What are you doing tomorrow evening at 5:00? If your answer is “screwing around on Facebook” or “sitting in traffic” or “I dunno, Netflix and chill?”, CHANGE YOUR PLANS and come down to City Hall (600 4th Ave.) in downtown Seattle to Mayor Ed Murray’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda discussion. Or just get your butt in a seat to show your support, or to learn more about HALA if you’re unconvinced–the point is, this is the first big opportunity in 2016 for the public to offer the city feedback on how they should implement HALA, and turnout will help determine whether the Grand Bargain that made the HALA deal possible survives despite vocal pushback from a small but organized group of property owners and single-family preservationists.
Last week, newly minted city council member Rob Johnson–the former director of the Transportation Choices Coalition–showed up at a meeting of the Wallingford Community Council that was billed as a chance for neighbors to learn about the city’s nefarious plans to, among other things:
- “Push out locally-owned small businesses that cannot afford the higher rents in new mid-rise mixed-use buildings
- “Accelerate demolition of existing affordable housing by creating new incentives for developers and raising taxes on properties that are not redeveloped
- “Replace affordable housing with top-dollar houses and apartments, with only 5 to 7% of new units reserved as affordable.”
Johnson wasn’t invited to the meeting, but it’s in his district (Northeast Seattle’s District 4), so he showed up. By all accounts, the freshman council member was astonished and even “traumatized” by the event, where meeting organizers showed video taken (out of context, he says) from the campaign trail showing Johnson advocating for a land value tax. The group’s leaders also criticized Johnson for positions TCC took under his leadership, including opposition to mandatory parking minimums at new developments.
Without getting into the intricacies of what the organizers, including longtime Wallingford density opponent Greg Hill, were mad about, it’s enough to say that those who showed up for the forum (physical invitations were apparently dropped off at people’s houses) were treated to a rather skewed view of both Johnson and HALA, which Hill and other community council leaders vehemently oppose.
I talked to Johnson two days after the meeting (he told me he needed a day “to process” what had happened), and he told me he was taken aback that a “presentation that I thought was going to be about planning would be so focused on me.”
Johnson says the meeting, which he says was the first neighborhood meeting many in the audience told him they had ever attended, created “a lot of confusion” about HALA and upzones, and left the impression that Johnson had no interest in listening to how residents wanted to see their own neighborhoods grow.
“[Hill] left that out of his presentation that I’ve talked a lot about giving neighborhoods the power to control their own destiny around where they want density and what they want that density to look like,” Johnson says. “I just want to say, if you’re going to take 5,000 people in this urban village, if you want it to be in backyard cottages, here are the pros and cons, and if you want it to be in tall towers, here are the pros and cons. That’s the process that I’ve been advocating for.”
I asked Johnson whether his experience bearing the wrath of Wallingford might, as some HALA advocates worry, make him a less-vocal advocate for Murray’s proposal. He said: “I ran for council on a very strong pro-HALA platform. For me, this isn’t a question about whether out not we implement the HALA recommendations, it’s a question of how we implement them and the process that guides us.
“I absolutely still want to work with people. The issue for me wasn’t about being yelled at. The issue for me was about not having a seat at table while getting yelled at.”