for that time period.

"I had my car towed, unfortunately. Yeah, it's a big car and a big price to pay," says motorist Benjie Ross.

To avoid a towing nightmare, LaBua reminds us that parking restrictions are enforced up to 100 feet away from the sign. Every weekday after 3 p.m., the Embarcadero becomes a commute zone and a tow truck driver's fantasy.

"I'd park someplace and try to work the system and move the car, but that doesn't work," says motorist Jim Newman.

"Even though we're in a completely different spot on the other side of the street, you have to move to another block," says LaBua.

During these times of budget deficits, failing to curb your wheels is a quick way for the city to make $45 dollars.

In San Francisco, you must curb your wheels on a three-percent grade or more, which is only 1.72 degrees. On Battery, between Pacific and Broadway, it's not even steep enough for me to roll an orange down the street.

"They're looking to see you're a habitual violator and if you have more than five tickets, they'll tow you," says LaBua.

LaBua says you can avoid looking like a lamb in an open field by simply keeping your wheels within 18 inches of the curb, having a front license plate -- since not having one is a common infraction -- and keeping a valid parking permit for your neighborhood. He's says by simply understanding the rules and embracing the warning signs, you can avoid the stress and pain of parking.

"If you pay attention a little bit and drive with awareness, you'll find them too," says LaBua.

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