Unpaid Parking Citations Amount to Nearly Half of San Francisco’s Half-Billion Dollar Budget Deficit

Many citations are given for parking meter violations, and higher fines are issued for blocking fire hydrants, red zones, and bus lanes.
Unpaid Parking Citations Amount to Nearly Half of San Francisco’s Half-Billion Dollar Budget Deficit
A woman puts money into a parking meter in San Francisco, Calif., on Jan. 21, 2011. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Travis Gillmore

With San Francisco Mayor London Breed warning of a looming $500 million budget deficit, city records reveal half of the money needed to close the gap can be accounted for in unpaid parking citations.

More than $213 million is owed to the city for parking tickets issued between Jan. 1, 2018, and Sept. 24, 2023, according to San Francisco Municipal Transit Authority records requested and reviewed by The Epoch Times.

Transit authority officials noted they are aware of the issue and highlighted efforts they are taking to address the number of outstanding citations.

“There are multiple ways the city can recoup money owed from unpaid parking tickets,” Stephen Chun, deputy spokesperson for the city transit authority’s marketing and outreach division, told The Epoch Times by email. “Additionally, the [transit authority] has several accommodation options in which customers can pay their citations via community service or [monthly] payments.”

Unpaid citations can be turned over to the city’s treasurer for collections, which includes placing holds on vehicle registrations and restrictions on residential parking permits needed in some areas around the city. They can also be forwarded to the state’s Franchise Tax Board for wage garnishment.

While approximately 16 percent of the nearly 6.4 million tickets written since the beginning of 2018 have outstanding balances, they account for more than 29 percent of the total dollar amount generated from parking citations, including penalties and fees.

Those who paid their fines accounted for more than $518 million in revenue for the city over the same timeframe—though some expressed frustration when doing so in several posts on social media, especially regarding street cleaning fines.

“SF street cleaning is performance art to justify writing tickets,” Patrick Malatack, a venture capitalist living in San Francisco, posted Jan. 3 on X, formerly Twitter.

Such accounts for a significant number of the tickets written in the city, though many citations are given for parking meter violations, and higher fines are issued for blocking fire hydrants, red zones, and bus lanes.

Some say the issuance of tickets is biased in favor of the homeless, suggesting RVs and vehicles that look lived in are not ticketed while others are.

“If you don’t want to get a ticket in the city, just leave a bunch of trash in your car,” Bay Area native Jesse Ramirez told The Epoch Times. “They’re letting drug addicts park illegally, and it’s not fair, but everyone knows that’s exactly what’s going on out here.”

Both the number of tickets and the average revenue collected annually are below pre-pandemic numbers—having averaged more than 1.25 million tickets per year and about $110 million in annual revenue before and falling to around 1.1 million tickets and about $90 million after. Unpaid balances are on the rise, increasing from slightly more than $30 million a year pre-pandemic to more than $40 million per year since.

Some suggest a recent California court of appeals ruling blocking the city from towing vehicles over unpaid parking tickets could be leading to the increase in unpaid tickets. Those this year alone, are on pace to set a record with nearly $40 million owed as of Sept. 24, the latest data provided by the transit agency.

“They’re making people believe they don’t have to pay since they won’t get towed,” Mr. Ramirez said. “What did they expect to happen?”

With the transit authority issuing approximately 3,000 tickets per day and with so many fines outstanding, some are questioning if the city is prioritizing revenue collection needed to help it function well.

“Visitors to SF can expect someone to show up for a meter or street cleaning ticket, but don’t expect anyone if your car is broken into or there’s someone overdosing next to it,” Akif Malik, a partner at Podium VC—a venture capital firm based in Silicon Valley located just south of the city—wrote Aug. 16 on X. “SF’s backward priorities and policies are deterring people from visiting.”

A loss of businesses and residents since the pandemic and a worsening budget outlook resulted in the mayor urging caution at advisory meetings this year and stressing the need for fiscal constraint in a letter to city department heads in October.

“We simply cannot wait until next year’s budget process to begin to address our growing structural deficit, which at this time, we project to be at least $500 million in Fiscal Year 2025-26 alone,” Ms. Breed wrote. “We also need to ensure that every dollar our city departments spend, either directly, or through contracted parties, is done so responsibly and with accountability.”

Travis Gillmore is an avid reader and journalism connoisseur based in California covering finance, politics, the State Capitol, and breaking news for The Epoch Times.