Morning Fizz

Should Sound Transit Subsidize Neighborhood Parking?

Caffeinated News featuring liberals vs. liberals.

By Josh Feit January 28, 2015

Caffeinated News

1. Liberals are lining up on opposite sides (kinda) of a bill in Olympia that would force Sound Transit to cover the costs of neighborhood parking permits.

"This bill is really a social justice bill," sponsor, state Sen. Bob Hasegawa (D-11, SE Seattle) said, introducing the bill at yesterday afternoon's senate transportation committee hearing, framing the legislation in a way that put opponents, other liberals, such as transit advocates from Transportation Choices Coalition and committee member Sen. Marko Liias (D-21, Mukilteo), on the defensive.

Hawegawa told the committee that his legislation would protect fixed, low-income, and largely immigrant communities along Martin Luther King Way and Beacon Hill in SE Seattle from a "financial hardship" that "was created by Sound Transit's construction."

Hasegawa is talking about "Hide and Ride." That's when suburban commuters drive into a neighborhood such as Rainier Beach or Othello, where, as the city decided, Sound Transit did not build parking lots, and find parking on residential streets before taking light rail downtown. This phenomenon causes parking woes for residents. To solve the problem, the city protected the local parking spots by creating Restricted Parking Zones where only neighbors can get parking stickers for the zone. However, the permits cost $32.50 a year, essentially making neighbors pay for something that used to be free before Sound Transit showed up.

"The problem is," Hasegawa summed up, "they are charging $60 [permits are sold for two year durations] per permit to park in your own neighborhood to mitigate an impact that was created by Sound Transit's construction there."

Critics of the legislation think "transit funding should not be used to subsidize parking."

Critics of the legislation, however, think "transit funding should not be used to subsidize parking," according to a letter TCC program director Shefali Ranganathan wrote to the committee yesterday, "diverting scarce transit dollars from transit service and other access programs to support parking."

That may sound merely like a philosophical gotcha, but there's a real policy problem. Ranganathan points out that a dictate on Sound Transit to subsidize parking ("the RTA [Regional Transit Authority] must pay for the zoned residential permits near the RTA facility," the bill mandates) will force Sound Transit to subsidize parking zones system wide, including in wealthier communities like Redmond, which undoes Sen. Hasegawa's social justice pitch. 

There are other problems with the bill as well—and I have a call in to the city which also signed in against the bill, but failed to testify. For example: The city already offers a low-income RPZ permit for $10. Moreover, rather than burdening Southeast Seattle, Sound Transit has built a major piece of infrastructure there, providing a cheaper, and potentially more efficient transportation alternative.  (Wouldn't it be more of an equity issue if light rail wasn't in lower-income neighborhoods?)

Wouldn't it be more of an equity issue if light rail wasn't in lower-income neighborhoods?

And Sen. Hasegawa's own testimony unwittingly laid out the flaw in subsidizing parking. He said: "You have many people living in one household, which means, many vehicles ... so a $60 per vehicle permit for the number of cars that are in these families is really just burdensome."

If families are investing in multiple cars, despite living in walking distance of light rail, it's hardly clear cut that ST should be subsidizing those cars; and moreover, $30 (or $5) a year is arguably not a "hardship" or "burdensome" for a family that is ponying up for several cars.

But still, with Hasegawa picking up liberal co-sponsors such as Seattle Sens. Pramila Jayapal (D-37, SE Seattle) and Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-36, Ballard) along with other lefty Democrats in the ST district, such as Sens. Maralyn Chase (D-32, Shoreline) and Karen Keiser (D-33, Kent), the opposition was muted yesterday. Despite signing into the hearing against the bill, a batch of opponents, including Sound Transit, didn't testify publicly. And Liias' testimony was pretty humble and ingratiating. "I just wanted to extend a hand in wanting to work on this issue," he told Sen. Hasegawa. "I appreciate the racial and economic equity argument is really strong, and so I hope we can work together on an approach that solves the problem."

"I have concerns about the current version," Liias, who helped kill the bill last year, actually told me after the hearing, though he remained gun shy: "but I think we can find a way to address the very legitimate concerns of low income residents in South Seattle."

2. The Seattle Times had the news earlier this week that Central District neighborhood activist Bill Bradburd is planning to run for the city council district nine position, one of the two at-large seats, against council incumbent Sally Clark.

And by activist, I mean Bradburd has been a vocal opponent of easing development guidelines in single family and mixed multi-family zones. ( Bradburd starred at a Spring 2013 PubliCola debate on microhousing.)

Nervous about Bradburd's appeal to anti-density voters, watch for Clark to push new Department of Planning and Development legislation scaling back legislation the council initially passed that had allowed more density in low-rise (LR3) zones.


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