Friday Extra Fizz: Sharing Cars, Vacating Alleys, and Restricting Signs
Extra fizz: City hall edition.
1. Car2Go, the one-way carsharing service that allows members to pick up SmartCars and drop them off at their destination, will pay the city $183,000 to "true up" the parking costs it owes to the city for 2013, according to the office of city council transportation chair Tom Rasmussen.
Car2Go (contrary to frequent complaints from carsharing opponents who say its members unfairly "park for free") actually paid the city $1,130 for each of its 500 cars last year to reimburse the government for the price of parking its members used. (The cost of parking is included in the price of membership.)
Looks like Car2Go drivers ended up using more parking than the company initially budgeted for. The additional payment will increase Car2Go's 2013 parking costs from around $665,000 to around $848,000—an increase of about 27.5 percent. We have a message out to Car2Go to find out whether the increased costs will impact their interest in operating, or expanding service, in Seattle.
2. Next Tuesday at 9:30am, the city council's transportation committee will take up a controversial proposal to vacate (sell) an alley for the development of a Whole Foods-anchored mixed-use development on what is currently an empty lot .
The development became news during last year's election campaign, when then-mayor Mike McGinn, whose campaign benefited from tens of thousands of dollars in independent expenditures by a committee funded by the United Food and Commercial Workers, the grocery workers' union, opposed the alley vacation.
UFCW's problem with Whole Foods is that they aren't unionized and don't guarantee a living wage. McGinn argued that wages should be considered among the "public benefits" private companies must provide in exchange for alley vacations; currently, those benefits are limited to things like pedestrian safety, mobility, and loading access for trucks.
McGinn's loss has not ended the issue for the union; they're still lobbying the council to deny the vacation unless Whole Foods agrees to pay living wages.
If the council does agree to let Whole Foods build over the alley, it will be on a conditional basis; the final approval won't come until years in the future, after the development (which, incidentally, would replace a gas station and defunct car lot with nearly 400 new apartments) has been built.
3. On Thursday, the council's housing committee moved closer to restricting the massive signs that have sprouted on the sides of buildings throughout the city, requiring smaller signs, restricting what products or services can be advertised on walls, and raising the fine for violations. However, they also seemed to be leaning toward looser restrictions on the size of wall signs that will be allowed. And they were open to allowing much larger signs on huge facilities like Safeco Field, where a small sign for the Mariners would be dwarfed by the size of the building.
The potential changes would: Triple the fine for violations; allow signs no larger than 672 square feet; allow big facilities like Safeco to have larger signs than the 672-foot limit; and ban advertisers from skirting the rules by providing coupons or kiosks in the buildings where they advertise.
Currently, the city bans new billboards, but does allow ads on buildings for products or services that are actually available inside a building. Ad companies have been able to skirt those rules by providing coupons through unrelated companies inside a building, or by setting up kiosks with links to the company's web site on the premises. Additionally, the size of ads has ballooned, to the point that many are almost as tall as the buildings they're plastered on. Advertisers, meanwhile, have ignored the daily $500 fine for violating the city's sign code, seeing it as the nominal cost of doing business.
The changes the council is considering would: Triple the daily fine for violations to $1,500; allow signs no larger than 672 square feet (the current maximum size of a large off-premise billboard); allow big facilities like KeyArena and Safeco to have larger signs than the 672-foot limit; ban advertisers from skirting the rules by providing coupons or kiosks in the buildings where they advertise.
Additionally, they'll consider requiring more permanent materials for signs (many existing signs are essentially giant posters made of vinyl); setting a minimum distance between signs on a building, so that buildings couldn't be cluttered with lots of small signs; and setting a maximum height for wall signs. The committee will take up the proposed rules again on March 20.