There’s a proposed regulatory reform package in Seattle, and the proposal appears to be a straightforward one from an urbanist’s perspective: Reduce minimum parking requirements in neighborhoods with public transit, and you reduce the cost of housing by enabling developers to dedicate more space to housing and less space to unneeded parking. And it sounds especially reasonable for a neighborhood such as Seattle’s Capitol Hill. Plus, the proposal limits appeals under the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA), which would speed up development without harming the environment, Crosscut’s Roger Valdez reports, because SEPA appeals rarely succeed, and are rarely ever necessary in the first place.
In other words, the regulatory package seeks to curb parking subsidies and disable NIMBYism. In progressive Seattle, who would stand against these reforms? According to Valdez, the answer is formerly progressive Seattleites:
How did earnest, liberal, Birkenstock-wearing activists pushing for parks, play equipment, sidewalks, and kiosks turn into affluent, highly motivated saboteurs of new development, change, and density? Three things happened in the last two decades that shifted neighborhoods from the “what we want” caucus to the “what we won’t” lobby.
Organization, politics, and the housing market: three things prohibiting progress in some Seattle neighborhoods. Tried and tested organizers, who own important stakes in those neighborhoods (single-family homes are scarce in Seattle, therefore their owners have a financial stake in keeping them so), form a powerful constituency that the City Council has learned to serve.
That makes sense to me. But to Valdez’s list, I might add lack of knowledge: Renters don't appear to understand their stakes in this debate the same way homeowners do. If it were a matter of homeowners versus renters—two parties fighting for different goals in the parking wars—you might see a bloc of politicians emerge who favor policies that support public transit, high density, and rental or multi-family units. And increasingly, you do, especially among candidates for at-large council seats or mayoral positions—figures who can appeal to a broader population rather than to specific neighborhoods, where homeowner interests dominate.
In other words, we see the parking-war NIMBYs—their organizations, campaigns, candidates, and representatives. Why is it harder to find the parking-war YIMBYs? One reason may be that the effect of parking minimums on people who don't drive just isn't as clear as the effect they have on people who do, so the non-drivers don't feel invested in the argument, despite the high-but-hidden financial costs that parking minimums force on them.