Seattle Councilmember Mike O’Brien met with concerned businesses in SODO on Thursday to discuss controversial draft legislation on relaxed parking regulations and enforcement of RV encampments.
“A lot of the things I talk about in this legislation are some of the practices that effectively we've been doing informally for a number of years and trying to streamline it,” said O’Brien during a news conference.
O’Brien unveiled his proposal earlier than expected after KING 5 obtained a working version that sparked serious concern among local civic groups including the SODO Business Improvement Area, the Ballard Alliance, and the Seattle Metro Chamber of Commerce.
“Our biggest (concern) is safety,” said Richard Fazarkerley, operations manager of Pacific Publishing in SODO, one of the businesses that met with O'Brien.
Pacific Publishing shares a street with some of the parked RVs that are the subject of O’Brien’s new proposal that would create a formal “vehicular residence program.”
“We're not blanket waiving parking restrictions or parking enforcement on any subset of the population, nor are we changing where people can park,” countered O’Brien. “We need to find places to put people, and that's why we want to have a concerted effort to find more lots.”
O’Brien's draft resolution seeks to create a “safe parking program,” securing 30 to 50 locations around the city. His plan also aims to expand outreach and case management services to people living out of their vehicles. Both measures would require new funding and budget approval.
“We’re going to be looking for more than hundreds of thousands of dollars, probably millions of dollars to try and address this problem, and that’s not going to be easy money to find in this budget,” said O’Brien.
Meanwhile, the draft ordinance released on Thursday would “deprioritize” ticketing individuals enrolled in the vehicular resident program, as well as waive parking penalties for a one-year period in certain cases.
“What we know is that when someone is actively trying to get stabilized and into permanent housing, but the only resource they have at the moment is living in a vehicle, and we are continually ticketing that vehicle and ultimately towing and impounding it, we are destabilizing someone who wants to be stabilized and into housing,” said O’Brien.
However, some employees and business owners in SODO are still skeptical of the new, revised draft legislation and would like a seat at the table in devising a long term solution.
“I just wish they could come up with a plan that works for everyone,” said Fazarkerley. “I would just like to feel safe coming to work. I'd like my employees to feel safe.”
O'Brien's new proposal could be formally introduced as early as September, according to his office.
"The legislation is a starting point," he said in a statement. "I’m very receptive to any ideas to improve this legislation or to entirely new solutions. But I know that doing nothing is not an option."