- You’re never safe from bureaucrats, especially not on your own property.
Sometimes, the rules and regulations about city planning can be frustrating or downright stupid. As a recent example, we brought you the story of Los Angeles removing crosswalks painted by activists.
But now the City of San Francisco has topped that case. The Golden City’s latest stunt is so ridiculous it’s hard to believe it’s even true.
Judy and Ed Craine from San Francisco recently received a more than $1,500 fine for a parking violation. They had outrageously dared to park their car in their own driveway.
Yes, you read that correctly. They got a fine for parking their car on their own property.
Not only that, the fine came with the threat of a $250-per-day penalty if they didn’t move the car.
The fine is based on a decades-old planning code that the couple didn’t know existed. And how could they have — they’d been parking their car in the driveway for nearly four decades without any issues.
But now, the city is suddenly saying that’s not legal. Ladies and gentlemen, we give you — the wonders of bureaucracy.
A Fine for Nothing
If you live in or have even visited San Francisco, you’ll know how nightmarish finding a parking spot in the city can be. In this regard, the Craines have been very lucky.
Their house — in which the couple has lived for ages — has a handy little driveway. For the past 36 years, the Craines have been parking their vehicle there, which has probably saved them a lot of trouble.
“We always use the carport. Parked in that driveway every day and every night,” the Craines told ABC 7 News.
But that all changed when, much to their surprise, they got a parking ticket. We like to imagine they did a double-take when they saw what the fine amounted to.
The ticket states that the Craines now owe the City of San Francisco a hilarious total of $1,542. What’s more, they’ll be slapped with an extra $250 fine for each day their car remains in their driveway.
Understandable, the Craines thought the ticket couldn’t be right. They’d been parking in their driveway for decades — why would they suddenly get a ticket for it?
“I wrote [to the City] saying I thought this was a mistake,” Judy said.
But a mistake it was not. And it wasn’t a regular cop who gave them a fine, either.
Oh no, the ticket came directly from the City’s Planning Department. They told them that parking in their driveway has never been legal, and they’d get another $1,500 fine if their car was found in the spot again.
“To all of a sudden to be told you can’t use something that we could use for years, it’s startling. Inexplicable,” Ed said.
It turns out that there’s an ancient section of code that prohibits parking any vehicles — including horse-drawn carriages — in front of a building unless it’s in front of a garage. The justification is that it would look unpleasant.
But that’s a bit weird, considering some of the Craines’ neighbors also park their cars in front of their houses. That’s fine because they have garages — although the end result looks exactly the same.
A Sliver of Hope
It’s not all bad, though. The City told the Craines that their situation could be grandfathered into the rules if they could prove that the driveway has historically been used for parking.
The Craines were pretty sure people have always parked in front of the house ever since it was built in 1910. So, they dug up a 34-year-old picture of their daughter that also shows their car in the driveway, and sent it to the City.
Nope, it’s not good, they said. The photo wasn’t old enough to prove historical parking use.
The Craines turned to Google to look for even older pictures of their neighborhood. After a lot of searching, they found something that could help them.
They discovered a blurry aerial photo from 1938 that has their house on it — and a black blob in the driveway. The Craines were fairly certain it was either a car or a horse buggy and sent the photo in.
The Planning Department said they’d never seen such a photo and would now “reconsider” the Craines’ situation.
“The 1938 aerial photo … was never shared with the Department. To that end, we’re reopening the matter and hope to have more clarity in the coming days,” Daniel A. Sider, the chief of staff at San Francisco Planning Department, told ABC News.
For now, the Craines’ are left fighting for parking spots on the street. But at least the City scrapped the enormous fine after the couple promised not to use the driveway.
Hopefully the aerial photo gets them their own parking spot back.
I Don’t Make the Rules…
But why did the City suddenly decide to enforce this decades-old rule they’d never bothered with before? Because of a homeowner’s worst enemy — a nitpicking neighbor.
The Planning Department said it had received an anonymous complaint about the Craines and two of their neighbors. We’ll probably never know who the whistleblower is, but the Craines would probably like ask them WTF.
For what it’s worth, Sider from the Planning Department said he sympathizes with the couple.
“I recognize that the property owner is frustrated. I think I would feel the same way in their situation,” said Sider.
“But the Planning Code doesn’t allow for the City to grandfather illegal uses on account of their having flown below the radar for a length of time.”
It’s your usual “I don’t make the rules, I just enforce them” defense. The City has told the Craines they could build a cover or a garage, which would give them the right to park in the driveway again.
Sure, because it makes so much difference whether there’s a cover over the car or not.
Lesson learned — never trust your neighbors.