Johnson Defends HALA After Tough Meeting in Wallingford

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.Urban-Village-Flyer-FINAL3-300x253

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.”

26 thoughts on “Johnson Defends HALA After Tough Meeting in Wallingford”

  1. I very much hope councilmember Johnson keeps in mind that these people aren’t representative: his district returned almost twice as many votes for pro-growth candidates in the primary than anti-growth candidates. These people are loud, but the majority support sharing the city–even if they don’t have as much time on their hands to come to meetings as those who don’t.

    1. I would like to point out that pro-density isn’t the only reason people vote. They may support a candidate for other reasons but still NOT be in favor of HALA. I wouldn’t breathe a sigh of relief too soon. We will fight this to the end.

  2. Welcome to the next four years, Rob. Not everyone is going to like you, and you will be yelled at. Hopefully next time you’ll be prepared to defend good policy, and organize HALA supporters to also show up – this is too important, and much more important than your feelings being hurt.

  3. I’m another resident who wasn’t invited, but showed up at The Good Shepherd anyway. It was not a rational discussion about the future of Wallingford, but a well organized campaign by preservationists to scare monger homeowners about the comprehensive plan and HALA (often confusing the two). Despite anti-developer rhetoric, their agenda suits developers just fine. They’re making bank building project after project of luxury condos, apartments, and townhomes in Wallingford for the tech workers in SLU. They also made a number of claims about the loss of “affordable housing” in Wallingford, which is news to me, since I haven’t seen any around here for a long time. It was very strange to hear their nostalgic vision of a suburban enclave in the midst of the major employment and transit centers of Seattle, which makes absolutely no sense from an urban planning or equity point of view.

    My hope for Wallingford is a more diverse, less car-dependent community where my son’s teachers can live and not commute from 15 miles away. The status quo is pretty clearly not going to get us there. HALA and Seattle 2035 are far from perfect and need to be adapted with input from Wallingford, but rejecting the process outright is not going to lead to good outcomes. City Hall should be willing to listen, and be prepared to put a strong case forward for these changes with data supporting a net increase in affordability.

    1. If you think the Hala proposal is going to create affordable housing in Wallingford you are living in dream land. Those developers will pay the penalty fee and build 800,000.00 condos to sell to tech-bros. Tearing up Seattle neighborhoods will do nothing for you to be able to buy anything in the neighborhoods where you really want to live. Let’s ruin Seattle and make developers tons of money and build affordable housing……elsewhere. You pro development people are so misguided.

  4. I voted for Rob, and I support HALA. I also support removal of parking minimums.

    So yes, I think Rob has his priorities straight. Do the people yelling angrily at him have *their* priorities straight?

    1. Parking minimums? Wallingford is already soaking up all the spillover parking from upzoned Fremont. Where does it go after Wallingford is upscaled – Greenlake?

  5. Received no invite for this, despite living less than 4 blocks from the Good Shephard Center.
    I guess the organizers felt that us townhouse-dwellers didn’t have any useful input to provide.

    1. We had townhouse dwellers last night … and they weren’t invited, but neither were the long-term residents, like ourselves. This was as city “Community Meeting”, after all ,and the city certainly didn’t want to advertise it to the community.

  6. Bryan – looks like you and a lot of your neighbors have a different view of what Wallingford is all about. You don’t appreciate the current Wallingford, and “they” don’t appreciate your view of future Wallingford. Not sure why you are against SFH, existing houses, apt. buildings, local retail, and current business buildings. Why tear down existing useful buildings to put up higher priced/higher rent buildings for Wallingford residents? Who wins with this scenario? How much more housing would it take to flatline rents or actually lower rents? All the new apartment buildings going in are higher rents than rents in older buildings they replace. Ballard’s avg rent per unit is higher after all the build out in the last 10 years. New units = higher rents.

    1. Everyone knows new apartments are more expensive than older apartments – that’s because new stuff is more expensive than old stuff. It’s hilarious that anti-city folks use that as though it’s not a completely trivial point.

      It’s also hilarious that you think anyone is against any of those things you listen. No one is against those things. We realize that restrictive zoning which the anti city folks want specifically causes the exclusionary nature of these mostly white Amber crusted neighborhood. That’s probably what you want though, isn’t it?

      Otherwise you would have no problem giving young people like me a chance to live near people like you by allowing different forms of single family housing that would work for me, or allow corner stores to be built in a walkable manner.

      But you’re not for that – you want your exclusivity.

      1. Since we aren’t exclusionary, we are not pleased that our friends in lower-income housing are being driven out of the city by the mayor’s farce of “affordable housing”, which is mostly just a ploy to put money in developers’ and the citys’ pockets while claiming they are helping those with lower incomes. “White, amber-crusted neighborhood”? That is not really fair. If I am “privileged”, it is because after a lifetime of hard work and saving, I have a piece of what I want from life. Sorry, that’s not privilege.

        We were at a meeting last night where the city reps did a dance, and didn’t answer most of our questions. Insults and namecalling are the last resort of those who cannot support their opinions with facts and data.

      2. Oh please… cliché to resort to calling people who are against tearing up Seattle neighborhoods “exclusionary” Might as well throw in a rich NIMBY accusation. This is a typical way for pro development people to succinctly dismiss any real concerns people may have about what these proposals will do to their neighborhoods and communities. If you think you are going to be able to afford one of those new condos…you are misguided. No developer will create affordable housing for you in such a popular neighborhood. They will pay the fee and charge half a million for a one bedroom. Good luck…except now Wallingford will be ugly/

    2. I want future Wallingford to be like old Wallingford, none of which could be built had exclusionary single family zoning on 5,000 SF lots was superimposed on it earlier. Our area of NW Wallingford has:

      – lot of houses on 3,000 SF lots
      – small multi-family mixed in: there’s a triplex on the end of our block, a few blocks away are the Mari-Don apartments and the row houses at 48th and Wallingford and a duplex with a walkout basement (making it one of the most affordable forms, a 3-flat).

      This made “old Wallingford” and “Wallingford as we’ve known it” a more diverse, vibrant, and walkable place. We’d be in a much better position on those dimensions as well as affordability if “adding more like them” hadn’t been banned in 1957.

      But they were and now the way forward is not to double down on it but accept that we have two choices for the future (as we don’t intend to move): to become like San Francisco (we’re getting close–the price of entry for a habitable SFH is over $600k already) or restore housing diversity.

      Aside from the human decency of wanting to enable people (including those who make our neighborhood great like teachers in our neighborhood schools and servers in our neighborhood restaurants) to have a shot at living here, “land near jobs” is a precious resource to be shared, not hoarded.

      1. I am a public school teacher and I already live in the city. If HALA passes, they will sell my apartment building to build ugly townhouses/condos and sell them for a price I can’t afford. your argument makes no sense,

  7. I live in the area. I got a physical invitation on our doorstep. Hyperbole and histrionics would be a fair characterization of its content.

    A bigger issue is that a lot of “neighbors” don’t want a “process.” They want to freeze the area in amber forever. They don’t want to discuss how to accommodate 5,000 new residents. They want to prevent anyone who isn’t already here (or rich enough to adored one of the existing family detached homes) from coming here.

    They value suburban things (e.g., copious free parking, separation of housing forms and commercial uses) and place little or no value on urban things (e.g., socioeconomic diversity, more services and businesses within walking distance).

  8. Rob J. – looks like you have drawn the battle lines: you and HALA vs. the residents in your district you are suppose to represent and support. Got your priorities straight?

    1. We’re residents he represents. He has exactly the right priorities, helping Wallingford contribute to carbon neutrality, welcome people of every economic strata who want to live here near transit and parks, and preventing it from becoming a San Francisco style neighborhood for no one but the rich.

      1. We asked them last night if they could name a single HALA-type program, anywhere in the country, that had actually worked. The city representatives did a little dance, and couldn’t. Wallingford, by the way, is incredibly green – a condition the city will eliminate with their current program, to everyone’s detriment — starting with shading out a huge number of home solar systems feeding energy back into the grid.

        A city rep is on record as saying that upzoning drives up all of the property taxes in the upzone area — hopefully “nudging out” the homeowners, so their property can be redeveloped. You live here, really?!?

    1. This is crap! Kick out local businesses,kick out and tear down affordable housing. Then we build up high end and affordable housing probably with business fronts on the bottom. Did I get that right? This is nothing but Corporate greed at its charitable best. Can we all say this together? BIG MONEY AT IT’S FINEST!

      1. Amen. My wife works with the poor every day. The city doesn’t care — everywhere but here, were they can artificially drive up property taxes or grease the palms of developer buddies — the takeaways from service to the poor is a constant battle. Far more people I know – friends, family – have been driven out of the city by “housing affordability” and Minecraft megaplexes than have been kept in — the fees for not adding affordable units are a joke, and most developers don’t.

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