Parking Legislation Update; Alki Vehicle Noise Enforcement; Civil Legal Aid Update

Parking Legislation Update

The final vote on the parking update legislation will be this Monday, April 2 at Full Council. My two previous reports about this legislation can be found here and here. The version of the bill that passed out of committee on March 21 can be found here. I proposed a few amendments, and most of them were adopted. However, my amendment to reintroduce, in very narrowly defined circumstances, the use of State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) mitigation in urban villages with “Frequent Transit Service” was rejected at committee. I intend to bring a modified version of this amendment back to Full Council for a vote.

This amendment gives SDCI the flexibility to utilize SEPA mitigation under some very narrowly defined conditions. I asked Council policy staff to analyze last years’ data and they found that of 136 projects, only six of them would have triggered this SEPA mitigation option.  Of those six, three of the projects provided parking for other reasons.  So, if last year is a good comparison, this tool would have only been a consideration of SDCI in three of 136 projects, or 2%.

State SEPA policies require consideration of parking impacts. However, the City has entirely removed the authority to use SEPA to mitigate the parking impacts of projects that have impacts when those projects are in areas where the City has removed parking requirements, areas referred to as “Frequent Transit Areas.” In other words, SEPA requires developers to do parking studies as part of the permitting process, but even when those studies show that a development without parking is going to create a problem, SDCI can’t require mitigation. In those instances, this is what SDCI tells the public:

“while impacts to parking could be substantial, we are unable to mitigate the impacts by requiring additional parking on-site.”

The spokesperson for SDCI has been quoted by the press saying “[W]e have said that when on-street parking capacity exceeds 85 percent, finding parking becomes more difficult, and parking mitigation (in areas where we have authority to mitigate parking impacts) may be appropriate.” But again, our existing laws do not allow SDCI to mitigate on-street parking impacts in Frequent Transit Areas. My amendment grants them that authority, ONLY in instances where parking capacity is found to have reached 85%.

Some have argued that SEPA should only be used to mitigate environmental impacts.  Yet, under state law, SEPA requires us to look not only at the impact of decisions on plants, animals, air quality, and water; but also on housing, public services, and historic preservation. This means that the state requires that we look at parking as part of that comprehensive analysis of impacts of development.  In addition, when Seattle is in the top 5 of cities for number of hours (58 hours/year) spent looking for parking, failure to mitigate parking impacts becomes a very big environmental issue.

Seattle Area Household Median Income is about $90K a year, more than half of our population earns less than that, and nearly 70% of renters earn less than the Seattle Median Income.  Countless people drive for a living whether as a part of their traditional employment or the new gig economy – Uber, flex, Amazon fresh, Instacart, etc.  The home delivery model is the new labor model that scores of Seattle workers count on for supplemental income to make ends meet in their household budgets.  Countless others need their cars to fulfill other obligations that are in the city’s interests like apprenticeship programs and educational attainment to earn living wage jobs, childcare for school readiness, and elder care needs.

Without some very limited tools to allow mitigation, I believe this policy as passed out of Committee is telling these people – those that need their cars to survive (a growing proportion of many specific demographic segments of workers as well) – that we believe that their ownership of cars is based in their desire for convenience; not a necessity, and if it was only less convenient for them to own a car they’d get rid of their car. I believe this flies in the face of the economic realities of many of our car-owning struggling renter population and is punitive.

This map overlays two other maps to give a clearer picture of where new frequent transit service will be in comparison to renters, as well as car owners. The significance of this map, as I’ve said before, is to show that the oft reported statistic, that is being used as the policy basis for this legislation doesn’t tell the full picture.  The SDCI Director’s report says that “For the one-quarter of Seattle census tracts with the highest proportion of renter households, 40% of all renter households have no vehicle.” However, this doesn’t track to all areas designated as “frequent transit areas.” For instance:

District Urban Village Car Ownership Rate Parking Requirements
1 Morgan Junction 83% No parking minimums
2 Columbia City 84% No parking minimums
2 North Beacon Hill 84% No parking minimums
3 Eastside of 23rd & Union-Jackson 82% No parking minimums
4 Fremont 83% and 92% No parking minimums
4 Wallingford 79% No parking minimums
5 South end of the Aurora-Licton Springs 90% No parking minimums
6 North end of the Greenwood-Phinney Ridge 86% No parking minimums
6 South end of the Crown Hill 95% No parking minimums
6 Ballard 85% No parking minimums
7 Upper Queen Anne Ranging from 92% to 69%, with an average of 83% No parking minimums

Again, I intend on bringing this amendment to Full Council on Monday, and I would encourage you to contact your councilmembers to urge them to support limited SEPA mitigation in the few examples where a development is planned in an area where parking capacity is found to have reached 85%.

Alki Vehicle Noise Enforcement

Last summer my office worked with residents of Alki and adjacent neighborhoods to develop the Alki Public Safety and Health Survey.  The results of this survey showed clear community concerns regarding vehicle noise and cruising, and were used to develop a budget action in November requesting that the Seattle Police Department submit a report to the Council on their enforcement policies with respect to vehicle noise and cruising in the Alki neighborhood during the warm-weather months, and identify possible solutions.  The budget action also notes that other neighborhoods, such as Fauntleroy and the Downtown/Belltown corridor.

The Council received the response on March 16. Here’s a link to the response.

The SPD memo notes SPD has historically provided extra patrol officers during the warm weather months in the Alki neighborhood; it further notes that current laws regarding noise and cruising can be difficult to enforce, and that possible adjustments could improve SPD’s ability to enforce. For example, the memo says that the language in the municipal code specific to vehicle muffler noise is vague, and that the initial complaint cannot come from an officer. The memo also notes ordinances in Bellevue and Kirkland relating to vehicle and watercraft noise audible more than 50-75 feet from the source, and notes that the King County Auditor is reviewing the effectiveness of the King County Noise ordinance, and will share results upon completion, estimated for the end of June. It also notes the potential for technological solutions in development by private parties for noise enforcement, similar to automated speed zone cameras.

My office is currently working with Council Central Staff on follow-up questions for additional detail, and with community on next steps and potential solutions.

Civil Legal Aid Update

On Monday March 19th the Seattle City Council unanimously approved a resolution to move Seattle toward incorporating more civil legal aid services into the City’s legal defense contract with King County.   This work will ensure that what we have begun to refer to as “collateral consequences” are more actively considered when defendants in Seattle Municipal Court are to be charged with misdemeanors and felonies.

In 2016 I sponsored the legislation that led to the first phase of this project, the hiring of 3 civil legal aid attorneys through the King County Department of Public Defense.  These civil legal aid attorneys help prevent people from experiencing collateral consequences such as losing housing, public benefits, driver’s licenses, and professional technical licenses, as well as addressing  other civil issues in the course of a legal defense for an unrelated charge.  Civil legal aid attorneys work with Public Defenders and advocate for defendants to avoid these potential collateral consequences.  In this first phase of the pilot civil legal aid attorney have not been permitted to represent these defendants, in this next phase, they will.

If rehabilitation is the goal of our criminal justice system, we need to directly address the unintended consequences of interactions with that system. Homelessness and unemployment should not result from a misdemeanor when it’s completely unrelated to the offense a person allegedly committed.

In the first phase of the pilot, civil legal aid attorneys have had impressive success with the people they’ve advised. We are moving closer toward a defense system in which civil consequences are actively considered through our plea-bargaining process. Specially trained attorneys serve defendants, which, hopefully, means more people can stay in their homes and keep their jobs upon release.

Since last year, civil legal aid attorneys in the King County Department of Public Defense have provided guidance to ensure potential collateral consequences are considered during the plea-bargaining process.  Through the first phase of the pilot, 293 cases received civil legal aid from July through December 2017.  Some excerpts of work conducted by Collateral Consequence Attorneys, from the  King County Department of Public Defense’s Report:

  • “A resident of a ‘tiny-home’ faced loss of the house if he remained in custody for more than 30 days on a theft charge. The Collateral Consequence Attorney advised the defense attorney and the prosecutor, who agreed to a lesser charge and sentence so the client could keep his home.
  • “Numerous clients have been advised about appealing license suspension and assisted in securing temporary or limited licenses. Maintaining the right to drive has afforded breadwinners and parents the ability to continue providing for their families.
  • “A client who was living in his car with all of his possessions had his car impounded following a DUI. By working with the impound lot and client’s family, the Collateral Consequence Attorney was able to get the client’s possessions secured prior to [the car] being put up for auction.”

Eligible clients of civil legal aid attorneys are indigent defendants referred by Seattle Municipal Court to the King County Department for Public Defense for criminal representation.

Following passage of a forthcoming Interlocal Agreement to be considered in the Council’s Gender Equity, Safe Communities, New Americans & Education Committee meeting in April, civil legal aid attorneys will soon be able to begin limited direct representation of defendants.

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