Morning Crank: The Right Side of History

Peter Rogoff

In the spirit of last Friday’s Morning Crank, here are five things I heard at the Transportation Choices Coalition’s New Year’s transportation forum, held last Wednesday at City Hall. I moderated the panel, which included city council member Rob Johnson, TCC advocacy director Abigail Doerr, King County Council member Claudia Balducci, and Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff. In truth, the statements I’m quoting are from Rogoff and Johnson, whose comments dealt specifically with the political situation in Seattle; this is not an attempt to silence Doerr or Balducci, the two other women on the panel, whose thoughts on Metro, transit on the Eastside, and the future of transportation advocacy were cogent and valuable. For my Seattle politics site, though, I’ve focused on the remarks specific to Seattle politics, and encourage you to watch the whole event yourself on the Seattle Channel website; the whole thing runs about an hour.

1. Johnson, on what it will take to ensure that Metro’s expansion of Rapid Ride bus service throughout the city will be true bus rapid transit, not just express buses stuck in traffic: “We need to connect with individuals on the ground about the rationale for why [we’re building Rapid Ride]. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a conversation with somebody who articulates their strong environmental values and in the same breath talks to me about how important it is for people to have more parking spaces in the city. We need to do a much better job connecting the values of our city around sustainability, the environment, and race and social justice with the importance of capital facilities like bus-only lanes.

“The 44 is a critical bus route that runs, basically, from the very tail end of Ballard all the way through Fremont, Wallingford, and the University of Washington, and I believe we should be expanding that as a Rapid Ride corridor and running it all the way to University Village. When we do, we’re going to receive opposition not just from the community but from business owners who will say, ‘Taking away a parking space hurts my business. My argument would be that everyone who gets on and off a bus has a wallet too, and they could be spending money in your business.”

“It’s really disturbing for me when I hear somebody talking about how glad they were to see the neighborhood district councils stand up for single-family zoning and then in the next breath disparage the president for wanting to build a wall between the US and Mexico. I see those two things as actually linked.” – City Council member Rob Johnson

2Rogoff, on the long history of collisions, many of them fatal,  between light rail trains and pedestrians in the Rainier Valley—a lower-income area, populated largely by people of color, that is the only part of the regional system where light rail runs primarily at street level: “This is not just a light or rail grade crossing safety risk. It is also, quite frankly, more prominently a pedestrian safety risk. There’s a tendency for people to be walking on the streets looking at their devices with earbuds in their ears and it’s killed a whole bunch of people. It already did. There’s only so much we can do, frankly, for someone who insists on walking singularly focused on their device, with music playing in their ears, when our warnings, our available warnings, in addition to putting down gates to actually block [the crossing] is lights and alarms.” (Rail crossings in the Rainier Valley, it’s worth noting, do not include physical barriers between pedestrian areas and the tracks.)

3. Johnson, on the possibility that the city and county will lose federal funds in retaliation for remaining “sanctuary” jurisdictions that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration crackdowns: “We will fight back against those cuts. There is a strong argument that we can make that says you can’t cut our transportation dollars because of a decision that we make on immigration, but we also are prepared to lose every single penny of those federal funds to make sure that we are a welcoming city.

“The biggest concern for me is watching the appropriation process on an annual basis, making sure that the federal funds that have been allocated to us as a region actually get appropriated to us.”

4. Rogoff, on the possibility that the Trump Administration could cut federal funding, to Sound Transit (Trump is reportedly taking its cues on transportation from the Heritage Foundation, which advocates eliminating federal funding for public transit, and his transportation secretary, Elaine Chao, is a GOP insider who is closely affiliated with the foundation):  “[Trump] said a lot of things, actually throughout the campaign. … There’s a lot of upticks that come with [transportation budget] proposals in some administrations and downticks that come with proposals [in] other administrations, but often Congress levels out the upticks and downticks quite a bit. Congress is going to have to consent to the budget presented by the White House. … I would just say, watch this space and see if their proposals will be as draconian as expected.”

Rob Johnson

5. Finally, Johnson, bringing down the transit-loving, density-friendly house on the contentious University District upzone, which Johnson’s Planning, Land Use and Zoning Committee will discuss tomorrow morning:  “This is about making sure that the council members that represent those districts where we’re going to see long-term investments are also going to be willing to stand up to single-family homeowners who are saying,  ‘Don’t turn my single-family home into a place where you can build a duplex or a triplex.’

“I feel, as the chair of the committee, that it’s my responsibility to make sure that we’re a welcoming city for everybody, and it’s really disturbing for me when I hear … somebody talking about how glad they were to see the neighborhood district councils stand up for single-family zoning and then in the next breath disparage the president for wanting to build a wall between the US and Mexico. I see those two things as actually linked. I see us, as a city, really needing to build more housing for more people, because we’re adding 40 people per day but we’re only building 12 housing units per day, and that’s creating an economic circumstance where lower-income people and middle-income people are being forced out of the city, and I think we need the political will for folks to step in that space and create change for more density around those stations. I firmly believe that. It may result in me only having this job for four years, but if that’s the case, I feel like I’ll have gone down on the right side of history.”

12 thoughts on “Morning Crank: The Right Side of History”

  1. Love Rob Johnson. He’s dead on about the NIMBYS. I want to see a big expansion of the “small lot residential” zoning in HALA. Especially, we need a city “Homeowners Anti-displacement Program” that would actively seek out and support homeonwers of modest means who’d like to stay in their homes by remodeling to have rooms or apartments for rent. They could be linked up with qualified non-profits for assessment and planning, and given favorable loan financing. Another big benefit of this zoning would be to encourage developers of infill housing to build duplexes or triplexes instead of single family mansions.

    1. “Especially, we need a city “Homeowners Anti-displacement Program” that would actively seek out and support homeonwers of modest means who’d like to stay in their homes by remodeling to have rooms or apartments for rent.”

      This issue really gives away the show for single family zoning dead-enders who pretend their preferred policy is in the interests of low and medium income residents. I have neighbors who’ve lived in a very large, old house for over 40 years, and raised several kids there. They’ve got deep attachments to the neighborhood and want to stay, but they’re relatively low income and struggle to afford property tax and upkeep. They would love to turn their house into 3-4 apartments, live in one and rent the rest, which would benefit them and provide some non-luxury new housing units in a desirable neighborhood for no cost to the city, benefitting housing affordability coming and going, but oh no we can’t have that. Even trying to figure out how to create a DADU to live in and rent one large unit, which is technically allowed, as been made needlessly bureaucratically difficult and expensive by the single family protectionist movement.

      Particularly pleased to see Johnson calling out their fake environmentalism. Yes, laws that increase the square foot per unit and incentivize more car use and greater sprawl are terrible for the environment. That shouldn’t be controversial, but the insane SFZ protectionists have convinced themselves otherwise.

  2. Absolutely disgusting what Rob Johnson is saying and the tactics that he is using to push his agenda. It troubles me deeply that people simply accept the opinions of the pro-HALA government as fact.

    If ANYONE in this argument is using ‘Trump’ like tactics it is Rob and our Mayor. Manipulating data (alternate facts) to support their cause, calling citizens names and ridiculing them for seeing through the ruse and fighting for exactly what the city CLAIMS it is supporting.

    Holding community meetings yet only allowing City representatives speak or tell their perspective. Not taking questions from the audience, or not having anyone present that can actually speak to the specifics….just repeat the marketing slogans they have memorized.

    Please do some research on your own, look into who is financing HALA, Rob, Mayor Murray…

    Don’t be sucked into Rob J and the cities con job. HALA is NOT about affordability, it is NOT about livability, it is about letting developers maximize profit and minimize return to the community. It is about removing removing current affordable (older) split houses and apartments and replacing them with $1M+ condos.
    It is about allowing developers to place ‘new affordable’ housing anywhere they please…no requirement AT ALL to build ‘affordable’ units on-site.

    THIS is how you segregate a neighborhood. This is NOT inclusiveness, this is NOT diversity, this is NOT livability. This is government sanctioned segregation by class.

    Not a physical wall in this case, but a wall none the less… and thanks to Rob, Mr Murray, and the City Counsel you get to pay for it.

    Most of us that are opposed to HALA are NOT at all opposed to growth. We are however wanting to be involved in the process, and to be heard when we say that there are better and worse places in OUR neighborhood to promote that growth. We want development that fits within the neighborhood (style, setbacks, greenspace, etc. We want developers to pay their share of infrastructure improvement to help support new growth (under HALA, they pay nothing). We want to be heard when it comes to transportation (personal/public, etc) and how WE need to be able to get where we need to go now. We are for increased mass transit, but it has to come BEFORE we do away with parking, force/price everyone out of their cars, and add thousands of people into small neighborhoods with poor transit, crumbling infrastructure, no upkeep, no policing, etc.

    We want diversity of all kinds. We want a NEIGHBORHOOD.

    HALA will not give us ANY of this, of what (I believe most people on both sides of the argument) want.

  3. Single family homeowner Rob Johnson comparing us to Trump for defending Single Family Zoning. It’s insulting, infuriating and hypocritical.

    But I must correct one other false statement from this article: “we’re adding 40 people per day but we’re only building 12 housing units per day.”

    One, comparing people to housing units is misleading because an average of two people live in each housing unit. So instead, we should say 20 households per day compared to 12 housing units per day. But this 12 housing units per day figure is based on data from 2010-2015 when we were still recovering from the big housing market crash. We have since recovered. According to Dupree + Scott, 10,000 housing units will come online in 2017. That’s 27 housing units per day!

    In addition, the initial pictorial that Johnson is referencing is from Sightline, who received a $50,000 grant to promote HALA and pro-upzone policies, not exactly an unbiased source.


    1. Susanna,

      All three of those figures (job growth, population growth, and new housing units) are a matter of public record. If you think Sightline is being dishonest about one or more those figures, please do your homework and share your results. Otherwise, your unsupported insinuation that they are not being honest here is itself a dishonest and ugly rhetorical tactic.

      1. djw172, Susana is correcting their data to be more accurate so that’s not as you say “a dishonest and ugly rhetorical tactic”. she’s also pointing out that the numbers aren’t complete.

        Sightline has been compensated by the city by the way. That’s not “unsupported insinuation”.

        You can disparage your fellow citizens concerns all day, but that doesn’t mean that council members should go against the will of their constituents. They’re “representing” the neighborhoods their constituents are in. That’s their job.

      2. To be clear: Susanna insinuated that Sightline is not to be trusted, but she didn’t bother to say how she reached that conclusion–if she has any reason to think the data on people moving to Seattle, jobs added, or housing units added isn’t correct, she’s keeping it to herself. If she’s going to claim Sightline is “biased” in good faith, she should, at a bare minimum, give us a plausible reason to think they’re being dishonest. If you don’t have such a reason, don’t make the insinuation.

      3. I stated the data is old. New housing units data from Dupree + Scott is quoted in the Seattle times article which I did reference.

    2. It is “infuriating” to be — correctly!– told racist single family zoning is like Trump’s border wall ? Welp. Try living on the other side of that wall? Perhaps too difficult for the privileged + housed…

      Johnson isn’t a hypocrite:

      Speaking of “alt facts” — comparing people to housing units isn’t “misleading” as most newcomers moving here are SINGLE! Seattle’s average household size — the one fact-challenged NIMBYS keep massacring like a Conway tall tale– is EXISTING residents and EXISTING units. Most newcomers the last 5 years are SINGLE, so Sightline comparison is appropriate and much more accurate than the fairy tale being told here. Trump would be proud of command of these alt-facts you’re spreading!

      More “alt-facts” from conservative status quo nutters; there is ZERO guarantee 10,000 units will open in 2017. For one, your ideological idol, zoning wise and other –Herr Drumpf– may cripple markets and explode homelessness. And that’s before he decimated HUD, making the — yes, racist– effects of single family zoning yuuuuuuge-r. Furthermore, even fewer units built this year will be affordable as alt-right homeowners believe their — yes, racist– preferences are more important than MHA and affordable housing rezones.

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