On Monday, Seattle City Council Chambers were packed with supporters organized by Kshama Sawant to support her budget amendments to address homelessness, establish a new LGBTQ community center on Capitol Hill and fund a municipal broadband pilot. Public comment lasted nearly an hour. I was there to track the progress of two specific amendments that will help advance EcoDistrict goals around parking.
The Council uses Green Sheets to modify the Mayor’s proposed budget by increasing or decreasing spending for specific programs and services. In the case of GS 100-1-A-2, a green sheet sponsored by Tim Burgess, the Council voted to add $20,000 to the SDOT budget to address regulatory barriers to shared parking and develop design guidelines for off-street parking garages to encourage sharing. This work is recommended by our report published this summer. In the grand scheme of things (i.e., a proposed $5.1 billion City budget), $20,000 isn’t much money, but this is a very tactical investment in better use of off-street parking.
The Council uses Statements of Legislative Intent (SLIs) for a variety of purposes, including calling for a study of a new concept or approach. SLI 100-2-A-1 is a very exciting step towards creating Parking Benefit Districts in Seattle. Also sponsored by Burgess, this is a direct response to a recommendation out of the HALA report.
What are Parking Benefit Districts?
Parking Benefit Districts are a way for neighborhoods to directly benefit from the money collected at parking meters. In Seattle, every dollar that a motorist plugs into a meter goes to the City’s general fund. This is an important part of the City’s budget and the lion’s share of meter revenue needs to be centrally collected to insure that every neighborhood sees some benefit. However, there is also a strong argument for at least some meter revenue staying local to support the neighborhood where it’s collected.
Donald Shoup, parking guru out of UCLA, explains it this way: “A Parking Benefit District offers non-residents the option of paying a fair market price to park (rather than simply prohibiting them from parking), and it offers neighborhood residents public revenues derived from non-residents.” (see more from Shoup on the subject here.)
In other words, people coming into Capitol Hill to enjoy its many attractions, especially the nightlife, can help to pay for improving the neighborhood for the many residents that call the Hill their home.
Parking Benefit Districts are a priority for HALA member Alan Durning, director of Sightline. When asked how parking fits into an affordable housing agenda, Durning replied: “Parking requirements increase the cost of housing and decrease its supply, making it dramatically less affordable. Moving Seattle away from parking mandates toward better management of its existing parking spaces is an essential component of HALA’s plan for affordability.”
Durning contends, as do we, that creating a parking benefit district on Capitol Hill is part of a suite of parking reforms to counteract the parking territoriality (and resultant costs) rampant not just on our neighborhood streets, but across the City. More from Durning:
“Curb parking, it seems, is the stuff of neighborhood psy-ops. It brings out the crazy in people. And that fact—our intense, animalistic territoriality about curb parking—is among the fundamental realities of urban politics. It’s a root cause, I argue, of most of what’s wrong with how cities manage parking. And much is wrong with how cities manage parking. Consequently, somehow defusing or counteracting this territoriality could release a cascade of good news, if it allows cities to manage parking better. Parking policy is a secret key to solving urban problems ranging from housing affordability to traffic, from economic vitality to carbon pollution—plus a snarl of other ills. Parking reform is that important…” – Sightline, 2013
I should note that the SLI passed by Council this week does not actually set up a parking benefit district on Capitol Hill or anywhere else. It simply instructs SDOT to examine the legal and political hurdles to parking benefit districts and recommend a path forward to pilot a parking benefit district on Capitol Hill. This is a critical baby step. Look for the announcement of an actual pilot sometime next year.