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Seattle View
September, 2013 E-News

Current Issues

Committee on Economic Resiliency & Regional Relations

Random Thoughts

Taxis, limos, for-hires, pink mustaches and such - the demand study and next steps

This spring we launched the Committee on Taxi, For-Hire & Limousine Regulations with full knowledge we'd be attempting to break down and rebuild a complex set of regulations. It may seem simple when you hail a cab, call for a flat-rate car or use your smartphone to arrange a pick-up, but the industry economics and regulatory frameworks (yes, plural) are changing by the moment, creating winners and losers and begging for all of us to adapt.

So far we've heard from many industry actors (drivers and owners of various types of vehicles and passengers with strong allegiances) both at the Council committee table and from the public testimony microphone. The hours of public testimony fall into a few advocacy baskets: 1) break the taxi monopoly, 2) add more taxi licenses, 3) ticket for-hires who pick up street hails, 4) loosen the rules for wheelchair accessible taxis, 5) shut down the new personal vehicle-based companies starting up in Seattle, or 6) open up Seattle to new personal vehicle-based companies.

taxis

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Upcoming Seattle Events:

Advantage Local
September 18
The HUB Seattle

All-Chamber Business After Hours
September 19
The Foundry by Herban Feast
$20 ($30 after 9/17)

Seattle Business Organizations Symposium
September 20
Seattle City Hall
Free

Nytom: Makah Visions-Art Exhibit
September 25
Duwamish Longhouse
Free

Spiders of Green Lake
October 5
Green Lake Bathhouse Theatre
Free

Earthquake Home Retrofit
November 9
Northgate Branch Library
Free

PickleBall
November 14
Yesler Community Center
$3 drop-in/$2 senior

For a complete list of events, check out the City Events Calendar!

We felt our work needed a stronger data component, so Council commissioned a demand study. We heard from the demand study consultants at the Sept. 3 Taxi Committee meeting (click here if you'd like to watch the meeting). The data, collected from customers and institutional users (like hotels, bars and medical clinics) over a few weeks in the first half of the summer, coupled with raw numbers from taxi meters, interviews and "secret shopper" rides, showed that we may need more cars, but not every hour of every day.

A few takeaways:

  • Taxis still serve the vast majority of Seattle rides, but limos, for-hires, and new personal car-based companies continue to take up market share. Since state regulations do not limit the number of limousines (this category includes town cars) that can be licensed, this trend will continue. This makes it hard, if not impossible to truly regulate the number of cars on the road.
  • Peak demand pressure (mostly at night), service quality, convenience and price push some people to taxi alternatives.
  • Taxis are not comparing well in terms of service quality (both dispatch and drivers). This is the view of both individual customers and the institutional players.
  • People who are older and/or have lower incomes gravitate to taxis. People with higher incomes gravitate to limos and the new personal car "ride shares."
  • The presentation indicated we're meeting overall demand. If true, we're meeting it by having all the current players participating. And it may well be that new entrants are actually helping to build demand through the convenience and/or price of the service.
  • The stats may be a little off because 1) people don't always know the difference between a taxi and a for-hire, and 2) rideshares may be over-represented in the data because they're new and people are seeking them out to test. But as evident from the turmoil in the market, the shift towards non-taxi services is absolutely real.

So, now we've got a lot of information from the different slices of the personal transportation industry, the public, and institutions that use taxi and other services on a regular basis. What next?

The committee will meet September 26, 2 p.m. in Council Chambers, City Hall. I'm asking staff to put together several options for action, with the ultimate goal of providing the public with quality, safe, and reliable service. Chances are you'll see multiple steps proposed since we have multiple problems to fix.

Passenger, driver and right-of-way safety have to be our top priority. This means we cannot allow the new personal car-based companies to operate outside regulations. There are models developing in California and elsewhere for regulation of Lyft, Sidecar and UBER that may allow them to pursue their current business model while protecting passenger safety.

Second, we need to see the taxi industry - the owners, associations, drivers and dispatchers - respond to demands for new technology and better service. I believe we should put a small batch of taxi vehicle licenses out via a lottery open to excellent drivers, but new licenses won't mean much if customers continue to shift to services that respond more quickly, make use of friendly technology, pay closer attention to client communication, and provide better (as in polite) service.

Finally, we need to take steps to eliminate the confusion between flat-rate for hire vehicle and taxis. The current situation is not good for the customers or for the industry.

We need to move sooner rather than later on these issues. If you've got more ideas about taxis, for-hires, limos, and app-based companies - please e-mail me.

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Marijuana - state regulations and local zoning update

If I were as creative as the Seattle Police Department's communications team, I would distribute this part of my newsletter printed on bags of Doritos. At Hempfest this year SPD handed out little bags of Doritos printed with a few of the "do's and don'ts" of the new post-Initiative 502 world. They were a big, big hit with attendees and the media.


Marijuana Tour

Councilmember Licata and I visit Solstice, the first licensed marijuana production site in Seattle.

While there's no end to the opportunities for humor in the post-502 world, we're still short on local regulations to ensure marijuana businesses set up in the most logical places and with appropriate rules for operation. That's not for lack of trying.

Councilmember Nick Licata and I have worked on a bill for more than a year. We started out trying to put smart rules in place to govern the location of medical marijuana shops. With 502's approval by voters last year, Washington became the second state to approve recreational use by adults and our job as local regulators became more complicated.

We think we've come up with a pretty good bill applying basic zoning and impact principles to this quickly evolving industry. Several other cities in the state have already instituted moratoriums on any kind of marijuana-related business. In Seattle we've instead recognized that voters want these businesses and access to the products (if not for themselves, at least to change the expensive law enforcement dynamics of the past few decades). The goal is a licensing and zoning framework that, like for any other business in the city, channels businesses with certain impacts to the right parts of our city. Draft regulations include:

  • Retail of certain size and operations belongs in the slightly more intense neighborhood commercial zones.
  • Cultivation belongs in areas zoned for urban agriculture and should have a maximum size limit.
  • Processing into consumable products should happen in the semi-industrial, semi-commercial areas where craftwork and food processing happen now.

I spend a fair amount of time tracking the work of the State Liquor Control Board as they move through drafting and publishing rules for cultivation, processing and selling marijuana in our state. Questions of maximum sizes for grow operations, the buffer distance between marijuana businesses and schools and the total number of licenses to be issued in certain cities - all of these rules have been drafted and re-drafted over the past few months. You can find the State's latest rules here. And a helpful Seattle Times article on the final proposed rules here.

The big question mark for me now is how the State and we local regulators treat medical marijuana businesses in this new climate. While Councilmember Licata and I started our work to give medical marijuana businesses guidance (and they continue to proliferate in Seattle), it's now argued that we shouldn't, from a regulatory standpoint, distinguish between medical marijuana businesses and 502-inspired businesses.

The arguments for not distinguishing between recreational and medical marijuana seem to center around economics. If the State wants to see tax revenue return off production, processing and sale of legal marijuana, regulators have to get serious about the medical market. A medical access card is still ridiculously easy to get. (One of my legislative aides was asked if he wanted to buy a card for $75 at a festival this summer from a guy in a Teletubbies costume. I'm not saying Dipsy couldn't have been a medical professional, but let's guess not.)

State Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles has been a terrific leader in trying to bring reason to Washington's marijuana laws. She has already committed to bringing forward better, sharper regulations for medical marijuana in the 2014 legislative session. I began working on this zoning question because I believe patients need access to good providers. I'm looking forward to working with Sen. Kohl-Welles.

In the meantime, Seattle needs to adopt zoning rules to shape how new 502 license holders set up and operate in our city when the licenses are awarded later this year. We've kicked the legislation forward a number of times as we've tracked the State and Federal positions on 502. I believe we'll vote on Seattle's set of licensing and zoning rules in mid-October. Feel free to stay in touch if you're interested in this one. You can contact Jesse Gilliam in my office.

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Committee on Economic Resiliency & Regional Relations

Seattle Business Organizations Symposium - gathering together the neighborhood chambers and BIAs

Pop quiz - Think of your favorite neighborhood business area, the place you might get ice cream on Saturday or have a night-out dinner with family or visit for an artwalk or farmers market. What's the mix of businesses like? How does it feel to walk on the sidewalk? How do cleanliness and perceptions of safety rank? Do you feel welcome, like you can stay a while, both find what you need and be a little entertained by your surroundings?

Most of us don't realize it walking around Capitol Hill, Phinney Ridge, West Seattle, Lake City or Hillman City, but neighborhood chambers, business improvement areas and "identity" chambers scrap and scrape - usually powered by volunteers - to make these areas great.

This is hard work and I'm a fan of both saying thank you and sparking new learning, so we're gathering ALL the city's neighborhood business chambers, business improvement associations and mutual support chambers for the first Seattle Business Organizations Symposium, Friday, Sept. 20, 8 a.m.-noon, in City Hall's Bertha Knight Landes Room.

If you're part of a business organization in the city or you're a small business person wanting get involved, please join us. I promise we'll use your time well. We have a great line-up of small chamber and small business people set to share their expertise in a "quick fire" format and we have a panel of media professionals who will talk about how they work. We'll also have a great assembly of city departments and others in a resource fair. (Big thanks to the City's Office of Economic Development for helping out with that and with food to fuel the learning.)

I get to meet with small chamber people all over the city and know how creative and hard working they are - and usually a little exhausted. This will be a great opportunity to learn from each other and, if we're lucky, forge a few partnerships that will result in even healthier neighborhood business areas and small businesses.

Let us know you'll be there by RSVP'ing here and we'll save you a bagel.

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Target Hire - construction careers and the power of local government spending

In March I told you about a way other cities around the country boost the power of governmental construction spending to help local residents receive job-related training, enter the construction workforce and become living wage heroes to their families. Target Hire programs require contractors on governmental construction projects to hire an agreed upon minimum number of workers from the local area, typically from economically challenged sets of zip codes or census tracts. Usually these are workers who have faced high barriers to getting onto a construction career path.


Yesler Terrace

Earlier this month I was honored to take part in the groundbreaking for Yesler Terrace's redevelopment project. This project will not only create great housing opportunities for families of all income levels, it will provide family wage construction jobs for people living and working in Seattle.
Photo credit by Jermaine Smiley

The City of San Francisco has had such a program for more than two years. They currently require that 25% of all contracted construction employees come from the greater San Francisco area and a quarter of those must be what the program terms "disadvantaged." Their program plans to increase that percentage annually until it reaches 50% in about five years.

San Francisco leaders have been gracious with their experience and advice. They've helped us frame the initial set of questions we need to answer before deciding to proceed locally:

  • If we require a certain number of new workers on a job, how do we also make sure contractors still can hire the workers they've come to depend on to perform reliable work? Many construction workers who perform well get to be known. That should be rewarded.
  • How do we make sure union dispatching practices are respected while implementing new hiring practices?
  • How do we make sure we're not displacing one disadvantaged worker for another?
  • What is the definition of a "disadvantaged" worker?
  • To what degree do people who live in Seattle work our public construction job sites?
  • How far should our program stretch? People who live in other parts of King County and Puget Sound are part of our economy.

To help us answer these and other questions, Council and the Mayor are planning to create a Construction Careers Advisory Committee to advise on how a Target Hire program could work in Seattle. The committee will be made up of contractors, labor leaders, workforce training providers and members of the community. For more information, take a look at the resolution that just passed out of my committee.

We've asked these good people to work together through early next year and then provide a set of recommendations to the Council and the Mayor. If you'd like more information about this work, you can contact David Yeaworth in my office.

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Economic development through smoother streets

A quick good news story. Earlier this year my office, the Office of Economic Development, and Seattle Department of Transportation worked with businesses in Georgetown on complaints about the road surface. Heavy trucks in the industrial centers and the low original quality of some of the road beds in the area don't combine well on a few streets down around the Seattle Design Center (and elsewhere). This can make for an unpleasant trek for customers and vendors. After checking out the problems, SDOT paved several of the streets in major distress with asphalt and the businesses sent a great thank you note.

Kudos to SDOT's crews for their nimbleness.

taxis

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Random thoughts

Budget season about to begin
We had a briefing Mon., Sept. 9 on the revenue forecast. This happens typically a couple of weeks before the Mayor delivers his proposed budget for the coming year. (Mayor Mike McGinn will present his proposed spending plan to Council and the public Mon., Sept. 23, 2 p.m. in Council Chambers.) The Department of Finance and Administrative Services does a great job setting the context with national and regional data before getting to the city picture. I really appreciate their thoroughness.

The quick version - revenues look OK (Boeing, on-line retailing and a slight recovery in construction have made the difference for our region), but the unemployment picture isn't great nationally, Congress is heading again toward the fiscal cliff, and the Middle East makes financial people very nervous.


taxis

I had great interns this summer. Typically we've had one or two high school students join us in the summer for a week or two to learn what it's like to work in a Council office. Here's Daniel Lamkin (left) and DeJuan Rose (right). Daniel is a senior at Holliston High School in Massachusetts. DeJuan is an incoming junior at Rainier Beach High School. Both are drawn to math and engineering.

You'll hear from me again with a special e-news on the budget in October. At this point it looks like the City won't have to take out the big budget knife of past years. However, we shouldn't ramp up new spending without careful consideration of needs and outcomes (though, I'm sure election year excitement will prompt great ideas for new programs from many corners). We have unfinished business. We have continued need if not greater need to fund shelter and services connecting homeless people with permanent housing. We have Police Department obligations under the consent decree with the United States Department of Justice. We have growing pension obligations. We have public disclosure coordination needs. And more.

Stay tuned. We receive the proposed budget for 2014 and will finalize a budget for 2014 by the week before Thanksgiving.

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