The Council began meeting today as the Budget Committee to consider identification of particular budget issues relevant to individual City Departments. Here is the schedule through Tuesday, October 17.
Today we discussed Councilmember ideas and budget proposals for each the Office of Planning and Community Development, Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections, Seattle Center, Department of Neighborhoods and Department of Parks and Recreation. The big issues we heard today include neighborhood planning, a new vacant building monitoring program, community center funding, p-patch funding, impact fees, leaf blowers, the potential budgetary impacts of Key Arena redevelopment on the Seattle Center budget, Historic District staffing, and performance measures for various departments.
This step in the budget process has two parts. First of all, Council Central Staff raise issues they have identified. Secondly, Councilmembers can raise issues for discussion. At this point, potential budget items don’t need to be well-defined.
Proposals for the next set of meetings, from October 23 to 25, will need to be have specific funding amounts; they will also need three Council sponsors, by a 2 p.m. deadline on October 19.
The study area includes the West Seattle Junction and Triangle areas and is bounded by 36th Avenue Southwest to the east, southwest Dakota street to the north, 46th Avenue Southwest to the west and Southwest Dawson Street to the south.
This is being done as part of a City-wide study of parking. Typically, the addition of paid parking in an area is designed to increase parking capacity on streets that don’t have much available parking. The idea is that when people pay for parking they don’t stay as long which in turn frees up more curb space for more people needing to park. When SDOT presented the proposed study at the Sustainability and Transportation Committee several months ago, I requested that SDOT be sensitive to the unique nature of the Alaska Junction, and specifically include consideration of the extra capacity that the off-street parking contributes to the area in their study. They agreed, and they will be including the presence of the free off-street parking in their study.
If SDOT identifies any potential changes, they will be available for public comment in early 2018.
In 2010, the City Council adopted the “Performance-Based Parking Program,” incorporated into SMC 11.16.121. SDOT completed a performance based parking study in 2011. SDOT policy is designed to ensure availability of 1-2 open spaces per blockface (i.e. one side of a block). This can involve setting time limits for parking, or adding paid parking. SDOT updates parking rates based on annual review of the areas with paid parking, lowering or increasing rates toward the goal of 1-2 open spaces; they also conduct parking studies of other neighborhoods.
Of Seattle’s 7 Council Districts, District 1 and District 5 (North Seattle) are the only districts in Seattle without any on-street paid parking zones.
SDOT last studied parking in the West Seattle Junction in 2009 and didn’t recommend any paid parking; an earlier citywide parking study in 2002 also mentioned the West Seattle Junction.
If you have questions or comments about the West Seattle Area Comprehensive Parking Study, please contact Jonathan Williams of SDOT at 206-733-9026 or WestSeattleParking@seattle.gov.
The Center City Streetcar project would connect the current South Lake Union and First Hill streetcar lines across Downtown, at an estimated cost of $158 million.
On September 30, SDOT released a report in response to an amendment the Council adopted. The amendment said: “The Executive will provide a report to Council detailing the financial operating plan for the Center City Streetcar and the projected performance measures (including ridership, fare box recovery ratio, productivity, fare evasion, and reliability) for the first 6 years of Center City Streetcar operations,” and provide contingency funding sources if operation or construction funding are inadequate.
The reason I proposed this amendment was out of concern regarding the adequacy of the construction and operations budgets for the Center City Streetcar, and the long-term impact of directing scarce Commercial Parking Tax resources to this project to finance bonds over 20 years.
We are currently $70 million short of funding for construction. The capital plan lists this as coming from the final $25 million of a $75 million federal grant. Given the chaos in Washington, DC, this may not come to pass. SDOT’s reply to the request in the Council’s amendment that SDOT provide contingency funding sources if operation or construction funding are inadequate was: “If the full $75 million is not appropriated by Congress, SDOT will identify alternative funding sources to complete the project on schedule.”
That’s a non-answer answer. Unfortunately, the only realistic funding sources would be to cut other spending, such as roads, sidewalks, bike lanes, proactive landslide prevention, and transit.
The other $45 million is listed as “Transportation Bond Funds,” or 2018 Bond Proceeds. The $45 million in bonds would be financed by Commercial Parking Tax (CPT) revenues, for over 20 years. Starting in 2020, when the full amount kicks in, that would be $3.5 million in CPT revenue per year, for a total of $70 million or so over 20 years. In 2018 we’re projected to receive $44.5 million in CPT, so this would commit to the Central City Streetcar 7.4% of the 2020 total citywide Commercial Parking Tax revenues.
That’s just to build it; we also have to operate it. Operations funding depends on a variety of sources, but the most important is how much is collected in fare revenues. This depends on 1) how many people ride, and 2) the % of fare recovery (e.g. how many people pay full fare vs. riding with an Orca Card).
Last year the South Lake Union streetcar line has a ridership of 518,000 riders, and the First Hill line had 840,000 riders, for a total of 1.35 million riders. Fare recovery for SLU was in the 27-33% range. For First Hill fare recovery was 16%. By comparison, for Sound Transit fare recovery was 37%, and for KC Metro, 31%.
The SDOT report projects 8.3 million riders in 2021, and 9.4 million in 2025, with 56% fare recovery. This strikes me as overly optimistic.
In fairness, SDOT did provide a lower ridership and fare recovery option, but even that projects 6.3 million annual riders at 36% fare recovery, still far more than the SLU and First Hill lines. This more realistic – but not entirely realistic scenario would result in an annual operations deficit of $2.3 million, with an extra $5 million deficit after 2023, when Sound Transit’s $5 million annual operations subsidy will end.
The bottom line is that even if ridership triples, we’ll be lucky to be only $3 million in the hole for operations costs in 2021, and $8 million in the hole beginning in 2024. That’s in addition to the $3.5 million per year needed to cover the bonds.
Previous streetcar lines had less of this kind of impact on the general SDOT budget–First Hill construction was paid for with Sound Transit ballot measure, and South Lake Union partly through a Local Improvement District by adjacent property owners. We aren’t using Commercial Parking tax to pay bonds for those projects.
The irony is that $4 million in Commercial Parking Tax revenues that go toward financing bonds for the Mercer Project will be freed up beginning in 2019. Should those funds go to a project of dubious transportation value for the next 20 years? When the commercial parking tax was adopted, the suggestion was made that those taxes could go to more general needs, once things like the Mercer Project were paid off.
The commercial Parking tax and the General Fund provide around $85 million to SDOT annually; those are among the most flexible revenue sources we have. We could end up dedicating a significant portion of that to building and operating the Center City Streetcar. That means less money for other things.
In West Seattle, I hear many complaints about the condition of 35th Avenue SW during the winter months. I’d like to prioritize fixing that, over building a Center City Streetcar.
If you’ve been waiting for an opportunity to recycle any appliances, furniture, batteries, or other household good such as books and dishware, now’s your chance.
This Saturday, between 9am and 1pm you can stop by the Junction Parking lot located on the corner of SW Oregon and 42nd Ave. See the flyer below for additional details about what is and is not accepted.
As some of you may know, I was recently elected budget Chair. As Chair of the Budget Committee it is my responsibility to assemble and propose the Balancing Package that, if adopted would amend the Mayor’s proposed budget. This requires me to balance the proposals from the community and my colleagues while ensuring that the budget is passed in a timely manner.
Due to this responsibility and time commitment I am unable to host my usual office hours in October. I apologize for this inconvenience, and hope to see you at my office hours coming up in December.
If you have a more immediate issue, please email me to let me know and I or one of my staff will be happy to work on getting it resolved.