Who pays for your ‘free’ parking and when? Junction changes to go before City Council committee

There’s a lot more to the free-parking lots in The Junction than just striped asphalt without pay stations – Junction businesses pay special assessments to maintain them. This Friday, some proposed changes in the rules for those assessments, four years in the making, have the West Seattle Junction Association going before a City Council committee. After spotting the item on the agenda for the Finance amd Culture Committee, with WSJA director Susan Melrose listed as scheduled to speak to councilmembers, we talked to her Wednesday to find out more:

First – here’s the resolution that’s going to the committee, which is chaired by Councilmember Nick Licata. The committee hearing is the first step in a process that is to include a public hearing a month later.

The association is seeking three things, according to Melrose, all of which need City Council approval because the city regulates BIAs (business improvement areas) like the Junction Association: First, adjusting the boundary for the district in which businesses are assessed to help cover the costs of keeping the free parking. She says they’re adding the east side of 42nd south of SW Oregon, which was residential until the recently completed mixed-use building Oregon 42 was built; with ground-floor retail, that is now a business zone.

With expenses for the lots rising every year, says Melrose, they’re also seeking two changes regarding who pays what and when: First, they’re seeking to end “graduated entry,” in which businesses didn’t pay full assessment for their share until their third year – they weren’t assessed the first year, and were assessed only half the rate their second year. “No other BIA in the city does that,” Melrose says.

Finally, they’re proposing to remove the barrier for participation, so there would no longer be a minimum income level. The assessment is formulated based on income, Melrose explains, so companies without much revenue won’t be paying much, but, she says, “at least it’s helping”; they would rather make these tweaks than raise the rates. The BIA, by the way, contains 230 businesses, Melrose says.

Assuming this Friday’s meeting doesn’t result in any changes to the plan, the ensuing public hearing would be at City Hall at 2 pm on Wednesday, June 25th. As with most if not all council sessions, there is also public-comment time before this Friday’s meeting, which you’ll be able to see live via the Seattle Channel if you can’t be there in person.

31 Replies to "Who pays for your 'free' parking and when? Junction changes to go before City Council committee"

  • Brianne May 22, 2014 (5:53 am)

    Are Junction businesses still allowed to “opt-out” of paying their allocated assessments?
    I used to work at a retail store in the Junction and the boss of that establishment maintained a list of all the businesses who declined to pay their fair share. The boss requested that all employees boycott the businesses that were on said list.

  • Jennie May 22, 2014 (6:47 am)

    I’d be willing to pay for parking if *huge* underground lots were created under these free parking areas and then capped the top with parks and greenspaces so our downtown would have more than just that one uber small park…just throwing it out there. Perhaps anyone over 55+ could get a free parking pass.

  • Sandy May 22, 2014 (7:48 am)

    what about non-profits?

  • Anne May 22, 2014 (7:49 am)

    Jennie-I like that idea-but instead of digging under existing lots-how about building one or two brand new underground parking structures with green space above.

  • The Real CW May 22, 2014 (8:44 am)

    Are the lots city property?

  • Brian Connolly May 22, 2014 (8:59 am)

    @Anne: This is such a confusing suggestion. In order to build an underground parking structure, you first need vacant land into which to dig.
    No one is going to dig up an existing green space just to put in a parking structure.

  • Junction Fan May 22, 2014 (9:02 am)

    Hey, where are all those people from the Metro threads saying we need to “pay as you go”? I expect them to be chiming in any minute now saying that they are willing to pay the true cost of parking in the Junction and that neither the city nor the Junction Association should spend money on it.

    Oh, I forgot: it’s the God-given right of every car driver to drive on roads that others pay for and to park in spots that others pay for. It’s only bus riders that have to pay as they go.

  • cjboffoli May 22, 2014 (9:16 am)

    Jennie: The last thing our small Junction needs is a huge parking garage, with or without green space. Garages are generally waste space and are money-losing propositions. They increase traffic congestion and thwart density. Over the next couple of years Junction businesses will be getting a huge boost from lots of new residents who live within walking distance of Junction stores and restaurants. So they’ll be getting a higher return on their investment in subsidizing existing spaces.

  • datamuse May 22, 2014 (10:03 am)

    The existing parking garage in the Junction is mostly empty most of the time. Oh, but the businesses aren’t subsidizing that one…

  • AJL May 22, 2014 (10:05 am)

    In total agreement with you Junction Fan. Those businesses who don’t pay and the drivers who use the lots who don’t pay…expenses going up, use going up, maintenance needs going up…wait a second, am I subsidizing those lots by walking/busing/biking to the Junction and spending my money there, of which a percentage goes to the upkeep of free parking for drivers?! I say, I don’t want my dollars helping those freeloaders! Make ’em pay!

  • Jane May 22, 2014 (10:11 am)

    Junction Fan and AJL are correct, it’s time to stop subsidizing private auto use and let people pay the true cost of their cars.

  • ACG May 22, 2014 (10:19 am)

    Datamuse, what public parking garage are you talking about? I am trying to think of one in the junction and can’t seem to remember seeing one.

    • WSB May 22, 2014 (10:24 am)

      In case DM isn’t seeing this for a while, can’t guarantee this is what s/he meant but – the Jefferson Square garage.

  • datamuse May 22, 2014 (11:16 am)

    Yeah, that’s the one I meant, WSB. Thanks. (There are a few subsidized spaces in there, such as the ones belonging to the West Seattle Animal Hospital.)
    Does the QFC garage count? I don’t use it much (can’t stand the piped-in music) and I had the impression it’s meant just for shopping at the supermarket.

    • WSB May 22, 2014 (11:24 am)

      In the QFC building (Capco Plaza) there’s parking for residents of the apartment complex there (Altamira) and for the businesses. The owner had said he expected to offer parking there to future tenants of the building he has proposed at 42nd/Oregon, as that building will not have 1/1 parking.

  • Azimuth May 22, 2014 (11:27 am)

    In addition to Jefferson Square, there are a handful of pay-lots scattered around the junction. Most are empty as long as the free lots and street parking are reasonably available. Personally, I think if the local businesses can afford the lots, they are absolutely worth the expense. The junction is very popular in part because the businesses are still accessible and inexpensive by car, which, love it or hate it, is quite popular in Seattle and will be for a long time.

  • ACG May 22, 2014 (11:42 am)

    Thanks all!! I guess I was under the impression that the Jefferson Square garage (and the QFC garage, for that matter) was only parking for the people patronizing the specific businesses in that development. I didn’t know you could park there while you shopped at any junction business.

  • trickycoolj May 22, 2014 (12:03 pm)

    I certainly hope that the Junction businesses are able to keep the free parking alive for the foreseeable future. I know it definitely encourages me to come shop at their unique stores rather than go to Target or Southcenter… that is when I can actually get there before they all close at 6:00 which isn’t really possible on weeknights if you get off work in the 5:00 hour. But that’s a different gripe for a different day.

  • skeeter May 22, 2014 (12:35 pm)

    “The assessment is formulated based on income, Melrose explains, so companies without much revenue won’t be paying much”

    Now I’m confused. Is the assessment based on income? Or is the assessment based on revenue? Because the two are very, very different. Revenue is gross sales. Income is gross sales less cost of goods sold and operating overhead.

    That confusion aside, this is a very interesting conversation. Thank you for reporting this WSB.

    • WSB May 22, 2014 (12:38 pm)

      Skeeter, I don’t know if it’s gross or net. Income to me means money coming in, as does revenue.

  • miws May 22, 2014 (12:49 pm)

    Real CW. the lots are owned by Junction Trusteed Properties.



  • Jason May 22, 2014 (2:51 pm)

    When we were in the junction (1.5 year ago or so) it was based on sqft of the building I believe and we had a lot of footage to pay for. And though we had no retail or visitors, we paid. There was no choice in the matter, so I’m pretty sure that list of non-paying merchants no longer exists.
    It would be a shame if these free lots were shut down because of all the apartments and junk going up that are already mucking with the culture of our small retail establishments. In fact, it would be nice if all these developments would be required to pay for all of these fees for the next 10+ years or so as a “thank you for letting us have our way with your nice little community.”

  • Jason May 22, 2014 (3:03 pm)

    Also, while I’m ramping up for an outburst here, I’m ashamed to admit that I don’t really have my finger on the pulse of the public transportation in Seattle. I was kind of under the assumption that when Seattle said “hey we are going to encourage development by taking away the parking requirements – so start building whatever you want and don’t worry about putting any of those expensive parking garages under whatever you put up!” that they had some kind of plan to get everyone on busses, but I guess there is a major shortfall with metro funding too?
    I’m glad I don’t work downtown, it’s going to be getting just more insane getting from here to there, especially if they can ever fire up that tunnel beast again.

  • The Real CW May 22, 2014 (4:24 pm)

    Thanks Mike. Sooner or later the city will take the lots like they did with 103 year old Myrtle Woldson, and they will charge $10/hour with all proceeds going to bike lanes and Metro services.

    I give it two years max to the end of free parking in the Junction.


  • ScubaFrog May 22, 2014 (5:02 pm)

    It’s unfortunate that businesses aren’t required to provide parking based on their square footage. Residents too, private – and commercial.

    It’s sad to see the city council come up with so many new constraints and regulations for private citizens, while essentially letting businesses and developers to build without many restrictions in height and parking occupancy.

  • oddturn May 22, 2014 (5:57 pm)

    I have found Columbia City more pleasant to shop at these days. Even though it’s a hop over Beacon Hill, it has the vibe I prefer. Except for Lee’s Asian and the french bakery, I haven’t shopped in the Junction for months. Funky and creative shops and much more diverse ethnically in Columbia City. And I go there knowing there isn’t free parking. I just don’t dig the chaotic vibe in the Junction with all of the construction. Glad all the new non-car people are there to support the better businesses through all this. I hate it.

  • wetone May 22, 2014 (9:37 pm)

    Could not agree more with the last couple statements. We and many friends have been going out to W/C & Burien lately great food easy parking good pricing. Be interesting over the next few years to see how the junction does as parking and traffic gets worse and rents go up. Will the foot traffic be enough to make payroll ? time will tell.

  • Don Brubeck May 22, 2014 (10:27 pm)

    The “free” parking is not free. It is paid for by all customers of the businesses. The businesses build it into their overhead costs, so it is included in the price of everything they sell. What that means is that everyone who walks or bikes or takes a bus to the businesses is paying for something they don’t use. They are subsidizing those who drive and park for free.

    There is a huge amount of public and private real estate devoted to car parking in our shopping areas, which all of us are paying for with taxes and in the prices we pay for goods and services. you can see it easily using Google Earth or maps.

    Customers who come on foot don’t need extra real estate for parking. 12 customers on bikes can park in the space as one customer in a car. Encouraging bike and foot traffic will save us all money and encourage local shopping, dining and business.

  • let them swim May 23, 2014 (4:16 am)

    @ cjboffoli, Ever hear of Joe Diamond?

  • Mickymse May 23, 2014 (9:41 am)

    This makes me chuckle because of people who says things like “I never drive Downtown to shop when I can shop here a park for free” or “I’ll just go to Southcenter Mall where there’s plenty of free parking.” Here’s a good clear example of how all your “free parking” gets paid for…

  • DukeMalisto May 23, 2014 (3:00 pm)

    With all of this new development in super dense housing without accommodations for tenant parking (because we know everyone can live at 1400+/mo rent with just day jobs at boutiques and restaurant wages) why not use one of these big lots for a multi-story parking garage? Local tenants can pay for parking passes for one of the floors, everyone else can park wherever at a reasonable (capped) parking rate.

Sorry, comment time is over.