International District getting favored treatment in parking rate drop?

SEATTLE -- Special treatment -- or solid numbers? What's behind a drop in parking prices in one Seattle neighborhood depends on who you ask.

"I think fairness and consistency are important here," said City Councilmember Tim Burgess. "That's what's frustrating to us. There seems to be a special application in one neighborhood to the detriment to all the others."

In February, Mayor Mike McGinn announced he would lower parking rates in the International District from $2.50 per hour to $1.50 in the evening.

Other spots in the neighborhood had parking fees waived altogether after 6 p.m.

Burgess questioned the rate decrease at a transportation committee meeting last week, citing data from city policy analysts. The numbers, based on parking demand, show that 13 other neighborhoods, from North Belltown to parts of the University District, should have seen a rate decrease, while parking rates in the International District should have remained consistent.

"I can't tell you what the mayor was thinking," Burgess said. "The data don't support reducing rates in that particular neighborhood. The data do support reducing the rates in other neighborhoods."

McGinn insisted the price drop was data-driven and not politically-motivated, as some have suggested.

"We look at the data in all the neighborhoods and adjust in all the neighborhoods," McGinn said, after facing questions about the issue at a news conference this week. "We hear from every neighborhood business district, I can assure you about that."

"Parking is an important issue in every district - and again, we look at the data and we make adjustments in all of our neighborhoods," he added.

In the International District, small business owner Charlie Martin is one of the merchants who supported the recent price decrease. He says when the city initially raised rates, his business dropped 10 to 12 percent.

"In the three years we've been here, Chinatown and the International District have kind of been the forgotten child neighborhood of the city," said Martin, owner of the Seattle Pinball Museum. "I don't think that Mayor McGinn gave us special consideration. He did listen to the concerns of the business owners and the citizens and we presented a very compelling case."

"I think ultimately we followed the data," added Mike Estey, manager of traffic control programs for the Seattle Department of Transportation. "(In 2012) we made about 20 different changes - up, down, time limits. Chinatown / the International District was the last neighborhood on our 2012 program, so I think there's been some confusion about timing."

Burgess says the city council will likely study what's working and what's not working and will make the next round of adjustments in 2014.

"The problem that I have and I think some of my colleagues have is we're not being fair and consistent in how we apply the policy," he said, "and I think that's really important."