Morning Fizz: "What a Weird Evening."
Caffeinated News & Gossip featuring a voice mail from the dead, a socialist for a monopoly, and audio after the gavel.
1. Let's start today's Fizz with a quick follow-up to yesterday's jaw-dropping gaffe from Mayor Ed Murray's office; in case you missed it, his office sent out a statement from Murray mourning the death of former Dept. of Neighborhoods Director Jim Diers (they'd mistaken Diers, who's alive and well, with former Gary Locke aide Joe Dear, who died of cancer this week.)
We weren't able to reach Diers yesterday afternoon, but he called us back late in the evening. His cheery voice mail informed us:
Just wanted to call and let you know I hadn't [not] returned your phone call because I was dead, but rather because I was teaching class, so I just got home from the UW. What a weird evening.
2. In a late-afternoon-turned-evening meeting packed with advocates for the taxi, for-hire, and ridesharing industries, the city council adopted new regulations last night on ridesharing, or Transit Network Companies, taxis, and for-hire vehicles.
TVW cuts off after Angel adjourned the meeting, but Fizz got the audio.
After weeks of looking like they were set to obliterate a sharing economy poster child like TNCs, an odd move for a techie, progressive, and increasingly ubanist city, the outcome was a pleasant surprise.
The biggest change from the previous proposals, which would have set a hard cap on the number of licenses the city would issue to ridesharing drivers, was an amendment by Sally Clark to instead cap the number of drivers active on any ridesharing network at any one time. In other words, the companies can sign up as many drivers as they want, but no more than 150 can be active at a given moment.
Initially, Clark proposed a cap of 200 active vehicles per ridesharing service (which would, in practical terms, currently work out to a max of 600 across Seattle's three ridesharing services); after a Jean Godden proposal to reduce that to 100 failed, Tom Rasmussen proposed a compromise of 150. That limit would allow 450 TNC cars on the streets at any one time.
It's ironic for Seattle's socialist council member, Sawant, to be voting in favor of preserving a monopoly.
The proposal, miraculously, passed 5-4. The final legislation then got five votes, with four council members—Kshama Sawant, Nick Licata, Bruce Harrell, and Mike O'Brien—abstaining.
Before it did, though, council members proposed limiting the total number of rideshare vehicles (not drivers) to 400. That proposal failed 4-5, with Licata, Harrell, O'Brien, and Sawant voting for those stricter limits. (This new social justice alliance is worried that the taxi industry, dominated by immigrants, is threatened by TNCs. Fizz must note that it's ironic for Seattle's socialist council member, Sawant, to be voting in favor of preserving a monopoly.)
O'Brien, a proponent of hard caps on the number of rideshare vehicles, though, said the caps would protect rideshare drivers from the rideshare companies, UberX and Lyft. " If we have unlimited [licenses], it's easy to imagine that there will be thousands of drivers, but 200 spots for each company, and the company could jack up the price and take a bigger cut."
On the other side of the debate were those arguing to eliminate caps altogether. That proposal failed 6-3, with Tim Burgess, Sally Bagshaw, and Tom Rasmussen voting in favor.
Rasmussen argued that taxis should improve their service instead of complaining about competition from new market entrants. "Seattle needs more transportation choices. I think services like Uber and Lyft are serving a need. ... If the taxi owners face fair and regulated competition from the TNCs, which I support, it's likely that they'll rise to the challenge and improve their service. ... The overwhelming reports we hear from the public is that they're very unhappy with taxi services." Rasmussen's comments elicited boos and cheers from the audience, in roughly equal measure.
Burgess chimed in: "I do not believe, as some of my colleagues apparently believe, that this is a zero sum game. The more services we make available, the more people are willing and able to make a living, the more people will be able to live in our city without having to have their own car or at least not have to use it as much."
We'll have more to say about last night's vote later today, but for now, one quick observation: The measure the council ultimately adopted looks like a canny compromise between the no-caps-at-all crowd (for whom we were admittedly rooting) and the shut-'em-down contingent (whose strict caps would likely have ended ridesharing as we know it.)
We don't know how Sally Clark threaded that needle, but her compromise seems like the best of both worlds: Let the free market function, but put protections in place so that the taxi industry's worst-case scenario (a for-hire market overwhelmed by new competition) can't happen.
The other changes were less controversial, but all good measures to help level the playing field between TNCs, traditional for-hire cars, and taxis. The new rules will: require drivers to carry $1 million in commercial insurance from the moment they turn on their ridesharing apps and make themselves available to pick up customers; allow for-hire vehicles to pick up hails on the street (but not line up in queues at hotels and the airport); add 75 more taxi licenses per year for two years; and allow cabs licensed only in King County to pick up passengers from companies with which they have a business contract.
(The TNCs, it should be noted, don't like the new rules and say they will still put them out of business.)
3. Both Democrats and Republicans on the state senate housing committee were stunned yesterday afternoon when Sen. Jan Angel (R-26, Port Orchard), the Republican chair of the committee, adjourned the meeting before taking up a bill that had passed the house with solid bipartisan support and to which Angel herself had given a "Do Pass" recommendation earlier in the session.
Irony alert: Tom famously defended his failure to pass the pro-choice Reproductive Parity Act last year by blaming it on his committee chair, saying that even though he was the senate leader, his MO was to defer to committee chairs when it came to moving bills. Not so with getting $68 million a biennium to help the homeless, apparently.
The bill, supported by low-income advocates, would have re-instituted two housing transaction document fees, totaling $40, that funds low-income housing programs. Most of that $40 is slated to sunset in 2015 ($10) and 2017 (another $20). The Democratic house version, sponsored by Rep. David Sawyer (D-29, Tacoma), lifted the sunset permanently, and a compromise crafted by Republicans in the senate trying to please Realtors (and signed off on by Democrats, including senate-side sponsor Sen. Steve Hobbs) extended the sunset out to 2020.
All good. Or so the Democrats—and GOP supporters such as housing committee member Sen. Don Benton (R-17, Vancouver), who came up with the compromise—thought.
Conspiracy theories abound about why Angel tabled the bill yesterday, which was committee cutoff day, by the way: But mainly, word is Sen. Rodney Tom (D-48, Medina), head of the Republican-dominated Majority Coalition Caucus, wanted the bill killed to snub ardent low-income housing advocate and speaker of the house Rep. Frank Chopp (D-43, Wallingford).
Bill co-sponsor Sen. Hobbs tells Fizz: "Tom told me and Sen. Benton that he told Angel to stop the bill in committee." (Irony alert: Tom famously defended his failure to pass the pro-choice Reproductive Parity Act last year by blaming it on his socially conservative committee chair, saying even though he was the senate leader, his MO was to defer to committee chairs when it came to moving bills. Hmmmm. Not so with getting an estimated $68 million a biennium to help the homeless, apparently.
"To abruptly adjourn this meeting without protecting the homeless really, really bothers me, and it will affect those who need a voucher just for housing over their head on a cold day." —Sen. Sharon NelsonSpeaking of Sen. Hobbs, and adding more to Tom's slap at the Democrats: Tom recently orchestrated freshman Sen. Angel's ascension as co-chair of the housing committee (which explains why she was happy—eager, according to some—to kill the bill), demoting Hobbs, who had been sole chair.
"I'm baffled as to why Tom wanted to kill this bill," Hobbs concludes. "It was bipartisan. And wasn't that why the MCC was formed?"
And speaking of bipartisanship: Benton was also agitated after Angel abruptly adjourned the meeting. When you've got Republican Benton and the Democratic senate minority leader, Sen. Sharon Nelson (who's also on the housing committee and was shocked that the bill was tabled), allied against senate leader Tom, it's clear MCC control is facing a backlash.
TVW cuts off after Angel adjourned the meeting, but Fizz got the audio—go to the 1:03:50 mark—and you'll hear Sen. Benton complain (first), Sen. Hobbs complain (next), and Sen. Nelson, drawing loud applause, concluding: "To abruptly adjourn this meeting without protecting the homeless really, really bothers me, and it will affect those who need a voucher just for housing over their head on a cold day."