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David Kim needed a place in San Francisco to park the six cars he lists on RelayRides, an Airbnb-type service that lets people rent their personal autos to others over the Internet.
So it was only natural that he made a deal with SpotOn Parking, which lets San Francisco homeowners and businesses rent out their driveways, garages and parking lots when not in use.
SpotOn says it is different from apps that help drivers find spots on the street or in garages because it is trying to increase the supply of parking in the city.
“We have three sources of inventory,” says Hanna Bui, who was a technology lawyer before starting SpotOn last year.
One is homeowners who rent out their driveways or garages.
Another is commercial lots that normally close at night because no attendant is on duty.
The biggest is businesses, churches, schools and other establishments that rent out their lots when not in use.
SpotOn has access to more than 500 spaces in San Francisco, Bui says.
There are two payment models. With the hourly model, drivers use a smartphone app to find an empty spot, check in, check out and pay with their credit card. The price is usually $2.50 to $3.50 per hour with a $10 to $12 maximum for 12 hours.
With an “all you can park” subscription, drivers pay a monthly fee for a guaranteed spot near their home or office, although it might not be the same spot every time.
The monthly fee varies by neighborhood and ranges from $150 in the Mission District to $400 in North Beach. Subscribers can use any other SpotOn space for free when they are out and about.
The company generally takes a 30 percent cut of parking revenue.
SpotOn has yet to deal with San Francisco’s permit regulations or 25 percent parking tax. The company is working on that, says Bui.
Carrie Busch stumbled upon SpotOn when she was taking her stepsons trick-or-treating at Fair Oaks, a Halloween hotspot. “There was no way I was going to get parking there,” she says. “I saw a sign for SpotOn at a church. I downloaded the app and paid $2.50 to park. It saved my life.”
Since then she has used SpotOn once every week or two, usually when she visits the Mission on a Saturday night.
Kim uses the subscription model. He pays a flat $500 a month for a place in North Beach plus space for his rental fleet on the Third Baptist Church parking lot in the Western Addition.
Kim says he didn’t need, and couldn’t afford, six full-time spots for his cars. “They usually get rented out two-thirds of the month,” he says. The downside is that he must find other parking when the church has services, funerals or other events.
Bui says Kim got a good deal because he’s a RelayRides renter and SpotOn wants more of them.
Third Baptist makes about 40 spaces available to SpotOn, says Preston Turner, chairman of the church board. He says the program “has been a win-win for our neighbors and our church.” The “donations” from renters help fund church programs. More importantly, the church is “networking and building a rapport” with people who might never come through its doors.
Down the street from Third Baptist, the Jerusalem Church of God in Christ rents about 22 spaces through SpotOn and receives about $1,700 a month from the service. “I don’t think God has called us to be a parking lot,” pastor Scott Galbraith says, but “it underwrites a lot of what we are doing.” Plus it’s a lot easier than holding “cakewalks, chicken dinners, candy sales.”
Of course, no good deed in San Francisco goes unpunished.
The city has strict laws governing parking lot operators. “Operators have to get a police permit, get a bond; it’s highly regulated,” says Greg Kato, policy and legislative manager for the Office of the Treasurer-Tax Collector.
Even if you rent out your driveway once a year, “you are supposed to have a certificate of authority from the tax collector’s office and a police permit, which means there has been a referral from the Planning Department saying it is a permitted use, which it probably isn’t,” he says. In most residential areas, there is a blanket restriction on commercial activities, including parking.
There is a streamlined permit process for property owners who lease 10 or fewer parking spots attached to or associated with their building on a monthly basis. This would not apply to people who rent spots on an hourly or daily basis, however. Nor does it create a new exemption to the city’s parking tax.
The tax applies to virtually all off-street parking, except for spots that come with an apartment or hotel room and storage of an active-duty service member’s car. There is also an exemption for certain volunteer-run fundraisers on San Francisco school-district property.
The tax is 25 percent, but it is not broken out on the receipt. If you pay $10 to park, $8 goes to the operator and $2 goes to the city.
Bui says SpotOn wants to become the “central place” where parking-space owners can apply for permits and pay taxes. “We have started making contacts with the city,” she says, but wanted to wait until SpotOn had built community support.
The Mission Merchants Association is on board, says Amy Morris, the group’s president. “It’s a great entrepreneurial concept,” and could help alleviate the parking shortage in the Mission.
Al Casciato, a retired San Francisco Police Department captain who worked in parking and traffic, is also a fan. “A lot of accidents occur because people are driving around looking for a place,” he says. He’s considering an investment in the company.
SFPD Chief Greg Suhr met with SpotOn and “is supportive of any creative solutions that might affect traffic safety,” says Danielle Newman, a spokeswoman for the department. “He feels this is one of those possibly creative solutions. That being said, there are quite a few hurdles in city government … that they will have to go through before this becomes a reality.”
Other companies are using technology to solve parking problems. ParkNow, owned by BMW, helps users find and book spots in participating garages. ParkingMonkey lets people buy a spot on a public street from someone who is leaving it. The city is not sure if this is legal.
Outside Lands plans
ParkPlease, which specializes in event parking, is not operating at the moment, but founder Charlie Ansanelli plans to bring it online for the Outside Lands festival.
The city’s pilot project, SFpark, lets users find open spots and rates at street meters and in city-owned garages. But the street sensors were shut off at the end of last year because their batteries were running out. The app still displays rates at meters and garages and availability in garages.
Bui says the company most like SpotOn is Parkatmyhouse.com, which is popular in the United Kingdom.
Kathleen Pender is a San Francisco Chronicle columnist. Net Worth runs Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. E-mail: email@example.com Blog: http://blog.sfgate.com/pender Twitter: @kathpender ___