Morning Crank: Parking Reform, Density Delay Tactics, Election Funding, and More

A look back at some of the meetings I didn’t get around to covering last week:

1. Last week, as the city council’s Planning, Land Use, and Zoning committee began to discuss legislation that would overhaul parking requirements for new development around the city, council member Lisa Herbold argued that the city should do a more extensive study of parking demand before adopting parking reforms that could result in developments with less parking per unit. A 2012 King County survey of 95 existing buildings Seattle concluded that about 35 percent of parking spaces sit vacant at night, but Herbold wondered why the city hadn’t done a more recent survey, in the years since the council eliminated parking minimums in the densest urban areas. “If we’re going to be changing policies based on our perception of our success. I think it ‘s just helpful to have data about unused parking in buildings where we’ve been doing this for a while,” Herbold said. A council staffer countered that doing so would require the city to seek permission from landlords to get inside their garages in the middle of the night, and suggested that the data probably wouldn’t be much different than it was five years ago. According to the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections (SDCI), the average apartment has 0.72 parking spaces, and the average demand for parking ranges from 0.3 to 0.8 parking spaces per unit.

Herbold also questioned the city’s conclusion that between 40 and 48 percent of Seattle renters do not own cars, citing a statistic showing that 77 percent of people living in multifamily units own cars, until a city staffer pointed out that that data was regionwide. And, in a letter to SDCI director Nathan Torgelson that was included in last week’s committee materials, she questioned whether rents would actually go down if parking was “unbundled” from rent, meaning that renters without cars could not be forced to pay for parking spaces they will never use, and suggested that “most parking is unbundled,” a conclusion Torgelson said wasn’t accurate. “[D]ata from 2017 indicate that in the region about 50% of apartment buildings… have parking bundled into the costs of rents,” Torgelson wrote—a number that is higher in the southern half of the city, an area that  includes Herbold’s West Seattle district.

The legislation would also change the definition of “frequent transit service” (one measure that determines where apartments may be built without parking) to an average frequency taken by measuring actual arrival times over an hour and ten minutes. Currently, if a bus is supposed to arrive every 15 minutes but it arrives one minute late once an hour, it doesn’t count as “frequent” enough to reduce or eliminate parking requirements; the new measure would average actual arrivals over time, to account for the fact that buses, like cars, sometimes get stuck in traffic.

The PLUZ committee will hold a public hearing on the parking reform proposals on February 21.

2. Reducing parking requirements for new buildings is one key element of the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda, a plan to add housing, including affordable housing, across the city. Another cornerstone of HALA is a new requirement called Mandatory Housing Affordability, which requires developers of multifamily housing to include units affordable for people making less than 60 percent of the Seattle-area median income, or to pay into a fund to build affordable units elsewhere. A group calling itself SCALE (the Seattle Coalition for Affordability, Livability, and Equity) has sued to force the city into a longer, more drawn-out environmental review process to assess the impact of MHA, and a representative from the group, longtime Lake City neighborhood activist Sarajane Siegfriedt, gave a progress report to the Phinney Ridge Community Council last Tuesday.

Never has a room full of white North Seattle homeowners (most of them over 50, which I point out not to be ageist but as a sign of who generally has time to get super involved in neighborhood activism) acted so concerned about the fate of “large immigrant and refugee families” who would, Siegfriedt said, soon be unable to find houses for rent in Beacon Hill, Othello, and Rainier Beach if MHA went forward. “These are the only places where large immigrant families can rent,” Siegfriedt said, “so when we start talking about people living in single-family homes being exclusionary, well, that’s not true on the face of it. In fact, it’s a refuge.”

SCALE’s big objection to HALA is that it proposes allowing developers to build low-density multifamily housing in 6 percent of the nearly two-thirds of Seattle that is currently zoned exclusively for single-family housing. These upzones, which are confined to areas immediately adjacent to already dense urban villages and centers, will help accommodate some of the 120,000 people expected to move to Seattle by 2035. Siegfriedt said that by forcing the city to do individual environmental assessments for every single neighborhood that would be impacted by MHA, SCALE hopes to “delay [MHA] a year or more—and I hope we could get neighborhood planning back on the table.”

3. On Friday, the council’s finance and neighborhoods committee dug into the details of Mayor Jenny Durkan’s proposal to spend $2 million on rental vouchers for certain people at risk for becoming homeless. The program targets a subsection of people on the waiting list for Seattle Housing Authority Section 8 vouchers—federally funded housing vouchers that people can use to rent housing on the private market, as long as that housing is below the fair market rent set by HUD, currently around $1,200 for a one-bedroom apartment. The $2 million is part of $11 million the city expects to see from the sale of a piece of land in South Lake Union that currently houses the city’s radio-communications repair shop; the rest of the proceeds (which also include an early payment  into the aforementioned MHA affordable-housing fund, for a total of $13 million) will pay to design a new fire station in South Lake Union, relocate the communications shop, and for “bridge housing” in the form of tiny houses and a seventh authorized encampment, this one for chronically homeless women.

To qualify for a temporary city voucher, a person must be on the SHA waiting list, currently housed but at risk of becoming homeless, and at or below 50 percent of area median income.

To give a sense of how many people who need housing and will actually be eligible for Durkan’s Bridge to Housing funding over the two years the pilot will be underway, consider: 22,000 people entered the lottery to get on SHA’s 2017 waiting list. Of those 22,000, just 3,500 won slots on the waiting list to get a voucher sometime in the next two or three years, or fewer than 16 percent. According to the city, about 15 percent of people on the 2015 waiting list were housed when they got on the list but became homeless. Using that figure, I extrapolated that (very roughly) 525 people on the current list are housed but at risk of becoming homeless. Extrapolating further, the average assistance for a person on this list works out to $158 a month over the two years of the pilot program. I’m sure there are factors I’m not accounting for—don’t @ me—but that’s a pretty paltry sum in a city where the average one-bedroom apartment now costs around $1,800.

4. It will be another month or so before the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission releases its first-year report on Initiative 122, the voter-approved measure that imposed new campaign contribution restrictions and authorized public campaign financing through “democracy vouchers” sent to every registered voter, but two of the unsuccessful candidates for city council Position 8 (won by Teresa Mosqueda) showed up at the commission’s meeting last Friday to offer their own takes on what worked, and didn’t, about the program. Jon Grant, who received the maximum possible amount of $300,000 in public funding for his race against Mosqueda, praised the program, calling it “an outstanding success—and you know I’m telling the truth because I’m the guy who lost.”

But Hisam Goueli, another “guy who lost” in the same race—he failed to make it through the primary—said if he ever ran again, he wouldn’t participate in the program. Goueli said he spent “several hours every day begging people to complete the process,” which required candidates to receive and have King County Elections validate at least 400 signatures, along with 400 contributions of at least $10, from registered voters, before they were eligible for public funding. Goueli said he was finally cleared to use democracy vouchers the day before the election—too late to do a mailing or a last-minute ad push. Because he had opted to participate in the democracy voucher program, Goueli was subject to smaller contribution limits—$250, as opposed to $500—than candidates who didn’t participate, but he never saw any of the benefits.

And “those people who had the most money in democracy vouchers”—Grant and Mosqueda—”still won the primary,” Goueli said. “The program is a cumbersome process, and even if you do it, it doesn’t limit big money” in the form of independent expenditures, which the city does not have the authority to restrict. Mosqueda, who was the political director at the Washington State Labor Council before joining the city council, benefited from about $200,000 in outside spending by unions.

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18 thoughts on “Morning Crank: Parking Reform, Density Delay Tactics, Election Funding, and More”

  1. I don’t even live in an urban village or expansion zone so why the heck do I care and support SCALEs efforts and why should you?

    Because MHA is an unbalanced bargain that favors the same developers who have funded many of our council members campaigns. Because affordable housing fees pale in comparison to other major cities. Because the same people who desperately need affordable housing where they live won’t get it because they will be built elsewhere. (No requirements for housing to be built in the same urban villages impacted). Because the city is not counting the naturally affordable units that will be razed in their net new affordable housing numbers. Because the EIS offers no real alternatives to affordable housing other than three flavors of the same thing; upzones. Because one size fits all upzones do not consider the unique characteristics of each urban village; where some would welcome the new development and others would face severe displacement pressures. I would go on but I am getting writers cramp.

    Plus what Bill said.

    Jon Lisbin. Seattle Fair Growth & SCALE

    1. Your argument seems to be that because it does not do enough it should be abandoned. That is a classic fallacy, letting the imagined perfect be the enemy of the better. A more logical and ethically consistent approach would be to support MHA and start work on improving it to make up for the issues you identified with it.

      …unless of course the real goal is to derail density rather than to apply it fairly…

  2. A comment that apparently the crank doesn’t to leave posted:

    You wrote, “SCALE’s big objection to HALA is that it proposes allowing developers to build low-density multifamily housing in 6 percent of the nearly two-thirds of Seattle that is currently zoned exclusively for single-family housing. These upzones, which are confined to areas immediately adjacent to already dense urban villages and centers, will help accommodate some of the 120,000 people expected to move to Seattle by 2035. Siegfriedt said that by forcing the city to do individual environmental assessments for every single neighborhood that would be impacted by MHA, SCALE hopes to “delay [MHA] a year or more—and I hope we could get neighborhood planning back on the table.”

    This is an administrative appeal, not a lawsuit.

    I am the PR Chair of SCALE. Neither SCALE nor I ever quoted 6 percent of the 2/3 of Seattle that is zoned single-family. In fact, only 35% of Seattle’s acreage is zoned single-family, a fact I have corrected for the record many times. I would NEVER say that.

    I never quoted a number of people expected to move to Seattle by 2035. In fact, the pertinent figure is 70,000 units of housing, rather the people, and the plan doesn’t address inflows net of outflows.

    Most of all, I NEVER said that SCALE “hopes to delay [MHA] by a year or more.” Rather, as we know from the Queen Anne EIS re-do, their process is taking a year. Whether that is a reasonable expectation or not, our stated goal is neighborhood planning, not delaying the MHA. PLease see our website. Obviously, we want a more nuanced plan, not more time.

    Sarajane Siegfriedt

    1. Bill, I didn’t delete any comments. The only comment I have not approved on this post is one calling Seattle a “shit-hole” (that was the extent of that comment.) As you can clearly see from my comments policy (top of the site), I only delete comments when they’re inappropriate, and never based on viewpoint. It may take me a few minutes to approve new folks making their very first comment, but you and Sarajane are all clear.

    2. “In fact, only 35% of Seattle’s acreage is zoned single-family, a fact I have corrected for the record many times. I would NEVER say that.”

      This is an interestingly deceptive point to make. Erica and others are not referring to Seattle’s acreage, which would include non-residential areas such as industrial, commercial and other zones. They are referring to areas zoned in some form of residential, which of course pushes the number up to Erica’s quoted total since non-residential areas are not part of this discussion and not relevant to it.

      It says a lot to me that you are resorting to a tactic such as this.

  3. As an under 50 resident of the West Seattle Junction, I am very disappointed in this characterization of the point of the SCALE appeal. You are dead wrong if you think that residents of these neighborhoods are not deeply concerned about displacement of their vulnerable populations, further marginalization of low income individuals to outside of the neighborhoods, lack of adequate infrastructure to support existing density, loss of critical tree canopy and frankly the abject failure of the MHA proposal to do any meaningful planning, study or disclosure of these and other serious issues. There are other ways to achieve the same levels of density and affordability using a scalpel rather than the MHA machete. A lot of people are out there shedding blood, sweat and tears advocating for the type of balance that will help achieve the goals of affordability AND livability for a better City and this is an unfair characterization of those efforts.

    1. Is the effect of the SCALE appeal to delay the MHA program? If so, its priorities are not addressing the affordable housing crisis we are currently under, it is to engage in predatory delay that is actively hurting the most vulnerable citizens of this city. The claim that MHA has not been studied to death is ridiculous to anyone who has read both the SCALE appeal and looked up its specific complaints in the EIS. Some of the complaints are completely erroneous, and others are simply complaining that not every single lot was studied individually, saying that you can’t tell which lot will see the most impact for each category of impact, ignoring the detailed maps showing you exactly the extent of the change for each lot.

      Also, if you’ve ever interacted with the primary backers of the appeal, you know their primary concerns are always reducing density in the allowed zoning going back decades. Always. They yell about “wind canyons,” “renters are transients,” and almost universally have not had to find new housing in a decade or more. One even told me the real solution was to get rid of all the jobs, which wasn’t super appealing to me as someone who still needs one.

      1. If you are worried about delay of affordable housing, why not ask Councilmembers why they didn’t implement Inclusionary Zoning back in 2010 as many of us advocated for when the Lowrise code was rewritten. If you are worried about delay of affordable housing why not ask the City about the many months of delay in issuing the subject EIS in the first place. If you are worried about the delay of affordable housing, why not question why the amount of affordable units to be produced downtown or in South Lake Union are so low (those areas are already eligible to provide for affordable housing through MHA) — Hint: the Grand Bargain lets those high job opportunity areas off the hook for producing any meaningful amounts of housing for poor people.

        As far as the appeal items being erroneous, it sounds like perhaps you could find work with the City Attorney who needs to defend against those claims. From our vantage point the EIS is severely flawed, and the proposal will cause more displacement than it will cure – particularly for lower income and people of color. We are looking forward to demonstrating that in the hearings (which the City has asked even again today to further delay).

      2. billbradburd: Because the affordability crisis was not caused by a lack of inclusionary zoning, it was caused by restrictive zoning not letting enough housing to be built, and mostly only letting the most expensive kind of housing (single family detached homes, on lots much larger than are already built) be built. It’s not complicated. Anyone who’s had to rush to put in an application and still missed it, or competed with sometimes dozens of other offers knows the problem is we have fewer homes than we have people who need them. We have way more jobs coming in than we are building houses for. You have to have some way to mediate that, and right now it’s $’s. Waitlists wouldn’t be much better – it’d just be a screw the young, who actually need to be able to get jobs instead of screw the poor.

        When things are as out of whack as they are now, inclusionary zoning or MHA, which are basically the same thing. Not sure why you were for it before but not now? Was it because before you thought it’d limit construction of new homes, screwing over everyone who couldn’t qualify for the minuscule number of affordable units it would generate? Are you against it now because you’ve got yours and you don’t want to live next to a triplex?

        Come on.

      3. The housing crisis we have now was not caused by single family zoning, despite all the propaganda you appear to have consumed. Our crisis was caused by explosive job growth in the tech sectors that far outpaced the local housing industry’s capacity to support that growth. Coupled with that we have these imported workers making far higher wages than the local population (witness our rising AMI) and, quelle surprise, you have the root of our crisis. Housing always lags demand, and in this case the demand was extraordinary. We are now (without the MHA upzones) producing plenty of housing (there are something like 80K+ units in the pipeline since 2015). And unlike some of the keyboard pundits will assert, no developer will build housing in anticipation of future demand (hence the lag). Of course there is always the last wave of the cycle that gets in too late, and you will have some oversupply, but nothing substantive relative to the overall housing supply.

        The vast majority of the units built in this cycle are market rate since developers, unless they are non-profit housing developers, do not built “affordable” housing. And there are plenty in that workforce explosion that can pay those rents. But in multi-unit buildings the vast majority of luxury units built were studios and one bedrooms (over 90%). Only in townhouse formats do we see more bedrooms that support families and multi-generational family constructs. Since these are floating in the half to million dollar range, that puts even higher price pressures on single family (i.e. “larger”) housing types.

        More evidence of your succumbing to propaganda is you can’t discern the difference between true inclusionary zoning (which results in units in projects) versus Murray’s Grand Bargain watered-down MHA (which by the City’s own admission will result in the bulk of the units being built with in lieu fees — which also means that lower income people will be EXCLUDED from market rate areas and project and sequestered into low income projects).

        NYC’s inclusionary program favors not only the production of in-project units that are permanently affordable (ours is 75 years and will mostly be offsite) but 20% of those need to be 2 or more bedroom units. We are producing a fraction of that and have limited requirements for unit sizes.

        I actually live in a lowrise zone in a Central Area neighborhood that has seen its housing density double since I moved here. Within a couple houses in three directions there are 10 units going in right now.

        What is unfortunate about the proposed MHA is that it will rezone 975 single family homes in the Central Area, where pockets of the remaining black community (and largely lower income households) reside. The City projects from that MHA will deliver 280 units of affordable housing over 20 years. (That’s really some “Grand Bargain”).

        Perhaps that is something you support, but for many of us, it is something to challenge.

        Follow the money behind the pro-MHA Seattle for Everyone. Look at the push by the non-profit housing industry that will see about $1/2B flow to it in MHA fees. Crony capitalism at its finest. You been duped.

        We can do better, and with the largest rezone in the city’s history, we should probably try to get it right (rather than cheer-lead for a crappy proposal that favors developer profitability, excludes substantive affordable housing from downtown and south lake union, will displace vulnerable populations, sequesters low income residents into low-income-only buildings, and delivers a fraction of the affordable housing that we really need).

      4. 1) Sarajane, I am saddened by the racial dog whistles inherent in your post given your position and involvement in the Democratic party. As a fellow KCDCC board member your language here shocks me. Foreigners are not the problem, in fact they are a leading reason why Seattle is slowly becoming diverse rather than being one of the whitest big cities in the country.

        2) You have yet to respond to your use of misleading statistics such as ‘total acreage’ in attempting to downplay the issue with single family zoning. Do you have a reasonable or rational reason to use that statistic or can we just assume you and your organization are willing to deceive in order to protect neighborhoods that were created by racist redlining so you don’t have to deal with ‘foreigners’ moving next door.

        3) Seattle has had a growing tech sector for nearly three decades, not only in high tech but also in biotech. This ‘problem’ was foreseeable since the early 90’s however organizations like yours have constantly fought to distract, deflect and avoid making the decisions that needed to be made to plan appropriately for that growth. You do not get to then claim that the fault lies with others, you have been here long enough to have seen this coming and you chose not to act, and now that you are acting you are doing so in a way that attempts to push the problem on to others and keep immigrants and people of color out of ‘your’ neighborhoods.

        At the end of the day if you want us to take you seriously, start presenting alternatives that significantly increase density in YOUR neighborhoods. That will gain you a voice in this process. Until you do so you are simply continuing the trend that got the city into this position in the first place.

  4. Egads, enlightening.

    Neighborhood planning means everybody that gets a voice in planning is somebody that apparently can *already* afford to live in the area being planned. It PRECISELY excludes those who cannot currently afford to live in the area being planned.

    Given that every urban village but one is majority-renter, and given that neighborhood planning of the 90s was overwhelmingly dominated by anti-housing homeowners who gerrymandered themselves largely out of urban villages while putting a bulls eye squarely on existing affordable multifamily housing is all the more reason we should never engage in it again – unless the participants and results overwhelmingly favor tenants and result in the eradication of single family zoning. Seattle’s original land use had no single family zoning – there is no reason to maintain it today other than classism.

    The preservation of single family zoning has resulted in the median home price hitting $800k, while single family homeowners saw a net increase in wealth of over $14 BILLION dollars in just the last 12 months.

    it pays to keep out those that can’t afford million dollar homes.

    1. I would think that if someone were truly concerned that they would devote the bulk of their energy towards developing their own block and neighborhood to accommodate and welcome new neighbors. Instead, SCALE blithely deploys delay tactics meant to accumulate more political power for themselves and people like them.

      Dream hoarders, galore…

      1. What does that even mean “themselves and people like them?” SCALE is a coalition of 26 very distinct groups, e.g., South Park, Seattle Displacement Coalition, Tree Pac, West Seattle, Wallingford, Morgan Junction, Beacon Hill, etc. that have come together from all across to the City to demand an adequate study and then an honest disclosure of the very significant impacts of a sweeping proposal. The last thing on anyone’s mind (on the SCALE side of the appeal anyway) is accumulating political power.

      2. Sure, Bucky, like trolling every thread you can find to denigrate people wishing the City to be more democratic in its land use decision making concerning where they live isn’t designed to increase *your* political power. What a hypocrite.

  5. The next time Lisa Herbold pretends to care about global warming, I hope people will remember sad performance here–deploying fake facts in the service of delaying any move away from outdated auto-centric development rules, in the service of preserving a status quo in which non-drivers are forced to subsidize the car storage of their neighbors–and evaluate her faux concern for future generations accordingly.

    That this kind of politics never seems to inspire to question the accuracy of labeling her as part of the “progressive wing” of the council says a lot of about what’s wrong with out politics in this city.

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