Southcenter Parking (Photo by Oran)
Southcenter Parking (Photo by Oran)

Our region’s need for transportation infrastructure and transit service is far from satisfied. Even in Seattle, Prop 1 and Move Seattle notwithstanding, riders continue to struggle with overcrowded buses, scant late-night service, and crumbling or nonexistent sidewalks. Now the global economy appears to be sliding toward a revenue-shrinking recession. So, when our state legislature considers a progressive funding option for transportation, we should sit up and take notice.

On Thursday, February 18, the House Transportation Committee will hold a public hearing on HB 2186, which would grant local authority for a Non-Residential Parking Tax (NRPT).

Currently, Washington State allows cities, counties and districts to levy a Commercial Parking Tax (CPT) under RCW 82.80.030. Several jurisdictions make use of this authority; for example, the City of Seattle levies a CPT of 12.5%, which is added to the fee drivers pay to park in commercial parking lots.

However, the CPT neglects a huge amount of non-residential parking space, because it does not apply to lots at malls and big box stores that provide free parking for customers. This is where the NRPT comes in. Private entities that own off-street parking would pay a tax based on square-footage or number of stalls, with a credit for the CPT to prevent double-taxation on commercial lots.

A number of U.S. cities tax paid parking, but a broader NRPT has not been implemented anywhere in the United States that I’m aware of. However, it is used in Canada and Australia (where it’s called a Parking Levy), and it was recommended for Seattle in a 2010 report by the Victoria Transport Policy Institute.

There are plenty of good policy reasons to enact a Non-Residential Parking Tax in Seattle. It would encourage better land use, disincentivizing excess asphalt and reducing stormwater runoff. It’s a fair tax, effectively closing a loophole that free lots slip through by not having a customer transaction that falls easily into the excise tax rubric. In principle, lot-owners could decide to pass the cost on by charging for parking, but in practice this is unlikely. The infrastructure necessary to collect and enforce parking fees, and the deterrent to customers, would likely be prohibitive. More likely the cost would be passed on in higher rents for (mainly large) businesses and absorbed by commerical property-owners. That makes it inherently progressive.

Progressive taxes tend to be non-starters in Olympia, but the NRPT may be an interesting exception. It should not be universally despised by business and property interests. Sure, owners of free parking lots will object strenuously. But any entity that already pays Commercial Parking Tax should welcome it, since broadening the parking-tax base will relieve pressure to raise the CPT. And everyone, including (mainly small) businesses that rely on street parking, should appreciate the transportation improvements that new revenue would make possible. That’s about as close to a win-win tax as you’re likely to find.

So, does HB 2186 have a chance? Unfortunately it is probably too late to be voted on this year, but a hearing represents progress. If you’re free Thursday afternoon, please come down to register your support: 3:30 pm in House Hearing Room B in the John L. O’Brien Building.

Katie Wilson is the General Secretary of the Transit Riders Union.

97 Replies to “Shopping Mall Owners Should Pay for “Free” Parking”

  1. Does this tax apply to new and used car lots? When I walk around Lake City, for example, I see some growth, but I also see areas where change is coming very slowly. This is understandable. The owner pays very little in taxes (our property tax is based on both the land and the structures). As of yet, it isn’t worth the hassle to move and sell to a developer. A tax like this might give them a little shove, and make the area a lot nicer for everyone.

    On the other hand, this would be a very tough tax for some small businesses. Used car lots don’t bring in a lot of money. I wouldn’t mind if Laidlaw or BMW (Mini Cooper) paid more in taxes, but I have a lot more sympathy for the guy barely scraping by with the used car lot.

    1. I could see exempting existing car sales lots from the tax, as well as all industrial areas. For newly-constructed car sales, charge the tax on outdoor parking but don’t charge for indoor parking, which encourages car dealers to build big-city oriented kinds of dealerships.

      1. Yes, I was thinking along those lines: tax “structured” parking at a lower rate based on the number of levels. A two story structure uses half the land of a simple lot for a given number of cars, three stores a third and four a quarter. These are significant land-use improvements.

      2. While structured parking may use less land than surface, the land it does use is a lot harder to re-develop into something else. And the traffic impact of cars going in and out of the parking facility is still the same.

      3. asdf,

        All true, but those cars are going to come. And if the neighborhood gets developed into something else, well, those other uses will probably bring cars too.

        It’s comment like yours that make people scream “War On Cars!”

    2. I’m not sure why we should lend a hand to struggling car lots in city limits. That’s a pretty inefficient use of land and pretty small generator of revenue.

      1. Actually, taxes on the sales of vehicles are a very large revenue source.

        I am not sure if new cars generate substantially more than used, however. It’s probably just that they are generally cheaper? The city is loathe to push the Lake City lots across 145th and lose all that revenue. Hence they are very accommodating, and I would bet the city would exempt them as a matter of course, even if the state brings them under the NRPT umbrella.

        Unfortunately, I think the large revenue from car sales has probably hindered investment in the Lake City community (and likely others), as it’s contrary to the city’s broader interests to use the car dealership land, which pretty much the only source of large tracts left in-city, to buy and turn into badly needed North-NE parks, community center and other public services.

        Not only does it cost money to buy land from Pierre and improve it, it also takes away a large revenue stream. Double-wammy to the budget.

      2. I’m thinking more of the buy here/pay here type places after the sidewalk ends on Aurora (but before it begins again, magically, in Shoreline)

        I don’t know numbers. Are the revenue contributions of these places really exceeding that which would occur with making that area habitable for human beings, and the diverse array of products they consume?

      3. Yes. The sales tax is a huge revenue source. At least new. It’s not the property tax, it’s the sales tax on the vehicles.

      4. The proverbial selling your soul to the devil. By relying on MVET and sales tax transit users are themselves auto dependent. Parking taxes are just one more bite out of the apple.

      5. Indeed. Income tax, now. It’s unfortunately unconstitutional for the City of Seattle or King County to institute an income tax at the municipal level, I am pretty sure.

      6. I agree with the general sentiment of the comments. Our screwy tax system forces us to do weird things. Not only is it unfair, but it is bad for business and encourages business decisions that are bad for the community. Trying to include this and exempt that is a desperate attempt to fix things, but it likely won’t.

        The city and state should have an income tax as well as a capital gains tax. Property taxes should just be weighted more on the value of the land, not the structures. This means that parking lot owners (of all type) pay more, while those with apartment buildings pay less. The end result is more apartment buildings.

      7. From what I recall, property taxes, sales taxes, B&O taxes and utilities taxes are the vast majority of revenue for the city, in approximately equal measure. Dealerships probably contribute out-sized contributions to at least the first 3.

        Real Estate is probably number 1 for retail sales, but I’m sure auto sales are up there.

      8. Real estate is charged a real estate excise tax on sales, which is significantly lower than the sales tax. It’s 1.28%.

    3. I don’t recall what the city share of sales tax is, but car lots do punch above their weight in terms of taxable sales, even if the property tax revenue is low.

      I’m more concerned about grocery stores, which will likely just pass on the taxes to shoppers given the thin margins in the grocery business. This would raise grocery prices on everyone, regardless of how they arrive at the store (just as stores do today with parking expenses).

      1. To some extent. On other hand, if they believe that their parking lot is significantly larger than what is actually needed for customers, they could remove some of their parking spaces to reduce their tax burden.

        Which brings up an interesting question – what actually constitutes a parking space? If a piece of pavement is striped as a parking space, but the store uses it to sell merchandise, rather than for actual parking (e.g. temporary table set up in the parking lot), is this space still taxed? What if the store decides to allow food trucks in its parking lot? What if the food trucks are only there some of the time, leaving the space available as parking, the rest of the time?

        Similarly, if a store parking lot has Zipcar spaces should those be subject to the tax? What if a store decided to restripe one regular-sized parking space into two Car2Go parking spaces? Would that increase the tax bill? The list goes on and on.

      2. Probably not that hard to identify a parking space. And if they’re paying taxes on it, that’s more of an opportunity to get some use out of it – hence the food trucks or selling merchandise on it. So that’s a win for sales tax too. Or, sell a corner of your parking ocean to developers. More revenue.

        But we shouldn’t dismiss it because it’s *too hard* to figure out what a parking space is.

      3. I’m not terribly worried about grocery stores charging more for groceries, as long as they have a mechanism to meter their parking so that the cost is borne by the users of the lot, and not general store patrons. It seems like that could even be a requirement in the statute.

      4. Metered parking mandatory at the grocery store? That’d put a lot of pressure on the free parking the city is providing along the streets of my neighborhood. It’d likely also cut way down on the revenue stream the store gets from its parking violators.

    4. Hell, even the U-District has two straight blocks of car dealerships, not four blocks from where the new light rail station will be, and right next to SDOT’s proposed Roosevelt BRT line.

      Even if car lots generate lots of tax revenue, it’s hardly a wise use of land compared to actual living or working spaces (car lots don’t seem to need a lot of workers).

    5. The good policy arguments for a parking-space tax are (1) mitigate external costs due to traffic that flows to those parking lots, and (2) as a sort of proxy land-value tax, since our property tax structure does not properly value the land. Neither of these depends on the wealth of the land owner or business proprietor.

      Similarly, if parking imposes external costs, a grocery store needs help mitigate just like any other business. Presumably a grocery store without a parking lot would still get pedestrian / transit / bicycle business. Or a store could charge for parking.

      Personal sympathy is one thing, good public policy is another – they should not be conflated. Otherwise good policy will get exceptioned to death. There’s maybe an argument for helping with truly extraordinary costs and disruption temporarily, but these don’t seem like very strong candidates – the businesses being killed by the 23rd Ave re-construction, for example, seem to have a much stronger case.

  2. The idea of an NRPT makes a lot of sense, but only when parking minimums are abolished. To charge a tax on parking, while at the same time, mandating parking, is effectively charging a tax just to operate a business.

    1. Phrase the law: “The tax may only be levied in areas where parking is not required by code.” Or similar. So cities have to repeal their parking codes if they want to levy the tax.

      1. They wouldn’t have to repeal the their entire body of parking laws, just the ones requiring that particular parking.

        But then, it is a sort of retroactive punishment for having followed the code.

      2. No, it’s not retroactive because it’s a tax on an existing asset. That’s like calling a property tax hike retroactive punishment for people who invested in property. If you want to avoid the tax, divest the asset – as SeaStrap says, it’ll accelerate the development of parking lots by nudging lots on the margins.

    2. “The idea of an NRPT makes a lot of sense, but only when parking minimums are abolished.”

      If the regular tax is $10, and the regulations require parking spaces and also tax them at $5, then how is that different from the regular tax being $15 in the first place?

  3. First we need to repeal the codes that force them to build the parking in the first place.

  4. Just charge everyone a “being in Seattle” tax and be done with it. Anyone entering the city is issued a meter which tallies up fees based on their activity. Residents would carry around the meter 24/7, but we can give them a discount.

    Seriously: if a business owns some land and wants to allow people to park there free-of-charge, that’s their right. If I have a visitor and I let them park in my driveway, that’s my right.

    1. It is your right. And if there’s a tax you pay it, like you pay taxes for everything else.

      1. And you’re planning to hire metermaids to patrol the neighborhoods, checking the residency of parked vehicles…? Or are you just going to charge homeowners a preemptive “you might have a visitor” tax?

      2. All this is pretty silly, but the County Auditor already patrols your neighborhood and can change your property taxes based on the features of your home. Generally material changes require a building permit so that triggers a tax change. But, auditors are expected to do a visual inspection of every property in the county at least every couple years to see if significant non-permitted changes have occurred.

      3. Nolan, the tax wouldn’t be on the customers, but on the property owners. The tax would be simply on number of space or area, whether used or not. You can easily determine the square footage or number of spaces off an aerial image in less than 30 minutes, no patrols or meter maids required.

      4. @Nolan: did you miss the “Non-Residential” part of “Non-Residential Parking Tax”?

        The issue is that parking lots are bad land use. Cities have the right and responsibility to promote good land use.

    2. Seriously: if a business owns some land and wants to allow people to park there free-of-charge, that’s their right. If I have a visitor and I let them park in my driveway, that’s my right.

      The proposed law doesn’t question that at all.

      I have a right to own a home and to drink alcohol. That property and alcohol taxes exist is (correctly) not understood as infringing on that right.

  5. If I were to propose that residential home owners and renters pay for any driveways or garages or parking on their property, I’m sure I would be told they that already pay for these features in the form of property taxes.

    Breaking News! Greg Marmalard, Metro’s PR director, has told me this is the first day of Proterra electric bus passenger service on the eastside on the routes 241 and 226!

    1. The news blurb I heard also said Dow wanted the entire Metro fleet converted by 2023, or maybe it was 2028. Either way if true it would indicate an immediate switch to the procurement of all electric buses on all new orders. That will add considerably to the capital cost unless there is free federal money available.

      From what I’ve read the Proterra buses really have the edge in being “future proof” as far as accepting new “battery” technology as it develops.

      All electric is “clean” when charged on the Seattle City Light grid. Charged with PSE electricity generated in Colstrip MT not so much.

      1. Electricity is imported to Puget Sound from Colstrip? That’s a very long way. Everyone in the region ought then to be rooting for “The Beast” being built down here in Clark and Cowlitz Counties. It will allow the windmills in the eastern Columbia Gorge to run all the time that wind is blowing. Currently, they can only run freely between late July and early December, when the river is flowing minimally. When the river runs strongly the dams get first crack at the distribution system, since they’re owned by BPA as are (most of) the dams.

      2. Electricity is imported to Puget Sound from Colstrip?

        Yep, PSE owns it. Although they have the business entities set up so that they can (they hope) walk away Scott free when it’s shut down and the environmental clean up begins in earnest which is going to make ASARCO in Tacoma look like picking up a pile of dog poop in the park by comparison.

        As for Seattle City Light getting 5% of their power from fossil fuel I find that a little hard to believe. Most of the year they are selling excess power. I believe only in the hottest summer months when Ross Damn is virtually empty does Seattle need to buy power back. PSE OTOH generates something like 30% of their power from fossil fuel and the biggest contributor is the plant in Colstrip MT.

        I had never heard that wind generation was effectively shut down in the winter to prop up the cost of electricity for BPA. That happens to coincide with the time PSE is shoveling the most coal which makes no sense except that burning coal is still one of the cheapest ways (externalities be damned) of generating power.

      3. Bernie,

        Yes, it’s crazy. Even with the Pacific Intertie (which runs right by the big wind farms) there isn’t enough distribution capacity to absorb everything the dams and windmills produce when the river is flowing strongly. So they have to luff the windmills. Sad, really, but The Beast will help.

        There are actually enough lines over the Cascades, but not enough distribution on the west side. We don’t use enough in Southwest Washington and Western Oregon to use it all, even in the winter with electric heating. But in the spring when it warms up and the river is REALLY booming, it gets crazy. That’s when the winds are quite productive, too.

        By the way if you’re not familiar with “The Beast” it is a 500 kv line from Troutdale to Castle Rock where it will link to several existing lines up to Puget Sound. It may not carry enough for everyone up there, but it will help reduce the reliance on coal.

      4. There are actually enough lines over the Cascades, but not enough distribution on the west side.

        Well, we’re drifting pretty far from the topic of an asphalt tax but this hits pretty close to home, literally.

        PSE has made its case for Energize Eastside, an 18-mile transmission line that the company wants to build through many residential areas, school playgrounds and parks from Renton to Redmond.

        The preferred route will be a few hundred feet from my house. Fortunately for me down hill and behind trees such that I won’t see it but literally in some of my neighbors back yard. I could feel a little better about it if I believed PSE really needed these lines. But to date all they have said is that it’s for redundancy and future need; nothing about it being able to replace colstrip with wind power. The entire energy game seems to scream Enron. I mean BPA sends power as far afield as California and PSE has commitments to send electricity to Canada. Yet some how we flip the switch on wind generation while continuing to burn coal 1,000 miles east of Seattle?

    2. Only 95% of Seattle’s electricity is clean. They use fossil-fuel energy on a few highest-use days a year. If a significantly large new use came on scene it would use more dirty energy.

    3. Sam – yes, that argument is to be expected. Perhaps counter-argue that the NRPT is an additional surcharge on that property because that existing property levy doesn’t efficiently account for parking spaces. Or, just point out that there are a lot of government levies that stack on top – like a tobacco tax in addition to sales tax on a box of cigarettes.

      In other words, just call it a “Parking Sin tax” haha …

    4. Sadly. One of the all electrics broke down within an hour or so of running. I have posted a picture on Metro’s Twitter feed showing a stopped 226 right after the driver ordered 20 or so passengers off the bus.

  6. I think one interesting aspect is how this will play against the current development codes which require that parking be installed in new developments in most cities. With the NRPT these requirements would now tax the required parking spots.

    For example, Bellevue (outside of “downtown”) requires as many as 16 spots per 1,000 sqft of take-out restaurant, 4-6 spots for mixed use retail, and 1-2 spots for each residence. These requirements make it difficult to do Transit Oriented Development since they ensure “free parking” is going to be available whether the businesses need it for their clientele or the residents of a building use it.

    I can see this being a talking point for the pro-parking side. We can’t enact a tax on something that cities require for new development. However, if the NRPT has a lot of support it might also signal a way forward on reducing or eliminating the mandatory parking minimums.

    Parking Development (L-32) –

    1. More fundamentally, parking makes TOD tough because of the land required. For most codes and most commercial development, you need to plan for 60% of the land to be parking, and all that unused space really ruins things.

  7. So would employers who offer free parking also be taxed? I can see business stomping the life out of any bill that makes them build and maintain parking, then charge them for it on top of property taxes.
    How about employees of malls? Exempt too? It’s a horrible slippery slope and another over-reach of what government is supposed to be doing.

    1. This is exactly what government is supposed to be doing. Using progressive taxes to generate revenue and solve social ills.

      1. Like all the ‘Progressive’ (cough) sales taxes on lower income people, and now pile on some more every time they go to a mall.
        And let’s get this straight. It’s not FREE parking. Every expense shop owners pay gets factored into the COGS (cost of goods sold), including that parking lot the Transit Union is salivating over to generate more subsidy for their form of transportation.
        You can keep your Brave New World and Nanny State for my money.

      2. Nobody thinks the sales tax is progressive; it’s highly regressive. But the state won’t allow more progressive options.

      3. Mic, I would think that a city code that says “you must build lots of parking” counts as a nanny saying to include because they know what’s best for you. Certainly you would be on board with eliminating such requirements, without a new tax, right?

      4. The sales tax is only really regressive if you start from the assumption that every person, rich or poor, has to own a car. Take the car out of the equation and consider that rent and unprepared food are exempt, the sales tax is not nearly as regressive as people make it out to be.

    2. Woo-hoo, mic’s Inner Reactionary is on vivid display today.

      Remember this next time he questions some transit project using a veneer of economic efficiency.

      1. Um, er, ah, I did say “veneer”. By the way, I do agree with many of your curmudgeonly objections. It’s good to know that they aren’t from a genuine desire to improve transit, though.

    3. As I said above, this is all just a symptom of our messed up tax structure. It gets more and more complicated because we are trying desperately to shoe horn some level of fairness and productivity into a very unfair and unproductive tax system.

      Take the sales tax (please). It is too high. So they exclude food. But not restaurant food, because that is a luxury (I guess). So caviar is tax free, but a Big Mac isn’t. What about medicine, should it be taxed? How about herbal medicine? What about herbs — I mean I guess they are food, but is salt taxed? I have no idea. But if the tax wasn’t so freakin’ high, it wouldn’t matter. What do other states do — what does Oregon do? Oh yeah.

      All of this is a complicated pain in the ass for everyone. It makes it much tougher for small businesses. I’m sure, like me, they just overpay. It’s too complicated otherwise. In my case, I speak of the B & O tax. This tax is ridiculously complicated, and ridiculously unfair. For me, personally, it isn’t that complicated nor that horrible, but many a small business gets screwed. Spend a lot but make only a bit in profit? Expect to pay a good chunk of your money into the state. Technically we don’t have an income tax, but for a sole proprietor, it certainly works out that way. If you are self employed, then you pay a B and O tax. It may not be huge, but still a few hundred. I’ve been told that it doesn’t apply if you only make a few thousand a year — but if what people have told me is true, then I’ve overpaid a lot in the past. I just use the automated system (which, to be fair, is not that complicated). I could appeal my payments, but again, like the little shop keeper, it isn’t worth effort.

      Income taxes can be complicated, but only if you want to itemize deductions. The end result is a much simpler system and a much more just system. Meanwhile, property taxes (which is essentially what we are talking about) should be based on the value of the land. This makes it all much simpler. If you have a big parking lot, or a three story parking lot, or a 45 story building, you pay the same. The property tax level should not be set so high that businesses are forced out, but it should provide an incentive to build up. Right now it is the opposite. But the only way to have a system like that (reasonable property tax based on the value of the land) is if we have an income tax. Then the sales tax and the property tax could be lower.

  8. It would encourage better land use, disincentivizing excess asphalt and reducing stormwater runoff.

    I’d like to see this tax used to offset the onerous rate Bellevue tacks on to residential water bills per square foot of property for storm water management. My pasture doesn’t contribute to storm water run off like the parking lot at the 7-11 yet they pay less to mitigate storm water run off since they use less tap water. Ideally the law would be written to tax impervious area. That’s similar to the comment above, “charge the tax on outdoor parking but don’t charge for indoor parking, which encourages car dealers to build big-city oriented kinds of dealerships” but it applies to all business and apartments.

    1. That’s how Bellingham does it, based on impervious areas. Why on earth would you charge a stormwater fee based on water usage, that’s just plain stupid.

      1. Why on earth would you charge a stormwater fee based on water usage,

        Because it benefits large developers that expect something in return for campaign contributions? To be fair, Bellevue overall has relatively low taxes for the level of service provided with the exception of the taxes on the water bill. For sewer it makes sense to charge for amount of water used but not a multiplier based on square footage of property with no adjustment for use. And of course you’re charge for sewer even if sewer hook-up isn’t available.

        FWIW we pay the water bill on a property in Bellingham. Same size property with a larger household runs ~1/10 the bill in Bellevue. However it is on a private water district. There’s some serious water wars going on in Whatcom County where restrictions on new wells have effectively stymied developers trying to get around the urban growth boundaries. In that respect they are about 100 years ahead of California.

  9. If this is implemented, hopefully they’ll charge by acreage, rather than just number-of-stalls. Building garages instead of paving a bigger lot shouldn’t be further disincentivised.

    1. +1, enthusiastically.

      Same goes for parking under buildings or on the roof of grocery stores or otherwise built into structures used for other things.

      I imagine those specifics will be built into the city level tax though. First thing is allow the tax in the first place.

      1. Glenn,

        What’s wrong with having parking on the roof? It hardly expands the footprint of the building (there do have to be ramps). I’d say it should be taxed less. Grocery stores have to have drive up parking. Although I like walking to our stores and carrying the food back in a backpack, most people don’t and if you have a large family it’s way too heavy.

      2. At some point, land does become scarce enough that even grocery stores exist without free parking, but it usually takes very extreme conditions. I’m yet to see it in the U.S. outside of Manhattan, and even there, the larger stores usually offer free delivery (with a minimum purchase amount) in lieu of free parking.

        That said, a good chunk of of the people that use the free parking at a typical grocery store are not people who really need to drive to get food, but people who live within a few blocks and are just lazy. Even in a place like Seattle, the vast majority of homes are within 1/2 mile of a decent-sized grocery store.

      3. I was enthusiastically supporting the concept that the rates should be different for less wasteful parking construction.

  10. Why the need to tax everything? Maybe the City of Seattle needs to spend less money on stupid stuff.

    1. I don’t live in Seattle but it seems like most of the money they’ve spent on Mercer qualifies a stupid stuff. The Deep Bore Tunnel, well that goes w-a-y beyond stupid.

      1. So far maybe, but the deal inked by the gang of three puts Seattle on the hook for all cost over runs. Gee, think there might be some? Also, I’d be shocked if the construction impacts haven’t already cost Seattle plenty. As I understand it when a municipality has a ROW easement for utilities and work requires moving those utilities it’s the city that has to pay for it; at least was the case with City of Bellevue and utility relocation required because of 520 construction.

      2. But that wasn’t the city’s decision. that is the point. The city has paid for the fixes to the seawall (which was necessary) and has had to pay other costs, but it wasn’t what the city would have built if it had to pay for it. Voters opposed it (a non-binding vote to have a new viaduct lost, but a vote to build a tunnel lost by even more). Mercer not withstanding, I would say most of what the city has paid for and built have been decent projects (although I would put the streetcar into that “stupid stuff” category).

      3. But that wasn’t the city’s decision. that is the point.

        Except Nickles and Chopp were 2/3 of the gang of three that pushed this through which is all on Seattle and pretty much propelled Gregoire into office. The trifecta.

      4. Well, Ross, the City paid hardly anything for “the Streetcar” so you can let that ulcer that flares up anytime you read the word “streetcar” relax.

      5. It’s still a car sewer, but it’s so much better than the old dance of “exit I-5, right on Fairview, left on Valley, down dark and depressing Broad underpass, right on Denny, right on Queen Anne Ave” just to get between I-5 and Queen Anne. The two-way channelization is much more sensible, and at least has wide sidewalks and some bike infrastructure, even if the light cycles are abysmal and cars clog it 12+ hours/day. If the DBT ever finishes, the Mercer/6th/Republican tangle will be just SO fun to watch.

      6. 25 million for local property owners (technically not “the city” but still). It isn’t clear who paid the rest or how much the city paid (not only to build it, but in utility work, operations, etc.). But my guess is that the city’s share (not counting those in the special taxing district) would be enough to buy a very good (not half-ass) bike share system. That would have more users and save those users more time. Where’s my Maalox!

        But compared to the tunnel, it was a brilliant decision, I’ll give you that. Even if the tunnel was on time and under budget it was a really stupid project (and everyone will realize it once it is done and there are no more ramps to Western).

      7. The city had to replace the seawall anyway, before it disintegrates and dumps the waterfront into the sea from whence it came.

    2. I don’t have sidewalks on my street. Many neighborhoods are like this. I am willing to pay more in taxes to get them built!

  11. Olympia lobbyist here… Without Republican support these innovative ideas will not move. Sen. Schoesler (Ritzville) and Sen. King (Yakima) have total veto power, and I certainly don’t see the Association of Washington Business (AWB) lining up to support new parking lot taxes. The political calculus in Olympia will have to change before ideas like this get a fair hearing.

    1. I would imagine Tea Partiers, with their emphasis on more local control, would support allowing cities to do this if they wnat. That said, Republicans and Tea Partiers are not the same.

      1. On contrary, in the world of campaign soundbites and everything being taken out context, a vote to allow local jurisdictions to raise taxes within their area can and will be twisted by opponents into a vote to raise taxes directly.

        At the end of the day, the issue if local control is just too complicated for many voters to understand. Even politicians who may privately understand this will still do what needs to be done to secure their next election. Which implies a “no” vote on issues such as this.

    2. Any chance of convincing them that this will be a huge benefit for rural Washington by driving a bunch of businesses out of the cities?

      With their “any tax is evil” position maybe they would support it then.

  12. Funny. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with asking someone to repay what their property and activities cost the general public. My own trigger for tax in question is size where the lot can be seen from outer space without a telescope.

    Every mall-sized parking lot concentrates a very large amount of “runoff” that would normally sink evenly into the soil, and delivers it, and all the chemical poisons it carries wherever the drain-pipes take it. Or leak it.

    Sometimes suddenly making train passengers change routes and vehicles on their own time. Or time their bosses will give them in lieu of anymore paychecks.

    Also, global warming aside, a metal covered asphalt desert can’t make the summer any cooler, and the air any fresher, for the people in its own neighborhood.

    And then there’s every cost, from construction to maintenance to cleaning to policing for every mile the lot-owners’ customers drive to use the lot. From the customer’s home to the lot and back.

    So to me, it’s plain, conservative, ordinary business thinking for any business to pay the cost of the things that help generate its profits. But: Alternative !….Which mall tenant would be better for transponders,
    Cameras West or Xfinity?

    No need for signs and traffic cams. Every camera shop and toy store at Southcenter has drones!


  13. Conceptually, this is a really appealing idea, but I have a hard time fathoming a set of circumstances where it were passed. It’s really appealing to visualize Kemper Freeman paying for the externalities of the inefficient and environmentally damaging lifestyles that his sea of pavement encourages, but how would this affect the rents of small, minority owned businesses located in dingy old strip malls across suburbs like Kent/Tukwila/etc.?

    1. One way would be to levy it only on large lots. The primary goal seems to be shopping malls, and then big-box stores and down to supermarkets. But is a strip mall with five small businesses and ten parking spaces a big part of the problem, or where do you stop?

      Also, the cheapest strip malls were built in the 1950s and 60s before the era of mega-parking (when families had only one car, and parking minimums didn’t exist or were smaller), so they’ll automatically have fewer parking spaces.

      Third, paid parking always starts in the cities where land is most scarce and more people don’t have cars. It trickles out to the suburbs, but it may never reach Kent and Tukwila. American suburbs have so much cheap land they throw it away on surface parking and setbacks and highway interchanges. This is a city-based authority, so Seattle might enact it but Kent probably won’t. Then those poor people stuck in the suburbs will still have inexpensive groceries.

    1. The discussions in this thread mostly are around surface lots in suburban Seattle. What about the impact on the giant, nonresidential parking lots in the downtown core? The office towers that give free parking to employees,are those already taxed or will they be hit by this levy?

      1. This isn’t a levy.

        This is just a change in state law to allow a levy, should one be desired.

      2. The large lots downtown have been sitting there because they have very low taxes so the owners are willing to wait until they’re offered a jackpot for them. Property tax is mostly on the value of the buildings, so because the lots don’t have any buildings their price is low so their taxes are low. If the taxes on surface parking lots and vacant lots were raised, it would give the owners a kick in the rear to redevelop them now.

        Also, housing prices have been going up mainly because the land is more valuable, not the buildings. Costruction and maintenance costs have been pretty stable with inflation, and the same-quality building in Seattle, Tukwila, or Auburn rents for dramatically different rates even though the building is identical. So the real-estate windfall is being driven by the rising value of land, but that’s not what the property tax taxes.

        I doubt many office workers are parking in downtown surface lots; I think they’re parking in garages. And several of the surface lots near Pike Place Market and in the Denny Triangle have in fact started construction the past couple years.

  14. Yes, yes, yes, Seattle should do this right away. this is a great idea. I love ot. Why? Because if this tax is passed malls will pass this tax on to the consumer. Even the non-drivers will pay it. People who do not live in Seattle will stay in local areas as a result. We will get more local business. Yes Seattle keep showing how stupid and anti-business you are. We in the non-Seattle areas thank you.

    1. There’s no reason to believe Kent wouldn’t be one of the first cities to jump at the chance to use free parking as a revenue stream. First they’ve got more parking expanse than anywhere with relatively few heads to tax. Second, it’s a hidden tax so painless to enact.

      Looking at the King County web pages regarding the budget it seems cities already have multiple methods of creating revenue available to them but Counties are limited to only their portion of the property tax and sales tax. So one unintended consequence might be to push big box stores out into unincorporated areas. That is if zoning would allow it. At any rate you can bet places like North Bend aren’t going to impose the tax on their Outlet Stores but it probably doesn’t matter. The incremental increase in cost is going to be so low it would be more than consumed in extra gas driving farther out; not to mention time. As it is I haven’t seen any difference in prices between say the Home Dopey in Bellevue vs the one in Bothell/Woodinville even though the cost of doing business in Bellevue has to be much higher. I suspect the “in city” stores make up for the higher cost of land and taxes by doing a much larger volume due to the “captive” customer base.

    2. People who live outside Seattle and object to paying for parking already don’t shop in Seattle. In fact, some businesses’ closest location to Seattle is Southcenter or Federal Way or Lynnwood, which causes problems for us non-drivers when we occasionally have to go to them for things not available in Seattle. Like the stuffed dog I got as a Christmas present where I went to five Seattle shops and found nothing suitable, and the only remaining options were Toys R Us in Southcenter or a small factory way out in the fringe of Snohomish (town). I went to the Toys R Us; it was a mile south of the mall, in an area that I can only think of as “Big Box City” there are so many of them. (The directory said there was a Toys R Us in Northgate, but when I went there it was gone with no trace.)

      Conversely, the only Seattle things not available in the suburbs is, I think, the mom-n-pop shops in 1905-era buildings, where the value of shopping there is partly in the nostalgic atmosphere and supporting local businesses than the specific item. And of course the convenience of getting to them on transit.

      I can’t see Kent levying a parking tax. It could charge for parking now but it doesn’t. And it has a lot of poor immigrants who are sensitive to prices.

      The cost of running a chain store is more expensive in Seattle than the suburbs, especially in high-rent or high-crime areas. I did a summer church mission in Tacoma’s Hilltop neighborhood one year, and one of the residents’ complaints was that prices in the local Safeway were higher than in suburban Safeways even though the neighborhood was poorer. The prices seem to be to compensate for shoplifting. But some chains like Fred Meyer equalize their prices across a large region.

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