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Originally published Saturday, October 12, 2013 at 9:44 PM

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Parking enforcers sink Capt. Dave

How could a floating farmers’ market get shut down over too many parking tickets? An “only in Seattle” kind of story.


Seattle Times staff columnist

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The City should be ashamed of its role in this extortion racket. If there are no wages... MORE
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In Seattle nobody is safe from parking enforcement. Apparently not even the boats.

Dave Petrich, of West Seattle, goes by the nickname “Captain Dave,” because mostly what he drives around town are boats. He runs maritime-history tours, restores wooden schooners and a few years back started the city’s first modern floating farmers’ market, called FarmBoat.

“I put old boats back to work,” Captain Dave likes to say.

Only FarmBoat itself is now out of work. The cause? Believe it or not: too many parking tickets.

The parking tickets are not even Dave’s. They were allegedly run up by one of the farmers who sold vegetables at the FarmBoat, a loose-knit floating market that used to convene every Thursday down on South Lake Union.

The vendor was a “good guy who helped us with marketing, but he’s kind of a vagabond, like a lot of people who sell at farmers’ markets,” Captain Dave says. Unknown to Dave, the vendor owed some $7,800 in back parking tickets, penalties and interest going back to 2003. This made him one of Seattle’s more sought-after “parking scofflaws.”

The city couldn’t find him. So they went after Captain Dave instead.

Last January, when the FarmBoat was closed for the winter, Captain Dave got a notice from the city’s collection agent demanding that FarmBoat garnishee the scofflaw’s wages to pay off the $7,800 debt. Captain Dave was baffled by this. He hadn’t seen the farmer in three months. Plus, as a volunteer community-type organization, FarmBoat had no employees. It never paid out wages to anyone.

“We just rent them stalls so they can sell their produce,” Captain Dave says. “There are no wages for the city to take.”

In fact, the scofflaw vendor paid his rental fee “by giving us leftover vegetables,” Dave says.

Once he figured out what was going on, Captain Dave called the city and the collection agent, explained that he was a nonprofit farmers’ market with no employees, and naturally common sense prevailed and the whole thing was dropped.

Just kidding. Captain Dave did do all that. But the collection agency pursued its legal claim against him anyway.

They placed a lien on both FarmBoat and Captain Dave personally. For eight months he’s tried to convince someone, anyone, that he shouldn’t be responsible for the bad parking habits of a guy who used to sell produce there.

It hasn’t worked. In email exchanges, the city’s manager for court payments essentially blamed Captain Dave for the mess, citing some untimely responses and also that Dave wouldn’t settle. The manager noted the collection agency offered to let Captain Dave off for only $500 — as if that’s some sort of screaming deal when you’re being asked to pay someone else’s parking tickets.

“FarmBoat Under Seige,” Captain Dave’s website says now.

The market has been closed for two months now due to the lien and legal threat. The irony of all this is that Captain Dave has devoted years to this notion that there’s a car-free, environmentally friendly way to transport locally grown food around the Sound in historical boats. It’s been sunk by, of all things, parking enforcement.

Captain Dave says he’s asked for help from city officials, to no avail. So I have an idea. Since the financial relationship between FarmBoat and the parking scofflaw was “leftover vegetables,” and since the city seems hell bent to extract some blood from this tiny turnip of a nonprofit market, how about Captain Dave loads up a few boats full of leftover tomatoes and squash — and I mean really left over — and trailers them down to City Hall?

Dump them right in the lobby. There, you got your garnishment, farmers-market style.

Danny Westneat’s column appears Wednesday and Sunday. Reach him at 206-464-2086 or dwestneat@seattletimes.com



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About Danny Westneat

Danny Westneat takes an opinionated look at the Puget Sound region's news, people and politics. Send tips or comments to dwestneat@seattletimes.com. His column runs Wednesday and Sunday.
dwestneat@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2086

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