December 11, 2002

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Paradise lost
DMV gates long-used Fell Street parking lot

By Corbett Miller

The recently closed gates to the Department of Motor Vehicles parking lot at 1377 Fell have finally reopened. And it may have taken an act of God – or, at the very least, the Baptists – to do it.

However, if you're not a member of the Mt. Zion Baptist Church, you still may not get in.

The gates, officially locked during nonbusiness hours since Nov. 15, have prevented desperate residents from using the long-available lot as a last-ditch place to find overnight- and weekend-parking salvation.

And when parishioners of the Mt. Zion Baptist Church at 1321 Oak showed up the following Sunday to find their usual parking lot locked, well, all hell broke loose. The church's pastor, Rev. Ed Watkins, had to act fast, for fear his growing congregation would find other places to worship. "My people had another song to sing," Watkins said.

According to DMV spokesperson Armando Bopello, problems with cars being left during business hours and trash being dumped in the lot led to the decision by DMV headquarters in Sacramento to lock the gates.

With 128 parking spots, 40 employees, and hundreds of customers, the DMV was already a parking nightmare, Bopello said. Saturdays became especially bad once the DMV changed its hours to be open only one Saturday a month. On Saturday, July 20, 54 parking citations were issued; the next open Saturday, 78 were issued.

Watkins and DMV office manager Evangeline Grant were able to strike a deal to get the lot opened on Sunday, but strictly for Mt. Zion parishioners. "I asked, if it was going to be locked, what kind of arrangements could be made," Watkins said.

Though Watkins has been able to secure only a week-to-week agreement with the DMV, the arrangement is still better than anything the rest of the neighborhood has gotten from the department.

At a time when parking availability in San Francisco is at an all-time low, a state agency pulling its parking lot out of circulation has left some residents feeling shortchanged.

"That's great if they want to make it into a pay lot, but it shouldn't be a special-interest thing," said Michelle Mongan, who can see the DMV lot from her Fell Street apartment.

According to Bopello, the DMV is open to the idea of groups using the lot as a one-time deal, as long as they follow the same rules as Mt. Zion does. That includes providing security personnel, trash detail, and the assurance that all cars will be promptly removed at the end of the event.

To find out more about using the DMV's lot, contact DMV office manager Evangeline Grant, 1377 Fell, S.F. (415) 557-3168.