| We've all heard the classic stories about the one-light towns out there that keep the books balanced by keeping the police busy writing tickets.
We don't usually think of these rural towns as models of a transparent and progressive administration. That's why we shouldn't adopt these kinds of "gotcha" revenue-generating tactics here in San Francisco by turning our entire city into a parking trap.
Unfortunately, just this past week the San Francisco's Municipal Transit Authority announced its plans to instruct our already hard-working traffic officers to increase the number of parking tickets they issue. The revenue from parking tickets - which MTA had projected to be right around $99 million - has fallen short. So now they are setting higher quotas to raise additional revenue.
We certainly do need more revenue in San Francisco. And one of the city agencies that needs additional funding the most is the Municipal Railway. But we need to make sure this new revenue is generated in a way that is fair to all and in a fashion that takes into account a person's ability to pay.
What's wrong with the new MTA parking ticket quotas is that they are the exact opposite - they are essentially a tax lottery, with the unlucky paying more than the lucky. They are unfair, with taxpayers fortunate enough to own garages (usually the wealthier homeowners) less affected than those who do not (usually the less-wealthy renters). And at their core, they are regressive, with the very poor paying just as much as the very rich.
As Assessor-Recorder in San Francisco, my job is to make sure we have a fair property tax system. And I have not been shy about taking on some powerful players - like big banks and other politically connected institutions when I thought they were not paying what they owed. Along with a number of others I have also helped form Close the Loophole - a statewide organization dedicated to reforming Proposition 13 so that commercial property owners start to pay their fair share.
These new revenue sources have several important things in common - they take into account the ability to pay and they are assessed in a predictable fashion. Property taxes, assessed fairly, are progressive in the truest sense because the more expensive the property the higher the revenue generated. And when a person buys or transfers property, they can predict what taxes they owe.
San Francisco has been seeing a healthy debate recently about progressive values. Let's extend this debate to discussing the many problems with regressive and random revenue generation.
We already have some of the nation's most expensive tickets. And pity to the person who has his or her car towed - the fees can quickly soar to $500 and above. I have been deeply involved in the movement to fight unfair foreclosures, and I know that $500 for many families is the difference between staying in their homes and eviction.
What has crept into this debate is some sense that people are to "blame" for driving and if they get tickets, then they simply should give up their cars or be more careful.
Certainly, we do not want to tolerate violations of our parking laws. And we do want to continue to pursue a city policy that draws people out of their cars with better public transit, smarter planning and walkable and bikeable streets. But enforcement should be based on safety - not new revenue. And, we need to understand that given the state of our Municipal Railway right now, some people simply must drive.
The parent with two kids at two different schools is going to have trouble on a bicycle. People with mobility issues sometimes need to drive. And most of us know others who have no other real choice - like the janitor who reports to work at 7:00PM. These San Franciscans deserve a tax system that is fair and progressive - not a random lottery that targets them to raise revenue.
Let's certainly raise more revenue. But let's do it in a way that reflects our progressive values - with a progressive tax system.
You can make the difference in two clicks. First, sign my petition to tell City Hall to tear up the unfair ticket plan. And second, join the movement I have been leading for nearly two years called Close the Loophole and let's fix what's broken in Proposition 13 and bring real solutions to San Francisco.
San Francisco Assessor-Recorder