Tag: Greg Hill

Morning Crank: Half a Loaf

Sen. Joe Fain (R-47)

1. City council member Lorena Gonzalez reportedly hopes to introduce legislation in the next few weeks that would require businesses to provide paid family leave to their employees—a significant expansion of a new law, adopted on Monday after a months-long delay, guaranteeing 12 weeks of paid parental leave to city employees. (Employees who need time off to care for other family members can receive up to four weeks off).

Expanding family leave to private employees—as Gonzalez talked about doing when she ran for office in 2015—would likely be far more controversial, especially among small businesses and those that primarily employ service workers, than the city-employee-only law. But the real opposition may come from Olympia, where state legislators are considering a fairly toothless family leave bill that includes a preemption clause that prevents any city from adopting a family leave policy more generous than what the state requires.

The Republican-backed bill, sponsored by 47th District Sen. Joe Fain, would provide up to eight weeks of family leave, increasing up to a maximum of 12 weeks by 2023. Employees who took the time off would be paid just half of their regular wages (rising to a maximum of 67 percent in 2023), and the program would be funded entirely by employees’ own contributions, making it more of a self-insurance policy than an actual benefit. It also requires employees to work for 26 consecutive weeks for a single employer before they receive benefits—a requirement that Economic Opportunity Institute policy director Marilyn Watkins says doesn’t acknowledge the current economic reality, where many people work multiple jobs or switch employers frequently. “It just leaves a lot of people out who are going to end up paying the premium but are never going to meet the qualification to get leave,” Watkins says. “Why should we put things in there that we know are going to be problems—that we know are going to cause inequities?”

According to the bill, “Cities, towns, and counties or other municipalities may enact only those laws and ordinances relating to paid family leave that are specifically authorized by state law and are consistent with this chapter. Local laws and ordinances in existence on the effective date of this section that are inconsistent with this chapter are preempted and repealed.” That means that if the bill passes, any city law providing more leave (and it wouldn’t be hard) will be repealed.

Preemption bills like this aren’t uncommon; they pop up pretty much any time  Seattle passes or discusses progressive policies, such as rules allowing safe-injection sites, encampment sweeps policies that Republicans view as soft on homelessness, or a $15 minimum wage. What could be different this year is that Fain’s bill has bipartisan support; in addition to the usual Republican suspects like Michael Baumgartner (R-6) and Mark Miloscia (R-30), the bill is sponsored by Democrats like Steve Hobbs (D-44) and Guy Palumbo (D-1). A competing bill, sponsored by Sen. Karen Keiser (D-33), would provide more extensive benefits and does not include a preemption clause.

Fain said at a hearing last month that he hopes advocates recognize that “nobody ever went hungry on half a loaf”—meaning, some progress toward true paid family leave is better than none. But advocates may decide they want a full loaf after all, and take the family leave issue directly to voters if legislators offer them only crumbs.

2.  Miller Park Neighbors member Jonathan Swift, who emceed a Wednesday-night prep session for an upcoming city-sponsored meeting about proposed upzones in Northeast Capitol Hill—said he was interested in a balanced discussion. Then he characterized the two sides in the zoning debate as those who liked neighborhood character and those who didn’t. (A flyer distributed with anti-upzone talking points drove the point home, claiming that the  city’s proposal, part of the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA), would “destroy the character of the neighborhood” and asserting that “family-sized housing is most appropriate.” )

Anti-HALA architect Greg Hill followed the soft-spoken Swit, telling the crowd of about 100 people that HALA was dominated by an unnamed “right-wing” group and insinuating that HALA, which calls for expanding the city’s urban villages and allowing more multifamily housing along transit corridors, is a sinister, profit-driven developer plot that will decimate Seattle’s environment by reducing the city’s tree canopy. In reality, building housing near transit is the definition of green urbanism, reducing reliance on cars, maximizing energy efficiency, and reducing water usage.

One of the few African-American people in the room—as HALA pointed out, single-family zoning tends to exclude people of color from “character”-filled neighborhoods like Northeast Capitol Hill—was Spencer Williams, a staffer for urbanist city council member Rob Johnson. Johnson has openly criticized Seattle’s brand of reactionary utopianism, which stars NPR-style liberals who denounce Trump for wanting to build a wall to keep newcomers out while defending zoning codes that have the same effect.

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Johnson Defends HALA After Tough Meeting in Wallingford

What are you doing tomorrow evening at 5:00? If your answer is “screwing around on Facebook” or “sitting in traffic” or “I dunno, Netflix and chill?”, CHANGE YOUR PLANS and come down to City Hall (600 4th Ave.) in downtown Seattle to Mayor Ed Murray’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda discussion. Or just get your butt in a seat to show your support, or to learn more about HALA if you’re unconvinced–the point is, this is the first big opportunity in 2016 for the public to offer the city feedback on how they should implement HALA, and turnout will help determine whether the Grand Bargain that made the HALA deal possible survives despite vocal pushback from a small but organized group of property owners and single-family preservationists.Urban-Village-Flyer-FINAL3-300x253

Last week, newly minted city council member Rob Johnson–the former director of the Transportation Choices Coalition–showed up at a meeting of the Wallingford Community Council that was billed as a chance for neighbors to learn about the city’s nefarious plans to, among other things:

  • “Push out locally-owned small businesses that cannot afford the higher rents in new mid-rise mixed-use buildings
  • “Accelerate demolition of existing affordable housing by creating new incentives for developers and raising taxes on properties that are not redeveloped
  • “Replace affordable housing with top-dollar houses and apartments, with only 5 to 7% of new units reserved as affordable.”

Johnson wasn’t invited to the meeting, but it’s in his district (Northeast Seattle’s District 4), so he showed up. By all accounts, the freshman council member was astonished and even “traumatized” by the event, where meeting organizers showed video taken (out of context, he says) from the campaign trail showing Johnson advocating for a land value tax. The group’s leaders also criticized Johnson for positions TCC took under his leadership, including opposition to mandatory parking minimums at new developments.

Without getting into the intricacies of what the organizers, including longtime Wallingford density opponent Greg Hill, were mad about, it’s enough to say that those who showed up for the forum (physical invitations were apparently dropped off at people’s houses) were treated to a rather skewed view of both Johnson and HALA, which Hill and other community council leaders vehemently oppose.

I talked to Johnson two days after the meeting (he told me he needed a day “to process” what had happened), and he told me he was taken aback that a “presentation that I thought was going to be about planning would be so focused on me.”

Johnson says the meeting, which he says was the first neighborhood meeting many in the audience told him they had ever attended, created “a lot of confusion” about HALA and upzones, and left the impression that Johnson had no interest in listening to how residents wanted to see their own neighborhoods grow.

“[Hill] left that out of his presentation that I’ve talked a lot about giving neighborhoods the power to control their own destiny around where they want density and what they want that density to look like,” Johnson says. “I just want to say, if you’re going to take 5,000 people in this urban village, if you want it to be in backyard cottages, here are the pros and cons, and if you want it to be in tall towers, here are the pros and cons. That’s the process that I’ve been advocating for.”

I asked Johnson whether his experience bearing the wrath of Wallingford might, as some HALA advocates worry, make him a less-vocal advocate for Murray’s proposal. He said: “I ran for council on a very strong pro-HALA platform. For me, this isn’t a question about whether out not we implement the HALA recommendations, it’s a question of how we implement them and the process that guides us.

“I absolutely still want to work with people. The issue for me wasn’t about being yelled at. The issue for me was about not having a seat at table while getting yelled at.”