SF couple gets $1,500 fine for parking in their driveway despite doing so for nearly 40 years

ByMichael Finney and Renee Koury via KGO logo
Tuesday, July 19, 2022
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The couple were told parking in front of their house was illegal, despite the fact they'd been parking there for nearly 40 years.

SAN FRANCISCO -- It seemed so unfair. They'd been using their carpad for decades - when suddenly the city said it's illegal. Not only that, they were threatened with a $1,500 fine - a huge penalty even for San Francisco. The only way out? Go back into San Francisco history.

UPDATE: How an Army aerial photo expert helped SF couple park in driveway again after threat of $1.5K fine

Parking in San Francisco is a difficult part of life here. You find a spot... but get a ticket anyway.

For Judy and Ed Craine it seems especially unfair.

"We always use the carport," said Judy.

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"Parked in that driveway every day and every night," confirmed Ed.

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, which they'd been doing every day for the past 36 years.

But not anymore.

"We got this email saying we can't park in the pad anymore. I said what, that's crazy," recounted Ed.

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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," said Judy.

And worse? It came with an enormous fine: $1,542 dollars, plus another $250 per day if they didn't get the car off their carpad.

"I wrote them back saying I thought this was a mistake," Judy said.

But it was no mistake. And no ordinary parking ticket. It came from the city Planning Department, telling them it's illegal to park in the front of a house.

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"And if we were found parking there again, it would be a $1,500 fine," Judy said.

And so they quickly pulled the car out -- but none of it made sense.

"Why are you taking away something that has great utility?" asked Ed.

Ed and Judy had been parking there for nearly four decades. And as far as they could tell, the space was used for parking since the house was built back in 1910 - one of the first in their Noe Valley neighborhood.

"To all of a sudden to be told you can't use something that we could use for years. It's, it's startling. Inexplicable," Ed said.

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And so the Planning Department gave them a challenge: prove that parking was a historic use on the lot, and they might get a waiver.

"We could be grandfathered in. If we show them a historical photo that showed a car... or a horse-drawn buggy in the carport," said Judy.

Right away they dug up a photo of their daughter 34 years ago - a part of the car barely visible.

But officials said: not old enough.

"I did a number of online searches," said Ed.

And so they combed through hundreds of historic photos.

Plenty showed the early days, when there were few streets or homes.

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"Our house and our neighbor's house had empty fields all around," Ed said.

But to find a photo of a car or horse in their particular driveway, back before the days of iPhone cameras?

Nearly impossible.

And then, bingo.

"To me, it's pretty compelling that was a car," Ed said.

An aerial photo from 1938 shows their exact home - and Ed is sure he can see a car - or horse-and-buggy -- pulling into his driveway!

"So this little black blob looks like it's pulling into our house," Ed said.

It looks like just a blob from above. But Ed says it must be a car -- like all the other blobs you can see along the road.

"I don't know what else they would be," he said. "To me, it's pretty compelling that that was a car pulling in or out of the parking pad."

They rushed the photo to the Planning Department - the proof they need!

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Right?

Wrong.

"They said that they were too fuzzy," Judy said.

The Planning Department said this was not clear evidence.

Officials tell 7 On Your Side the couple was violating a code section banning vehicles in a setback in front of a house, even if it isn't blocking a sidewalk.

Though it's OK to park in front of a garage, like many of their neighbors.

Planning Chief Dan Sider said it was enacted decades ago for aesthetic reasons, to "Ensure that front yards don't turn into parking lots."

Yet, it's OK to park in front of a garage, like their neighbors,

"I don't think our car looks any worse than all the cars stacked in front of garages,'' Ed Craine said.

And why enforce the rule after all these decades?

Sider said someone made an anonymous complaint to the city. Two neighbors also got tagged for the same violation, parking in a front driveway.

In an email, Sider wrote:

"I recognize that the property owner is frustrated. I think I would feel the same way in their situation. 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."

And so their carport sits empty -- the oil stain a testament to easier days -- as they struggle to park on the hill.

"I had to use my head to keep the trunk open while getting out groceries,'' Judy said.

"The onus is on us to prove we're innocent... though I don't feel guilty," Judy said.

The city did close the case without charging any penalties after the couple got the car off the carpad and kept it off. And the city says they could build a covered carport or garage to park there - or maybe find that old photo.

Take a look at more stories and videos by Michael Finney and 7 On Your Side.

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