Council members challenge fairness of late parking fees in neighborhoods
City Councilmembers question mayor’s decision to lower parking rates in International District and says data suggests it should be lowered in other neighborhoods as well.
Seattle Times staff reporter
At Gilda’s Club on Seattle’s Capitol Hill, the cancer support organization has seen attendance at its groups and lectures drop by about 40 percent since the city extended paid parking hours to 8 p.m. last year.
Cancer patients and their families used to park for free after 6 p.m. around the building at Broadway and East Union. Now it costs $4 an hour to park on the street.
“No one wants to come here in the evening,” said Anna Gottlieb, the founder of Gilda’s Club Seattle. “They’re sick. They’re not going to walk six blocks. They don’t want to pay ... for a free support group.”
Gottlieb was doubly upset when she read last month that Mayor Mike McGinn had ordered parking rates lowered in the Chinatown/International District after restaurant owners and community leaders complained that the evening rates were hurting business.
Now two City Council members, Tim Burgess and Tom Rasmussen, are questioning how one neighborhood got lower rates when the city’s own parking data suggest as many as 13 neighborhoods had parking demand that’s the same or lower than the International District’s.
“When we adopted new parking management approaches, we pledged to be consistent and fair to all neighborhoods,” said Burgess, who is running against McGinn for mayor. “If we’re going to do it in one neighborhood, we have to do it in all the others where the data show we should.”
In their Wednesday letter to McGinn, Burgess and Rasmussen say they are troubled by the apparently selective use of the city parking-rate policy. They said that using the city’s 2012 parking data, neighborhoods from Ballard to Uptown to South Capitol Hill should have their daytime parking rates lowered.
And they said the mayor and Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT), which monitors and adjusts the parking rates, said during budget presentations in the fall that it wouldn’t make any rate changes in 2013.
Peter Hahn, director of SDOT, responded Thursday in a letter to the City Council members that parking patterns in the International District showed heavy use in the business core but much less demand in the outlying parts of the neighborhood, and rates were adjusted accordingly.
Hahn said dividing the neighborhood into two areas with different rates is “wholly consistent” with what the city did in other neighborhoods. He said the city last year did lower the parking rates in outlying areas of Ballard, Uptown and South Capitol Hill.
“The decisions and changes we are making in The CID (Chinatown/International District) and other neighborhoods are not revenue-based. They are not arbitrary. They are data-driven, and grounded in the policies council adopted,” Hahn wrote.
The City Council, with the mayor’s support, adopted a market-rate parking policy in 2010 where rates change based on demand. The goal was to achieve one or two open parking spaces per block as a way to support neighborhood business districts and reduce carbon emissions by having fewer cars circling for parking.
In 2012, SDOT raised rates in some neighborhoods to $4 an hour and extended the paid time to 8 p.m. in eight neighborhoods, including Pioneer Square, Belltown and Capitol Hill.
Don Blakeney, executive director of the Chinatown/International District Business Improvement Area, said visitors to the neighborhood are down for a number of reasons, including streetcar construction along Jackson Street. But, he said, “the city made it clear that any changes to parking would be based on what the data showed about the demands for parking.”
Lower parking rates in one neighborhood has other neighborhoods questioning the fairness of the process.
“Our business folks are asking: ‘How do we get some relief?’ ” said Michael Wells, executive director of the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce. But he’s sympathetic to the city trying to balance parking availability with access to popular neighborhoods.
“I don’t think the city is just trying to get money. This is a dense urban neighborhood. We’ve got a streetcar coming. There’s a boom in car sharing. People are adjusting how they get around. But a lot of people still drive. How much should they have to pay to park here? We’re having active conversations.”
Lynn Thompson: firstname.lastname@example.org or 206-464-8305. On Twitter:@lthompsontimes