San Francisco Fines Couple for Parking in Own Driveway After 36 Years

Parking in San Francisco is already difficult enough. Now the city says some driveways can’t be used.

byNico DeMattiaJul 5, 2022 3:26 PM
San Francisco Fines Couple for Parking in Own Driveway After 36 Years
Victorian houses in the Pacific Heights district, and the financial district in the distance. Pacific Heights, San Francisco, California.. (Photo by: Sergio Pitamitz / VWPics/Universal Images Group via Getty Images).
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Judy and Ed Craine have lived in San Francisco for 36 years and have used the small, one-car driveway in front of their home every day and night since. However, they recently received a $1,542 fine from the San Francisco Planning Department for using that same driveway. On top of that initial fine, the Craines were told they'd be fined an additional $250 for every day their car was in the driveway. They were unaware of a decades-old city code that prevents people from parking cars in front of their homes unless the car is in front of a garage or under some sort of cover.

"I wrote them back saying I thought this was a mistake," Judy Craine said. They've been parking in that very same spot, a concrete pad in front of their home, for more than three decades, so you can imagine the surprise of suddenly being fined for it. But parking in that spot goes back even further than the Craines. Their home dates back to 1910, meaning owners have been parking buggies and cars in that same driveway for more than 100 years.

When the Craines brought that up to the city, they were told that they'd be allowed to continue parking there, fine-free, if they could prove the home had historical proof of people parking in the spot. Remarkably, Ed Craine found some proof, in the form of an aerial photo from 1938, which shows their home, back before there were even paved streets in the neighborhood, and what seems to be a car (or horse and buggy) partially in the driveway, either pulling in or out. While it's not exact—it's an aerial photo from 1938, they didn't exactly have DSLRs with telephoto lenses back then—the car-like blob in the photo does seem to be consistent with the other car-like blobs on the road. The city decided that wasn't good enough.

Properties along Lombard Street, labeled 'the crookedest street in the world,' a steep, one-block section with eight hairpin bends, running east to west in the Russian Hill neighborhood of San Francisco circa 1945. (Photo by UPI/Bettmann Archive via Getty Images)

"I recognize that the property owner is frustrated. I think I would feel the same way in their situation," San Francisco planning chief Dan Sider told local news station KGO. "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."

According to the planning department, the code was introduced for aesthetic reasons, to prevent the front yards of the neighborhood from looking like "parking lots." However, if the driveway is in front of a garage, that somehow makes it OK. Owners can also put up a car cover of some sort, which would also allow them to park in the driveway, but that's little solace to the Craines, who suddenly have to spend money to build something so that they can do something they've done for 36 years.

You might ask how the Craines suddenly get busted for using their own driveway now, rather than 30 years ago? Someone ratted them out, as well as two of their other neighbors, for the same thing. The city planning department received an anonymous complaint about the Craines and their neighbors, which prompted the fines.

After some back and forth, the city planning department eventually pulled the fine after the Craines agreed to stop parking in their driveway. If the Craines build some sort of cover over it, they can continue using the driveway, but, until then, they have to add their car to the already crowded San Francisco street parking.

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