Tag: southeast Seattle

Byzantine Tree Regulations Won’t Save Seattle’s Urban Forest

By Erica C. Barnett

Advocates for preserving Seattle’s existing trees could soon achieve some of their longstanding goals when the city updates its city’s tree ordinance, which restricts which trees private property owners can remove and how much they must pay the city to do so. The proposed new rules would impose new restrictions on about 48,000 trees citywide, more than tripling the number of privately owned trees under the city’s regulatory purview.

The aim of the tree ordinance, at least according to the tree ordinance, is to “preserve and enhance the City’s physical and aesthetic character by preventing untimely and indiscriminate removal or destruction of trees” while “balancing other citywide priorities such as housing production.” A secondary goal is to reduce historical inequities in Seattle’s tree coverage—wealthy, white neighborhoods in north Seattle neighborhoods benefit from a lush tree canopy while much of of Southeast Seattle is comparatively barren, and losing ground—by planting trees, using payments from developers to right historical wrongs.

The proposal, which the city council’s land use committee plans to pass later this month, creates complex new regulatory maze for developers, and ordinary homeowners who want to remove trees on their own property, to navigate. The new rules will make it harder, or more expensive, for housing developers and homeowners to remove trees on their property, and ban the removal of large “heritage” trees for virtually any reason.

The rules impose new restrictions on trees between 12 and 36 inches in diameter, requiring land owners to replace the tree with one that will grow to the same size or pay a “payment in lieu” of replacement that ranges from $2,833 (for trees between 12 and 24 inches in diameter) to tens of thousands of dollars, depending on the size of the tree.

Under the new rules, all trees larger than 6 inches in diameter would fall into one of four “tiers” that would correspond with new restrictions on their removal. At the small end, the proposed new rules will allow homeowners and residential developers to remove up to two “tier 4” trees—those with diameters between 6 and 12 inches—every three years—a significant reduction from the current rule, which allows the removal of up to three such trees per year. On high end, the rules will ban the removal of “tier 1,” or “heritage,” trees, under any circumstances other than a documented hazard or emergency.  Certain trees, including madronas and spruce trees, will become “heritage” trees as soon as they reach six inches in diameter.

The rules impose new restrictions on trees between 12 and 36 inches in diameter, requiring land owners to replace the tree with one that will grow to the same size or pay a “payment in lieu” of replacement that ranges from $2,833 (for trees between 12 and 24 inches in diameter) to tens of thousands of dollars, depending on the size of the tree. The proposal decreases the threshold for an “exceptional” tree from 30 to 24 inches; under the formula the city uses, the fee to remove a 25-inch tree, which is just above the new threshold, would be $8,767.

To monitor and enforce all these new regulations, and many more besides, the city’s Department of Construction and Inspections says it will need to hire three new full-time staffers at an initial cost of $273,000 a year. That more than offsets the revenues the city expects to receive from payments in lieu of tree plantings, which will be used to plant new trees on city-owned property—an estimated $191,000 in the first year.

Analysis of the tree legislation didn’t include the exact cost of replacing trees removed for development. But using the city’s own average “nursery purchase price” of $2,833 per tree, that $191,000 would plant about 67 trees citywide—hardly enough to address geographical inequities in the city’s tree canopy, which has resulted in heat islands across Southeast Seattle and other historically disadvantaged neighborhoods.

Imposing new restrictions on tree removal will probably result in less housing development, especially from affordable-housing developers who can’t just add the cost of new regulations onto their residents’ monthly rent. Tree-preservation advocates, who often rail against development, may well see this as a win. What it almost certainly won’t do is keep Seattle’s tree canopy from shrinking or make the city’s “urban forest” sustainable.

The obvious way to address a declining tree canopy and add trees in the parts of the city that lack them is for the city, not private property owners, to plant (and make room for) more trees. Yet the tree ordinance barely mentions trees in public spaces, which make up 36 percent of the “Urban Forestry Management Units” in the city—mentioning street trees only in the context of property owners’ obligations to maintain and replace them.

At a meeting of the land use committee last week, Councilmember Tammy Morales, who represents Southeast Seattle, was the only committee member who mentioned this obvious point. “I’m interested in how we actually plant more trees… in areas where we don’t have enough,” Morales said, “particularly in some parts of the city [where there are] potential impacts on the cost of housing production, which we also know we need desperately.” With just three meetings left before the committee passes the legislation, time is running out for her colleagues to listen.

The 2019 City Council Candidates: Mark Solomon

Image via Mark Solomon 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 2 candidate Mark Solomon. Solomon, a longtime crime prevention coordinator with the Seattle Police Department (a civilian position) is running against Tammy Morales to represent District 2, the southeast Seattle district that has been represented sisnce 2015 by Bruce Harrell, who has been on the council since 2007. Solomon is the only council candidate with the official endorsement of Mayor Jenny Durkan.

The C Is for Crank (ECB): You’ve talk about wanting to bring back community policing. What does that look like to you?

Mark Solomon (MS): When I say [we need] more community policing, what I mean is having enough of our staff so that we can engage in more community policing programs as well as relational policing programs. It’s about building relationships like the Community Police Academy, like the Immigrant Family Institute, Detective Cookie’s chess club, and other places where police and community can interact. It’s not just about urgency, it’s about building relationships and building trust, where officers are working on long-term ongoing issues in neighborhoods and not just responding to 911 calls. 

ECB: Would you have voted for the current police contract if had been on the council during the vote, and do you have any thoughts about how to get the department back in compliance with the federal consent decree?

MS: Yes, I would have. I think it’s important to recognize the strides that have been made regarding training and policies and towards constitutional, unbiased policing. So let’s not forget that part. When it comes to the accountability thing, I think what we all want is an accountability system that works, that everyone has trust in.

Just looking at the reports I’ve been seeing, it seems that the city actually is doing pretty well and trying to meet all the consent decree requirements and being a model for other cities.

ECB: The Seattle Police Department has had significant problems with both recruitment and retention problems at SPD. Other than paying recruitment bonuses, which the city is already doing, do you have any thoughts about what could be done to improve retention and recruitment?

MS: One of the things that I would like to do is recruit our next generation of officers from inside the community. Because I believe that when people from the community are actually involved and are more reflective of the communities that they serve, there’s going to be better understanding.

“Just looking at the reports I’ve been seeing, it seems that the [Seattle Police Department] actually is doing pretty well and trying to meet all the consent decree requirements and being a model for other cities.”

What I’ve heard in terms of retention is, it’s not necessarily the hiring bonuses that’s really going to bring people in. It’s feeling supported and the impact of the senior leadership in letting the officers or first responders know that their work is valued. Now, that doesn’t mean that [you shouldn’t] hold law enforcement accountable for negative behaviors. But I do feel that there is a role that leadership plays in morale and attracting people to come into this profession, which is a hard profession.

ECB: What do you mean by leadership? Who do you think officers feel is not supporting them?

MS: Some officers I talked to refer specifically to the city council. Some of the comments that have been made regarding officers’ conduct have negatively landed. And again, I’m not saying that you excuse negative behaviors, not at all, but when people show up to work every day doing their best and they don’t feel like their city has their back, you know, that does wear on you.

ECB: The mayor recently rolled out a plan to expand probation, create a new position inside the jail to direct people to services, and implement other proposals aimed at addressing so-called prolific offenders downtown. How would you address the issues caused by this population?

MS: Just cycling people in and out of jail is not fixing the problem. And I know that what’s been proposed is a different approach to try to wrap our hands around. But I think there’s some of the programs that we already have, if they’re properly resourced, can help with that. I think specifically of Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion. That program has had some success. And as staff there have told me, the peanut butter is spread too thin. The case loads are too large. So one of the things that I would want to do is increase their funding so they can increase staffing to expand the amount of work that they’re doing.

“Just allowing people to stay where they are, in the conditions that I’ve seen and experienced, is not humane. It’s not compassionate. I also understand that, you know, just moving people from one side of the street to the other is not humane or compassionate [either].”

At the same time, we do need to address those who are committing criminal behaviors. Again, you can hold somebody accountable but still make sure they get the help they need.

ECB: What do you think of the proposed regional homelessness authority, which would merge the King County and Seattle homelessness divisions?

MS: I do believe that we have a regional problem that requires a regional solution. But when I looked at the proposal, one thing that I think is missing is people who are actually doing the work on the ground, like service providers and outreach workers. As we’re trying to craft solutions for how we’re going to best address the issue, let’s have folks who not only have that lived experience, which is proposed, but also the folks who are on the ground doing the work. They’re the ones with the expertise, who are doing the outreach and having that one-on-one contact with people who are experiencing homelessness.

ECB: The Georgetown tiny house village just got a permit extension, but the mayor’s office wants them to leave their current location in less than six months. What do you think is the best approach to tiny house villages? Should they have to move periodically, and should the city be permitting more of them?

MS: Those who are using the tiny house villages have good success rates in transitioning to permanent housing. So I do see them as part of the solution—not the complete solution, because the ultimate solution is moving someone from homelessness into housing. But when you’ve got a place that you can lock and store your stuff, and you don’t have to leave at seven in the morning, you have a little bit more stability. For me, the key is those wraparound services, those case management services, that’ll help people move from that particular situation to something that’s more permanent and durable. Continue reading “The 2019 City Council Candidates: Mark Solomon”

“Exemption 2”: Heavily Redacted Documents Conceal Details About City’s Plans for Safe Parking Lot for Vehicle Residents

The C Is for Crank has appealed a decision by Mayor Jenny Durkan’s Human Services Department to heavily redact records related to a planned safe parking lot for people living in their cars. The city had planned to open a safe lot as a “pilot project” in Genesee Park in Southeast Seattle. After Mount Baker neighborhood activist (and current city council candidate) Pat Murakami and other South End residents became aware of the plans in late January, however, Durkan intervened, announcing in an email to community members and the media that she had been “briefed for the first time on a range of issues and options for a safe parking pilot” on February 27 and that she was sending the plan back to the drawing board for further evaluation.

The city redacted the documents on the grounds that the redacted information relates to the “deliberative process” for deciding whether and where to locate such a lot.

The deliberative process exemption to the state public records act, also known as “exemption 2,” allows cities to black out records when they relate to “Preliminary drafts, notes, recommendations and intra-agency memorandums in which opinions are expressed or policies formulated or recommended, except that a specific record shall not be exempt when publicly cited by an agency in connection with an agency action.”

The exemption only applies to discussions that involve setting policy (e.g., whether the city should create safe parking lots where people living in their cars to sleep); it does not, according to the state Open Government Resource Manual, apply to the implementation of policy or to “matters that are factual, or that are assumed to be factual for discussion purposes.” Additionally, cities can’t withhold information about a decision-making process once that decision has been made. In general, cities are directed to interpret the public records act as liberally as possible in the interest of disclosure.

The information Durkan’s Human Services Department has redacted for being related to ongoing policy deliberations and exchanges of opinion about policy decisions includes:

• The location of the city’s preferred site for a safe parking site, which the city has already acknowledged was Genesee Park. This location is blacked out in several places throughout the documents the city provided, including in a list of “Key Audiences and Stakeholders” that places Murakami at the very top of the list;

• Most of the details of a communications and outreach plan for the pilot;

• The responses to a list of FAQs from the community, which presumably consist of the factual information, along with some of the frequently asked questions themselves;

• An “about the pilot” list of bullet points (above) that presumably included much the same information HSD made public in an email to community members and local media back in February, which stated that the pilot “would serve no more than 30 vehicles, not RVs… open this spring and run through the end of the 2019… be overnight only, with no permanent infrastructure on the property, and offe[r] a safe place to stay overnight and a connection to a place to shower and use the restroom” as well as “services and case management to participants to assist in finding permanent housing.”

• Every media outlet on a list of “specific media targets” as well as every community member or group on  list of “specific community outreach targets”;

• The entire timeline for doing outreach to the community and eventually opening the lot;

• Every item on a list of “Tactics” as well as every item on a list of “Communications and Outreach Assets”; and

• Finally, the entire outreach timeline for the Genesee Park safe-lot proposal, all of which is, it is safe to assume, in the past.

The redactions include the location of a planned community meeting  as well as details about the pilot that HSD officials have discussed in some detail, including at that same public meeting. (Note: The mayor’s office clarified that the meeting the redacted documents referred to was not a community meeting that received widespread coverage, but a different planned meeting. They did not respond to questions about that meeting or any other meetings with community members that, according to unredacted internal emails between city officials, were planned for March, including questions about whether any of those meetings ever actually occurred.)

HSD directed questions about the redactions to the mayor’s office, which has not responded to a list of questions sent on Monday.

According to a city public disclosure officer, the mayor’s office may claim that because the city hasn’t decided on when, whether, or where to open a safe parking lot, the “deliberations” about the overall issue are technically still ongoing—an interpretation that could allow the city to exempt from disclosure, in perpetuity, any documents related to decisions they decided not to make, actions they never took, or policies they just left hanging. If the city just decides to never open a safe lot at all—which is basically what’s happening with a proposed mobile safe injection site, and there are plenty of other precedents—will that make every document related to that non-decision forever nondisclosable, existing in a permanent limbo of black lines and “Exemption No. 2″s? It seems ridiculous—but maybe.

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For now, I’m waiting to hear back from the city on my appeal, and will decide whether to take further action at that point.

If you’re wondering, by the way, what’s going on with the proposal for a safe lot, which was originally supposed to open on January 1 and was pushed back several times before the plans for the Genesee Park location were scuttled, HSD spokeswoman Meg Olberding provided this response to a detailed list of questions about the pilot:

“The Mayor has asked HSD to look at a variety of sites across the City. The department is in this process now. Mayor Durkan will choose the sites at which to begin community engagement based on the results of this process. She has not made a final decision at this time, so no external work has begun. We are moving it along, but have no precise timeline.”

I hope to have another update on this story later today.

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

Sarah Shifley, with Tyrell Hedlund, points to the circuitous, hilly route the city suggests for cyclists traveling north from the city’s south end as Department of Neighborhoods facilitator LaKecia Farmer looks on.

The Seattle Department of Transportation will wrap up the last of four “café-style conversations,” the public’s final in-person opportunity to give feedback on the city’s plans to build a dramatically scaled-back version of the Bike Master Plan, in Phinney Ridge tonight.

At last night’s meeting at the Van Asselt Community Center in Rainier Beach, about 50 people sat around tables and responded to a list of prewritten questions from facilitators about their “values,” how the bike plan reflects those values, and those values could best be realized as the city works to build out its bike infrastructure. (I did two detailed reports on the projects that the city has proposed delaying, downgrading, and eliminating here and here.) Although large maps of the South End dominated every table, the “conversations” offered no opportunity to discuss those maps in detail—to note, for example, the conspicuous gaps in the supposedly “connected” bike network at major intersections like Alaska and Rainier (and Alaska and Martin Luther King Jr. Way S), portions of major bike routes like 15th Ave. S., and throughout Georgetown and SoDo, where the plan shows short, random-seeming new stretches of bike lane that end abruptly when they approach arterial streets,  suggesting (on the map at least) that cyclists will simply fly over the major intersections where they are most at risk of being hit.

At my table, the mood was somber as a group of both casual and commuter cyclists—two from Columbia City, one from Georgetown, two from South Park, one from Beacon Hill, and one from Capitol Hill—said they worried that no matter what they said during the facilitated discussion, SDOT, under the current mayoral administration, wouldn’t build anything that was remotely expensive or controversial.

“I’m here because I’m worried,” said South Park resident Maris Zivarts. “I’m worried that people will look at what happened with 35th”—a long-planned bike lane in Northeast Seattle that Mayor Jenny Durkan decided to kill after a group of residents complained that it would eliminate parking for businesses— “and say, ‘We can stop bike lanes [by complaining.]’ I don’t  think I would be here if what happened with 35th hadn’t happened.” Charles Hall, a member of the Seattle Bicycle Advisory Board, noted that when Mayor Jenny Durkan’s staff and SDOT asked the board to list their top projects, they decided to focus exclusively on projects in South Seattle, where the bike system is most disconnected and where equity concerns are greatest. “We just really pared it down. We didn’t even put the projects in order,” Hall said. Instead, “We specifically prioritized the south end. And none of the projects that we wanted are even in the [implementation] plan.”

Sarah Shifley, who lives in Columbia City, put an SDOT staffer on the spot about why, exactly, the city decided to reject the Seattle Bicycle Advisory Board’s explicit recommendation to focus on creating safe, convenient bike connections between Southeast Seattle and downtown before saying, basically, that she didn’t buy it. “I don’t what the political block is. You can say it’s funding, but it feels like we all agree on the specific projects and then they just get shot down. … That’s my takeaway. It’s just sad.” Shifley pointed to the circuitous, up-and-down greenway route that the city recommends people riding from Southeast Seattle use to get to the rest of the city, then back to the map, where three major north-south thoroughfares—Beacon, Rainier, and MLK—were bare of any planned bike infrastructure. “It just seems crazy to me that there are so many major thoroughfares going north-south, and on a bike there’s not a safe one,” Zivarts chimed in.

Support The C Is for Crank
If you like the work I’m doing here, and would like to support this page financially, please support me by becoming a monthly donor on Patreon or PayPal.  For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers, which pay for the time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as reporting-related and office expenses.  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 I’m truly grateful for your support.

SDOT says it plans to “incorporate” the feedback it receives at all four facilitated discussions into the final version of the implementation plan. (For good measure, the bike board will likely send a “sternly worded letter” to the mayor’s office, another board member told me at last night’s meeting). But without any specific recommendations from the public, particularly the bike-riding public, about what routes should be prioritized for safety, convenience, and equity, it’s hard to see how “incorporating public feedback” will amount to much more than a summary of the comments SDOT staffers dutifully scribbled on easel paper at last night’s meeting.

At the end of the night, the cyclists in the crowd scrambled to unlock their bikes from the rack outside the community center. The city had hauled it in for the bike discussion and took it away as soon as the meeting was over.

Seattle Experiments With Community-Owned Hubs and Job Incubators

The patch of ground at the southwest corner of Martin Luther King, Jr. Way South and South Othello Street, kitty-corner from the Othello light rail station in Seattle’s Rainier Valley, may not look like much now—an overgrown sidewalk, a few incongruously jaunty “O!hello!” signs, and a whole lot of weeds. But in the next few years, it could be Ground Zero for a new type of real-estate development—one championed by the City and local non-profits, working closely with community members, as a way to help keep vulnerable communities intact as the city changes by investing in cultural and economic anchors.The projects emerged from a community-driven process, led by social-justice groups like Puget Sound Sage and South CORE (Communities Organizing for Regional Equity) as well as several small-business associations in Southeast Seattle, that culminated in the city of Seattle’s Equitable Development Initiative, which aims to encourage (and help fund) developments that preserve communities at risk for economic displacement.

The development, known as the Southeast Economic Opportunity Center (SEEOC), is one of five planned equitable developments across Cascadia’s largest city. These city-blessed projects, driven by non-profit developers and community groups and funded by private investors, foundations, and city and state dollars, aim to help communities at risk of displacement prosper in place. They will preserve cultural institutions and provide opportunities for jobs, education, housing, and child care in areas of the city where rapid change threatens to fracture fragile communities.

The project, supporters hope, will not only provide affordable housing to Rainier Valley’s immigrant and refugee communities but will also serve as those communities’ social and cultural nexus. It will also offer job training, education, and employment in ground-level retail stores and restaurants, the center’s Seattle Children’s Hospital-run health clinic, a public charter school, and small-business incubators. The centerpiece of the Opportunity Center, a Multicultural Community Center serving eight discrete ethnic and cultural populations, would be community-owned and operated.

“If this community doesn’t own something, we’re going to get pushed out.”
-Tony To

“If this community doesn’t own something, we’re going to get pushed out,” says Tony To, director of the nonprofit housing developer Homesight, which is spearheading the project. “We have to own real estate. We have to own our own assets. We have to own our own programming. And this is not something that’s easy to do. This is not, frankly, something that Seattle is usually used to.”

Read the rest of my piece on the Southeast Economic Opportunity Center over at Sightline.

Morning Crank: Indicators, Not Incidents

1. As the Trump Administration prepares to cut billions from the federal transportation budget, starving transit and road-safety projects across the city, Mayor Ed Murray announced at a press conference in Southeast Seattle yesterday that Seattle is taking a different path, funding new sidewalks and pedestrian-safety improvements through the $930 million Move Seattle levy that passed in 2015. Over the next two years, Murray said, the city will accelerate Phase 2 of the Rainier corridor safety project (restriping Rainier Ave. S. to calm traffic and provide space for bikes and a left-turn lane, for $2.25 million) and build 50 new blocks of sidewalks (at a cost of $22 million), with a goal of completing 250 new blocks of sidewalk by 2024. The city will also add more “pedestrian-friendly signals,” Murray said.

Then, looking like he’d reached his capacity for transpo-jargon, Murray turned the press conference over to Seattle Department of Transportation director Scott Kubly, who fielded reporters’ (okay, my) wonky questions about stop bars, leading pedestrian intervals, and protected left turn phases. (For the record, those are: The lines on the street telling drivers where to stop; signals that let pedestrians start walking into an intersection before the light turns green for drivers; and signalized left turns, where drivers turn left on a green arrow while pedestrians wait.)

Those are all pretty standard (though necessary and important) pedestrian safety improvements. More interesting was the new safety “tool kit” Kubly said the city would use to inform its safety investments in the future, a tool kit he said might be “the first of its kind in the entire country.” According to Kubly, instead of looking at “incidents”—data about accidents that have already happened—the city will focus on “indicators”—signs that an intersection is inherently dangerous, even in the absence of accident data. For example, “we have seen a fair number of crashes with left turning vehicles where they have permissive left turns”—a regular green light without a left-turn arrow—”and what we’ve found is that with those permissive left turns, we’re seeing crashes, particularly in places like Northeast 65th Street,” where several serious crashes have resulted when a driver speeding down the hill has turned left into an oncoming cyclist or pedestrian.

Last year, council transportation committee chair Mike O’Brien noted, there were about 10,000 crashes in the city. Of those, fewer than 7 percent involved cyclists or pedestrians. But that 7 percent accounted for about 62 percent of the fatalities from crashes in the city. Although Seattle remains one of the safest cities in the country for pedestrians, progress toward actually achieving “Vision Zero”—zero serious injuries or deaths from crashes by 2030—has stagnated. Right after the mayor’s press conference, a truck and a car collided dramatically on Rainier and South Alaska Street— right at the northern edge of the Rainier Avenue S improvement area.

2. Back in 2004, after then-mayor Greg Nickels made a gross attempt to buy the support of newly elected city council members Jean Godden and Tom Rasmussen by hosting a chichi fundraiser to pay down their campaign debts, my Stranger colleagues and I started a new political action committee and learned that, like filing ethics reports and counting envelopes full of cash, coming up with a clever campaign acronym was harder than we imagined.

Fast forward 13 years and say hello to “Homeless Evidence, Transparency, and Accountability in Seattle,” or HEATS. It’s one of two new campaigns to stop the new levy, I-126, which will help move some of the 10,000 or so homeless people in Seattle into apartments, treatment, and supportive housing. The person behind it is a blogger who wrote a 1,600-word post mocking a homeless woman for having a criminal record, filed a frivolous ethics complaint against a council member for providing public information to a reporter, and took surreptitious photos of me and posted them with comments mocking my appearance. So far, HEATS has raised $0.

3. Speaking of the Stranger, Crank has learned that the paper has hired a news editor, after posting job ads and interviewing candidates for more than a year. Steven Hsieh, who has  worked as a staff writer for the Santa Fe Reporter and has written for The Nation, will join the paper officially in the next few weeks.