The city council, wrapping up its daylong budget meeting, outlined the changes it plans to make to Mayor Mike McGinn's proposed transportation budget. The council:
• Agreed to increase the city's maximum meter parking rates, though not to the $5 level McGinn proposed. Instead, the council agreed to increase the citywide ceiling to $4 (currently, it's $2.50) and do an evaluation of street parking occupancy around the city; the goal of that study would be to establish a parking rate where about 85 percent of on-street parking would be full at any time (or, put another way, that one or two spaces would be open on every block). It would be up to the mayor and city transportation department to set the specific rates in every neighborhood.
Currently, council member Mike O'Brien said, the price for parking in many neighborhoods "is just too low, and you can't find" a spot. Council transportation chair Tom Rasmussen said he avoided neighborhoods like Capitol Hill because it's just too hard to find parking there. However, council budget chair Jean Godden objected to raising rates, calling Seattle's current parking rates "terribly, outrageously high, more expensive than anywhere in the country."
• Decided (though by no means unanimously) against charging for parking on Sundays, a proposal that would have raised about $1.6 million over the next two years. Council member Nick Licata said it would "behoove" the council, at a time when so many other fees are going up, "to cut the public some slack by not charging" for parking on Sundays. "I know people appreciate having a holiday, and I would feel a little like a Grinch taking away this one holiday." However, both Rasmussen and Burgess said the council needed to be open to charging for parking on Sundays. "We need to have this [decision] be data-based so that we serve our parking management and traffic management policies in the most informed manner possible, rather than [making parking decisions based on] simply sentiment," Rasmussen said.
• As PubliCola first reported in mid-October, the city plans to start placing immobilizing "boots" on cars owned by people who have failed to pay four or more parking tickets in a row, a proposal that would net the city an estimated $2.9 million over the next two years. Those who fail to return a booting device within 48 hours would be subject to criminal prosecution.
Some council members expressed concerns about educating the public on the new program, which would require people whose cars are booted to pay their fine, remove the boot themselves, and return it to one of four designated locations. "We need to make [the return policy] really clear to people, because I can see someone just leaving it on the curb," council president Richard Conlin said. Licata also expressed concerns about making it easier for people to return boots or have them removed by the city (if, for example, the 16-pound device is too heavy for someone to lift). And O'Brien said he would want to make sure the new policy didn't disproportionately target low-income people, non-English speakers, and people of color.
Burgess was less sympathetic. "I'm all for an education effort, but remember, these people have gone through an education effort four times already," he said, referring to the number of unpaid tickets required before a car can be booted.
• Rejected McGinn's proposal to increase the commercial parking tax, currently 10 percent, to 17.5 percent, raising about $19 million over the next two years. Instead, the council will increase the tax to 12.5 percent and implement a new vehicle-license fee of $20. The mayor has proposed funding his Walk Bike Ride programs, which include things like sidewalks, bike paths, and pedestrian lighting, by raising the parking tax. Council president Richard Conlin said that although "there's nothing necessarily wrong with increasing the commercial parking tax per se .... there is a tremendous amount of nervousness in our downtown" about the prospect that a higher tax would drive customers to the suburbs and prevent people from opening businesses there.
Although council president Richard Conlin---referring to the fact that McGinn has so far declined to suggest where the council should cut if it doesn't fund his proposed parking tax increase---said McGinn "made it clear that his lowest priorities were the ones that are being funded with [the parking tax increase]," that's not exactly true. Although McGinn did say he wanted the parking tax to pay for the Walk Bike Ride initiative, he never said that initiative was his lowest priority; he merely declined to tell the council what his priorities were. (In a letter to the council yesterday, McGinn again insisted that cutting the parking tax meant cutting specific programs---something council members and staff have vehemently denied is the case). The council could decide to cut elsewhere and fund Walk Bike Ride instead. However, they seem unlikely to do so---prompting both Licata and O'Brien to express disappointment in their colleagues' "priorities."
"If we accept these cuts, we will be pushing back [the pedestrian and bike master plans] even further," Licata said. "I would encourage council members to think again about whether the [parking tax] could be nudged up a bit to take into account some of these really pressing needs." O'Brien added that viewed in the context of a $300 million-plus transportation budget, the $20 million proposed for pedestrian and biking programs "is really just a drop in the bucket. ... It's hard to tell the public that these are our top priorities."
The council did, through the license fee, add back some funding to work on South Park Bridge replacement, to clean up homeless encampments, to implement the Transit Master Plan, and to increase the neighborhood street fund.
• Raised a number of other fees, including fees for residential parking zone permits, street use permits, truck permits, and permits for utility companies to cut in to city streets.
Want even more city budget information? Hundreds of pages of details await you here.
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