Category: Density

Alex Brennan: Pandemic Shows that Density Isn’t the Problem, It’s the Solution

By Alex Brennan, Futurewise

During normal times, the case for moving into an efficient apartment in a dense urban neighborhood close to work, instead of a suburban house with a long commute, is compelling and logical.  For starters, the short commute means valuable extra time at home.

Meanwhile: You don’t need your own private yard because you can walk to the park. You don’t need a big apartment because the coffee shop down the block is an extension of your living room. Being out and about in the neighborhood is part of what makes urban life great. You run into people you know, and you come across all sorts of people you don’t know.

But now the coffee shop is takeout only. Crowded streets and parks require a masked, distancing dance, especially for elders or others at high risk. And for those of us who have switched to virtual work from home (it’s important to remember that many essential workers must still commute), we are now stuck in that apartment. Maybe we squeezed in a little work desk next to our bed or added it on to the kitchen table, but that roomy house an hour from the suddenly shuttered downtown office suddenly looks a lot more appealing.

Will some jobs stay virtual? Sure. But the core innovative industries that drive our economy thrive on in-person interactions.

Since the pandemic upended our lives in March, people have been asking me if (or in many cases telling me that) the pandemic portends the end of cities and density. And I get it. Living in the city right now is hard. The pandemic surfaces old associations between cities and disease. And there are some signs in New York and San Francisco that those who can afford to move are leaving for the suburbs.

I’m not here to predict the future, but I can tell you I’m not giving up on density. To explain why, I think it’s important to start by clarifying what is not happening.

First, density is not increasing your chances of getting COVID. In King County, for example, the densest zip codes have the lowest positive test rates and some of the lowest death rates. Globally, some of the densest cities in the world—Seoul, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Singapore, Taipei—are models for preventing the spread of the pandemic. (The concentration of top medical facilities certainly helps.)

Support PubliCola
PubliCola is supported entirely by generous contributions from readers like you. If you enjoy breaking news, commentary, and deep dives on issues that matter to you, please support this work by donating a few bucks a month to keep this reader-supported site going—and expanding!

If you don’t wish to become a monthly contributor, you can always make a one-time donation via PayPal, Venmo (Erica-Barnett-7) or by mailing your contribution to P.O. Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104. I’m truly grateful for your support.

Second, we are not experiencing the end of agglomeration economies, the enigmatic force that brings businesses and jobs closer together. Will some jobs stay virtual? Sure. But the core innovative industries that drive our economy thrive on in-person interactions. Amazon just leased another two million square feet of office space and announced they will have 25,000 jobs in downtown Bellevue by 2025—right across from the soon-to-open downtown Bellevue light rail station. Facebook just snatched up the headquarters office that REI let go—adjacent to the soon-to-open Spring District light rail station. And while perhaps struggling at the moment, Boeing isn’t going to start building airplanes on Zoom.

Beyond unpacking misperceptions about disease and jobs, it is important to think about the lessons we’re learning from the pandemic, the recovery that we want, and the important role dense, mixed-use, walkable cities can play.

Protecting rural areas. It might seem counterintuitive, but urbanism starts with respect for rural lands.  Remember the first time after lockdown that you left your home and went for a hike in our beautiful mountains? Remember what a blessing it was to have the great outdoors so close? Building up in the city allows us to protect our wild places and our working farms and forests. If we all take our virtual jobs and move to the countryside, it won’t be the countryside anymore. It will just be another suburb.

Climate Change.  The pandemic has taught us that we need to be better prepared for shocks, and there is no bigger shock coming than climate change. Are you angry that our leaders let our public health infrastructure waste away in good times? Well you should be furious about our inadequate efforts to mitigate and prepare for climate change. This year’s toxic smoke is only the beginning if we don’t act now.

If we all take our virtual jobs and move to the countryside, it won’t be the countryside anymore. It will just be another suburb.

Dense communities are one of the best tools for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from transportation (Washington State’s largest source of emissions) by shortening travel distances and encouraging walking, biking and transit over driving alone. Dense cities also allow us to grow without building suburbs out on the forest’s edge, reducing human exposure to the destruction of climate-exacerbated forest fires.

Health. That increase in walking, biking, and transit, over sitting in the car, improves outcomes for cardiovascular disease and type-2 diabetes. Those two conditions also happen to be two of the biggest risk factors of dying from COVID-19. But it’s not just about COVID, cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the US (diabetes is the seventh) and both ailments diminish the quality of life of millions more. Dense, walkable urban neighborhoods that incorporate physical activity into daily life are a big part of the cure.

Cost savings. When the pandemic is over, governments and households are both going to have a lot of debt. Density is part of how we can have a great quality of life and save money. Dense development cuts down on infrastructure costs, requiring fewer miles of roads and water, sewer, electrical, and internet lines. Density makes fire, ambulance, and other response-time-based services more efficient. That translates into lower taxes or better services (take your pick).

For households, less driving reduces the second biggest household cost, transportation. And while density alone cannot solve our housing affordability crisis, when land is expensive, more efficient use of land reduces building costs.

Reviving Main Streets. Density isn’t just about the big city, it’s also important for small towns. Right now, locally owned small businesses are struggling more than ever. The foot traffic that they thrive on has been decimated by COVID-19. If we let these places continue to be replaced by online shopping and big box stores out by the interchange, our small towns will lose their heart, their sense of place, and their tax base. Allowing second-story apartments above shops, and duplexes and triplexes nearby, can help bring back the foot traffic that Main Streets need to compete.

Public life. Let’s return to where we started. During normal times, dense neighborhoods are places of community and connection, places to run into friends on the sidewalk or at the coffee shop, places for festivals and marches. Right now, unfortunately, we can’t enjoy being with other people this way, and that is hard. But I believe, after the isolation of the pandemic, we will emerge more hungry for public life than ever before.

The United States of America has the lowest-density cities in the world. This isn’t because we harbor a Jeffersonian love for the suburbs. It’s because federal policies like the interstate highway act and the VA and FHA home mortgage programs have promoted sprawl for decades. Local policies also play a role: It remains true today that most low-density development in Washington State would not be financially feasible if impact fees reflected the true cost of the associated infrastructure. At the same time, single family neighborhoods in inner-ring suburbs would be transitioning to duplexes, townhomes, and lowrise apartments if the zoning allowed for it.

When the COVID-19 pandemic ends, we will need to rebuild our country. Will we continue the policies of suburban bias that has guided the last 70 years or will we learn new lessons from the pandemic and create a more urban future?

Alex Brennan is the Executive Director at Futurewise. The organization’s current campaign, Washington Can’t Wait, is fighting to build more climate-resilient, equitable and affordable communities by strengthening the Washington State Growth Management Act. 

I Am a Homeowner, I Speak for the Trees

Trees currently cover between 28 and 33 percent of Seattle’s land, making us one of the nation’s greenest cities. But advocates for a new, stronger tree protection ordinance believe the city should go further to protect its canopy, by restricting tree removal in ways that could prevent new housing development in the single-family neighborhoods where most of Seattle’s large trees are located. In doing so, they have insisted that the only way to mitigate climate change is to take actions that prevent development in their exclusive neighborhoods—a literal example of failing to see the forest for the trees.

The city is currently considering amendments to the city’s existing tree protection ordinance that would add new protections for significant trees, create a “fee in lieu” of preserving specific trees that would fund new tree plantings elsewhere, and require property owners to replace any tree they remove that’s more than six inches in diameter, among other new rules. Advocates want the city to go further, by reducing the maximum size and number of trees that can be removed from vacant lots, for redevelopment, and by individual homeowners.

Support The C Is for Crank
The C Is for Crank is supported entirely by generous contributions from readers like you. If you enjoy the breaking news, commentary, and deep dives on issues that matter to you, please support this work by donating a few bucks a month to keep this reader-supported, ad-free site going. Your $5, $10, and $20 monthly donations allow me to do this work as my full-time job, so please become a sustaining supporter now. If you don’t wish to become a monthly contributor, you can always make a one-time donation via PayPal, Venmo (Erica-Barnett-7) or by mailing your contribution to P.O. Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104. Thank you for keeping The C Is for Crank going and growing. I’m truly grateful for your support.

One impact of greater tree protections would likely be less development in areas where density is allowed, including both urban villages (which were just modestly expanded under the Mandatory Housing Affordability act) and single-family areas where homeowners just gained the ability to build auxiliary units, including backyard cottages. Trees, unsurprisingly, are concentrated in areas of Seattle that are wealthy and white, and scarce in areas that are not; a 2016 city analysis found that in “census tracts with high numbers of people of color, tree canopy is as low as 11% while in areas with not many people of color there is 55% canopy cover.”

Given that disparity, it was hardly surprising that the people who showed up at city hall this morning to advocate for more stringent tree protections/development restrictions were people who identified themselves as residents of neighborhoods like Laurelhurst, Ballard, and North Seattle. One by one, they came up to make their case. A group was given extra time to sing a song decrying development, and then a member of that group, dressed up as a tree, shouted “I am a magnificent tree! … Every tree counts, especially us mature trees!” into the microphone. A man said developers who were building “million-dollar townhouses and large apartment buildings” in his neighborhood probably go home to neighborhoods with “very nice trees.” A woman said that development and the resultant tree removal is destroying “opportunities for tire swings, hammocks, tree climbing, playing with sticks, cool spots to place your picnic blanket [and] piles of leaves to jump into.” And a man asked the council if they had thought about drivers, asking rhetorically, “When it’s hot, where do you want to park?” and argued that “you need the trees” to keep cars cool.

Seattle could mandate that every tree removed from a single-family lot be replaced by one in public right-of-way currently used for parking, greening the streets that are used by everybody rather than just private backyards.

All this absurdity was just the precursor for what will likely be a lengthy debate over the proposed new tree protections. None of the proposals are especially unreasonable on their face. But it would be a shame if, taken together, they made it harder to build housing for the people that are moving here, the people who already live here, and the people who are being driven out by housing scarcity. Continue reading “I Am a Homeowner, I Speak for the Trees”

The Year in Review: Defining Stories of 2019

Throughout 2019, I returned to some stories again and again, zeroing on issues like homelessness, equity, the influence of big money in local elections, criminal justice, and transportation. This isn’t a list of the year’s biggest posts—that’s over here—but a look at some of the themes that emerged on this site throughout the year. These stories include deep dives into the work of the city’s ever-expanding Navigation Team (a group of police and human service employees that removes homeless encampments), Sound Transit’s fare enforcement policies, the city’s retreat from its ambitious bike infrastructure plans, and the ongoing (d)evolution of the regional homelessness authority.

All this work has been made possible by readers who support the site and allow me to do this as my full-time job. If you’re one of the thousands of readers who use this site as a resource for news and analysis of what’s going on in the Seattle area, I urge you to take the next step and become a sustaining supporter by contributing a few dollars a month or making a one-time contribution today. Keep independent media alive in Seattle in 2020 by donating to the C Is for Crank. You’ll be glad you did.

Big Money Swamps Local Elections, Voters Say “Nah”

In addition to being the first major test of democracy vouchers (publicly funded vouchers that went directly to voters to spend on the candidate or candidates of their choice), this was also the year when big corporations (most notably Amazon, which spent nearly $1.5 million on a Chamber-backed slate of candidates), former elected officials (Tim Burgess, who started the People for Seattle PAC) and conservative groups (most notably Moms for Seattle, which backed most of the Chamber slate plus too-conservative-for-big-business D5 candidate Ann Davison Sattler) spent millions to influence council races. In the end, the only business-backed candidate who won was former Burgess aide Alex Pedersen, whose anti-development views are more in line with socialist Kshama Sawant’s than with the Chamber’s.

Sawant, Predicting $1 Million in PAC Spending Against Her, Won’t Participate in Democracy Voucher Program

Big Business, Labor, and Activist Money Set to Dwarf Individual Spending on Council Campaigns

Fueled by Unprecedented Spending, Seattle City Council Elections Defy Easy Interpretation

Seattle Finally Upzones

Yesterday, the state Growth Management Hearings Board dealt what may be a death blow to opponents of the city’s Mandatory Housing Affordability legislation, which modestly upzones the city’s multifamily areas and allows more housing in 6 percent of the city’s existing single-family land. For years, a group called SCALE (led, in large part, by new Alex Pedersen council aide Toby Thaler) has delayed the zoning changes, arguing that the new rules violate the state Growth Management Act and the State Environmental Policy Act. The GMHB’s ruling rejected every single one of SCALE’s arguments. The group (sans Thaler) can still appeal to the King County Superior Court, but the standard for consideration gets tougher the higher the appeals go.

I covered the MHA battle this year, along with a related debate over whether to make it easier for homeowners to build secondary units in their basements and backyards—a proposal that was also subject to delay tactics by single-family activists.

Takeaways From Seattle’s Upzoning Endgame

Morning Crank: “I Have Not Seen Any Speculative ADU Bubble”

Durkan’s Backyard Cottage Plan Would Have Kept Some Old Restrictions, Imposed New Ones

City Didn’t Know How Many Were Moving from Homelessness to Housing

Although Mayor Jenny Durkan frequently touted the fact that All Home’s annual one-night count found fewer people living outside, the city was forced to admit last year that they did not know how many individual people were actually moving from homelessness to housing as the result of their efforts. This admission came after I (and subsequently others) reported that the city was conflating the number of households that exited specific programs with the number of individual people leaving homelessness. The city eventually updated its numbers, but the city’s initial reaction—the director of the Homeless Strategy and Investment division suggested that the details were less important than the trendline—suggested a troubling lack of attention to detail for a “data-driven” department.

Fact-Checking the Homelessness Claims in the Mayor’s State of the City Speech

Evening Crank: “No Matter How You Look at It, It’s Getting Better”

Turmoil in the Human Services Department

As the Human Services Department prepared to cede control over its homelessness-related work to a new joint city-county authority, the itself was in turmoil, starting at the very beginning of the year, when council member Kshama Sawant held hearings at which HSD workers denounced Durkan’s nominee to lead the department, interim director Jason Johnson. Eventually, the council decided not to approve Johnson, infuriating the mayor, who decided to keep him on without a formal appointment. Also this year, an internal survey showed high dissatisfaction among HSD employees, a number of key staffers left and have not been replaced, and a pilot program to give people living in their cars a safe place to park at night was quietly scuttled by the mayor, who later ramped up efforts to crack down on “extensively damaged” RVs.

Tempers Fray Over Human Services Director Nomination

“Intentional Healing”: Council Members (Including Sawant) Grill Human Services Nominee

Survey Says: City’s Homelessness Staff Feel Unrecognized, Out of the Loop

Finally, a Regional Homelessness Authority 

After more than a year of efforts, King County and the city finally agreed on a plan to create a new regional authority that will oversee the entire region’s homelessness efforts. Sort of. The plan the county and city ultimately approved had little to do with the original plan, which was designed to insulate expert decision-makers from political considerations by putting authority over the new body in the hands of subject-matter experts, not elected officials.

Elected officials didn’t like the idea of losing power, and suburban elected officials especially didn’t like the fact that they did not have direct representation on the board overseeing the authority, so the plan was inverted to return most of the power to politicians and to give suburban cities five guaranteed representatives on the 12-member oversight board, despite the fact that suburban cities will not contribute financially to the authority. The new rules also bar the authority from ever raising money, a sharp departure from the recommendations of last year’s One Table process, which concluded that the region needed additional revenue to address homelessness.

Long-Awaited Details of New Regional Homelessness Authority Announced, Though Many Questions Remain Unanswered

City, County Close to Deal on Regional Homelessness Plan that Ditches New Governing Body for “Interlocal Agreement”

As County Heads Into Homelessness Vote, City Council Considers Putting On the Brakes

“Nobody Thinks We’ve Gotten This 100% Right”: City Joins Regional Homelessness Authority

 

 

 

 

The Ever-Expanding Navigation Team

Mayor Durkan has repeatedly expanded the Navigation Team, a group of police officers and city staffers that removes unauthorized encampments and, in theory, “navigates” their displaced residents to shelter and services. The team came under fire this year for failing in that second mission, first in an audit that the Human Services Department denounced as “not factual,” and later when the city’s social services partner, REACH, decided to stop participating in encampment removals because it was hampering their ability to build trusting relationships with clients.

The biggest change Durkan made to the Navigation Team this year, though, was when she redirected them to focus primarily on removing “obstruction” encampments, such as tents in public parks, rather than on “72-hour cleans,” which require the team to provide advance warning and offers of shelter and services. Later, the city opted to train SPD bike officers to remove encampments even when the Navigation Team isn’t present. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Navigation Team rarely refers people successfully to shelter or services. Instead, most of the people they encounter “navigate” themselves to their next encampment.

More Encampment Removals, Less Notice? Durkan to Make Navigation Team Announcement

100 Officers Trained to Implement Anti-Camping Rules as Navigation Team Expands to 7-Day Schedule

Morning Crank Part 1: City Acknowledges Navigation Team Rarely Provides Services or Outreach

Most Navigation Team Referrals Don’t Lead to Shelter, Previously Unreleased City Data Shows

 

Crackdown on “Prolific Offenders”

Even before KOMO ran viral anti-homeless propaganda video, “Seattle Is Dying,” law-and-order activists like former city attorney candidate Scott Lindsay were already building a case that something had to be done to address so-called downtown disorder—petty thefts, unsightly outbursts, and people exhibiting other visible signs of mental illness and drug addiction in the downtown core. In May, Lindsay released a report titled “System Failure,” which took a highly selective look at a list of 100 “prolific offenders”—a group of people, hand-picked by Lindsay, who have been arrested again and again for crimes such as theft and disorderly conduct downtown. The report  became a kind of source text for “Seattle Is Dying,” as well as the template for a proposal to deal with “high-barrier offenders” that would have expanded probation, created a new program “navigator” inside the jail, and implemented a new “case conferencing” system that could have resulted in additional criminal charges for people released from jail who failed to comply with its requirements.

Criminal justice reform advocates and city council members objected to the proposals, particularly the plan to expand probation, and reduced or froze funding for the plans. Still, the idea that there are “prolific offenders” downtown who must be addressed with a criminal justice response—as opposed to people with mental illness and addiction who could benefit from programs like Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion—will surely persist in 2020, and could come up again when the mayor makes her third State of the City speech next month.

Morning Crank: The Council Takes a Closer Look at the “Prolific Offenders” Report

New Plan for Dealing With “Prolific Offenders” Substitutes Punishment for Harm Reduction, Advocates Say

As Council Seeks Funding for Successful Arrest Diversion Program, Mayor Proposes “Doubling Down on Probation”

Durkan vs. Cyclists

This was the year that cycling advocates went to war with Mayor Durkan, protesting her decision to eliminate a long-planned protected bike lane on 35th Ave. NE and cut a number of top-priority bike infrastructure improvements from the city’s Bicycle Master Plan, leaving south Seattle without a single direct bike connection to downtown. Durkan decided to kill the 35th Ave. bike lane after businesses and neighborhood activists protested that adding a lane for cyclists would eliminate too much parking and argued that cyclists could use a different route several blocks away from the neighborhood thoroughfare. The South Seattle bike lanes were cut to save money in the wake of Move Seattle Levy cost overruns. The city’s Bicycle Advisory Board recommended different cuts, and identified South Seattle as its top priority for bike infrastructure, largely on the grounds that the city has failed to adequately fund safe bike lanes in South Seattle for decades.

Although funding for a small piece of the south Seattle bike infrastructure, which the city’s Bicycle Advisory Board had identified as a top funding priority, was eventually restored, 35th Ave. was repaved without parking or a bike lane—a configuration that contributed to reckless driving and crashes almost as soon as it opened.

All this came just one year after Durkan opted to delay another bike lane that had been in the works for years—the planned Fourth Avenue bike lane downtown, which the mayor’s office said could interfere with bus mobility during light rail construction.

Mayor Kills Controversial Northeast Seattle Bike Lane; New Design Also Lacks Parking

Bike Master Plan Update: Fewer Protected Lanes, Longer Delays

“The Mayor Does Not Care About Bikes”: Advocates United In Opposition to Bike Plan Cuts

Durkan, SDOT Get an Earful from Advocates About Proposed Bike Plan Cuts

“I’m Here Because I’m Worried”: South Seattle Responds to Scaled-Back Bike Plan

Sound Transit Fare Enforcement Practices Debated

This was the year that critics of Sound Transit’s fare enforcement policies got serious about calling for reducing or eliminating fare enforcement, and some board members seemed receptive. Early in the year, board members questioned why Sound Transit still criminalizes fare nonpayment, pointing to King County’s own decision to revise its practices so that no one ends up in jail because they couldn’t pay their fare. A King County survey concluded that most “fare evaders” were people who couldn’t afford the fare; Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff responded by suggesting that reducing fare enforcement efforts might lower the agency’s farebox recovery, the amount of money Sound Transit gets from people who pay their fares.

Fare enforcement came up later in the year when Sound Transit’s own numbers showed that African American riders were far more likely to receive tickets for fare evasion than other customers. And an incident in September raised additional questions about whether Sound Transit officers were treating black riders differently than white ones, after a fare enforcement officer was caught on tape photographing the ID of a high-school student on her way to school on the first day of classes, when all high-school students were to receive free ORCA transit passes.

Sound Transit Board Members Raise Concerns About Punitive Fare Enforcement Policy

Sound Transit Tickets Disproportionate Number of Black Riders, New Numbers Show

Georgetown Sobering Center Canceled, Sound Transit’s Tone-Deaf Fare Enforcement Tweet, and Seattle Times Loses Another African American Writer

 

Seattle’s Newest Council Member, Alex Pedersen, In Three Meetings

Seattle’s “urban forest,” complete with single-family-only zoning and private driveways for private cars.

1. On Monday, new District 4 city council member Alex Pedersen cast the lone “no” vote against legislation transferring a small piece of land in Wallingford (or, as Pedersen called it, “East Fremont”) from the Finance and Administrative Services department to the Seattle Department of Transportation. The land transfer will allow SDOT to extend a bus lane on N. 45th St. and speed travel times on Metro’s Route 44, which is one of the only east-west bus routes north of the Ship Canal. The Urbanist first reported on the proposed changes back in June. SDOT told the Urbanist that the spot changes, which also involve moving an intersection and converting a short stretch of 45th to one-way traffic, will improve travel times for nearly half of all Route 44 riders.

Pedersen said Monday that he was voting against the transfer because he had “gotten some feedback from residents of East Fremont” involving “access and traffic calming for residents.”

“East Fremont,” for those unfamiliar with fights over neighborhood nomenclature, is a part of Wallingford that the Fremont Neighborhood Council has long insisted is part of Fremont. Toby Thaler, the longtime head of the FNC, is now Pedersen’s advisor on land use and transportation.

Pedersen’s office responded to a request for comment by directing me to the video of the meeting. In a letter to a constituent, he went into slightly more detail, saying that his “concern with this project was the public engagement process, which could have benefited from more time to craft community-informed win-win solutions.” He added: “The ordinance was approved and my vote signaled to SDOT that it’s important for them to work to resolve issues from more than one angle.”

2. Pedersen took what seemed to be the opposite position on a different transportation project in his district‚ the redesign of Brooklyn Ave—arguing in favor of buses over a planned “green street” that will be too narrow to accommodate buses in the future. The redesign is part of the new University District light rail station.

At a briefing on the city’s Transportation Benefit District last Thursday, Pedersen asked two SDOT staffers if they had “heard about the bus lanes on Brooklyn issue,” then explained: “Brooklyn Avenue is going to be built too narrow to accommodate buses, and Sound Transit [is] worried if there are going to be any changes, if we try to widen it so it can accommodate buses, it’ll screw up Sound Transit’ schedule. … I don’t know if that’s something on the agenda to talk with Sound Transit about—to assure them that SDOT is able to get things done on Brooklyn.”

Support The C Is for Crank
The C Is for Crank is supported entirely by generous contributions from readers like you. If you enjoy the breaking news, commentary, and deep dives on issues that matter to you, please support this work by donating a few bucks a month to keep this reader-supported, ad-free site going. Your $5, $10, and $20 monthly donations allow me to do this work as my full-time job, so please become a sustaining supporter now. If you don’t wish to become a monthly contributor, you can always make a one-time donation via PayPal, Venmo (Erica-Barnett-7) or by mailing your contribution to P.O. Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104. Thank you for keeping The C Is for Crank going and growing. I’m truly grateful for your support.

Sound Transit’s plans for the new station include a “Green Street” on Brooklyn designed primarily for pedestrian traffic, with narrow lanes, a 20mph speed limit, and pedestrian improvements designed to drive car traffic away from the street and encourage bike and pedestrian traffic. Brooklyn is not currently a bus corridor. A group called U District Mobility, which includes a number of transit advocacy groups, has asked Sound Transit to widen Brooklyn to accommodate buses in the future.

In a joint statement, Sound Transit and SDOT told The C Is for Crank that the planning for the Brooklyn street design has been going on since at least 2014, when the city published the U District Green Street Concept Plan, and “the public clearly expressed that access to the station was a top priority.”

“Significant modifications to Brooklyn Ave NE would be needed to accommodate buses. While future revisions to the street may be a possibility after light rail opens, there is neither the time nor the funding for such revisions to be in place by the time the U District station is scheduled to open in 2021.”

The meeting doubled as an impromptu rally for tree activists, who condemned developers for “scraping [single-family] lots” and have accused the city of trying to “clearcut Seattle.”

3. Most council committee chairs have canceled their regularly scheduled meetings through the holidays, but Pedersen is making the most of his status as temporary chair of the land use committee, holding a special meeting to discuss the future of Seattle’s tree protection ordinance—a document that has galvanized activists ever since it first passed in 2001. (Pedersen inherited his chairmanship from temporary council member Abel Pacheco, who inherited it from Rob Johnson, who left the council in April. New committees and chairmanships will be announced in January).

The meeting  was billed as a briefing by “outside expert[s]” on the “need for and status of activity to implement Resolution 31902 concerning development of an updated Seattle Tree Ordinance.” The nonbinding resolution talks about the need to protect trees on single-family properties and to increase Seattle’s tree canopy to 30 percent of the city’s land area. (The advocacy group American Forests no longer recommends adopting percentage-based canopy cover goals and suggests providing density bonuses to developers who agree to plant trees.)

The meeting doubled as an impromptu rally for tree activists, who condemned developers for “scraping [single-family] lots” and have accused the city of trying to “clearcut Seattle.” One speaker called for a “moratorium on development” based on “primacy for trees,” and suggested “rewild[ing] areas too dense now for climate justice.” Another suggested that Seattle model itself after Cleveland, Ohio, which is “lapping Seattle” in terms of adding trees. This is true: Cleveland is “rewilding” the city—because the city is in decline; in order to cut down on blight, the hollowed-out city is tearing down thousands of houses abandoned by people who moved away. Continue reading “Seattle’s Newest Council Member, Alex Pedersen, In Three Meetings”

The 2019 City Council Candidates: Andrew Lewis

Image via Andrew Lewis campaign.

This year’s council races include an unusually high number of open seats, an unprecedented amount of outside spending, and eight first-time candidates. To help voters keep track, I’m sitting down with this year’s city council contenders to talk about their records, their priorities, and what they hope to accomplish on the council.

Today: District 7 candidate Andrew Lewis. Lewis, who got his political start as campaign manager for former city council member Nick Licata’s reelection bid in 2009, now works as an assistant Seattle city attorney.

The C Is for Crank (ECB): What is a recent vote where you disagreed with the current District 7 representative, Sally Bagshaw?

Andrew Lewis (AL): This isn’t a vote, but I do think the lack of attentiveness to a replacement for the Magnolia Bridge is one where I disagreed with council member Bagshaw. I went to the town hall in March of 2018 on the Magnolia Bridge, at the church over there near Magnolia Village, and there was not a single city council member there. Council member Bagshaw should’ve been there.

There was a room full of angry people who wanted to hear a plan. You know, they understand that the bridge is falling apart, and they understand that the bridge is going to have to be decommissioned. What they wanted was, you know, what’s the action plan, where are we going to do? And what I hear from a lot of the folks that I’ve talked to out in Magnolia is there has not been strong leadership from our district council member on that issue.

ECB: You’ve talked about a “one for one replacement” of the Magnolia Bridge. What do you mean by “one for one replacement,” and is there a breaking point for you in terms of cost?

AL: I do support a one for one replacement to the bridge that will meet the same level of service that the bridge currently provides to the city. For me, it’s about the impact that [tearing down the bridge] would have on public transportation—the 265 buses use that bridge on a daily basis. As I’ve gotten out to Magnolia and talked to folks who are in some of the more renter-dominated quadrants of Magnolia, I’ve actually been very surprised that there are corners of Magnolia that have a pretty high amount of housing density, and all of those communities are extremely dependent on bus service that goes between Magnolia and downtown. It would be extremely difficult to reroute those buses onto Dravus, onto Emerson, due to a lot of limitations of those entryways to Magnolia. So that’s what builds my sense of urgency for it.

Even though I say one for one, I do think that the new bridge should have some multimodal kind of components to it. I think we should have protected bike lanes or even grade-separated bike lanes on a new Magnolia bridge. I think that we could incorporate that into a new design of the bridge.

In terms of cost, I think that a lot of districts are going to have a similar conversation. As a region, what we’re increasingly seeing is a lot of our deferred infrastructure challenges are going to cost money and we’re going to have to figure out a way to meet those obligations through some kind of long-term bonding strategy.

Support The C Is for Crank
Without belaboring the details of everything that goes into these interviews, let me tell you: It’s a LOT. From prep work, to the interviews themselves, to transcribing and writing up each post and getting it in shape for publication, each interview can take 6 hours or more to complete. I can ONLY afford to spend as much time as I do creating this content because I’m supported entirely by readers like you. If you enjoy reading my conversations with council candidates, along with breaking news, exclusive investigations, and thoughtful analysis of local news, please consider supporting this work by kicking in a few bucks a month, or a one-time donation. You can find all the details on my support page. I’ll let you get back to reading now. Thanks for your support!

ECB: The National Guard is getting ready to move out of its armory property in Interbay, freeing up land there for potential development. One idea that’s being discussed is a hybrid industrial-residential model that would include housing mixed with light industrial uses. What do you think of that proposal?

AL: Preserving industrial lands within the Ballard Interbay industrial area is super important to me. I don’t want us to lose industrial land to gentrification that we’ll never get back, especially not industrial land that abuts the water. So whenever I look at a plan to redevelop or do something to property within the [Ballard-Interbay Manufacturing and Industrial Center], I always take a really careful look at it. I would be more hesitant to encroach on land that has historically been used for some kind of maritime industrial purpose.

However, while the armory is in the BINMIC, I don’t consider it historic industrial land. It’s been an armory for decades. It’s not like we’re displacing Ballard Oil or something. This is a publicly owned armory that happens to be in an industrial area. It is also really rare that we acquire plots of land that are this large that we can play with to get some kind of public housing. I think one thing we should be looking at doing is replicating the formula that we have nailed down with Fort Lawton, which I think is excellent project. There are some people who are saying that Interbay is the next South Lake Union. My preferred vision is that it be more like Georgetown where you have areas that are carved out for housing, and that housing be workforce housing.

“I think that what often happens is there’s at least a perception that the city comes into these conversations with a proposed route already in mind, and I think that contributes to a sense of polarization and to a sense of concern amongst business owners that they weren’t consulted, that they didn’t have a hand in shaping the route.”

ECB: Was the mayor right to postpone the Fourth Avenue bike lane, and would you push for completion of that bike lane?

AL: I’m not completely familiar with what the controversies are, if the businesses and neighbors have concerns specifically about the proposed route. One thing that I think we should be doing more of is having a process about protected bike lanes where we start with a Point A and point B without a proposed route in the middle. And then we start a process with the neighborhood, with the business owners, with the community, with stakeholders, in the biking  activism community and environmental groups. And we sit down and say, we got a Point A, we got a Point B,  how are we going to connect them? I think that what often happens is there’s at least a perception that the city comes into these conversations with a proposed route already in mind, and I think that contributes to a sense of polarization and to a sense of concern amongst business owners that they weren’t consulted, that they didn’t have a hand in shaping the route. Continue reading “The 2019 City Council Candidates: Andrew Lewis”

The 2019 City Council Candidates: District 2 Candidate Tammy Morales

Image via Tammy Morales campaign.

This year’s council races include an unusually high number of open seats, an unprecedented amount of outside spending, and eight first-time candidates. To help voters keep track, I’m sitting down with this year’s city council contenders to talk about their records, their priorities, and what they hope to accomplish on the council.

Today: Tammy Morales, an organizer for the Rainier Beach Action Coalition and former Seattle Human Rights Commission member. Morales ran in 2015 against District 2 incumbent Bruce Harrell and lost by just over 300 votes. She’s running for the same position this year, but without Harrell (who’s retiring) in the running.

The C Is for Crank (ECB): Four years ago, you ran as a progressive alternative to Bruce Harrell, but you certainly strike me as the kind of candidate that would join the DSA or call yourself a socialist. So how have your positions changed in the four years since you last ran?

Tammy Morales (TM): I don’t know if my positions have changed. I think for me, I’ve gotten clearer about sort of the macro economic structure that is driving the inequality in our country. That’s why I was really interested in learning more about what DSA is. And tied to that is my deeper understanding about racial inequality and how so much of that is rooted in every structure and system that we have in this country and this sort of extractive economy that is driven by this constant need to grow and expand the markets. And it all just sort of came together for me in a way that it was less clear before.

That doesn’t mean that I don’t believe in small business or that I don’t believe in having a market-based economy. But it does mean that I think even more so strongly now that the role of local government is to intervene when the market is failing the most vulnerable in our community.

(Morales followed up later to say that she would consider a business and occupation tax rebate program for micro-businesses with fewer than 20 employees, commercial rent control or longer leases for small businesses, community land trusts for commercial spaces, and a public bank that could provide small-business loans).

ECB: When you say “growth,” are you referring to economic growth or growth in terms of population?

TM: Well, I think the people growth is driven by our idea that we have to constantly attract more businesses. We have to expand industry. We have to provide the incentives that let Amazon bring 53,000 people here. And at some point, you reach capacity and it’s just not a sustainable model, especially when we haven’t really prepared all the infrastructure that we need to absorb that.

“We’re talking about permanent, affordable housing, things like community land trusts that could ensure long-term affordability, right of return, affirmative marketing of projects, and preserving existing affordability rather than allowing for affordable buildings to be torn down and replaced with market-rate buildings.”

ECB: When you talk about infrastructure, are you talking about concurrency [the idea that the city shouldn’t allow more density without providing infrastructure to support it]?

TM: We’re witnessing the result of this confluence of things. The feds have disinvested in public housing, our housing policy has been driven by serving developers that are interested in facilitating more market-rate construction, and then there’s the fact that we grew by 100,000 people in 10 years and our projections were that we would do that in 20. We just weren’t ready. And so we’re playing catch up. And what that means is that because so much of what has been in the pipeline for construction has been market-rate and not workforce housing or low-income housing, we’re witnessing displacement, especially in this district. So one of the priorities for me is dealing with that displacement.

ECB: Tell me about some of the policies you would want to implement to deal with displacement.

TM: We’re talking about inclusionary zoning—revisiting that and making it mandatory to include some percentage [of affordable housing on-site at new developments] rather than chipping into a pot of funds. We’re talking about permanent, affordable housing, things like community land trusts that could ensure longterm affordability for rental or homeownership opportunities, right of return, affirmative marketing of projects, and preserving existing affordability rather than allowing for affordable buildings to be torn down and replaced with market-rate buildings or something that people can’t afford anymore. So I think there are a slew of things that we could be doing to acknowledge that we can’t keep pushing out low-income folks out of the city.

ECB: When Kathy Nyland was head of the Department of Neighborhoods, she pushed for a new kind of outreach and engagement strategy that reached neighborhoods who had been excluded from traditional policymaking discussions. The idea was to expand the idea of community engagement beyond the traditional neighborhood district councils. How do you think that’s going now?

TM: I just spent a year working on a racial equity analysis with the office of civil rights, and the thing that we talked about for a year was the lack of commitment to authentic community engagement. So I think we need to reinvest in that department. We need to bring back the neighborhood service offices, so that people don’t have to go downtown, so that the resources that folks need to help them navigate the city departments are here for them, and to provide it in language  and during hours that people can actually access.

Support The C Is for Crank
Sorry to interrupt your reading, but THIS IS IMPORTANT. The C Is for Crank is a one-person operation, supported entirely—and I mean entirely— by generous contributions from readers like you. If you enjoy the breaking news, commentary, and deep dives on issues that matter to you, please support this work by donating a few bucks a month to keep this reader-supported site going. I can’t do this work without support from readers like you. Your $5, $10, and $20 monthly subscriptions allow me to do this work as my full-time job, so please become a sustaining supporter now. If you don’t wish to become a monthly contributor, you can always make a one-time donation via PayPal, Venmo (Erica-Barnett-7) or by mailing your contribution to P.O. Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104. Thank you for keeping The C Is for Crank going and growing. I’m truly grateful for your support.

The other thing is that if we are going to hold ourselves accountable to being a race and social justice city, a human rights city, then we have to commit to what it takes to do authentic community engagement. I think what I would like to see is that every city department has, in their budget, a line item for community engagement. So you budget for public education, for outreach, for events in the neighborhoods. And that needs to include funding for translators, for childcare, for food, for stipends for community members who you’re asking to come and give up their time to share their expertise about their neighborhood.

ECB: In response to recent news about fare enforcement, a lot of people are calling for free transit. That would obviously impact District 2, which has both light rail and some of the heaviest-ridership buses in the county along with a lower-income population than most other council districts. What do you think of that idea?

TM: I know Metro gets cranky whenever candidates start talking about this. This is where I do start thinking about revenue in the city and in the state, and, um, what it would take to be able to provide free transit, which is why I supported the statewide income tax, capital gains tax or whatever we can do to try to generate a more progressive funding stream in the city and in the state. Because I do think that we have a role to play in providing basic ways for people to get around.

ECB: You’ve been a food security advocate for a number of years. What are some steps that the city counts that you as a city council member would take to improve food security in District 2, which is a district where a lot of residents lack access to healthy food?

TM: We need longterm, local food resiliency. People need to learn how to grow food again, needs to learn where food comes from. And so, to the extent that we can expand community gardens, support people in growing their own foods so that they could start to understand what that means, that’s important. As part of the local Food Action Plan, we created and expanded the Fresh Bucks program [which gives SNAP recipients access to fresh fruits and vegetables], and it’s oversubscribed. Continue reading “The 2019 City Council Candidates: District 2 Candidate Tammy Morales”

The 2019 City Council Candidates: District 6 Candidate Heidi Wills

Image via Heidi Wills campaign

This year’s council races include an unusually high number of open seats, an unprecedented amount of outside spending, and eight first-time candidates. To help voters keep track, I’m sitting down with this year’s city council contenders to talk about their records, their priorities, and what they hope to accomplish on the council.

Today: District 6 candidate Heidi Wills. Wills, a former city council member, lost her reelection bid in 2003 and spent the next 13 years as the executive director of The First Tee of Greater Seattle, an organization that teaches kids “to play golf along with life lessons and leadership skills.” We jumped right in on the issue that led to her 2003 loss to David Della.

ECB: Let’s talk about Strippergate [the scandal in which Wills was reprimanded and fined for failing to report a meeting related to a zoning request from strip-club owner Frank Colacurcio, who contributed thousands of dollars in illegally bundled donations to Wills and two other council members.] What have you learned from that experience, and how has it changed your approach to campaign financing as a candidate?

HW: I think the democracy vouchers has that really lessened the influence of donors and special interests in fundraising and in fueling campaigns and it’s really given voice to average people who otherwise aren’t getting involved. Everyone has $100 to spend. When I ran 20 years ago and I felt like to get my name out there, and it was a citywide race, I needed to fundraise. And remember, this was pre-Google. [Editor’s note: Google was founded in 1998 and was pretty big by 2003. Yahoo had slightly more users, and MSN had slightly fewer.] I didn’t have Google as my friend. It was $650 per person maximum.

Remember, I was trying to solve a small business issue for Governor [Al] Rosellini [who was also involved… you know what? Just read this summary], who had been a mentor to me, and I did not question his motives or sincerity or his agenda. And in retrospect, I would have asked more questions. I would have wanted to know his relationship to the Colacurcio family. I didn’t ask that question. I didn’t know the history of the Colacurcio family. 

I was the youngest person who’d ever been elected to the city council and I did not know the headlines about all their corruption and criminal activity. It raised red flags at the [Public Disclosure Commission] when those checks came in, but I wasn’t aware.

“In retrospect, I would have asked more questions. I would have wanted to know his relationship to the Colacurcio family. I didn’t ask that question. I didn’t know the history of the Colacurcio family.”

ECB: You and Judy Nicastro were booted from the council and Jim Compton, who took just as much money from the Colacurcios as you did, was reelected. Did you think there was any sexism involved in that?

HW: Yes. But I don’t want to get into it.

ECB: Density is a major point of contention in District 6, particularly in Ballard, which has changed so dramatically. What do you think of the changes that have happened around 15th and Market, where the new density has been most dramatic?

HW: I’m a supporter of density. I supported it when I was on the council, and I support it now, especially where we have transportation to support it. What’s concerning to people [about the six-story buildings at 15th and Market], and it’s a reasonable concern, is that it’s not human in scale. If we had courtyards. If we had setbacks, if it felt human in scope, not like a canyon, I think that people would welcome more density. So I think that’s really too bad that that was built in a way to maximize footprint.

The thing about [Mandatory Housing Affordability, which upzoned the city’s urban villages], which I think is a great way to include more density in  urban villages, is that it feels as though it was one-size-fits-all. And there are parts of our community that would welcome more density. In talking with folks from Lake City, they want more density. I feel like neighborhood planning, which was disbanded, is the way to go. 

I talked to [former Department of Neighborhoods director] Jim Diers recently and asked him, you know, what about this? And of course he agrees we need more housing in our community. He said that we can bring people with us, and I think that’s true. There’s been a lot of hostility within District 6 about the city’s engagement with community, that it’s been lacking, that community voices are not being heard or welcomed in these conversations. And I think that that’s led to a lot of unrest that we’re feeling now, probably leading to more incumbents not wanting to run for to reelection. I think if the city actually empowered community that would look a lot different.

Support The C Is for Crank
Sorry to interrupt your reading, but THIS IS IMPORTANT. The C Is for Crank is a one-person operation, supported entirely—and I mean entirely— by generous contributions from readers like you. If you enjoy the breaking news, commentary, and deep dives on issues that matter to you, please support this work by donating a few bucks a month to keep this reader-supported site going. I can’t do this work without support from readers like you. Your $5, $10, and $20 monthly subscriptions allow me to do this work as my full-time job, so please become a sustaining supporter now. If you don’t wish to become a monthly contributor, you can always make a one-time donation via PayPal, Venmo (Erica-Barnett-7) or by mailing your contribution to P.O. Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104. Thank you for keeping The C Is for Crank going and growing. I’m truly grateful for your support.

ECB: When you say ‘community,’ what do you mean? Sometimes people use the word ‘community’ when they really mean ‘homeowners.’

HW: I bring that up. People talk about owner-occupancy requirements [for accessory dwelling units] and I ask what their objections are. They say they’re concerned about developer speculation and they’re concerned about homeowners not being on site, as if that leads to the degradation of a neighborhood. And I take issue with that, because I moved 13 times before I graduated from high school. I went to 10 different schools. Housing instability was hard on my childhood, and I know how disruptive that is. It’s hard on families, it’s hard on children. If we do care about community, we need to ensure that people have housing security.

ECB: If you’re getting that kind of reaction to the idea of backyard cottages in District 6, what are you hearing about  homelessness?

HW: I feel like people want solutions. District 6 is very progressive and people care about ensuring that people have the services that they need. I think they recognize that we need permanent supportive housing, and that a housing-first approach is the only means by which we’re going to gain traction on that issue. At the same time, they’re frustrated by the city’s lack of communication and innovation around how to address homelessness. I think the integration [of the homelessness system], has broad support in District 6. Continue reading “The 2019 City Council Candidates: District 6 Candidate Heidi Wills”

The 2019 City Council Candidates: District 4 Candidate Shaun Scott

Image via Shaun Scott campaign

This year’s council races include an unusually high number of open seats, an unprecedented amount of outside spending, and eight first-time candidates. To help voters keep track, I’m sitting down with this year’s city council contenders to talk about their records, their priorities, and what they hope to accomplish on the council.

Today: District 4 (Northeast Seattle) candidate Shaun Scott— an activist, writer, filmmaker, and Democratic Socialists of America member running to replace Abel Pacheco, who was appointed when Rob Johnson left the council partway through his single term.

The C Is for Crank (ECB): Your opponent Alex Pedersen’s campaign has been heavily supported by People for Seattle, the political-action committee started by his former boss, Tim Burgess, and by the Seattle Metro Chamber’s PAC. Any thoughts about how to get that kind of influence out of local politics?

Shaun Scott (SS): I thought that council member Gonzalez’ legislation to reduce the influence of corporate PACs is a great first step, and I would like to, work with her if I’m elected on crafting that legislation and building the political case for it.

ECB: The legislation would impact labor as well. For example, Andrew Lewis in District 7 benefited from more than $150,000 from UNITE HERE Local 8, the New York City-based union. Are you comfortable with the fact that these reforms would impact labor as well as business?

SS: To be fair. labor also spent against us in the primary on behalf of Emily Myers’ campaign, although it was nothing on the magnitude of what we saw from the Chamber and what we’re probably going see in the general. I think that the difference is that labor, as a progressive force in the city, is going to find ways to influence and get involved with campaigns on a basis that’s more than just material. They’re going to be out canvassing, they’re going to be coming up with policy recommendations that are going to benefit a lot of people in the city. And so there are more direct avenues for labor to exercise influence in the city, whereas I think Chamber politics often do really boil down to almost a unilaterally negative form of campaigning, so that the reduction of influence vis-a-vis PACs is going to impact them a lot more and limit their influence a lot more than it will labor, which traditionally has more avenues for getting people engaged and being involved in elections.

“With a market incentive program [like HALA], as well structured as it can be, there are going to be real limits. There’s going to be a ceiling on how effectively the market is going to be able to deliver social goods of any kind.”

ECB: You’ve been a vocal supporter of density in single-family neighborhoods during this campaign, which seems like a change from your previous position; as an organizer for the Jon Grant campaign in 2017, for example, you suggested that the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda was something of a developer giveaway. Has your position evolved?

SS: I think it’s definitely the case that a lot of HALA and a lot of [Mandatory Housing Affordability] was kind of a market incentive program. And with a market incentive program, as well structured as it can be, there are going to be real limits. There’s going to be a ceiling on how effectively the market is going to be able to deliver social goods of any kind. We’ve seen this in housing, we’ve seen this in healthcare, we’ve seen this in for-profit education. We’ve seen this in the rise of a prison industrial complex. No matter how much you do to incentivize the market to do the correct thing, there are going to be bad actors and it’s going to fail to deliver these goods in a way that is broad and accessible or able to be enjoyed by everybody. So that’s a critique of HALA. It’s part of the reason why when people ask me what I think about MHA, I will say it’s by and large something that I probably would have supported if I were on council, with a few important caveats. One of them being, if we were destroying more affordable housing than was going to be put in by a new development, how can we legitimate that?

There’s room for nuance. There’s room for having an opinion about this that says, if our goal is to get to the point where we’re providing the most housing and the most deeply affordable social housing that we can get, we have to find ways to structure the housing decisions that we make in the city so that they’re not left up completely to market forces.

Support The C Is for Crank
Sorry to interrupt your reading, but THIS IS IMPORTANT. The C Is for Crank is a one-person operation, supported entirely—and I mean entirely— by generous contributions from readers like you. If you enjoy the breaking news, commentary, and deep dives on issues that matter to you, please support this work by donating a few bucks a month to keep this reader-supported site going. I can’t do this work without support from readers like you. Your $5, $10, and $20 monthly subscriptions allow me to do this work as my full-time job, so please become a sustaining supporter now. If you don’t wish to become a monthly contributor, you can always make a one-time donation via PayPal, Venmo (Erica-Barnett-7) or by mailing your contribution to P.O. Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104. Thank you for keeping The C Is for Crank going and growing. I’m truly grateful for your support.

ECB: Your position on upzoning the Ave [University Way NE], specifically, has changed. Tell me a little bit about that.

SS: So I have very strong ideas about, and a lot of historical knowledge about, why the zoning that we see in neighborhoods like District Four in particular is exclusionary and why we’re just never going to be actually serious about being a racially inclusive city or a climate leader until we change that. One of the reasons why my views on the Ave in particular have started to evolve and why I think I’m more receptive to new information about what is going on there than  maybe I was at the beginning of this race has to do with the impact that opening large, big-box stores might have on some of the small businesses that are there that are minority and people of color-owned. And, as a principle, it’s one of those things where I have to check myself and rely on community to check me to make sure that in this vision that I have for an inclusive city, we’re not doing things to undercut that by actually displacing people that have had a hard go of actually gaining a foothold in the city.

The second part of it is it would be a different story if all of the housing that we were talking about building, or more than what is currently going to go there, was actually going to be workforce housing. If that was built into the way that the upzone was going to happen, I’d gladly go to some of these neighborhoods and absorb the criticism from people who are saying, ‘You’re changing the character of our neighborhood.’ What you’re saying is the character of the neighborhood means a lot less to me than people having a place to live. 

I’m not running to be a CEO of city government or to be a on the board of a development firm. We’re talking about what decisions the city has and what power the city has over our housing market. We can have all the conversations that we want about what it would look like to leave our housing decisions up to the private market. We know that right now and in the coming years, that’s not going to be enough for people that need housing.

Continue reading “The 2019 City Council Candidates: District 4 Candidate Shaun Scott”

Planning Director Seeks Job In Boulder, More Details on Derelict RVs, and Throwing Cold Water on Bike Lane Praise

Image via City of Seattle

As the city council goes on its annual summer recess (and I return from a quick vacation), some notes on what’s been happening in the city over the past couple of weeks:

• Seattle Office of Planning and Development director Sam Assefa is a finalist for a job as head of the planning department in Boulder, CO, where he served as senior urban designer for six years. Assefa, a holdover from the Ed Murray administration whose standing in the Durkan administration has been in question for a while, has presided over the passage and implementation of the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA), which included upzones in neighborhoods across Seattle, as well as the implementation of new rules designed to allow more density in single-family neighborhoods. Durkan has not made land use and zoning a top priority during her first two years in office, and many at the city have expressed surprise that Assefa has managed to stick around so long.

At the same time, the city is hiring a chief of staff for the department. (A similar position was recently created in the Human Services Department’s homelessness division, whose former director, Tiffany Washington, has moved to a position in the Department of Education and Early Learning.) The department is small—about 40 employees—prompting some to wonder whether this position is necessary, and to whom the new chief of staff will be accountable—the director, or the mayor.

Support The C Is for Crank
Sorry to interrupt your reading, but THIS IS IMPORTANT. The C Is for Crank is a one-person operation, supported entirely—and I mean entirely— by generous contributions from readers like you. If you enjoy the breaking news, commentary, and deep dives on issues that matter to you, please support this work by donating a few bucks a month to keep this reader-supported site going. I can’t do this work without support from readers like you. Your $5, $10, and $20 monthly donations allow me to do this work as my full-time job, so please become a sustaining supporter now. If you don’t wish to become a monthly contributor, you can always make a one-time donation via PayPal, Venmo (Erica-Barnett-7) or by mailing your contribution to P.O. Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104. Thank you for keeping The C Is for Crank going and growing. I’m truly grateful for your support.

• Council members continued to question Mayor Jenny Durkan’s legislation aimed at curbing abuse by RV “landlords” who buy up “extensively damaged vehicles” and rent them out to people who would otherwise be unsheltered. The legislation would create new penalties, including fines and restitution requirements, for anyone who “allows” another person to live in an RV that meets two or more criteria, including cracked windows, visible trash, and leaks. The restitution—up to $2,000—would be paid directly by the RV owner, not the city. A companion administrative action by the mayor’s office authorizes the city to impound derelict RVs and destroy them along with their contents.

Durkan’s staffers didn’t appear in person at last Wednesday’s finance and neighborhoods committee hearing, but her office did provide a memo answering some of the questions the council posed earlier this month, including how common the problem of predatory RV rental really is.

Continue reading “Planning Director Seeks Job In Boulder, More Details on Derelict RVs, and Throwing Cold Water on Bike Lane Praise”

Durkan’s Backyard Cottage Plan Would Have Kept Some Old Restrictions, Imposed New Ones

Mayor Jenny Durkan planned to propose her own accessory dwelling unit (ADU) legislation that would have restricted homeowners’ ability to build second and third units on their property, going far beyond the limitations in the legislation the city council passed unanimously yesterday afternoon.

The restrictions Durkan proposed would have been more lenient than previous regulations, which had resulted in just a handful of ADUs per year, but would have included many provisions requested by ADU opponents, including parking requirements for second ADUs, preserving the current owner occupancy requirement, and imposing new limits  on the size of backyard units.

Ultimately, as I reported this morning (item 2), Durkan did not propose her own legislation, and the bill the council passed yesterday does not include any of these restrictions. Still, Durkan’s ADU proposal gives a glimpse into her thinking about how much the city should limit how many people (and what kind of people) should be allowed to live in single-family neighborhoods.

Support The C Is for Crank
Sorry to interrupt your reading, but THIS IS IMPORTANT. The C Is for Crank is a one-person operation, supported entirely—and I mean entirely— by generous contributions from readers like you. If you enjoy the breaking news, commentary, and deep dives on issues that matter to you, please support this work by donating a few bucks a month to keep this reader-supported site going. I can’t do this work without support from readers like you. Your $5, $10, and $20 monthly donations allow me to do this work as my full-time job, so please become a sustaining supporter now. If you don’t wish to become a monthly contributor, you can always make a one-time donation via PayPal, Venmo (Erica-Barnett-7) or by mailing your contribution to P.O. Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104. Thank you for keeping The C Is for Crank going and growing. I’m truly grateful for your support.

This report is based on documents I received through a records request filed in March. The mayor’s office provided unredacted versions of these documents this morning.

First, the mayor set out her goals in drafting her own ADU legislation: “1. Encourage ADUs—especially affordable ADUs—throughout Seattle’s single-family neighborhoods. 2. Prevent speculative development and the demolition of existing single-family homes.” Her plan also laid out a set of “principles,” which included “Retain existing single-family neighborhood character.”

To those ends, here’s what the mayor’s proposal (which, again, was never sent to the council as legislation) might have done:

1. Imposed a cap of 1,000 accessory units permitted per year. (The legislation the council passed includes no such restriction.)

2. Required homeowners building a second ADU to sign a legally binding document stating that they would never use that ADU as an Airbnb (a new restriction that would allow someone to own two houses on adjoining lots and rent one as an Airbnb, but would ban a neighbor with two ADUs from renting out their backyard unit).

3. Required two years of continuous ownership before a homeowner could build a second ADU, such as a backyard cottage in a house that already has a basement apartment. This restriction went further than council member Lisa Herbold’s proposal for a one-year ownership requirement, which failed; the legislation the council passed does not include any ownership-related restrictions on ADU construction.

4. Required homeowners to build one off-street parking space when they build a second ADU. Notes from staff on the mayor’s proposal indicate that “many infill parcels, especially those without alley access, cannot easily accommodate off-street parking, making this requirement a significant impediment to ADU development.” The legislation that passed yesterday includes no parking mandate.

5. Imposed a new floor-area ratio (a measure of maximum density) on detached units while eliminating the previous minimum lot size of 5,000 square feet. Although getting rid of maximum lot sizes sounds like a good thing, in practice, this measure would have little practical impact while imposing a new restriction on what people on smaller lots could build. I’ve explained this in a bit more detail below*, but the impact would be that any lot smaller than 5,000 square feet would have to build a backyard unit smaller than 1,000 square feet—and the smaller the lot, the smaller the cottage. In contrast, O’Brien’s legislation allows backyard cottages of up to 1,000 square feet on all lots, subject to the city’s existing maximum lot coverage of 35 percent.

Although getting rid of the minimum lot size entirely might seem preferable, the impact would be tiny—according to the city, just 7 percent of the single-family lots in Seattle are smaller than 3,200 square feet, and ADUs on very small lots are unlikely for the reasons I explain below.

6. Required a homeowner or a homeowner’s family member to live on the property for at least six months out of every year. O’Brien’s legislation got rid of the existing six-month owner occupancy requirement because it effectively banned renters from living in at least one of the units on lots with an ADU (suggesting that backyard-cottage renters require owner supervision.) Durkan’s proposal would have continued to prevent renters from occupying every unit on lots with ADUs, but allowed family members to serve as owner proxies. The proposal doesn’t define “family member,” but other elements of the municipal code limit the number of people who can live on a single lot unless they are “related,” a term that is undefined in the code.

Because I filed my request for these documents in March, they don’t include any discussions that happened after April 1 that might shed light on why Durkan decided not to propose her own ADU legislation. The mayor’s office did not immediately respond to a question about why they dropped the proposal this afternoon.

*Two hypothetical examples illustrate the impact of this change on lots of two different sizes.

A homeowner with a 4,000-square-foot lot could cover a total of 1,400 square feet of that lot with buildings, subject to the maximum height limit of about 30 feet. That could include, say, a 1,600-square-foot two story house (covering 800 square feet of the lot) and a two-story, 1,000-square-foot backyard cottage (covering 500 square feet). Under Durkan’s proposal, though, the backyard cottage would also be restricted by the 0.2 FAR, limiting it to a total of 800 square feet no matter how the rest of the lot is configured. This is the limit that existed before O’Brien’s legislation raised it to 1,000 square feet, so in this case Durkan’s proposal would have preserved the old status quo.

A homeowner with a 2,500-square-foot lot, who couldn’t build a backyard cottage under the rules adopted yesterday, would theoretically be able to do so under Durkan’s proposal. But the restrictions would make this exceedingly unlikely, because the backyard cottage would be limited to a total of 500 square feet—on a lot where only 875 square feet can be developed in the first place. Playing this out presents some very unlikely scenarios, such as a tiny front house towered over by a narrow two-story backyard tower. The point is, the effect of these restrictions would have been primarily to limit the size of backyard units, not to expand homeowners’ ability to build them.