SAN FRANCISCO — 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 child care 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.
"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 child care 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.
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.