Council passes parking ordinance

This afternoon, the City Council passed into law an ordinance revising requirements for off-street vehicle and bicycle parking.

Here’s my summary of the bill as it passed out of committee two weeks ago.

As promised, Council member Herbold re-introduced a revised form of an amendment that previously had failed in committee. It would give the city more flexibility to mitigate parking impacts for new development projects where there otherwise would not be minimum parking requirements for the project (in urban villages within a 10-minute walk of frequent transit service) and where current parking utilization is above 85%. Her revised version of the amendment prioritized several mitigation options that SDCI could utilize, with “additional parking” at the bottom of the list.

Herbold’s amendment was discussed at both Council Briefing this morning and at Full Council this afternoon. In between, Herbold further revised it to remove one of the mitigation options: increasing restrictions on a Restricted Parking Zone (RPZ) program. In both the morning and afternoon cases, she made her best effort to present it as giving the city more flexibility since not all neighborhoods are the same — and even quoted from critiques of anti-parking guru Donald Shoup that call him out for not incorporating neighborhood-specific context into his recommendations.

It didn’t help. She only managed to attract support from Council President Harrell; the other six Council members present (Sawant was absent) voted against her amendment. For most of them, the argument was simple: they want to create more affordable housing, and anything that could add to the cost of new housing (like building parking) is a bad idea. Council member Johnson, the bill’s sponsor, summed it up: “I think it’s unfair to have a city where parking is abundant and free, and housing is scarce and expensive.” He also noted that the bill’s loosening of parking requirements is narrowly applied to urban villages near frequent transit, which in the Council’s vision (and in the Comprehensive Plan) is intended to be “transit-oriented development” for people who don’t own vehicles. But Council member O’Brien took it further: while recognizing “the outcry from many in the community,” he said, “The work on climate that we’re doing and the protection of off-street parking are mutually exclusive… This bill is going to pass, because you have elected a Council that is committed to do climate work.” O’Brien went on to comment on how he would approach reform to on-street parking, a topic he expects to take on later this year, noting that he would not support policies that give preference to some people over others (such as RPZs for homeowners but not renters).

The final bill, unchanged from the version passed out of committee, passed by a 7-1 vote; Herbold voted no, criticizing the lack of flexibility the likes of which the Council had written into tenant and labor ordinances. “Our cities are made of people who don’t always fit into our models of how we want the world to be,” she said.

Johnson issued a press release after the vote praising the passage of the bill — and even including a statement from Donald Shoup.



  1. CM Herbold appears to be the only CM interested in trying to represent her constituents rather than pursuing a personal dogmatic agenda. It is noteworthy that Shoup’s comment speaks of not making others pay for someone else’s parking, yet once parking is unbundled from rent (as is required automatically when a builder provides less than 1 space per unit) only those that wish to own cars will pay for parking.

    The Council meeting was incredibly depressing. Not one CM other than Herbold expressed an interest in looking at how the bill would adversely affect a variety of residents, such as seniors or those that use their cars to work, home service, handymen, ride-share, etc.

    It is worth noting that Prof. Shoup also recommends that those living in supposed “carless” buildings be denied access to an RPZ permit. Johnson and O’Brien ignore this because it does not agree with their personal agenda. O’Brien, of course spun this as treating renters and homeowners differently, when it is only those that live in a “carless” building by choice (presumably because they do not own a car) that would be affected. Denying access to RPZ permits closes the loop on the marketing CHOICE to not provide the parking needed for the project.

    1. The vote was terrific, should have gone further. And frankly it’s about time the city started representing the interests of renters.

      P.S. Prof. Shoup supports the bill.

      1. Seattle isn’t an island. Residents of every city and suburb around Seattle will continue to own and use personal transportation. So when self-driving electric-powered land-air personal transit vehicles render municipal bus service even more obsolete, it will be Seattle tenants who will be screwed the most.

  2. Don’t see how this “represents renters”. You’ve bought into the divisive, blame the victim, politics. Renters own cars, too.

    As O’Brien indicated in his comment, this is all about the continuing war on cars and will do little to improve affordability, but will create a windfall for developers to pocket the savings.

    I agree with many parts of the CB. However it makes no sense to not require developers to mitigate their own impacts by providing a single floor of parking in the foundation space that is built anyway. Doing so costs little, takes up no additional land area, and rent for parking is automatically unbundled from unit rent so that no one pays for parking that does not want to. Where’s the beef?

    Prof. Shoup also recommends denying RPZ permits for tenants of “carless” projects as a means to close the loop on the marketing decision by a builder to not provide on-site parking… but you never hear Council mentioning that other than in Herbold’s original amendment. Cherry-picked data.

    1. I’m not sure where you’re picking up the notion that I’ve “bought into” the politics. I have many thoughts on the legislation, but mostly left them out of the post.

      For what it’s worth, the argument for not requiring developers to build parking quotes studies that calculate each parking space costs about $30,000.

  3. Hi Kevin,

    Yeah, there are things in the CB that I am fine with, too. Just feel that selling it as helping with affordability and climate change is a stretch.

    The $30k figure is based on deeper garages and includes the cost of the foundation, which gets built anyway. At $35k, the cost per sq ft for one stall equals the cost per sq ft of an apartment.

    A single floor of parking below a building equates to about 0.6 spaces per unit and is less expensive than the $30k often cited. I believe that Johnson quoted $20k to $30k at the meeting. One floor would not lose as much space for ramps and traffic ways and is cheaper.

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