Category: Development

Morning Fizz: Will Durkan Veto the Council’s Budget?

1. Will Mayor Jenny Durkan veto the city council’s budget?

It may seem early to start asking whether the mayor will reject the council’s revisions of her 2021 budget proposal, since the council is only at the midway point of the budget process. But as the potential amendments and substantive policy changes add up, it’s clear that the council is intent on restoring funds to  housing, grassroots community safety projects, and COVID relief—which means cutting into the mayor’s flagship priority, a $100 million “equitable investment” fund for “investments in BIPOC communities,” in the last budget before the next mayoral election.

Durkan first floated the concept of funding “$100 million in community-driven programs for Black youths and adults” at the height of last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests, when every day produced new allegations of police brutality and overreach. A more detailed proposal came in September in the form of a plan to spend “$100 million on BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, and People of Color] communities. Specifically, Durkan proposed setting $100 million aside in next year’s budget until a task force appointed by the mayor comes up with recommendations for spending it.

To pay for such a large line item in a year of budget cuts, Durkan’s budget plan relies on revenues from the JumpStart payroll tax, which the council allocated to COVID-19 relief and homelessness and housing projects.

Separately, Durkan’s plan also eliminates $10 million the council allocated this year to scale up community-led alternatives to policing. And it “abandons” $30 million that was allocated to equitable investment projects during the sale of the Mercer Megablock property and spends these “flexible funds” on “critical City services in the 2020 Revised Budget and 2021 Proposed Budget.”

The clawback of the Megablock proceeds is perhaps the clearest case of a promise broken. Just last year, Durkan stood in a vacant lot in South Lake Union—at the time, one of the largest and most valuable publicly owned properties in the city— and announced that proceeds from the $143 million sale would help fund affordable housing and other projects that combat displacement in gentrifying areas. “I believe that years from now, people will look back at this chance and say we seized an incredible opportunity to make our City better by reinvesting the proceeds directly in housing across Seattle,” Durkan said at the time.

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This funding promise was one reason progressive groups like Puget Sound Sage did not vocally oppose the project, council member Lisa Herbold noted Thursday. She joined council members Tammy Morales, Andrew Lewis, and council president Lorena González in supporting a proposal by Kshama Sawant to restore funding for the projects promised as part of the Megablock sale last year.

2. Herbold’s proposal to create a new “duress” defense for some people facing misdemeanor charges won’t be heard until after the council adopts the 2021 budget. On Wednesday, González said council staffers were already overloaded with more than 120 budget amendment requests from members.

She also questioned whether Herbold’s proposal—which Herbold says would save the city money by reducing the number of jail beds it has to pay for—is truly budget-related. And she suggested it might not actually save much money, because former mayor Mike McGinn signed a long-term jail contract that commits the city for 30 years to paying for jail beds that they aren’t using now. Continue reading “Morning Fizz: Will Durkan Veto the Council’s Budget?”

City Promises Handover of Central District Fire Station for Innovation Center, But Many Questions Remain

Seaspot Media CEO and 37th District state house candidate Chukundi Salisbury.

This piece originally appeared at the South Seattle Emerald.

Last Friday, the city’s Department of Neighborhoods made an announcement on its blog that came as a surprise even to its beneficiaries: After years of inaction, the city would finally transfer control of the decommissioned Fire Station 6 in the Central District to the Africatown Community Land Trust for redevelopment into the William Grose Center for Enterprise and Cultural Innovation, a long-planned incubator for Black-owned businesses. The development could include meeting rooms, technology labs, and maker spaces, along with up to 20 units of housing for young adults. 

“There’s very few spaces that we walk into as African-Americans where we know we’re loved,” said Seaspot Media CEO Chukundi Salisbury, a Democratic candidate for 37th District state representative and advocate for the Grose Center project. “Walking into the Liberty Bank building,” an affordable-housing development built through a partnership between Africatown and Capitol Hill Housing, “I feel loved, and I feel welcome, and that in itself is an achievement—just to walk in and not feel out of place, to feel that this place is for me.”

Eventually, the Grose Center could be one of those places. For now, though, the groups who have spent five years pushing the city to hand over the disused property are still waiting for the keys.

“We were surprised by the announcement,” Africatown executive director K. Wyking Garrett said during a press conference outside the fire station Monday. “We found out via social media, like many others, but we’re encouraged and think it’s a step in the right direction toward the overall goals of the King County Equity Now Coalition.” The fire station was one of several properties identified as future sites for Black-run enterprises by the King County Equity Now Coalition, which includes Africatown, the Black Community Impact Alliance, Black Dot, and other community groups.

The city’s announcement came after weeks of negative headlines for Mayor Jenny Durkan and Police Chief Carmen Best, who have been criticized for using force against mostly peaceful protesters on Capitol Hill, and one week after thousands of people rallied in front of the fire station in support of King County Equity Now’s demands. The department and mayor have resisted calls to make larger, more systemic changes demanded by protesters, chief among them defunding the police, redirecting funds to Black-led, community-based organizations, and releasing people arrested during demonstrations against police violence.

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Organizers of Monday’s press conference said they wished they could bring reporters inside the vacant building to see the space, but they currently have no way to get inside. Nor has the city proposed a funding plan for upgrades to the building or begun to work on the zoning changes that will be necessary to convert the property into a community center with on-site housing

Asked what the concrete steps the city has taken, other than last week’s announcement, a spokeswoman for the mayor’s office said, “Over the past two weeks, Mayor Durkan and City leaders have met with dozens of black community leaders representing a broad range of interests, including transferring city, county and state properties to community based organizations. Mayor Durkan supports these efforts. After meeting with groups last week, [deputy mayor Shefali] Ranganathan committed to working with community stakeholders… to move forward on next steps and the process for the transfer of FS6. The City looks forward to creating another strong community partnership to carry this project forward.” 

Africatown board member Isaac Joy noted Monday that Durkan is “getting a lot of pressure right now to address racial inequity in Seattle. … I don’t want to give her too much praise, because it shouldn’t take much organizing, it shouldn’t take thousands of Black people being in the streets, endangering themselves in the middle of the pandemic, to get the mayor to transfer over property that has been sitting vacant,” Joy said.

Funding for the redevelopment would come, in part, from the city’s Equitable Development Initiative, which was created five years ago to support community-led development in areas with high risk of economic displacement, like Rainier Beach and the Central District. The Grose Center was one of the first five projects identified in that process, but like others, including the Rainier Valley Food Innovation District, has not moved much beyond the planning stages.  

The Grose Center is named after William Grose, a Black businessman who purchased 12 acres of land from Henry Yesler in 1882 that eventually became the heart of the Central District. Garrett said Monday that the building would be not part of a “historic district,” but would serve as a “living memorial that will pay honor to the past” while creating opportunities for the Black entrepreneurs and innovators of the future. “We anticipate this being on an accelerated timeline, and we will continue to press for that, to ensure that we get the key, we get the title, and that we move forward on this project,” Garrett said.

Council Vote Allows Stalled Housing Projects to Move Forward Without Usual Lengthy Review

Not Seattle.

After more weeks of debate than any other piece of emergency legislation to come out of the COVID crisis so far, the Seattle City Council voted this morning to ease the requirement that certain developments go through the lengthy full design review process, allowing dozens of buildings that were already in the process pipeline to continue moving forward. The legislation died last week for lack of seven votes (the requirement for emergency legislation) but was brought back this afternoon with a new amendment from council member Tammy Morales, who initially voted against the bill on the li grounds that it would expedite gentrification in historic districts like the Chinatown/International District and the Central District.

Public comment, which returned last week, was split between people who insisted that streamlining design review, even for a few months, would lead to the wholesale destruction of neighborhoods and the decimation of urban forests, and those who argued that building housing was critical to the city’s recovery. Several speakers who opposed the bill said that the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections “can’t be trusted” and suggested that city land-use bureaucrats were hellbent on scraping single-family lots of trees and vegetation to build dense, “unaffordable buildings” in the middle of their single-family neighborhoods.

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Last week, Morales proposed an amendment that would have eliminated a provision allowing city staff, rather than historic district and landmark review boards, to approve changes in historic districts. That amendment failed, and Morales voted against the legislation, along with Lisa Herbold and Alex Pedersen. This time, she came back with a more narrowly tailored amendment specifically prohibiting any online meetings of the city’s International [District] Special Review District on the grounds that the community includes many people without access to technology and translation services. That amendment passed, and Morales voted for the final bill, calling her vote “my first and last concession in the name of easing process or relieving administrative burdens if it means that it will accelerate disaster gentrification.”

Council member Andrew Lewis proposed an amendment, which failed to pass, that would have halted work on three projects that are participating in the city’s Living Building pilot program by requiring them to continue through the full design review process. “Living buildings” get some extra height and density in exchange for being built to high environmental standards, but like other buildings that receive height bonuses, they tend to be controversial among traditional neighborhood groups. Lewis said he had heard concerns from “the community” that allowing these projects to shift to administrative design review, which doesn’t require in-person meetings but does allow public feedback, would lead to inferior buildings. The amendment failed despite an assist from Herbold, who encouraged Lewis to reiterate his reasons for believing that projects shouldn’t shift from full design review to a less process-y process midstream.

“This will be my first and last concession in the name of easing process or relieving administrative burdens if it means that it will accelerate disaster gentrification.” — Council member Tammy Morales

And what about Herbold, who voted against the bill last week after her own amendment, which would have eliminated a provision that exempts affordable housing from design review for six months, failed? City rules prohibited her from bringing up the same amendment again (as they did with Morales’ unsuccessful changes), and she voted against the bill a second time, arguing that the affordable-housing exemption violates Gov. Jay Inslee’s order restricting cities from considering legislation that is unrelated to the COVID emergency. Council president Lorena Gonzalez, who said she had consulted on this question extensively with the city clerk and city attorney’s office, disagreed, and the legislation passed 7-2.

The upshot of all this is actually more significant than the last few weeks’ arcane finagling suggest. Dozens of projects, including affordable housing projects, have been on hold since Inslee’s order halted in-person public meetings, putting a critical economic sector in a holding pattern until the city decided what to do. Now, and for the next six months, these projects can get back underway. As Queen Anne Community Council board member Justin Allegro put it during public comment, “We don’t want to look back and regret that we missed out on huousing opportunities now just because we weren’t willing to trust our city employee experts to make design review decisions for the next few months.”

With Public Meetings Shut Down, Housing Developers Seek Temporary Relief from Seattle Process

The Standard towers in the University District, one of dozens of projects caught in limbo when COVID-19 led to the cancellation of all public meetings.

Nonprofit affordable housing providers and other developers were alarmed when a proposal from Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office that would make it possible for their projects to move forward during the COVID crisis was abruptly removed from this week’s city council agenda. The legislation would allow projects to go through the shorter “administrative” design review process, in which projects are reviewed and approved by trained city staff, instead of the usual “full” design review, which involves public meetings and sometimes-lengthy deliberations. Similarly, the city’s Historic Preservation Officer would be empowered to approve or deny changes to landmarked buildings for six months.

The changes would last for six months, or until the city has developed a system for design-review and landmarks board meetings to take place online. Without a process for projects to move forward, land-use attorney Jack McCullough says, a lot of planned developments could be “dead in the water.”

Support The C Is for Crank
During this unprecedented time of crisis, your support for truly independent journalism is more critical than ever before. The C Is for Crank is a one-person operation supported entirely by contributions from readers like you.

Your $5, $10, and $20 monthly donations allow me to do this work as my full-time job. Every supporter who maintains or increases their contribution during this difficult time helps to ensure that I can keep covering the issues that matter to you, with empathy, relentlessness, and depth.

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 reading, and supporting, The C Is for Crank.

“If we have to tell everyone who’s in the pipeline or ready to get in, ‘We can’t tell you when you’ll ever be able to move forward,’ people will mothball their projects. They may not kill them, but they’re going to say, ‘If there’s not a path, why am I spending money money on this?”

The council was prepared to adopt the proposal on Monday, but after an executive session at which the city’s law department reportedly expressed concerns that it could open up the city to appeals to the state Growth Management Board, the legislation was yanked from the agenda. (City council president Lorena Gonzalez was unable for comment Thursday, and a city council spokeswoman did not return a call.) On Thursday, after both for-profit developers and low-income housing builders raised a ruckus, it’s back on next week’s agenda.

The city’s eight design review boards are supposed to ensure that their designs are high-quality, comply with regulations, and are appropriate for the neighborhoods where they’re being built. (This process, of course, can be quite contentious and subjective.) Twenty-nine projects, totaling 3,500 new housing units, were supposed to get hearings between March 11 and May 4, according to the city’s Department of Construction and Inspections, and another 30 were starting the community outreach process that precedes design review.  SDCI spokesman Bryan Stevens says many of these projects will provide affordable housing funds through the city’s Mandatory Housing Affordability Program or include affordable units through the Multifamily Tax Exemption program. The 30 projects that were just starting out include four affordable-housing buildings.

Chris Persons, the head of Capitol Hill Housing, says he has two projects in the development pipeline, including one that requires approval by the landmarks board. “It’s stuck, but it could be resolved by this legislation,” Persons says. Continue reading “With Public Meetings Shut Down, Housing Developers Seek Temporary Relief from Seattle Process”

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.”

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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.

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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 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.

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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”

Unredacted Documents Reveal Initial Megablock Proposal Was for Ground Lease, Not Sale

A newly unredacted version of Alexandria Real Estate’s initial proposal for the Mercer Megablock shows that the winning bidder to buy the three-property parcel initially proposed a ground lease—not a sale—that would have included a $31 million initial payment, followed by annual rent payments that would have started at $2.6 million a year. Renting the land out under a long-term ground lease would have kept the 3-acre parcel in public ownership, but could have been less lucrative for the city, which ultimately sold the land to Alexandria outright for $138 million, plus a $5 million payment for future homelessness programs.

The original request for proposals for the site made it clear that the city “has a strong preference to structure the transaction for the site as an unsubordinated long-term ground lease” but would consider a sale. “The value differential that we saw was really, really large between what was being offered on the lease relative to the cash up front,” city budget director Ben Noble says.

Alexandria’s initial proposal estimated the net present value of a ground lease—that is, the amount those annual payments would be worth in 2019 dollars by the end of the lease term—at $69 million, for a total value along with the initial payment of $100 million. This was a bit more than Alexandria’s initial proposal to buy the land outright for about $98 million. Since Alexandria’s offer to buy increased nearly 40 percent, however, it seems likely that their best and final offer for a ground lease would have increased, too, raising the total value of the bid to a level similar to what the city will get from the sale. It’s unclear whether Alexandria’s best and final offer included a ground lease option; I’ve requested a copy of this offer from the city.

Alexandria’s unredacted proposal, which is being published here for the first time, includes a number of details that have not been previously known about the real-estate firm’s plans for the three megablock properties.

The document Alexandria originally provided to the city included extensive redactions that concealed all of the information about the ground lease proposal. The company also blacked out details about what will go in the planned commercial space (including a business incubator and conference center), the address of a project in San Francisco that the company is currently building (88 Bluxome), the amount of open space that’s included in an Alexandria project in Cambridge (2.2 acres), and the height of each floor in its proposed life sciences buildings (13 feet).

My request for the documents, filed on August 7, led to a considerable amount of back-and-forth with the mayor’s office, which responded to my questions selectively and incompletely. (I still have several unanswered questions, for example, about the way the mayor’s office handled both Alexandria’s “proposed redactions” and my request.) Initially, the city informed me that if I wanted the unredacted documents, the mayor’s office would exercise their discretionary option to inform Alexandria so that the company could seek an injunction to keep them secret, exposing me to the potential for “lengthy litigation.”

The project will include 730 parking spaces—more parking than most of the other proposals, except for one (from Touchstone) which called for a massive underground parking lot for 1,000 cars. Tishman Speyer’s proposal included just 50 parking spots.

The city did not respond to followup questions. Instead, more than two weeks after I made my initial request, the budget office informed me that an email from me that included the phrase, “I am interested in seeing the materials redacted in Alexandria’s proposal,” followed by a list of questions asking what the implications would be if I did make a formal request for the redacted information, constituted a formal request that would trigger the third-party notice to Alexandria. Continue reading “Unredacted Documents Reveal Initial Megablock Proposal Was for Ground Lease, Not Sale”

Here’s a Look at All the Megablock Proposals (Including a Redacted Plan from the Winning Bidder to Keep the Land in Public Hands)

Alexandria Real Estate’s proposed development at 800 Mercer

Here are the six proposals for the Mercer Megablock, including the one that the city chose, by Alexandria Real Estate. Alexandria’s proposal, like several of the proposals that were not chosen, includes an option for a ground lease, which would have allowed the land to remain in public hands. Ground leases are typically for about 99 years, include a rent escalation factor so that rent goes up each year, and can sometimes be renegotiated at different points during the lease term.

Alexandria Real Estate 

Vulcan

Touchstone

BioMed Realty

Tishman Speyer

Kilroy

Bidders that included a ground lease option included Kilroy (which did not provide details); Touchstone (which proposed an initial annual rent of $7.7 million if the project didn’t include affordable housing, and $4.675 million if it did, escalating 10 percent every five years); Tishman Speyer (which proposed a $70 million downpayment and initial rent of $4 million without affordable housing, and an initial payment of $40 million with affordable housing and initial rent of $2.75 million, both escalating annually at 2 percent) and Alexandria.

Here, in stark contrast, are the details Alexandria provided about its ground lease proposal:

The city budget office told me that I had the right to request an unredacted version of the proposal—which, to be clear, was redacted by Alexandria, not the city. However, they cautioned me that they would exercise their right under RCW 42.56.540 to inform Alexandria that I had asked for this information, at which point Alexandria could seek a court injunction to withhold the redacted records from public view.  “If they chose to pursue an injunction, you will likely be named as a necessary party to the lawsuit and lengthy litigation may ensue,” a city public disclosure officer warned.

I believe these records are of interest to the public, as many advocates argued that the land should remain in public, rather than private, hands. I have asked the city for a more detailed explanation of the process for finding out what’s behind all those black bars.