Morning Crank: “This Is Our Dakota Access Pipeline Moment”

1. Environmental activists and tribal leaders have been waging a quixotic battle against Puget Sound Energy’s proposed liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant at the Port of Tacoma for months, but many Seattle residents just took notice in the past couple of weeks, after socialist council member Kshama Sawant proposed a resolution that would have condemned the plant as “an unacceptable risk” to the region.

Sawant had hoped to move the resolution through the council without sending it through the usual committee process, arguing that it it was urgent to take a position on the plant as quickly as possible. Last week, at the urging of council member Debora Juarez—an enrolled member of the Blackfeet Nation who once lived on the Puyallup Reservation—Sawant agreed to add language noting that numerous Northwest tribal groups, including the Puyallup tribe, have expressed their strong opposition to the LNG plant but have not been included in the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency’s environmental review process. Last week’s amended resolution also noted the need for intergovernmental partnerships between the PSCAA and the tribes, as required, according to the resolution, by “local, state, and federal permitting and other approval processes.”

But several council members, including Juarez, Teresa Mosqueda, Lisa Herbold, and Sally Bagshaw, still felt the resolution needed work, and they spent the weekend, starting last Thursday, drafting a version that eliminated some of Sawant’s more incendiary (pun intended) references, including two “whereas” clauses about the 2016 fire that claimed several businesses in Greenwood and sections urging both the public and Mayor Jenny Durkan to actively oppose the facility. Sawant protested that she had not been included in the process of drafting the latest version of her resolution—”I just want everyone to know that I’m not responsible for those changes,” she said Monday morning—but council members reportedly reached out to her by phone throughout the weekend and never heard back.

The basic question at issue, Juarez argued, isn’t really whether Seattle should meddle in “Tacoma’s business,” or labor versus tribes or labor versus environmentalists. It’s about the fact that climate change has a disproportionate impact on low-income people and people of color, particularly the nine tribes whose land is located in the four-county Puget Sound region, and that those tribes were not consulted in the siting or permitting process. “This is an issue that transcends any political, legal, or jurisdictional lines that people have drawn,” Juarez said. “This is our Dakota Access Pipeline moment, except that we are on the front end of this.”

Whatever the merits of that argument (some members of the labor community, for example, have argued that environmental  protection and tribal sovereignty shouldn’t trump the potential for job creation at the plant), the debate quickly pitted Sawant against other council members who supported, as Sawant put it, “postponing” the resolution. Juarez, in particular, seemed perturbed by the crowd of (largely white) activists who showed up to express their support for Sawant’s amendment and to cheer loudly throughout Sawant’s speeches, which took up nearly 20 minutes of the two-hour meeting. “I mean no disrespect to the advocates, activists, environmentalists, and other groups that align themselves with native people,” Juarez said, but “we’re not a club. We’re not a political base. We’re not a grassroots organization. We are a government. … We will not stay in our lane.” To that, Sawant responded, “This is not about government-to-government relations. This is about the lives of ordinary people, many of whom are native, but others who are not. … I don’t’ think that we should in any way accept this kind of divisive language that native people are the only real speakers and others don’t get to speak. No, all of us have a stake in this.”

Noting that the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency recently ordered further environmental review of the project, council president Bruce Harrell argued yesterday that there was no real risk in delay, telling Juarez, “I think that your advocacy that the native communities have not been consulted properly or even legally is a great point… We haven’t really had any public process on this issue.” Several council members, saying that they hadn’t seen the latest version of the legislation by late yesterday morning, just hours before they were supposed to vote on it, agreed, and the council sent the measure to Juarez’s Civic Development, Public Assets & Native Communities committee for a rewrite.

2. Public comment was mostly muted during the first council meeting on the proposed citywide Mandatory Housing Affordability proposal, which will allow small density increases in six percent of the nearly 26,000 acres zoned exclusively for single-family housing in Seattle. (That number includes parks and open space, but not rights-of-way, such as streets; when green space is excluded, single-family houses and their yards cover nearly 22,000 acres of the city, or nearly two-thirds of the city’s residential land.)  One speaker said that residents of her neighborhood come “unglued” when they find out about new buildings that don’t have parking; another called the Grand Bargain that authorized MHA a “sham bargain,” which probably sounded more clever on paper. And then there was this lady, from a group called Seattle Fair Growth:

Don’t expect density opponents to accept what they’re (misleadingly) calling a “citywide rezone” without a fight. The first public open house on the proposal is at 6:00 tonight at Hamilton Middle School in Wallingford; District 4 rep Rob Johnson, who heads up the council’s land use committee, said he’ll be there at 7.

3. I somehow missed this when it happened, but Elaine Rose, the longtime president of Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawaii, left the organization at the end of December with little fanfare and, as far as I can tell, no public announcement. Rose’s departure leaves a major agency without a permanent leader going into a short legislative session with several key bills under consideration*; an ad announcing the open position went out on a local employment listserv last week. (Planned Parenthood also listed a fundraising position earlier this month.) I’ve contacted Planned Parenthood and will update this post if I get more information about Rose’s departure.

*Full disclosure: I was communications director for NARAL Pro-Choice Washington, a reproductive rights advocacy group, until April 2017, and I do communications consulting for NARAL for approximately 3.5 hours a week. NARAL often partners with Planned Parenthood on advocacy efforts, but I found out Rose had left PPVNH through the WHOW list, which is not connected to either group.

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12 thoughts on “Morning Crank: “This Is Our Dakota Access Pipeline Moment””

  1. David: What you say about the causes of growth are surely correct. Planning for growth is what this whole debate is about, and the current round, HALA, has been debated for a few years now.

    I mostly agree with the urbanist pro-HALA arguments I have seen. But as a long-time home owner in a HALA upzone area it has been painfully obvious that there has been little appreciation for things that are lost in the changes. And there has been a lot of vilification of people such as myself who have argued that the losses should be considered in various ways.

    This may not be the place to go into more detail on that, but it is why I reacted to Erica C’s characterization of the upzones as a “very slight” density increase. Perhaps at this point we can all agree that the increase is very slight for Seattle as a whole, but in some smaller areas it is huge. People in Wallingford (well, the community council, which I do not support) are not reacting to an increase in Seattle’s density, but to the increase in our neighborhood. I am reacting to the increase in the urban village part of Wallingford where the upzones are now in front of the city council.

    If the proposed upzones happen, it would allow an increase inside the urban village of what I am guessing is 10 or more times the current population if everything were built to the max. In reality I am guessing it could easily triple in the urban village and in smaller area I will be surprised if it doesn’t grow by at least three times. So, perspective is everything if you are calling it a “very slight” increase. I like her writing in most cases, but on this point Erica’s phrasing looks to me like minimizing a cost of growth.

  2. …”allowing very slightly higher density…” I’m in the Wallingford sacrifice zone (single-family part of the urban village). Some of the SF area will go only to LR1. That would put, by my estimate, maybe five times the number of residents per lot. A block from me it goes to LR3. Six stories, so maybe 20 times the residents on the same lot. Other areas go to LR2, with increases somewhere between. How is that “very slightly higher?”

    I have owned my SF-zoned house for about 30 years. I am anti-growth globally, but it’s happening here willy-nilly and so I support the upzones (though not MHA). And you are, IMO, correct to point out the hyper-ventilation of some opponents. But calling the upzone around me “slightly higher density” sounds either like conscious distortion or is arithmetic-challenged. (maybe you are “hypo-ventilating”?) What would it take for you to admit the density would be just plain “higher” without the silly “slightly” — 20 stories? …that’s next door in the U-district.

    1. LR3 is 50 feet, or up to four stories, not six stories as you claim. LR1 is up to 30 feet and includes townhouses or row houses, not apartment buildings. And the fact is that the MAJORITY of the zoning change—which, again, impacts just six percent of Seattle’s single-family land—will be to a designation called Residential Small Lot (RSL), which allows up to three units (or a single-family house and one backyard cottage) on lots that are now SF. It also requires more tree cover and a lower floor-area ratio than current SF zoning, which has no FAR restriction. Your description of what will happen in the 6% of SF lots that will be impacted by this change, in other words, are inaccurate; it is, in fact, a minor increase in density.

      1. Erica – first, the LR3 I have seen is 55 feet, but I just googled and saw yet another page on the city which does show 50. And the city’s HALA drawings show there 4-story LR2. But either way, density changes from SF to either one represent more than “very slightly” more density on my block, which is what I meant, though as I re-read I did not make that clear. City-wide, you might say that, though I would note that you were also not clear on that.

      2. “Wallingford sacrifice zone”? Get over yourself.

        When/if the upzone goes through, your property will go up in value. Your house will sell for more. You’re already sitting on a windfall (buying in Wallingford 30 years ago guarantees that your house is worth at least 10x what it was worth when you bought it), and this will only further increase your value. Cry me a river.

    2. “Wallingford sacrifice zone”? Get over yourself.

      When/if the upzone goes through, your property will go up in value. Your house will sell for more. You’re already sitting on a windfall (buying in Wallingford 30 years ago guarantees that your house is worth at least 10x what it was worth when you bought it), and this will only further increase your value. Cry me a river.

      1. To the troll hiding behind the moniker “Willis”: IMO ANY growth anywhere is a sacrifice in our over-populated world. Your reply suggests that to you the only thing that matters is money. The neighborhood as I have known and loved it is going away. I said I support the upzones. I guess that’s not enough? It has really gotten old seeing urbanists minimize what is being given up and insults from trolls like you who keep pointing out the increase in value (though not the concurrent increase in taxes) that we would gladly forgo for a non-growth future.

      2. Michael –

        Even in a theoretical zero growth world (stable population state), migration is still a thing meaning that growth planning and accommodation will always be essential. Seattle is not growing merely because global population is rising, Seattle is growing because it is a desirable place to live with a strong economy and great career and life opportunities. Even in a scenario with a declining global population, Seattle would likely be a growing area due to these factors.

        I do not have a strong opinion on the specifics of Seattle’s growth plans besides the observation that they seem to have deferred necessary planning until it was a decade or two too late. I only know that growth is inevitable as a local issue regardless of the global situation and as such it must be planned for and neighborhoods will change over time. I bought my house in 2001 in Renton and my neighborhood has changed dramatically in both demographic composition and density and while it is certainly different, it is not a bad thing as the city has invested in infrastructure upgrades to lessen the burden. Hopefully Seattle is likewise keeping up on their end of the deal, but I don’t know enough to say for certain.

    3. “That would put, by my estimate, maybe five times the number of residents per lot. A block from me it goes to LR3. Six stories, so maybe 20 times the residents on the same lot”

      What’s the issue here? If the count of humans living in geographic proximiy increasing upsets you, the core of a central city just might not be the very best place to suit your preferences.

      1. Dang, Bryan did you speed-read my post and miss any point that might have been made just to get to “love it or leave it?” What you quoted was simply an attempt to rebut the notion that in my little corner of the world it is not correct to call the MHA upzone ‘very slightly higher density’ I mean, 500 to 2,000 percent increase just ain’t ‘very slightly higher’. Jeezum, I also said I support the upzone, and want to see more around the city. I accept it because it’s the right thing to do though I don’t like it. ..So, what, we can go ahead and accept the changes and you will still minimize the pain and tell us if we don’t like it we should just leave, as if that, too, would be like nothing. Do you want me to smile with that acceptance? Would you like fries with that?

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