Proposed parking increases get cold reception from council

I wrote the following story for Real Change this week. You should buy a copy from your neighborhood vendor if you haven’t already.

The mayor’s proposed budget contains a lot of cuts. The budget’s flip side is fee increases, which will be felt all around the city, from utility hikes to increases in cat license fees. But people parking their cars downtown are among the most-targeted for fee increases under the mayor’s proposal.

In addition to the City Council’s increase in the commercial parking tax this summer, which will generate revenue for the Alaskan Way seawall project, McGinn’s budget includes another increase to the commercial parking tax and increases to both on-street parking costs and hours of enforcement. But some councilmembers, including Tom Rasmussen, Chair of the Transportation Committee, have responded to the mayor’s proposed new revenue streams with skepticism.

“When we passed the commercial parking tax this summer, a couple councilmembers said we were not going to increase it past that,” said Rasmussen. So what about the parking meter rate increases?

“I’m not enthusiastic about that at all,” he said. Rasmussen expressed interest in increasing the meter hours of enforcement, but he said costs of on-street parking should be used not as a revenue tool, but as a way of ensuring short-term parking turnover. If people parking for longer periods of time feed the meters on the street instead of using the garages, then meter rates should be raised to urge them into garages, he said. But using meters to increase city revenue is a “questionable” practice and could give people a reason not to shop at downtown businesses, he said.

Meter rates will go from $2.50 per hour to $4 downtown and will go up 50 cents in other parts of the city under the mayor’s plan. Paid parking hours will be extended two hours to 8 p.m. and Sundays will no longer be excepted.

“These changes move on-street parking fees closer to market rates and will also reduce congestion and carbon emissions caused by vehicles searching for parking spots,” says the official budget proposal from the mayor’s office. It is common for garages to charge as much as $10 for the first half hour of parking. The city also has a policy that states parking rates should encourage open spaces on every block.

SDOT completed a study of available parking and determined that parking during peak weekday hours is nearly full at the current rate. Changing rates to $4 per hour downtown is projected change occupancy by 10 percent while also raising revenue for the city.

Meanwhile, the mayor’s budget includes $13 million in new funding for walking, bicycling and transit projects over two years. Of the $5 million budgeted for 2011, about 44 percent would go to pedestrian projects, 27 percent would go to bicycle projects, and the rest would be split between funding projects like the transit master plan and the South Park Bridge, according to a breakdown by online news site Publicola.

If the Council chooses not to support the new mayor’s proposed parking revenue, there will need to be further spending cuts from the budget, said Rasmussen.

“We may have to delay some projects,” he said. He said he is wary of raising parking costs during a recession. “I think we should take these kinds of increases to the voters,” he said, suggesting a public referendum would be more appropriate than the mayor’s increases.

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