Tag: Ballard

Maybe Metropolis: Launching Seattle’s New “Neighborhood Character”

District 6 Councilmember Dan Strauss’ legislation is an acknowledgment that Seattle’s neighborhood character is changing.

by Josh Feit

City Council member Dan Strauss passed legislation this week that extends the city’s sidewalk and curbside permitting program for Seattle businesses for another year. Standing next to one of the semi-permanent “pergolas” that now line Ballard Avenue, Strauss said, “we want them here forever.” Mike Stewart, head of the Ballard Alliance, noted the “great symbiotic relationship between restaurants, retailers, and the Ballard Sunday Farmers Market. By supporting any one of those,” Stewart said, customers help support the neighborhood’s whole urban core.

It’s a good start. In fact, I inaugurated the “Maybe Metropolis” column during the tumult of the pandemic last Fall by seizing on the street seating program as a promising sign that the COVID-19 crisis was unlocking Seattle’s larger urbanist sensibility.

But…

Strauss’ legislation doesn’t fully capitalize on this pivotal moment. Public momentum is currently pushing Seattle in an urban direction. In just one year, the city has now issued 233 outdoor restaurant permits, compared to about 384 outdoor dining permits issued over the previous 12 years combined.

Obviously, part of that increase is related to that fact that the permits were free this year; ordinarily there’s a square footage charge and a $232 up-front free. Nonetheless, this year’s permits represent an increase of more than 700 percent over the previous years’ average—a tremendous spike.

If there’s one thing we’ve learned from the pandemic, it’s that Seattle’s “neighborhood character” has a different personality type than we thought. Long a coded excuse against everything from more mother-in-law apartments, to triplexes, to nighttime lights in parks, it turns out Seattle’s “neighborhood character” is far more malleable and exciting than Seattle’s reactionary reflex suggests.

If we miss this opportunity to transform Seattle’s non-downtown neighborhoods on a grander scale than simply allowing outdoor seating while failing to make our local communities places that actually support our lives—as opposed to supporting Stepford lives—we will have squandered 2021’s urban revelation.

Certainly, some of the pent-up energy is specific to the pandemic, but given that trends like working from home were already in play prior to 2020—teleworking in Seattle increased 113 percent between 2010 and 2019—it seems the pandemic has actually revealed, rather than invented, neighborhood needs and preferences.

For example, the jump in working from home was not a function of Seattle’s simultaneous population boom, as it dramatically outpaced other modes like driving (which actually decreased) and walking. The need for more neighborhood options to do business, shop, and go out nearby isn’t going away if people continue to work in greater numbers at home.

The pandemic has actually revealed, rather than invented, neighborhood needs and preferences..

The change in mood that has coincided with the need for more activated neighborhoods has certainly nudged the city to already relax some rigid rules this past year. In addition to making it easier for businesses to set up sidewalk and street dining, the council has also eased restrictions on small home businesses and made some streets pedestrian and bike only zones.

It’s a good look. But rather than taking a piecemeal approach, council members need to think comprehensively about making all our city neighborhoods more neighbor-friendly. This means recalibrating zoning (more density and uses), restriping existing pavement (more bus and bike lanes), and retaking the public right of way (with bioswales, bike racks, P-Patches, microparks, and closing streets to cars.)

In March, I published a list of seven neighborhood Must Dos for meeting this moment, which mostly focused on increasing housing density in non-downtown neighborhoods (end single family zoning, please!) and increasing the density of indie businesses as well. Along those lines, I wrote: “With hundreds of businesses getting street (or sidewalk) seating permits … it needs to be a permanent option.” Since the council seems to be responding to the zeitgeist, I’d like to take advantage of the momentum and offer some more necessary fixes for Seattle’s neighborhoods.

Because District 6 Councilmember Strauss is showing such leadership on this issue, I’m proposing Ballard, which makes up the bulk of District 6, as the first neighborhood to implement the following recommendations for acknowledging and activating our new neighborhood character.

We can call it the Ballard Action District, or BAD.

Ballard Ave.

First, while allowing multifamily housing in Seattle’s exclusive single-family zones must be central to any plan to reinvent our neighborhoods, let’s start by upzoning the real estate that’s adjacent to our neighborhood parks and schools, creating Parks Oriented Development (POD) and Schools Oriented Development (SOD).

Eighty-nine percent of the city’s parks and open spaces are in single family zones. Similarly, the vast majority of the city’s top-performing elementary schools are in single-family areas. Let’s give more people access. In order to redistribute these assets, let’s start undoing those single-family enclaves, which make up 65 percent of the city’s developable land, by prioritizing real estate around parks and schools for multi-family and affordable housing.

Continue reading “Maybe Metropolis: Launching Seattle’s New “Neighborhood Character””

Another Sweep in Ballard, JustCARE Disputes Mayor’s Cost Claims, and Former County Dems Leader Resigns

1. On Friday, the city will remove any tents that remain at Gilman Playfield in Ballard, part of a wider strategy of removing encampments that are near schools, playgrounds and sports fields. The Gilman sweep comes after similar encampment removals at Rainier Playfield and Miller Park on Capitol Hill, which the mayor’s office said were necessary to make the parks “safe and accessible” to students and children playing sports.

Mayoral spokeswoman Rachel Schulkin said the Seattle Police Department responded 61 times in the past six months to “calls including disturbances, domestic violence, and other suspicious or potentially dangerous activity at the playground,” and that the fire department had responded to another 11 calls. Additionally, “Youth sports team coaches, parents, and neighbors have been reaching out to the City over the past few months with various safety concerns and to express their frustrations over not being able to use the field for youth sports,” Schulkin said.

On the day a jury found Derek Chauvin guilty of murdering George Floyd, the account retweeted a post from the Kent Police Department that read, “If you’re celebrating 420 today, DON’T DRIVE. Pop a squat on your 70s basement couch, play some Boston in the background, binge watch Fast Times and eat Doritos.” When a reader called the tweet “tone deaf,” the Kent account responded, “Just want to encourage people to be safe if they’re celebrating today 😊.”

The encampment was quiet on Wednesday morning, as outreach workers went from tent to tent to discuss options with the people living in the park. None of the tents were on the playground or the nearby playfield; the biggest concentration was in a shaded area near the restrooms and on the sidewalk outside the playfield fence.

According to an outreach worker on site, most of the residents would be offered rooms at the Executive Pacific Hotel downtown; if the majority of the dozens of people living in the park accept placements, the hotel would be essentially full, although some people who moved into the hotel have reportedly left without receiving permanent housing placements.

Encampment removals slowed down dramatically during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic but have been ramping back up this spring, including the removal of tents and encampment residents from University Playfield near I-5 last weekend.

Also Wednesday, the JustCARE program moved a number of people living in Pioneer Square near the historic First Avenue pergola to its own hotel-based shelters, the Navigation Center, and the Executive Pacific Hotel, most likely making a planned sweep of that encampment unnecessary; the city is reportedly planning additional encampment removals in Pioneer Square and the International District in the coming weeks.

2. Mayor Jenny Durkan has repeatedly claimed that JustCARE costs more than $100,000 a person, a claim that has so frustrated the organizations supporting the program that they produced a flyer outlining what they say the program costs “at scale”: Just under $50,000 a client, half of which is the cost of hotel rooms themselves.

Durkan’s office has shown little interest in expanding JustCARE, which is a joint project of the Public Defender Association, Asian Counseling and Referral Service, REACH, and other groups, arguing that there are cheaper options that do the same thing.

A spokeswoman for the mayor’s office provided a chart outlining the budget for King County’s extension of JustCARE, which comes in at an average of $104,000 a month per room. The mayor’s office says that they have always calculated and compared costs on a “per room” basis than a “per person” basis, a claim the PDA disputes. The PDA says that its cost estimate of around $49,000 per client is based on a longer-term model that would bring the program to “scale,” renting “more than twice as many rooms in the same hotels, and [serving] more than twice as many participants,” according to PDA director Lisa Daugaard.

In February, the city rejected a proposal that would have effectively expanded JustCARE by moving clients into the Executive Pacific Hotel downtown, insisting that they could not spend a penny more than $17,000 per client plus the cost of the rooms themselves.

Ultimately, the city signed two contracts for hotel-based shelters, with the Low-Income Housing Institute and Chief Seattle Club, that came in significantly above the $17,000 cap.

Mayoral spokeswoman Kamaria Hightower told PubliCola, “We absolutely agree that a provider contract should be a longer-term commitment both for clients and efficiency and understand the county is seeking that approach. That’s why we created our hotel programs that are a year long and include rapid rehousing resources (and some [permanent supportive housing] resources).

3. Bailey Stober, the former director of the King County Democrats who lost his job after an investigation found him guilty of sexual harassment and workplace misconduct, is leaving his latest job as communications manager for Kent Mayor Dana Ralph under circumstances that remain unclear. Ralph would not provide details about why Stober is leaving, but confirmed that he has “resigned his position effective June 1.”

Contacted by email, Stober said, “When I took the job, I came to Kent from Texas and told the Mayor I would give her 18 months to two years and then my plan was to return to Texas. I took a great job offer in Texas and as I enter my 18/19th month with the city I’ve finished the projects I wanted to finish and am happily going back to Texas.”

Stober is the anonymous voice behind the city of Kent’s Twitter account, which gained thousands of followers for its puerile tweets mocking other cities and making jokes about “nuggs.” (Here are some lyrics the account  posted at 9:00 on a Friday night.)

On the day a jury found Derek Chauvin guilty of murdering George Floyd, the city of Kent account retweeted a post from the Kent Police Department that read, “If you’re celebrating 420 today, DON’T DRIVE. Pop a squat on your 70s basement couch, play some Boston in the background, binge watch Fast Times and eat Doritos. Be chill and stay off the roads.” When a reader called the tweet “tone deaf,” the Kent account responded, “Just want to encourage people to be safe if they’re celebrating today 😊.” Unlike many other local jurisdictions, the city did not acknowledge the Chauvin verdict on its Twitter account.

Earlier this year, Ralph stood by Stober when he got kicked out of a local bar after allegedly inciting a massive brawl and calling both Ralph and the chief of police and threatening to have the bar’s liquor license revoked.

Spike In Cost Estimates Raises Questions About Future of West Seattle-Ballard Light Rail

By Erica C. Barnett

The estimated cost of extending Seattle’s light rail system to Ballard and West Seattle, as well as several other components of the Sound Transit 3 plan adopted by voters in 2015, has risen dramatically since last year, Sound Transit staffers told the agency’s executive committee Wednesday. The main factors driving the increase, according to the agency, are higher than anticipated property acquisition costs, higher costs for labor and materials, and unanticipated “soft costs,” including additional funding for contingencies.

Overall, according to the staff presentation, the estimated cost to build the West Seattle-Ballard line and other aspects of the planned expansion, including a planned Tacoma Dome extension and a new operations and maintenance facility in South King County has increased by $7.9 billion, with the bulk of that—around $4.4 billion at the midrange of Sound Transit’s new estimates—coming from increased costs to build light rail between West Seattle and Ballard.

Sound Transit provided PubliCola a more detailed breakdown of the West Seattle-to-Ballard cost increases. The chart below represents the best-case (lowest-cost) scenario from the range Sound Transit released yesterday. The most dramatic percentage increase is in the elevated West Seattle to downtown segment, which Sound Transit attributed to the higher cost of property in quickly densifying West Seattle.

The main reason for the cost increases in general, Sound Transit deputy CEO Kimberly Farley said, was the cost of buying up property along the line. Property values have continued to skyrocket in Seattle and across the region despite the recession. Exacerbating that problem, Sound Transit will have to buy back an undisclosed number of buildings that are either currently under development or that have been developed since the ballot measure passed in 2015.

One of these is the Legacy at Fauntleroy mixed-use building, which will include more than 300 apartments and ground-floor commercial space. That building, and likely others, is on land that was upzoned in 2019 under Seattle’s Mandatory Housing Affordability program. The upzone, to 95 feet, went into effect in April 2019, making the seven-story project possible, and construction began three months later. The building is still under construction. PubliCola has a call out to the owner of the property.

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During Wednesday’s meeting, board members and Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff hastened to emphasize that these huge unanticipated costs should be viewed as a challenge, not a disaster. “While these numbers are sobering, they’re not catastrophic,” Rogoff said. King County executive Dow Constantine added that the one certainty is that light rail will only get more, not less, expensive to build in the future. “This system would have been a lot easier to build 50 years ago,” he said—an allusion to the frequently referenced Forward Thrust plan that Puget Sound region voters rejected in 1968 and again in 1970.

Staffers noted Wednesday that it was possible to make some “protective acquisitions” of property to prevent huge spikes in property values along the line, but agency spokesman Geoff Patrick told PubliCola their power to do so is limited. “While public agencies can secure federal approval for protective acquisitions in some cases, most property acquisition must occur after environmental review processes are completed and the Board has adopted the final project to be built,” he said. “This occurs after completion of the draft and final environmental impact statements that are required for most major projects.” Continue reading “Spike In Cost Estimates Raises Questions About Future of West Seattle-Ballard Light Rail”

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.

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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”

Tonight In Ballard: Two Hours Hate

I wanted to write about a lot of other things tonight—the council meeting to discuss potential changes to the proposed employee hours tax, a heated council committee discussion about the downtown bus tunnel, a meeting tonight where Democratic Party members ousted former King County Democrats chair Bailey Stober from yet another position and endorsed his opponent —but instead, I’m writing about this:

What I witnessed in Ballard tonight, at what was supposed to be a panel discussion, with a moderated Q&A,  on a proposed business tax to pay for homeless services, was not just a crowd of angry neighbors wanting to be heard by their elected representatives. It was an organized mob that showed up with a single goal: To shut down dialogue, create chaos, and prevent people with opposing views from having a voice. The Two Hours Hate began before the meeting even began, as audience members tried to shout town the Rev. Kathleen Weber—pastor of Trinity United Methodist Church, where the event was held—during her introductory remarks. (The gist was that people should try to be respectful, a request the crowd ignored even as she was making it.) It got worse when the panel, which included three members of the city’s Progressive Revenue Task force and four city council members—tried to stick to the announced format, a moderated panel with written questions from the audience. “O-PEN MIC! O-PEN MIC!” the crowd screamed in unison—a wall-to-wall, full-volume chant that bore an eerie similarity to a phrase often shouted by Trump supporters during the 2016 campaign.

(I recorded and posted a snippet of last night’s meeting here—in it, audience members can be heard attempting to shout down council member Mike O’Brien and then loudly mocking progressive revenue task force member Kirsten Harris-Talley when she mentioned that she, like many of them, had been up since 6am getting her kid to school and working her job before coming to the meeting.)

The mob got its way—it’s hard to imagine what they would have done if they hadn’t, or if any member of the panel had decided to leave the stage—and the forum, which was to have included questions and answers from the seven panel members, turned into the one-way shoutfest the audience apparently came for.

“We’re entitled to have a house!” one man screamed from the audience. “Free from drugs!” he added. “FUCK YOU!” another shouted in the panel’s direction. Others chimed in, from around the room: “BULLSHIT!” “BULLSHIT!” And, memorably, “BULLSHIT!” “We didn’t come here to talk about taxes!” someone yelled. “RESIGN NOW!” several others screamed, as a homeless woman tried to speak. “Let’s have a highly publicized event where we round up some of them,” a speaker said, referring to homeless people struggling with mental illness and addiction.

When the crowd wasn’t hurling invectives at the panel or cheering Alex Tsimerman, the omnipresent Nazi salute-throwing public commenter who is routinely kicked out of meetings for spewing obscenities, they were screaming the same short phrases over and over, like toddlers who didn’t want to take a nap. “NOOOOOOOOO!” they yelled. “RESIGN!” they bellowed .”SHUT UP!” they screamed, when the panel asked if they would like information about the tax proposal or the rationale behind it. They didn’t come to learn. They came to howl.

Perhaps that’s why so many of them seemed so ill-acquainted with basic facts. When Katie Wilson, head of the Transit Riders Union and a tax panel member, observed that “the shortage of affordable housing is a major driver of homelessness,” people in the crowd shouted “NOT TRUE!” When a homeless woman stood up to speak, a man behind her yelled, “Stand up and speak, coward!” A man claimed that when he calls 911 to report a crime, the “police” on the other end tell him their hands are tied and they can’t respond. A woman said the city council has prevented police from investigating  rapes by homeless people. A speaker who supported the tax pointed out that, contrary to what several speakers before him had claimed, the proposal involved a tax on businesses, not individuals. “LIES!” several people screamed. A speaker said he owned a home in Ballard and supported the tax. “SHILL!” “PLANT!” “PHONY!” the crowd roared.

By the time the forum ended at 8:00, the screaming had died down a bit. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was in the presence of real hate—a kind of hate I’ve never felt at a public meeting in Seattle before. When I sat down at the start of the meeting, the guy behind me grinned, “Those cops outside had better get in here quick, because there’s gonna be action,” I smiled politely because I thought he was joking. It was only later, when he was screaming into my ears so loudly that I asked him to calm down (and when he snarled, with a look of pure rage, “If you don’t like it , you can leave!”) that it dawned on me that he might be hoping for a riot. At the end of the meeting, I asked a male colleague to walk me out; I was shaking. I walked down the street, past the bottles of piss and the giant junk structure had left on the grass to make a point about how homeless people are “trashing” the city with their presence. Then I got in the car and cried.

After I got home, I checked my Twitter notifications and found that plenty of people were eager to inform me that this was what democracy looks like—a mass of humanity screaming in unison, with the goal of making sure other voices are literally drowned out—and that if I didn’t like it, I just needed to grow up. I disagree. I maintain—in fact, I know—that there are ways to express strongly held opinions without terrorizing or demonizing those who happen to hold opposing views, turning meetings over to the control of whoever screams the loudest, or dehumanizing people who are suffering by suggesting they be “rounded up.”. The fact that we have gotten to this point in Seattle makes my heart hurt. It should make everybody’s heart hurt.  I would love to blame what happened tonight on a crowd of carpetbaggers whipped into a frenzy by a mendacious right-wing provocateur like Dori Monson, but the behavior I saw tonight must be laid squarely at Seattle’s feet. And Seattle won’t begin to solve its problems with homelessness, inequality, and all the other issues the city is struggling to address unless we can figure out a way to speak to each other without shouting each other down.

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Morning Crank: To Reduce the Door-to-Door Burden of People Already in Crisis

Yesterday, after city council member Kshama Sawant announced that her committee would hold a special public hearing to readjudicate the cuts to women’s overnight shelters and hygiene centers that the council made last year, the city’s Human Services Department put up a blog post enumerating all the hygiene services (showers, laundry facilities, and restrooms) that will be available in the 21 “enhanced shelters” it plans to fund this year.  “Enhanced shelters provide more of a ‘one-stop shop’ approach to reduce the door-to-door burden for people already in crisis to meet their basic needs like eating breakfast, taking a shower, doing laundry, and sleeping,” the post says. (What HSD fails to mention: The services available at those shelters probably won’t be available to people who aren’t clients at those shelters—as of last year, council members would only say that they hoped some of the shelters would choose to make their facilities available to non-clients on a drop-in basis).

The post even goes on the defensive about the well-documented lack of (legal) places for people living outdoors to relieve themselves, noting that the city “supports 117 restrooms available to all members of the public,” including Port-a-Potties near five transit stops and restrooms at libraries, community centers and parks. Parks close later than community centers, but they do close; meanwhile, the city is currently embroiled in a massive debate about encampments, one aspect of which is whether people who attempt to sleep in parks overnight should be removed.

The city budget adopted last year hews to the principles of “Pathways Home,” a human services and homelessness funding framework that deprioritizes projects that don’t focus specifically on getting people into permanent housing. As a result, the budget  eliminated or reduced funding for three downtown hygiene centers, which “only” provide places for people to clean up and use the restroom. One of those three, the Women’s Referral Center, is on the agenda for Sawant’s public hearing next Monday, along with the SHARE/WHEEL-run women’s shelter for which Sawant also wants to restore funding. (SHARE runs a bare-bones men’s shelter; its sister organization, WHEEL, runs a similar shelter for women. Both had their funding cut last year.).

It seems unlikely that Sawant’s time-tested tactic of holding a public hearing and organizing her supporters to show up to testify in favor of her proposal will restore long-term funding to either WHEEL or the Catholic Community Services-run Women’s Referral Center, but Sawant is taking every opportunity to draw attention to the issue. At a transportation committee meeting on Tuesday, Sawant argued that the roughly $100,000 the city plans to spend on a fence to keep homeless people from erecting tents under the Ballard Bridge “could be enough to extend bare-bones bridge funding for the [SHARE and WHEEL] shelters for the rest of the year.” Funding for both WHEEL’s and SHARE’s shelters is set to run out in June.

Currently, the fence in Ballard is just a temporary structure—a crude construction fence, topped by razor wire, intended to keep homeless people from taking shelter under the bridge. On Tuesday, as I called around trying to get an answer to the question, “Who decided it was necessary to build a $100,000 fence under the Ballard Bridge?”, it became clear that the fence, like the infamous row of bike racks meant to deter homeless people in Belltown, was a political hot potato no one wanted to handle—Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office directed questions about the fence and the bike racks to the department of Finance and Administrative Services and the Seattle Department of Transportation, which each deflected responsibility on the other agency. (SDOT put up the fence; the question is whether FAS or its director, Fred Podesta, ordered them to do so back when the city’s Emergency Operations Center was holding daily work group meetings to respond to the city’s homelessness state of emergency*). Both departments agree that the fence is necessary, however, because of the risk that homeless campers will accidentally set the bridge on fire, causing a collapse. Mike O’Brien, whose council district includes Ballard, says he considers the fence “particularly problematic,” because “it doesn’t solve anything—I drove by there a few nights ago [before the fence was up] and there were five tents there. I’m almost certain those folks are not housed. Probably they were just destabilized. So now we’re $100,000 poorer and no one’s better off. What is our long-term strategy here? Is our ultimate goal to fence off every structure in the city because someone might use that structure as a place to live?”

A similar story is playing out around the notorious bike racks. SDOT installed those bike racks, too (and highlighted them on Twitter) but earlier this week, the agency sent out a statement saying that the policy of the Durkan administration (and thus SDOT) was not to use bike racks as impediments to encampments. Several council members praised the agency Tuesday for agreeing to remove the racks and reinstall them elsewhere in the city. “I think this is a great sign from our new mayor, from the leadership at SDOT, that … we will not go down the route that other cities have gone, using hostile architecture to displace folks,” council member Teresa Mosqueda said.

But is it? Durkan has said she supports removing the bike racks, but her office did not respond to questions about what her strategy will be for ensuring that people living unsheltered do not set up tents on sidewalks. And it’s unclear whether Durkan’s policy shop, which is still staffing up, has come up with an answer to the question: If not bike racks and fences, then what? Ultimately, the buck will stop not with any particular city department, but with the new mayor—and two months in, she still hasn’t provided a clear indication of how she plans to deal with unauthorized encampments.

* This story originally said that the EOC has “stood down,” which was incorrect; the work groups no longer meet daily, but the EOC is still responding to the homelessness crisis.

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Amazon Drive-Thru Conflicts With City’s Sustainability Goals, Requires No Public Process

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Amazon is, by all accounts, planning to open a new drive-through grocery store at the corner of 15th Ave. NW and NW 51st St. in Ballard, the site of the now-shuttered Louie’s Chinese Restaurant. Site plans for a mysterious “project X” describe a “new model of grocery shopping in which orders are placed online at the retail business, and the goods are assembled for the customer to be picked up [sic] at the retail business.”

The plans continue: “When placing an online order, customers will schedule a specific 15-minute to two-hour pick up window. Peak time slots will sell out, which will help manage traffic flow within the customer parking adjacent to the building. When picking up purchased items, customers can either drive into a designated parking area with eight parking stalls where the purchased items will be delivered to their cars or they can walk into the retail area to pick up their items. Customers will also be able to walk into the retail room to place orders on a tablet. Walk in customers will have their products delivered to them in the retail room.”

The drive-through store will include 13 or 14 parking spots, according to the site plans, which also detail the interior plans for the retail store and storage facility. (The plans refer to both 8 and 9 customer pick-up spots; the other five spots would be for employees).

Unlike the seemingly endless process by which density opponents are able to delay, say, four-story apartment buildings, this new auto-oriented business in one of Seattle’s most rapidly densifying areas will go through with no public process at all.

The drive-through grocery will be inside the Ballard Hub Urban Village, a place where the city expects to see growth in both jobs and residents over the next 20 years. The site is also a few blocks from, but not inside, a pedestrian overlay area, where drive-through businesses are prohibited.

According to the city’s comprehensive plan, the city’s goal in urban villages and urban centers is to “promote densities, mixes of uses, and transportation improvements that support walking, use of public transportation, and other transportation demand management (TDM) strategies, especially within urban centers and urban villages.”

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Auto-oriented businesses promote the opposite. They encourage people to drive to an area, and to leave that area without getting out of their cars and exploring the cafes, parks, and small retail businesses that characterize dense, walkable neighborhoods. Worse, they make sidewalks more dangerous and uninviting for pedestrians, who have to navigate cars and delivery trucks driving in and out of a driveway designed for maximum convenience for automobiles, not people. Imagine walking through the drive-through line at McDonald’s: You can do it, but the people who have priority are the ones in cars, and it’s up to you to navigate around them at your peril.

Surprisingly, according to the Seattle Department of Transportation and the Office of Planning and Community Development, the new drive-through grocery store will require no formal review process, and the city is providing no avenue for people to submit public comments on the proposal. SDOT said the agency would likely do a traffic analysis of the project in the future, but the proposal does not have to be approved by the agency before moving forward. OPCD spokeswoman Wendy Shark says since the project is merely a change of use (from a restaurant to a retail space), it’s allowed under the current commercial zoning and won’t trigger the design review process or a review under the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA). Which means that unlike the seemingly endless process by which density opponents are able to delay, say, four-story apartment buildings, this new auto-oriented business in one of Seattle’s most rapidly densifying areas, which defies the city’s own stated goal of creating human-scale, pedestrian-oriented urban villages, will go through with no public process at all.

Ironically, because the new drive-through is on a site with access to frequent transit service and is in a designated urban village, Amazon will be able to take advantage of an exemption to minimum city parking requirements and get by with just 14 (or 13) parking spaces. When light rail comes to Ballard, the drive-through site will also be within walking distance of the Ballard station.

A while back, I argued that the city should consider a moratorium on all auto-oriented businesses, but especially those (like the drive-through-only Starbucks in the shadow of the Othello light rail station) located in areas with frequent transit service. The city has said it wants those parts of the city to be transit- and pedestrian-oriented, rather than catering to cars. In allowing new drive-through businesses like the new Amazon grocery store, the city is embracing a very different set of priorities.

 

Despite What You May Have Heard, Most In Ballard Support Solutions

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Earlier this month, after criticism from constituents that he hadn’t sufficiently listened to their input on public-safety problems in Ballard, Magnolia, and other District 6 neighborhoods, city council member Mike O’Brien held a “Safe and Healthy Communities Forum” at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Ballard. The church, located right across the street from the Ballard Commons, has been criticized for providing meals to the homeless people who hang out in the park, by neighbors who theorize that providing food draws an unwanted criminal element to the area. The Commons, along with the nearby Ballard Library, is the undisputed epicenter of small-bore crime in the neighborhood, including public intoxication as well as public mental illness.

O’Brien started the meeting on a conciliatory note, pointing out that it had been just one year since an angry outdoor meeting about the siting of the city-sanctioned Nickelsville tent city on Market Street, where many of the same neighbors had showed up to oppose homeless encampments in the area.  “Over the past year, a lot has happened,” O’Brien said. “I’ve learned a lot. I’ve grown. The city has made some mistakes; I’ve made some mistakes. But … it’s through those occasions where, despite our differences of opinion—sometimes very strong differences of opinion—that our ability as a community to be able to continue to come together …  gives me hope to believe that we can work together to solve our problems.”

After presentations by homeless advocate Alison Eisenger of the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness, Public Defender Association director Lisa Daugaard, and Assistant Police Chief Steve Wilske, the crowd of about 200 broke up into a dozen-plus tables for moderated discussions about what issues they saw in their own neighborhoods, and what solutions they would support to address them. The groups were pretty obviously self-selecting—while my table was made up largely of millennials  and liberal neighborhood residents opposed to “criminalizing homelessness,” others filled up with groups who arranged to attend the meeting via the generally anti-O’Brien Ballard Nextdoor page—but the moderator, at the discussion I sat in on, at least, guided the discussion without weighing in with his or O’Brien’s own preferred solutions. (The moderators were, in fairness, chosen by the city, and included several advocates for harm reduction and housing-first solutions to homelessness).

At my table, people expressed concern about the growing number of visible drug users in Ballard, related problems with discarded needles (a woman who works at the Ballard library noted the lack of sharps containers at library buildings), squatters (a young renter said she had come home to find someone trying to take shelter in her basement), and the lack of affordable housing in the neighborhood. “My landlord and I seem to live in different worlds, where she’s terrified about crime and the users and the people she thinks are lurking around every corner, and I just don’t see it,” one renter said. “It’s hard sometimes to separate the fact and the fiction.” Another woman, a homeowner who has lived in Ballard since the 1980s, said “it used to be that if you weren’t paying attention, they’d pull up in a moving van and take all your stuff. Every single house in my general vicinity, at one point, was hit.” A homeless man who uses St. Luke’s services bemoaned the lack of drug and alcohol treatment beds for people who want to get sober, noting that there isn’t much point in putting someone who wants to get clean now on a two-month waiting list for a detox bed.

At the end of the night, O’Brien reconvened the whole group and summarized the notes from the dozen or so tables: People were frustrated by the lack of police response to complaints, wanted to see the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program expanded to Ballard, thought the city should be more responsive to neighborhood complaints, generally supported studying safe drug consumption sites, and supported efforts to “humanize” people experiencing homelessness.

In a followup blog post titled “Do No Harm and Do the Most Good,” O’Brien summarized the responses and expressed optimism that his constituents agree on basic principles, including the idea that “everyone needs support at different moments of their life,” and that “meeting the needs of the most vulnerable will actually increase the health and safety of all of our communities.”

Well, not so fast. After the meeting, anti-O’Brien neighborhood activists complained on Nextdoor, Facebook, and neighborhood blogs that the forum had been a dog and pony show for O’Brien to pretend to listen to neighborhood residents’ concerns while plowing forward with his own predetermined policy solutions. They pointed to everything from the selection of the table moderators to the fact that O’Brien released a summary of each group’s feedback, rather than the handwritten table notes themselves, as evidence of a conspiracy to silence what neighbors actually said they wanted.

“This meeting was a set up right from the start,” one resident wrote on Nextdoor. “The fact that O’Brien was there on time was a big indicator. Then the other speakers were hand picked by him. Breaking into small groups and having moderators is a great tactic, nobody was able to ask him a question and he didn’t have to answer any. I didn’t stay for the wrap up, I wasn’t disappointed, I was HOT and disgusted.”

Another chimed in, “This was a political set-up. Those of us who opposed the above ‘shared outcomes’ were quieted. He did a great job making sure our voices were not heard. I really don’t believe he or his ‘groupies’ have any idea of the reality of what is going to happen if he gets his way. This entire city will look and smell like a garbage dump.”

Wondering whether my table was truly an outlier, I requested the notes from each table. Far from reflecting the “garbage dump” assessment of O’Brien’s critics, the notes showed a district, and a neighborhood, that was generally solution-oriented, proactive, and concerned about homelessness, drugs, and crime but hopeful about the future. While two or three tables seemed obsessed with “data collection,” “tracking the homeless,” dividing the homeless into two separate tracks (those down on their luck and those who “don’t want help”), and forcing drug users and mentally ill people into jail or involuntary commitment, the vast majority suggested positive solutions, such as lockers, more mental health treatment and drug rehab beds,  more legal places for homeless people to be during the day, and treating homeless people as neighbors rather than intruders. (Read the full, transcribed table notes here.) The upshot was a community that, like Seattle as a whole, includes some very vocal people who oppose change and see law enforcement as the solution to urban problems, and a much larger contingent who want to find solutions that don’t involve criminalizing homelessness or imposing civic martial law in neighborhoods. The minority  in the former group may not be encouraged by that obvious fact, but those who want solutions, not just endless gripe sessions, certainly should be.

Another Anti-Density Appeal, This Time in Ballard

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Citizens for Livability in Ballard, a group that includes one current and two former presidents of the Ballard District Council, is appealing the proposed Seattle 2035 comprehensive plan update under the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA), and has submitted a kitchen-sink discovery request that could end up costing city taxpayers $100,000 or more.

Olympic Manor Community Club representative (and current BDC president) Joe Wert, 36th District Republicans representative Kirk Robbins, and Sunset West Condominium Association representative Steve Cohn filed the appeal, which claims the city hasn’t done an adequate environmental analysis of the proposed comp plan update. That plan, which the city council is considering in conjunction with Mayor Ed Murray’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (which itself is being appealed by Queen Anne homeowner Marty Kaplan) would expand the city’s urban village boundaries to allow more density around neighborhood centers.

The appeal, which you can read in full here, charges that the city made up its mind about how it wanted to shape future zoning before doing a full assessment of the traffic, parking, and “character” impacts the new plan would have on the city’s neighborhoods, and that the proposal allows “upzoning of all [urban villages] into the highs [sic] density provided for in the zoning code with no guidance from the Comprehensive Plan.” It also charges that the plan fails to consider the “fact” that people will always need to own cars, because they’ll always want to drive to the forest.

“Travel mode choice for work or shopping trips has little effect on the individual choice of automobile ownership,” the complaint alleges. (In fact, countless analyses have shown that people with access to frequent, reliable transit are much less likely to own cars). “One of the attractions of the Pacific Northwest is a variety of year-round recreational opportunities. Most of those opportunities for hiking, skiing and other activities are only accessible by private automobile.” Because as everyone knows, Seattle is the only city in the country with natural beauty within driving distance, making it uniquely necessary for every citizen to own a car.

At any rate, the city has asked the hearing examiner to dismiss Citizens’ appeal because this is the first time the group has ever commented on the environmental statement (you’re supposed to raise any objections when an EIS is in the draft phase), and because they can’t identify any specific harm that will result if the 2035 plan goes forward. (The appeal says, vaguely, that Citizens has standing because “the appellants are residents of Seattle and adversely affected” by the land-use changes in the proposal, but the city’s motion for dismissal argues that living in the city doesn’t give you standing to hold up the city’s entire planning process).

As part of the appeal, Citizens has submitted a laundry list of documents it wants the city to provide in discovery, which, if the hearing examiner decides to take up the case, “is probably going to cost the taxpayers at least $100,000 in additional legal costs, if not more,” according to a local land-use attorney familiar with SEPA appeals. The demands include “any auto ownership studies prepared by the city since 2005,” “All parks demand analysis prepared by the City since 2005,” “All travel time surveys or models performed by the City since 2005,” and “The additional number of residential units or commercial, office or other space provided for in all proposed expansions of Urban Centers and Urban Villages,” among nearly two dozen equally broad demands.

Fundamentally, the 2035 proposal is a plan to make room for the 120,000 new Seattle residents who are expected to move here in the next 20 years. The city’s plan is to give those residents opportunities to live in the heart of thriving neighborhood commercial districts. Homeowners who managed to buy in to single-family neighborhoods when they were still affordable, and now dominate groups like the Ballard District Council, are pushing a very different vision.

On NextDoor, SPD Chief talks Property Crime, RVs, and 911 Response

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On Wednesday, with little notice and in the middle of the day, Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole took questions for what she called “the first ever NextDoor town hall.”  Notice of the town hall went up on Twitter and NextDoor around 10:30 in the morning and the comments thread on O’Toole’s NextDoor post was closed at 3.

Not surprisingly for a private social network that tends to be dominated by north end homeowners, most of the questions and comments O’Toole got in response to her late-morning announcement came from the north end, especially Ballard and Wallingford. (Twenty-nine questions came in from all of Southeast Seattle and the Central District combined, compared to more than 125 from north of the Ship Canal.)

Ballard’s NextDoor page has been populated lately by complaints about homeless encampments and illegally parked RVs in the neighborhood, and the problems with drug dealing and theft many residents feel are associated with the homeless; north end residents in general frequently raise concerns on NextDoor about car prowls, mail theft, and burglaries they feel SPD doesn’t take seriously enough. are also high on the list.

In keeping with those patterns, the questions for O’Toole Wednesday centered on property crime, parking, density (to which north end NextDoor commenters seem generally opposed), the perceived need for armed private security,  and nuisance crimes associated with homelessness (like public urination and loitering).

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One commenter, from East Wallingford, said she could “no longer even drive on the freeway without seeing trash, feces, tents, rats, and beer cans” as well as “a man urinating” at illegal encampments. “I don’t even want my kids to play at the local parks anymore. Maybe it’s time to move.”  Another, from Green Lake, wondered “what is being done to get rid of the homeless” and “why do they seem to have more rights than taxpayers do?”

In general, most north end commenters seemed to want to know how O’Toole would crack down on the homeless, including those living in RVs; whether SPD would increase its emphasis on property crimes; what was being done to hire more officers; and why the city would allow more density when the crime problem is already out of hand. Only in the south end did residents express concerns about gang violence, aggressive policing and racial profiling, and violent crime in general.

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O’Toole’s response to the barrage of questions (more than 300 by the time SPD shut it down at 3:00) was  brief, dividing NextDoor members’ concerns into three categories: Property crime, 911 response times and the need for more officers; and homeless encampments and RVs. O’Toole said the city will launch a new Property Crimes Task Force to “focus exclusively” on car prowls, mail thefts, and other property crimes; at an unrelated meeting in Ballard Wednesday night, she said that task force (formed by repurposing existing officers) would focus almost exclusively on the north end of the city.  She also noted that the city plans to hire 200 more officers over attrition by 2019, “modernize” the 911 system, and hold homeless people who commit crimes accountable.

Later Wednesday evening, O’Toole expanded on those answers at a meeting of the Central Ballard Residents Association, at Swedish Hospital in Ballard.

In response to questions about long response times for lower-priority 911 calls, O’Toole acknowledged that “we’re having real struggles getting to Priority 2 and 3 calls quickly, and I know that’s been frustrating for many of you.” However, she noted that in the last five years, 911 calls from the North Precinct, which includes Ballard, have gone up 60 percent; meanwhile, the low-density nature of the mostly single-family district means it takes longer to respond to calls in person.

“The mayor says he really wants us to focus on property crime,” O’Toole said, adding that the new property crimes task force is “going to be working almost exclusively in the North Precinct until we get a handle on some of they property crime that we have here.”

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As for homeless encampments and people living in RVs, O’Toole said, “homelessness in and of itself is certainly not a crime; it’s a tragedy. … Substance abuse is a tragedy, and we want to give people help who have issues. We want to give them services, but we need to hold people accountable for criminal activity. … If people are committing crimes, they should be arrested. We’re not asking officers to turn the other way.”

Finally, O’Toole said that simply forcing people to leave encampments wasn’t a solution to homeowners’ problems with the homeless, which ranged from the belief that they are responsible for property crimes to the possibility that they will spread “resistant strains of bacteria” and “tough biological compounds” through the general population. “As a police department, we don’t want to just keep pushing people around. We have to solve some of the problems” associated with homelessness, O’Toole said.

As in her NextDoor response, O’Toole did not address the issue of violent crime at all; on Wednesday, the issues of gangs and gun violence were only raised by people who live in Southeast Seattle.