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Defying SDOT, Council Puts Parking Benefit District Back in Play

 1. The city council included an extra $150,000 for the Seattle Department of Transportation during this week’s big committee vote on Wednesday to approve next year’s budget. But SDOT may not be happy about the new money.

The $150,000 budget proviso directs SDOT to set up a “parking benefit district” pilot project. You may remember that SDOT director Scott Kubly and the mayor’s office had come out against the idea earlier this year.

A parking benefit district, initially one of the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda’s (HALA) recommendations, was enthusiastically supported by Capitol Hill Housing, the low-income housing group that’s added a green urban planning POV to its mission lately[1]. A PBD takes advantage of current SDOT policy, known as performance based parking[2], that prices parking according to demand and time of day, raising prices during crunch hours (and lowering them when there’s a lack of demand) and extending paid parking hours if spots in business districts remain crowded into the evening. The idea is to keep people moving in and out of spots to keep spots available; SDOT strives for nothing above an 80 percent occupancy rate on blocks around the city. The system is working well, according to SDOT, and, in fact, the budget—at SDOT’s request—already included extending parking hours and boundaries in popular places like Capitol Hill. The twist of a PDB, though, is that the new money that comes in from the extra hours and/or higher rates would go into a local neighborhood fund rather than going back to SDOT; the $37.04 million in existing parking revenues from existing rates and hours at the city’s current 12,250 paid spots would still go to the general fund.

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The idea behind a PBD is that it would invest neighbors in paid on-street parking rather than in off-street parking minimum requirements. Parking minimums raise the cost of development, and in turn, the cost of housing.

SDOT argues that parking policy shouldn’t be revenue driven and should only be about efficiency and management. They also argue that keeping money in high-demand neighborhoods like Capitol Hill isn’t equitable.

Supporters of PBDs argue that most of the money will continue to flow to the city, but that having the extra dollars from a PBD—say money from new metered parking late at night in Capitol Hill or on a block that hovers near the 80 percent occupancy rate, but isn’t part of SDOT’s paid program—will encourage more districts around the city to put a price on parking.

SDOT appeared to win the debate earlier this year[3], but budget chair Tim Burgess—a closet urbanist?—quietly added the idea to the budget during the recent budget deliberations.

The budget proviso specifically name checks Capitol Hill Housing and their “EcoDistrict” project—CHH’s name for its parade of ideas to turn the heart of Capitol Hill into a model of pedestrian friendly planning—and also extends the idea to residential parking zones.

2. Rebecca Saldaña, the executive director of the influential social justice advocacy group Puget Sound Sage, announced at Puget Sound Sage's annual fundraising event last night that she's going to run for the state senate seat recently vacated by state senator Pramila Jayapal (D-37, Southeast Seattle). Jayapal won her race to take retiring U.S. representative Jim McDermott's (D-WA, 7) seat in D.C.

3. Responding to the Seattle chamber’s critique of her proposal to charge businesses as a way to create a dedicated fund for the city’s Office of Labor Standards, city council member Lisa Herbold says her proposal does not have erratic rates. A legal memo arguing against the idea[4] claimed that the proposal broke down with different costs per employee, revealing that Herbold’s claim that the charge was regulatory in nature was bogus.

However, Herbold says that while her charge is not a per employee charge in the first place (it’s a tiered charge based on ranges of business size) when you do the math to break it down per employee it comes out the same charge per-employee ($9.28) regardless of what tier the business is in.  

Her office provide a chart of the proposal showing that the fee is consistent when broken down per employee. Simply divide the total revenue by the total number of employees in the tier.

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