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By Thomas K. Pendergast

The San Francisco Recreation and Park Department’s plan to take over the Music Concourse parking garage in Golden Gate Park cleared two hurdles in June, but parking fee changes there will not occur until sometime after November 1.

However, the actual operation and management of the 800-space underground parking garage will go to the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) after its board unanimously approved a $27 million increase to the existing contract with the garage operators.

The garage is currently leased and operated by the nonprofit Music Concourse Community Partnership (MCCP), which serves visitors to the California Academy of Sciences, de Young Museum, Botanical Garden, and Japanese Tea Garden.

On June 4, the SFMTA Board of Directors approved an amendment to the contract to compensate IMCO Parking, LLC for additional management fees and to reimburse approved garage operating costs, resulting in a total contract amount of $207 million.

During this meeting, Vice Chair Stephanie Cajina asked about the additional $27 million and where it would come from.

“That’s a pretty high price,” Cajina said.

Rob Malone, assistant director of Parking and Curb Management Operations, provided a detailed explanation.

He said that while the SFMTA will manage the garage, Rec. and Park will pay the additional money through reimbursement to the agency, which the department will recoup through the parking fees it collects.

An annual management fee is paid for the time employees spend overseeing Rec. and Park’s garages. With this additional garage, there are five of them, plus one additional facility that is half owned by SFMTA and half owned by Rec. and Park.

Cajina then asked if they had enough staff to handle this. Malone said yes.

“We currently manage 21 fully serviced off-street parking facilities. This will add another; this will have no significant impact on staff numbers,” he said.

“And when do we think the public will notice changes in parking fees?” asked Cajina.

Malone responded that several aspects of the fee change require a final decision from the SF Board of Supervisors.

“There is a timetable that at the moment is provisionally scheduled to run until the last quarter of this year,” he explained. “With anything that takes so long, there is of course a certain amount of uncertainty about some of these timelines, but at some point, in due course, one of these multiple visits to the Supervisory Board will be required. This contractual point, for which we are seeking the approval of this body today, must also be approved retrospectively by the Supervisory Board.

“I would currently estimate that the MTA contract will not go into effect until November 1st at the earliest. However, the current operator of the facility is Imperial Parking.”

He further explained that the company to which this contract is to be added is a joint venture called IMCO Parking LLC and that Imperial Parking is the managing member of this joint venture.

The additional $27 million will offset IMCO’s additional management fees of $1,600 per month and reimburse IMCO for the garage’s pre-approved operating expenses of $300,000 per month.

In 1998, voters passed Proposition J, which reserved land for the garage and placed it under the jurisdiction of the Golden Gate Park Concourse Authority (GGPCA), a nonprofit corporation controlled by the city.

In 2003, the GGPCA and the department leased the land to MCCP and contracted with them to build and operate the garage. MCCP raised $36 million from private donors and took out loans to cover the remainder of the $55 million needed to build the garage, which was completed in 2005. MCCP is obligated to repay the construction debt on a specific schedule. When that debt is fully repaid, the lease ends and the garage is transferred to the department.

In November 2022, voters approved Proposition N, which authorized the city to use public funds to acquire and operate the garage.

“So it really would be a change that wouldn’t be too noticeable to customers on the ground,” Malone said. “Under the hood, it’s the same company. It’s the same employees that will continue to work there; for those who are regular customers and know the staff, it will be the same faces. It would just be the contract behind it, their work would change to an MTA contract.

“And then MTA will play a more direct role in policy making at that point, including pricing, hours, etc.,” he explained. “And we will, of course, work very closely with our wonderful colleagues at Rec. and Park, as well as representatives from the museums and other user groups that regularly use the park.”

The current parking fees are controversial because some see them as too expensive and a deterrent for visitors.

On June 20, the SF Recreation and Park Commission unanimously passed an ordinance transferring the garage to the department’s jurisdiction.

According to department filings, current annual debt service on a First Republic loan is approximately $2.1 million, and the new financing will be structured at that debt service level or below.

“This transfer will ensure efficient and professional management of the Music Concourse Garage and allow us to implement policies to expand access for all,” said the department’s general manager, Phil Ginsburg.

“SFMTA looks forward to working with the Recreation and Parks Administration, museums and all other groups that regularly use Golden Gate Park to develop a set of on- and off-street parking policies and programs that promote efficient and equitable access for all,” said Ted Graff, SFMTA’s acting director of streets.