Parking in San Francisco is a difficult part of life here. You find a seat… but still take a ticket.
For Judy and Ed Craine, this seems particularly unfair.
“We still use the carport,” Judy said.
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“Parked in that driveway every day and night,” Ed confirmed.
They live on a steep hill where parking can be a gravity-defying challenge.
But they could slip into their driveway and park on their carpad, something they had done every day for 36 years.
But not anymore.
“We got this email saying we can’t park in the parking lot anymore. I said what, that’s crazy,” Ed recounted.
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Out of the blue, the couple got a ticket for parking in their own driveway.
“It was very surprising, to say the least,” Judy said.
And worse? It came with a huge fine: $1,542, plus an additional $250 a day if they didn’t remove the car from their carpad.
“I wrote back to them saying I thought it was a mistake,” Judy said.
But it was not a mistake. And no ordinary parking ticket. He came from the city planning department, telling them it was illegal to park in front of a house.
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“And if we were found parking there, it would be a $1,500 fine,” Judy said.
And so they quickly got the car out – but none of that made sense.
“Why are you removing something that has great use?” asked Ed.
Ed and Judy had parked there for nearly four decades. And as far as they could tell, the space has been used for parking since the house was built in 1910 – one of the first in their Noe Valley neighborhood.
“All of a sudden you’re being told you can’t use something that we could use for years. It’s, it’s surprising. Inexplicable,” Ed said.
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And so the planning department gave them a challenge: prove that the parking lot was a historic use on the land, and they could get a waiver.
“We could be grandfathered. If we show them a historic photo that shows a car…or a horse-drawn buggy in the carport,” Judy said.
They immediately dug up a photo of their daughter 34 years ago – a barely visible part of the car.
But officials said: not old enough.
“I did quite a bit of research online,” Ed said.
And they combed through hundreds of historic photos.
Much showed the early days, when there were few streets or houses.
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“Our house and our neighbor’s house had empty fields all around it,” Ed said.
But finding a picture of a car or a horse in its particular driveway, before the days of iPhone cameras?
And then bingo.
“To me, it’s pretty compelling that it’s a car,” Ed said.
An aerial photo from 1938 shows their exact home – and Ed is sure he can see a car – or a horse and a buggy – pull into his driveway!
“So this little black speck seems to be entering our house,” Ed said.
It just looks like a drop from above. But Ed says it must be a car – like all the other drops you can see along the road.
“I don’t know what else they would be,” he said. “To me, it’s pretty compelling whether it’s a car entering or exiting the parking lot.”
They sent the photo to the planning department – the proof they need!
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“They said they were too blurry,” Judy said.
The planning department said it was not clear evidence.
Officials told 7 On Your Side that the couple violated a section of the code prohibiting vehicles in a setback in front of a house, even if they weren’t blocking a sidewalk.
Although it is acceptable to park in front of a garage, like many of their neighbors.
Planning chief Dan Sider said it was adopted decades ago for aesthetic reasons, to “ensure front yards don’t turn into parking lots”.
However, there is nothing wrong with parking in front of a garage, like their neighbors,
“I don’t think our car is any worse than all the cars piled up in front of garages,” Ed Craine said.
And why apply the rule after all these decades?
Sider said someone filed an anonymous complaint with the city. Two neighbors were also tagged for the same violation, parking in a front driveway.
In an email, Sider wrote:
“I recognize that the owner is frustrated. I think I would feel the same way in his situation. But the Town Planning Code does not allow the City to exclude illegal uses because they have flown under the radar for a period of time.”
And so their carport is empty – the oil stain testifies to easier days – as they struggle to park up the hill.
“I had to use my head to keep the trunk open while getting groceries out,” Judy said.
“The onus is on us to prove that we are innocent…even if I don’t feel guilty,” Judy said.
The city closed the case without imposing penalties after the couple removed the car from the carpad and kept it. And the city says they could build a covered carport or garage to park in – or maybe find this old photo.
Check out more stories and videos from Michael Finney and 7 On Your Side.
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