Restaurateur Tom Douglas vs. Mayor Mike McGinn on changes to Seattle parking rates

Mar 28, 2011

Seattle's downtown restaurant owners are still grumbling about rate hikes for metered street parking.

The city's new scheme has been in place for a little over a month. But the controversy hasn't gone away. One of the city's most famous restaurant owners is going public with his concerns.

Every day, celebrity chef Tom Douglas drives from his home in Ballard to one of his 7 restaurants in Belltown, north of downtown.  He's about to open two more in the new south lake union neighborhood, where thousands of new workers are expected to bring in commerce and nightlife, especially in the next few months. But Douglas says he's worried about parking.

"And I'm sick and tired of all of the added fees on places like us and all my fellow businessmen downtown that are just trying to make a living.  And they keep changing - whether it's the 520-tolls or the tunnel tolls or the parking fees or things of that nature -- we have to get a grip," Douglas says.

In particular, he says the higher parking meter rates in more commercial sectors such as downtown are causing him concern. He also thinks the new evening charges for street parking from 6-8pm are a mistake. He's received letters from two of his patrons protesting. And he's written a letter himself – which he sent to the city council and the mayor. 

Hizzoner Mike McGinn appears as on cue, at a recent South Lake union event. He says he's happy to defend the new policies.

"You want to have a discussion about parking rates with us?  Happy to.  'Cause we're trying to have a process where we set it right for each neighborhood."

McGinn says he's reviewing all the complaints, including the letter from Douglas. But the mayor thinks having different rates for different parts of the city makes sense – as long as it achieves the intended outcomes.

"We went up in some places, we went down in others, because our goal is to make sure there's always a space or two available for good turnover. And we'll monitor it and see how it's working and change it if it isn't," Mayor McGinn promises.

As I have noted in past stories, critics fear people will opt not to park in Seattle at all, that they'll go to restaurants or other shops and malls where there's free parking. That would defeat the one of the ultimate goals of the policy: generating more revenue to help offset the costs of public service, such as public safety and firefighting, paving roads and keeping city libraries open.