1. The idea of establishing a Parking Benefits District pilot project on Capitol Hill got a cool reception from SDOT and transportation committee chair Mike O’Brien yesterday.
The idea, being pushed by housing non-profit Capitol Hill Housing, is to implement new parking meter fees in Capitol Hill above and beyond the current 8am-to-8pm, Monday-Saturday, $2-$4, two-hour limit rules there. For example, how about charging after 8pm on Saturday night, charging on Sunday, and raising rates to $4.50 at crunch times? That extra, new revenue—as opposed to the $7.26 million in general fund revenues the city already gets from Capitol Hill’s paid spaces per year—would go to neighborhood projects instead, according to the CHH proposal.
The pilot is a chance to test out the idea for the whole city with a larger, citywide policy purpose in mind: Give neighborhoods a vested interest in paid parking, which in turn, builds political support for getting rid of parking minimums in new developments. The theory there, made famous by UCLA parking policy guru Donald Shoup, is that parking policy is connected to affordable housing policy. In short: building new housing without parking, lowers the cost of housing. Neighbors are traditionally antsy about building new housing without parking, but turning parking into a revenue stream by socializing the costs and the revenues could reverse that sentiment.
Making the case against the proposal, SDOT director Scott Kubly, SDOT parking policy staffer Mike Estey, and Mayor Murray budget director Ben Noble, told the committee that A) SDOT’s parking program was “data driven not revenue driven” (meaning, they manage parking and set paid rates and times based on demand not the need for revenue) and that B) earmarking parking revenue in one district like Capitol Hill wasn’t an equitable approach to city dollars.
Committee member Rob Johnson, who supports the Parking Benefits District proposal, was skeptical about the supposed neutrality of SDOT’s data driven approach. “I’ve got to jump in here,” he said. “We know we’ve got major [parking] occupancy issues in places where we’ve got nightlife where we don’t charge for parking after 8pm—Pioneer Square, Capitol Hill, Belltown, Ballard…”
(Heads up Capitol Hill Seattle blog: In response to Johnson, budget director Ben Noble jumped in to say the mayor’s new budget would propose charging for parking after 8pm “in some areas…we are getting there.”)
Johnson, who noted at the hearing that he had a degree from UCLA in parking management where he studied with Shoup, wasn't impressed: “Okay. But we’ve known that. Those problems aren’t new. Those problems have been a ‘data need’ since 2010. I just want to daylight here, having a data driven approach would lead us to different policy conclusions like implementations of extensions.”
As for the equity argument: The CHH proposal is talking about new dollars. In short: this is money that isn’t currently in the budget at all; the $37.04 million in existing parking revenues from the 12,250 paid spots, would still go to the general fund. ($23 million of that comes from downtown.)
And Johnson suggested that new parking benefits district money could certainly be divvied up with only a portion remaining earmarked for the neighborhood.
Johnson told me: “SDOT’s approach is so data heavy that it ignores the political opportunity created by PBDs to reduce housing costs and increase funding for projects neighborhoods want but we currently can’t or don’t pay for.”
Editorializing here: The point about housing costs exposes how narrow minded SDOT’s assessment is. SDOT is completely missing the interdisciplinary approach the city needs to deal with the affordable housing crisis.
And if I may editorialize some more:
Bad showing from Mayor Murray, who is abandoning yet another one of his Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) recommendations; he too is bailing on the connection—spelled out in his own HALA report and unanimously approved, see pages 40 and Appendix F-7)—between housing costs and parking.
Bad showing for District Three (Capitol Hill, Central District) council member Kshama Sawant, who spoke out against the proposal at yesterday’s committee meeting, noting only that parking taxes are regressive. Okay, but explicitly identifying the cost of parking at the larger level is actually progressive—especially when it’s about lowering housing prices. More important for Sawant: this proposal is coming from the super engaged, affordable housing non-profit Capitol Hill Housing (they testified in favor of the proposal at yesterday’s hearing.) CHH is one of the most progressive, organizing forces in Sawant’s district; they are currently organizing a renters’ summit this weekend. It’s disappointing that Sawant isn’t throwing her weight behind the group’s urbanist proposal that squares with her district’s housing, parking, pedestrian, and local project needs.
Bad showing for supposed green council member Mike O’Brien. At its core, the Parking Benefits District proposal is about creating a more walkable, environmentally friendly Jane Jacobs neighborhood—an Eco District, as CHH has tagged it.
A popular light rail station just opened in Capitol Hill; ST is now hitting 80,000 light rail boardings a day versus 30,000 before the station was added to the mix in March. If supposed Green O’Brien, supposed transit big thinker Murray, and SDOT itself, can’t capitalize on that major public transit investment by tying Capitol Hill to policies that dovetail with a transit oriented development approach, voters certainly have to question the city’s progressive rhetoric around affordability and livability.
My sense: SDOT and the mayor’s budget office are being territorial about revenue and don’t want to give neighborhoods that kind of control over spending. What they’re missing with that petulant mindset? An opportunity to get neighborhoods invested in the fight for affordable housing.
2. Meanwhile, some reading recommendations:
My Seattle Met colleague Kathryn Robinson published a great editorial in this month's mag on light rail.
Here's an excerpt:
I have lived here my whole life, and light rail is the first civic advancement I can remember—more than the ’90s revival of downtown, more than the Seahawks’ Super Bowl win, more than Din Tai Fung opening three restaurants here—that’s felt genuinely game changing. Sure, it’s about speed. It’s also about democracy, enhancing lives across the demographic spectrum. Say, an underserved young man in Rainier Valley whose neighborhood got light rail first, allowing him to ride it daily to Seattle Central, and now to his job downtown. Or Bryant retirees who may never use it, but whose lives it will improve—by taking cars off the road, by providing an emergency alternate, by raising property values—just as if they did.
Erica C. Barnett takes a critical look at the (otherwise lauded) heroin task force recommendations.
And, I'm happy to report that my twitter plea to help me add female voices to the site worked. (I've been running a lot of guest opinion pieces lately, but they've predominantly been by white men.)
Yesterday afternoon, I published a must-read piece by Puget Sound Sage program director Ubax Gardheere where she calls for action, not just words, when it comes to racial justice in the city's budgeting and planning.