Morning Crank: Rethinking the Vaunted Neighborhood Plans of the ’90s

In a move that could reveal hard truths about the city’s vaunted 1990s-era neighborhood planning process, city council member Teresa Mosqueda wants the city to do a full race and social justice analysis of the so-called urban village strategy, which concentrates all new development in narrow bands near arterial streets and preserves two-thirds of the city exclusively for detached single-family houses. The urban village strategy was crafted more than 20 years ago by neighborhood groups that were dominated, then as now, by white homeowners who wanted to ensure that the “character” of their neighborhoods would remain unchanged. The monoculture of exclusive single-family zoning, and the “character” of Seattle’s suburban-style neighborhoods, is a legacy of redlining—the process by which people of color and renters were systematically excluded from many parts of Seattle.

Introducing her proposal at Thursday’s council budget hearing, Mosqueda noted that at the time the urban village strategy was adopted, in 1994, there was no Race and Social Justice Initiative. That came in 2004, and “it wasn’t until 10 years after that that the race and social justice strategy was expanded to include policies that impact the urban environment,” Mosqueda said. “One of our questions is whether or not we are investing in urban villages equitably throughout Seattle. … I’m interested in whether or not we are crafting policies that are allowing more people to live here.”

The city recently completed a race and social equity analysis of a proposal that would make it easier for homeowners to build second and third units on their property. That analysis found, not surprisingly, that allowing more backyard cottages and mother-in-law apartments will disproportionately benefit white Seattle residents, because most homeowners in Seattle are white. (See chart, below). However, the analysis (like the environmental impact statement the city recently completed on the proposal) also found that allowing more backyard and basement apartments wouldn’t contribute to displacement; and it suggested several steps the city could take to make it easier for homeowners of color to build accessory units, such as pre-approved building plans and assistance with permits and financing. A race and social justice analysis of the city’s urban village strategy would likely reach similar conclusions—restricting development to the areas directly adjacent to major streets helps drive up housing prices and lock lower-income people and people of color out of many neighborhoods—and point to more radical solutions. Neighborhood activists, in other words, are likely to oppose it. Channeling them Thursday, council member Sally Bagshaw raised objections to Mosqueda’s proposal, which she said might be “duplicative” with work the city has already done. (It isn’t.) “Good heavens, this feels like déjà vu to me,” Bagshaw said. Council member Rob Johnson, who supports Mosqueda’s idea in principle, said, “I think that the issues that council member Mosqueda brings up are very appropriate for us to consider,” but suggested that the council might fund it later in the year.

Neighborhood activists, ironically, actually raised the need for race and social justice analysis in their ongoing attempt to prevent the city from implementing its Mandatory Housing Affordability strategy arguing (disingenuously) that the city didn’t do a race and social justice analysis of the proposal to allow slightly denser development on 6 percent of the city’s single-family land. (Developers building under the new rules would be required to build affordable housing on site or pay into an affordable housing fund. The new rules have gone into effect in denser parts of the city, including downtown). They’re still fighting that one, a year after the council passed the legislation.

It’s hard to quantify how much funding for affordable housing the city has lost because single-family activists have locked MHA up with a series of seemingly endless appeals. Hard, but not impossible. About a week ago, Johnson asked the city’s Office of Planning and Community Development to do an analysis of how much money the city has forfeited from developments that would have happened under the new rules if they had gone into effect a year ago. “I’ve asked them to run the numbers about projects that might have vested under MHA, had we adopted it when the bill was first sent down to us,” Johnson told me yesterday. “As you can imagine, vesting times really vary, so  it’s difficult analysis for us to do.” However, Johnson hopes that by looking at the development cycle that just ended, the city can get a sense of how much affordable housing Seattle has foregone while activists have filed appeal after appeal.

A race and social justice analysis of the city’s urban village strategy would likely reach similar conclusions—restricting development to the areas directly adjacent to major streets helps drive up housing prices and lock lower-income people and people of color out of many neighborhoods—and point to more radical solutions.

Speaking of appeals, the Queen Anne Community Council filed another one against the accessory dwelling unit proposal yesterday, arguing that the proposal—which would add about 2600 basement and backyard apartments, citywide, over what will likely be built anyway—”ignores, disrespects, and eliminates the citywide Neighborhood Plans.” The appeal, filed by Queen Anne homeowner Marty Kaplan and his attorney, Jeff Eustis, reiterates Kaplan’s claim that the plan will upzone the entire city, effectively turning single-family neighborhoods into wall-to-wall apartment blocks. The complaint concludes, spaghetti-at-the-wall style, by listing a litany of supposed ills that will befall neighborhoods if the city allows a few thousand more backyard and basement units in a city of 700,000: the “displacement and destruction of older, more modest and
affordable housing, the displacement of populations, the loss of historic buildings, the change in neighborhood character, the unstudied stresses on existing utilities and infrastructure, the amount of available on-street parking. and the ability of
residents and emergency vehicles to circulate through neighborhood streets, and other population pressures among many more.”

Johnson notes one potential bright side to all this delay. If the appeals of MHA and the accessory dwelling legislation drag on indefinitely,  he says, the city’s planning department will have more free time to do the kind of analysis of single-family zoning that Mosqueda is requesting.

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The Gender Gap at the City’s Largest Departments Hasn’t Improved. If Anything, It’s Wider than Ever

The latest annual analysis of racial and gender equity in city employment concludes, unsurprisingly, that the city still has a long way to go before achieving racial and gender pay equity and equal representation in employment, as measured by the number of women and people of color who are in top-tier, and top-paying, positions at the city. Meanwhile, a detailed look at the numbers reveals that one of the biggest problems identified in a workplace equity report three years ago—the lack of women employees at all levels in the three largest city departments (police, fire, and City Light)—has gotten slightly worse even as racial equity has begun to improve.

Using baseline race and gender numbers from King County as a whole (on the grounds that the city’s workforce lives all over the county), the report found that people of color, particularly Latinx people, are underrepresented at the top pay and supervisory levels across all city departments, and that women are underrepresented “at all but the bottom levels of supervisory authority and wages”—not surprising, given that women remain underrepresented in City employment overall. (The chart above shows exactly how each group identified is under- or overrepresented at the top and bottom quarters of the pay scale. A more detailed breakdown is available in the report itself.) The report did not break down pay by titles or pay bands beyond the quartile level or by department, so there’s no way to know, based on the report, what sort of pay gaps exist in each individual department, or whether the pay gap between white men and everybody else widens, for example, among city employees with salaries at the very top of the pay scale.

Taken together, the three largest city departments are just 25 percent female, and all have a lower percentage of female workers than they did back in 2015.

 

“By gender, the City of Seattle workforce is very imbalanced: overall, just 38.6 percent of City employees are female as compared to 50.1 percent in the county population,” according to the report. “Given this overall imbalance, it is not surprising that women are underrepresented at many levels of the workforce relative to the general population. Among supervisors, women are underrepresented in all but the bottom level (first quartile). In the top level, they make up 35.4 percent of supervisors. Across the pay scale, women are again underrepresented in all but the bottom level. In the top level of wage earners, they make up 33.8 percent of employees.” The situation is, of course, even worse for women of color, who “are most underrepresented at the top levels of City employment. This group makes up 19.0 percent of the county population but just 11.3 percent of the top level of supervisors and just 10.0 percent of the top level of wage earners.”

The report notes that in the five largest city departments (Police, Seattle City Light, Parks, Seattle Public Utilities, and Fire) women make up just 30.7 percent of the workforce. “Removing the top five departments, the remainder of the City reaches near gender parity (that is, while many of the smaller departments also have significant gender imbalances, these collectively offset each other),” the report concludes.

This language is remarkably similar to language in a more detailed workforce equity report released in 2015, which found that “after removing [Police, Fire, and City Light] from the citywide analysis, the City found that the percentage of females in the rest of the City workforce jumps from 37% to 46% and the unadjusted pay gap narrows from 89.7 to 98.2 %.”

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But of course, eliminating the very largest departments in the city, which account for nearly four in ten city workers, doesn’t actually cause the percentage of female employees at the city to “jump,” nor does it narrow the pay gap. It does, however, highlight where the biggest problem lies: In traditionally male-dominated departments that remain male-dominated despite a longstanding awareness of the problem and what to do about it: Recruit and hire more women.

This year’s report includes another sleight of hand which, intentionally or not, has the effect of downplaying the lack of women in the largest city departments. This year, the city added two departments to the list of the largest city departments in the 2015 report—parks and SPU, which, when their workforces are combined and averaged, actually have a higher percentage of women employees (39.6 percent) than the city as a whole. Taking these two more (relatively) gender-balanced departments back out of the equation and looking only at the three departments the city identified as particularly inequitable three years ago, it’s clear that the gender imbalance at City Light, Fire, and Police hasn’t improved—in fact, it’s gotten worse.

Taken together, the three largest city departments are just 25 percent female, and all have a lower percentage of female workers than they did back in 2015. The Seattle Police Department has gone from 29.0 percent female to 28.1 percent; City Light has gone from 32.1 percent female to 30.3 percent; and the Seattle Fire Department (already the least gender-equitable department of the three) has declined from 13.1 percent female to 12.3 percent.

When large departments make a concerted effort to recruit and hire a specific demographic group, it works, as evidenced by the data in this year’s report about the Seattle Police Department’s efforts to hire more people of color. Since 2014, which was the baseline for the 2015 report, only 22 percent of SPD’s hires were people of color; thanks to concerted effort and recruiting changes implemented by the department, that has risen steadily to 45 percent in 2018.

According to the report:

The city also identified several strategies in the past that could have helped attract and retain women as well as men of color, but did not pursue them, according to the report. These include flexible scheduling; step wage increases for part-time workers, who are more likely to be women; and seniority rules that don’t penalize people for accepting promotions. We know, from the city’s efforts to make race and social justice an integral part of hiring and recruitment decisions, that it takes targeted effort over a sustained period to address historical race and social justice inequities—and that it pays off. Why not invest a similar amount of time and effort into closing the city’s gaping gender gap?

Morning Crank: Mariners Giveaway, Bike Lanes Downtown, and Public Land for Housing People

Image via Wikimedia Commons; photo by Cacophony

1. King County Council member Jeanne Kohl-Welles withdrew her support yesterday from legislation that would dedicate up to $190 million in proceeds from the county’s hotel/motel tax to Safeco Field, proposing an amendment that would instead direct almost all of that money to affordable housing instead. The Mariners are demanding the upgrades as a condition of signing a new 25-year lease on the stadium.

King County Executive Dow Constantine has insisted that the hotel/motel tax proceeds must be spent on purposes related to tourism, including improvements to the stadium, but the legislation that authorized the tax actually does not limit the percentage of proceeds that can be spent on affordable housing, nor does it require that any money be spent on tourism at all. Instead, the law says that at least 37.5 percent of the hotel/motel tax must be spent on arts and affordable housing, respectively, and that whatever money remains after that can be spent on tourism. Kohl-Welles’ proposal would increase the affordable housing expenditure to 52.5 percent, leaving about $25 million for stadium improvements.

One thing worth noting as this debate plays out: Mariners owner John Stanton, a billionaire telecom executive who has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Republican Party and conservative causes, maxed out to just one candidate in the 2017 primary and general elections. That candidate? Dow Constantine.

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2. The city council passed a resolution Monday urging the Seattle Department of Transportation (i.e. Mayor Jenny Durkan) to complete the downtown bike network, after interim SDOT director Goran Sparrman informed the council that the city planned to delay the construction of a long-promised protected bike lane on Fourth Avenue downtown for three years while construction projects downtown (including the demolition of the Alaskan Way Viaduct and the construction of a new Washington State convention center) reduce the number of lanes available to car commuters.

Mariners owner John Stanton, a billionaire telecom executive who has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Republican Party and conservative causes, maxed out to just one candidate in the 2017 primary and general elections. That candidate? Dow Constantine.

Council member Teresa Mosqueda, just home from a trip to Minneapolis where she met with members of the bike equity group Tamales y Bicycletas, added language to the legislation emphasizing the importance of creating safe bike routes for low-income people, communities of color, and women. The resolution now says that although the Center City bike network itself is located downtown, “connecting routes to surrounding neighborhoods, and between neighborhoods, particularly in historically neglected communities with higher needs of safety improvements for pedestrians and cyclists, must be a focus for the city in making connections with the Center City Bike Network.” The verbiage, along with language about the city’s historical disinvestment in low-income communities and communities of color, serves as another rebuke to unsupported claims that bike lanes “displace the underprivileged” and kill minority-owned businesses in neighborhoods like Wedgwood, in north Seattle.

But will the resolution matter? SDOT is already trying to dampen expectations that the downtown bike lane network will be built within 18 months, as the council resolution demands. And the agency is still figuring out the details of its planned  “reset” of the $290 million Move Seattle levy in response to higher-than-anticipated construction costs and lower-than-expected (or entirely absent) federal funds for Seattle projects. Late last month, council transportation committee chair Mike O’Brien told me that “there’s nothing we see right now [in the resolution] that’s a deal breaker,” but added that he hadn’t heard much from the Durkan Administration about whether they planned to move forward on the council’s recommendations, which include new bike lanes from 8th Avenue in Belltown down to 12th Avenue South in the International District. “My sense is they are still getting up to speed on a lot of things,” O’Brien said. “I think the bike capacity in Mayor Durkan’s brain has been spent on the Burke-Gilman trail [completion] and 35th” Ave NE, where anti-bike activists are fighting a bike lane and road restructure. “I don’t know that there’s a ton that has been done on this.”

3. The council also adopted legislation that I wrote about a couple of weeks ago, giving Seattle City Light the ability to sell its properties to nonprofit housing developers who agree to build housing affordable to people making less than 80 percent of Seattle’s median income. Currently, the city requires property owned by its electric utility to be sold at fair-market value, thanks to a 2003 ruling striking down a fee City Light imposed to install and maintain streetlights. However, a bill passed by the state legislature last year, House Bill 2382, gives state and local agencies the right to transfer land to affordable housing developers at little or no cost, giving the city new ammunition if it faces a legal challenge the first time the legislation is tested.

If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site or making a one-time contribution! 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. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

The City Studied the Impact of Easing Rules on Garage Apartments. What They Uncovered Was an Indictment of Single-Family Zoning.

In 2016, a group of homeowners, led by one especially ardent anti-density activist named Marty Kaplan, sued the city to stall proposed rules that would make it somewhat easier for homeowners to build accessory dwelling units—basement apartments and backyard cottages—on their property.  (The rules, which would apply in single-family areas outside urban villages, would have eliminated parking requirements for accessory units; allowed homeowners to have both a basement unit and a backyard cottage, as long as they kept development under preexisting size limits; and eliminated owner-occupancy requirements, among other tweaks.) A city hearing examiner, Sue Tanner, found in favor of Kaplan and the Queen Anne Community Council later that same year, delaying the rule changes and forcing the city to do a full environmental impact statement to determine whether allowing several hundred more basement and backyard apartments across the city would have a detrimental environmental impact. (Environmental impact statements do not, as yet, consider the beneficial environmental impacts of making it possible for people to live near where they work or go to school, instead of driving in to the city every day on exhaust-choked freeways).

Nearly two years later, that document is finally here, and its 364 pages are a strong rebuke to anyone who has ever argued that single-family zoning is a natural feature of the landscape in Seattle, and that legalizing apartments in single-family areas will lead to displacement, environmental degradation, and drive up housing costs for low-income renters. The document places Seattle’s current zoning debates squarely in the context of history—not just redlining, which has been documented elsewhere, but post-redlining decisions that made apartments illegal on two-thirds of the city’s land and shut non-white, non-wealthy residents out of those areas almost as effectively as formal redlining did in the middle of the 20th century.

The DEIS begins by outlining the city’s zoning history, which began in the 1920s, when the city created two zoning designations: First Residence District (the equivalent of today’s single-family zoning) and Second Residence District (the equivalent of Seattle’s current multifamily zones). Over time, and through a series of zoning ordinance overhauls, the areas where apartments were legal in Seattle shrunk and shrunk again, until the city arrived at the zoning it has today. Single-family zoning, in other words, is hardly a sacred designation that has existed since time immemorial, as many neighborhood activists argue today, but a special protection for certain areas of the city that has grown dramatically over time, as these side-by-side maps of Ballard attest:

Today, when you see apartment buildings in areas designated single-family, know that those are relics of a time when apartments were legal in that area.

The DEIS goes on to trace population changes in Seattle over time. Somewhat surprisingly, given the dramatic population growth in Seattle between the 1960s and the 2010s, some parts of town actually lost population between 1970 and 2010, the period when zoning rule changes slowly made it impossible to build duplexes, triplexes, and apartments; the vast majority (81 percent) were in single-family-only neighborhoods. The areas with the most notable population loss were in North Seattle and certain parts of West Seattle.

Between 1990 and 2010 alone, while Seattle’s population grew 18 percent, the population in single-family-zoned areas outside urban villages, which “compris[e] 60 percent of Seattle’s total land area,” grew just three percent. (Those areas, again, are the parts of town where the proposed zoning changes would make it somewhat easier for homeowners to add an additional unit or two to their property.) Single-family areas, in other words, have not only failed to absorb an equitable proportion of the city’s growth, but they have managed this feat through the adoption of ever more restrictive zoning laws in Seattle’s relatively recent history.

Excluding new residents from single-family areas has had class and racial implications. According to the DEIS, people of color have become disproportionately more likely to live in areas zoned for multifamily use—that is, areas outside the single-family zones that Kaplan and the Queen Anne Community Council are suing to “protect”—with a few exceptions, including Southeast Seattle and the Central District. “Non-Hispanic White people are, by contrast, disproportionately likely to live in areas where single-family housing predominates.” Meanwhile, people of color are dramatically more likely to be renters rather than homeowners and more likely to spend more than 30 percent (or even 50 percent) of their income on housing than the non-Hispanic white folks who dominate single-family areas. Less than a third of all households of color, and fewer than 30 percent of Black and Hispanic/Latinx households, live in detached single-family houses, while more white people live in houses than any other housing type. According to the city’s analysis, “[T]hese citywide statistics illustrate that housing type varies along racial lines and are suggestive of patterns in single- family zones, where detached one-unit structures are the only housing type allowed.”

The DEIS also demolishes the notion—common among both wealthy homeowners like Kaplan and anti-displacement activists on the left—that allowing more housing in single-family areas will result in greater displacement of low-income people from those areas. (This theory was recently articulated by former Seattle City Council candidate Jon Grant, who claimed that “one of the largest portions of our affordable housing stock is single-family homes.”) According to the city’s analysis, although 54 percent of homes citywide are renter-occupied, just 27 percent of homes in the “study area” (single-family areas outside urban villages) are. Since the study area includes many apartments built before apartments were made illegal in those areas, it’s safe to assume that those rental units are mostly those apartments, not single-family houses.

Looking at the data another way, it’s clear that the people who do live in detached single-family houses are mostly well above Seattle’s area median income, which was around $75,000 in 2015 (and is closer to $80,000 now). The disparity is perhaps best illustrated with a couple of charts:

The report also spells it out: Most poor people don’t live in detached single-family houses, rental or otherwise, because they simply can’t afford them. “Only 14 percent of households in detached one-unit structures are below 200 percent of the poverty level, a common threshold to be eligible for certain assistance programs, while for most other housing types about one-third of households are below 200 percent of the poverty level,” the report concludes. Given that 81 percent of single-family homes are occupied by homeowners, not renters, that means that just 2.66 percent of all single-family houses are occupied by people making twice the poverty level or less. That doesn’t mean those renters can actually afford the houses they are renting; in fact, the city’s analysis found that a renter would have to make 123 percent of the Seattle area median income to afford an average single-family rental house, and that even the very rare low-rent houses are unaffordable to people making twice the federal poverty rate, or about $33,000 for family of two.

Put still another way: “For households with incomes of 80 percent of AMI, even two- or three-bedroom single-family homes with rents at the 25th percentile, a common marker of rent for the least expensive homes on the market, are out of reach.” In Seattle, in other words, essentially no single-family rental homes are affordable to very low-income renters.

The DEIS also, of course, looked into the specific environmental claims that are being made by the homeowners who want to ensure that backyard cottages remain effectively illegal in their neighborhoods. They found, not surprisingly, that neither of the two alternatives the city considered, which the city estimates would produce between 1,210 and 1,440 more attached and detached accessory dwelling units, combined, across the city in the next 10 years—would have a significant impact on tree canopy, overall density, parking availability, or neighborhood aesthetics. (Alternative 3, which includes more size restrictions on detached units and would require homeowners building a second accessory unit to contribute to the city’s Mandatory Housing Affordability program, would have slightly lower impacts in some areas, but the impact of 121 to 144 new units spread across the city would be generally negligible.) The report did note, however, that “removing the off-street parking requirement could reduce the amount of vegetation and tree removal otherwise needed to accommodate a parking space when creating an ADU.”

The city has been debating whether to allow more homeowners to build extra units for decades, and this specific proposal has been on the table since 2014, when the council adopted a resolution calling for a plan to “promot[e] workforce housing” by exploring ways to make building backyard cottages easier. This latest round will inevitably result in another challenge and more delays, illustrating just how hard it is to make even incremental zoning changes in Seattle. As long as homeowners believe sharing their prosperous neighborhoods with even a few newcomers will impact their property values, which continue to skyrocket year over year, even the most modest request that they participate in solving our affordability crisis will continue to be met with a barrage of legal challenges. By the time this legislation actually starts producing new housing for non-wealthy Seattle residents, it seems more likely than not that the median home in Seattle will have risen from its current high, around $820,000, to well over than a million dollars.

If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site or making a one-time contribution! 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. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

Morning Crank: “Sound Transit Is Not Felt To Be a Safe Workplace”

1. Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff escaped serious reprimand on Wednesday for alleged behavior toward agency employees that included looking women up and down and giving them “elevator eyes,” using racially insensitive language, swearing at employees, and using an abrasive style that both the public memo on the investigation into his behavior and King County Executive Dow Constantine described as “East Coast” (whatever that’s supposed to mean). With only Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and Seattle City Council member Rob Johnson dissenting (because they believed Rogoff’s punishment was insufficient), the board voted to require Rogoff to create a “leadership development plan” to improve his listening, self-awareness, and relationship building” skills and to  assign a three-member panel, made up of Sound Transit board members, to monitor his progress on the plan for six months.

Durkan skipped the launch of an NHL season ticket drive and the raising of the NHL flag over the Space Needle to be at today’s board meeting, an indication of how seriously she took the charges. Before voting, Durkan read the following statement:

“The issues raised and on which we were briefed led me to believe the conclusion that these [performance] factors cannot be met, and so I will be voting against this motion. I think the facts that we have been briefed on and the conclusions reached by our Counsel demonstrate that Sound Transit is not felt to be a safe workplace for all employees, that they do not feel that they can act without repercussions, and that there are many who feel that their work is not valued. I am also concerned that the statements that were alleged to have been made by the CEO, and the actions that were raised – raised the issue of racial bias and insensitivity, as well as other workplace harassment issues. I do not believe that these issues have been resolved as completely as indicated by Counsel, and that having three Board Members oversee the daily work of this CEO is not the resolution, and so I will be voting against this motion.”

Neither Durkan nor Johnson had any further comment after the meeting.

The memo on the investigation lays out a few specific examples of behaviors that the investigation deemed inappropriate, including a Black History Month event in 2016 at which Rogoff “reportedly made comments condescending toward persons of color” and a 2017 incident in which he dismissively told a female employee, “Honey, that ain’t ever going to happen” in response to a question. But the memo, and most of the Sound Transit board, is also quick to chalk much of Rogoff’s reported behavior up to difficulty navigating the politeness of Pacific Northwest culture and the fact that the previous CEO, Joni Earl, was so beloved that Rogoff faced built-in challenges from the time he was hired, in late 2015. To wit:

In the meeting, King County Executive Dow Constantine, who was chair of the Sound Transit board when Rogoff was hired, said he talked to Rogoff when he applied for the position and “cautioned him that his directness was going to run up against a very different way of interacting  to which we are accustomed here in the Pacific Northwest, and that he was going to have to modify his manner and understand the local culture if we were going to be successful.” Constantine also described Rogoff as “bracingly direct” before praising his effectiveness.

Rogoff echoed Constantine’s complimentary assessment of his style in his own memo responding to the allegations. In the memo, Rogoff acknowledges (using language that reads a bit like a job applicant saying that his worst flaw is his “relentless attention to detail”) that his “directness and unvarnished clarity did not sit well with some staff” and that he was, at times, “overly intense in articulating my expectations for performance.” Rogoff goes on to explicitly deny some of the allegations,” calling some of the claims made during the investigation “misquoted, misunderstood, mischaracterized or false. I don’t yell at people.  I don’t disparage small city mayors and I don’t shove chairs to make a point,” two incidents that were detailed in the documents released today. “I was shocked to read some of the characterizations on this list.”

A document labeled “Peter Rogoff, CEO ST: Note to file” describes some of those alleged incidents. They include: Directing a staffer to tell Seattle Times reporter Mike Lindblom to “go fuck himself”; yelling over the phone at a staffer in a conversation that lasted from 11pm to 1am; standing up at a meeting and saying “When I give direction, it’s for action, not rumination” and shoving a chair; saying that he “couldn’t give a flying fuck about how things were when Joni [Earl] was here, because she’s not here anymore”; using the term “flying fuck” constantly “to everyone”; and the aforementioned incidents in which he allegedly looked women up and down and gave them “elevator eyes.”

King County Council member and Sound Transit board member Claudia Balducci said after the meeting that she has “seen a lot of improvement” in Rogoff’s behavior. “I think that at least shows that it’s possible, and therefore that we could have a successful CEO. If he can manage people with respect and dignity then I felt he deserves the opportunity.” Balducci disagreed that Rogoff’s management style could be explained away by “regional” differences. “I’m from New York,” she said, and “I think everybody, no matter where they’re from, knows how to be respectful. The things that we were talking about were more than just style.”

Although Rogoff did not receive a bonus this year, he did receive a five percent cost of living adjustment, which puts his salary at just over $328,000.

2. The city’s progressive revenue task force held its final meeting on Wednesday morning, adopting a report (final version to come) that recommends new taxes that could bring in as much as $150 million a year for housing and services for homeless and low-income people in Seattle. Half of that total, $75 million, would come from some version of an employee hours tax; the variables include what size business will pay the tax ($8 million vs. $10 million in gross revenues), the tax rate and whether it will be a flat per-employee fee or a percentage of revenues; and whether businesses that don’t hit the threshold for the tax will have to pay a so-called “skin in the game” fee for doing business in the city. The task force also talked about making the tax graduated based on employer size, but noted that such a tax may not be legal and would almost certainly be subject to immediate legal challenges.

The original memo on the head tax proposals suggests that the “skin in the game” fee should be $200 and that the fee would kick in once a business makes gross revenues—not net profits—of $500,000. During the conversation Wednesday morning, some task force members floated the idea of lowering that threshold to just $100,000, a level that would require many small businesses, such as street-level retailers, to pay the fee, regardless of what their actual profit margins are. However, after council member and task force chair Lorena Gonzalez pointed out that the city has not done a racial equity analysis to see how any of the head tax proposals would impact minority business owners, the group decided to keep the trigger at $500,000 in gross revenues. Additionally, they decided to raise the recommended fee to $395—a number that was thrown out, seemingly at random, by a task force member who called it “psychological pricing” (on the theory that $395 feels like significantly less than $400).

The other $75 million would come, in theory, from a combination of other taxes, some of them untested in Seattle and likely to face legal challenges, including a local excise tax, an excess compensation tax, a tax on “speculative real estate investment activity,” and an increase in the real estate excise tax. Legal challenges could delay implementation of new taxes months or years, and—although no one brought it up at yesterday’s meeting—REET revenues always take a nosedive during economic downturns, making them a fairly volatile revenue source.

3. The Teamsters Local 174 confirmed yesterday that they will no longer allow the King County Democrats to hold meetings at their building in Tukwila, after a contentious meeting Tuesday night that lasted until nearly midnight. My report on that meeting, at which the group decided to extend and expand the investigation into sexual harassment and financial misconduct claims against the group’s chairman, Bailey Stober, is here.

According to Teamsters senior business agent Tim Allen, the decision wasn’t directly related to the allegations against Stober, but had to do with the behavior of some of the group’s members and their treatment of a custodial worker who had to clean up after the group, who may have been drinking alcohol on the premises. “We have standards of conduct that people are supposed to live up to” around how guests treat the building and whether they “treat our [staffers] properly,” Allen said. “They had the whole building to clean, and usually we expect [groups that use the building] to clean up after themselves. Stober, contacted by email, said “I’ve heard varying degrees of that story” (that people were drinking, continued to do so after they were asked to stop, and left a mess), “but I can’t confirm that because I was sitting in the front of the room and have no knowledge of what was happening outside of the room.” Many other local progressive groups, including some legislative Democratic groups, have alcohol at their meetings (many provide beer or wine for a suggested donation), but some venues do not allow alcohol without a banquet license.

If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site or making a one-time contribution! 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. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

The C Is for Crank Interviews: Pat Murakami

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Image result for pat murakami seattle

Most Seattleites had probably never heard of Pat Murakami, a Mount Baker neighborhood activist and a candidate for the Seattle City Council seat held for the last two years by Lorena Gonzalez, until the Seattle Times endorsed her in July. But for those who pay attention debates over development and crime in the South End, Murakami’s name is familiar. As head of the Mount Baker Community Club and president of the South Seattle Crime Prevention Council, Murakami opposed efforts to locate Casa Latina, the day-labor center that serves primarily Spanish-speaking immigrant workers, to a site on Rainier Avenue; unsuccessfully fought El Centro De La Raza’s plans to provide services and affordable housing at the Beacon Hill light rail station; and led efforts to prevent transit-oriented development out of the Rainier Valley. In its endorsement, the Times editorial board wrote that Murakami would “broaden the council’s representation and strengthen the voice of residents who own homes as well as those who rent.”

The Times endorsement helped push Murakami through the primary with 19.71 percent of the vote, although it scarcely reduced Gonzalez’s landslide; she came out of this year’s primary with 64.17 percent of the vote, compared to 65.02 percent in 2015, when she faced a neighborhood activist opponent with similar political views, Bill Bradburd.

I sat down with Murakami, who runs an IT and computer repair firm, in her office in Georgetown.

The C Is for Crank [ECB]: I know you’re opposed to a lot of the policies the city council has adopted over the years, but what’s your specific critique of council member Gonzalez?

Pat Murakami [PM] Public safety is a big priority to me, obviously, and I don’t think she’s done enough in that role. I believe that body cameras should have been on officers a long time ago. I think we need Shot Spotter (an acoustic gunshot locator system) down here in South Seattle.

Another thing on public safety: I don’t think she’s doing anything to address major disasters like an earthquake in Seattle. I was in Alaska in 1964 [for the so-called Good Friday earthquake]. I remember that earthquake like it was yesterday, and I take disaster preparedness extremely seriously. Here, in my other office, at home, I have food, I have water, I have cookstoves and propane for heat or cooking, and I’m ready to sit in for two weeks. But we have the highest density of poverty of anywhere in the city [in South Seattle] and we don’t have the resources that the folks who don’t have the money to buy the dehydrated food would need, and we’re going to have a hot mess on our hands in South Seattle in particular.

ECB: Do you take issue with the police accountability legislation council member Gonzalez’s committee passed? What steps would you take to improve police accountability in Seattle?

PM: First, I would give credit where credit was due—the Community Police Commission wrote that legislation. Lorena likes to take credit for it. Well, passing good legislation shouldn’t give you a gold star as a city council member.  And it should have been done a long time ago. We have a serious problem. I was there testifying that [former police chief] John Diaz should not have been our chief of police. She wasn’t there. She was in Seattle at the time. She could have spoken out.

Another issue—we have we only have 60 percent of the police officers we should have. I want a fully staffed police department so they can be out in the community and engaging with people and doing preventative work—going into the schools, serving as a mentor, playing late-night basketball with the kids, talking to people on the street, like, ‘Hey, how are you doing?’ Think of the dynamic of Jackson Street. Everyone knows gang members hang out on certain parts of Jackson Street. What if there was a foot patrol officer that just kind of walks up and down the street and is talking to those men? The whole dynamic could change and they could redirect them to other activities.

“I didn’t initially like the signs, ‘Black Lives Matter,’ because I was thinking that’s one more thing that’s divisive, because all lives matter. But I’ve changed my mind and I’ve decided that until black lives matter, no lives matter.”

I know Lorena is very opposed to bringing in former members of the military, and I disagree with that. There are military people and people that served in the military, and we just need to find the ones that served in the military but are not militaristic in their approach. They actually would be further along in the training [when they join the force] and we could get them into uniform a lot sooner. We are having some problems with recruiting. We need the officers. They’re our first responders, and if there’s an emergency, almost all of our police officers live outside Seattle. So if we have an earthquake and it’s supposed to be all hands on the deck, they might not be able to even get to us, depending on conditions of the roads. Then we’ll be in big trouble. So we actually need a larger contingent of officers on the street during each shift, in the event we have something where we’re cut off.

“There are military people and people that served in the military, and we just need to find the ones that served in the military but are not militaristic in their approach. They actually would be further along in the training [when they join the force] and we could get them into uniform a lot sooner.”

ECB: Is there anything in particular you would do to accelerate police reform?

PM:  I’d like to see more citizen oversight. Let’s say an officer seemed aggressive or angry. I think minor things need to be reported and dealt with, that won’t necessarily go on their employment record, but that they should realize that they need to be more polite to whomever they’re dealing with—whether it’s somebody that just robbed somebody or they’re breaking up a fight or somebody calls them names, they still need to be polite to the person that they’re dealing with. I don’t care what kind of criminal it is. I think we need the citizen commission to do things like visit the precincts and have a conversation with the police.

I don’t think they have a single former officer on the Citizens [Police] Commission. I think we should have about two. There should not be enough of them that they can outvote the group. but have two that are former officers that have good records. so that they can explain to the folks what their perspective would have been as an officer and everyone that’s on the commission should go through the [Community] Police Academy. I think it gives you a sense of how stressful their jobs are.

I think we need we have serious problems in this country, but we also need police, and we need to have that conversation where somewhere in the middle is the right thing for our society. I think there is still too much division. I didn’t initially like the signs, ‘Black Lives Matter,’ because I was thinking that’s one more thing that’s divisive, because all lives matter. But I’ve changed my mind and I’ve decided that until black lives matter, no lives matter. So we really need some serious changes in society, and I’m willing to work on those things from a balanced perspective. I think Lorena just tends to be more anti-police, and I realize the sacrifices that good officers make.

I want junior officers, and apparently the union doesn’t want that. I want people in a white shirt that don’t carry a gun that could go to a burglary, where you know it’s safe, the burglar is long gone, and they could take the report photos and dust for prints, so then we’d have more officers [on the streets].

ECB: As an opponent of the mayor’s Housing Affordability and Livability plan, which your opponent supported, which parts of HALA would you like to revisit?

PM: I think the whole thing should be revisited. It was written by developers for developers, and we need community input. I don’t know why the city is so averse to actually listening to community members. They’ll make up all kinds of excuses, like, ‘Oh. the people in the room aren’t diverse enough, blah blah blah.’ I’m throughout this community. I have friends in subsidized housing. I have friends in a huge variety of ethnic backgrounds and races, and everybody wants the same four things. All we have to do is make decisions that help ensure that people eventually become property owners, if possible, so that they can build wealth; that their kids get to go to a good school; that they have a job that pays decent wages; and that they can live in a safe community. If we make decisions on that basis and never try just to dump stuff in one area and have one part of the community in one neighborhood bear all the burden of social problems, we’d have a better city.

My dream is: I went down to South Center, to the Olive Garden, and I looked around and was like, ‘This is like the who’s who of the United Nations. There are people from all over the world there, of all different races, and it’s not the cheapest restaurant. This is, to me, diversity. Everybody’s financially comfortable. In Seattle, the diversity is, people of color tend to be impoverished. You go over to Bellevue and you’ll see middle-class racial diversity. That is my vision.

I’d like to think about the entire community when development is done and not just the best interest of the developers. I want neighbors to have a say in where the density goes, and I want the density to fit into the neighborhood. Let’s take Eastlake, for example. You’ve got houses going up a hillside that all have views, and they’re talking about raising the height limits on everything. Why not just put all the density up against the freeway, not affect the views, and just go much higher than you were planning to along the freeway? Then they get a view and everybody down the hill maintains theirs.

“My dream is: I went down to South Center, to the Olive Garden, and I looked around and was like, ‘This is like the who’s who of the United Nations. There are people from all over the world there, of all different races, and it’s not the cheapest restaurant. This is, to me, diversity. Everybody’s financially comfortable.”

If we have people driving around and around looking for a parking spot, that’s not helping the environment. We have to have enough parking to accommodate those people. If we want our streets to be parking lots like they are in New York City, then just go ahead and develop anywhere without off-street parking. We can have the economy go to a grinding halt and force everybody out of their vehicles, but we have to face reality. We’re getting the cart before the horse too often.

ECB: What do you mean by a workable transit system?

PM: I’d like to see more connector buses. They actually cut bus lines after light rail went in, and made it more difficult for people, and I know people in my neighborhood [Mount Baker, which has a light rail station] that drove all the way to Tukwila to park for free to ride light rail into downtown. Now, how does that make environmental sense at all? They should have built parking lots near the light rail stations. There’s no parking along ML King [Jr. Way], and I know what the crimes are. Most people are mugged within 300 feet of light rail or a major bus stop, and that’s been true for years and years. I personally would not ride light rail without five other people after dark ever, okay?

ECB: Why not?

PM: People have bene mugged right after they get off, especially a woman by herself at night. I stopped wearing my necklace that my husband gave me because necklaces are literally just snatched right off your neck. You don’t take out your electronics when you’re on the light rail. The police know. They tell us there’s somebody that sits on there, they case it, they get on the phone and say, ‘Hey, I’m following this person’ and the car comes up behind. Once they’re at the stop, the guy will try to take something from the person that’s walking, and if they don’t give it freely, then the other people will get out of the car and forcefully take it, and then they hop into the car and zoom off.

I think we need to think outside the box. Maybe we need to take advantage of our topography and have aerial trams going from hilltop to hilltop. They would be a lot less expensive to put in, less intrusive, and you maybe lease space from an existing building owner and have the stop on top of their building.

ECB: What do you think of Mike O’Brien’s proposal to create more places for people living in their cars to park without getting towed away for unpaid tickets?

PM: I don’t think it’s a good idea. Not all, but some—enough—people in RVs are actually dangerous and have assaulted parking enforcement, so they’re not necessarily people that should be indefinitely in neighborhoods. That’s one issue. The biggest issue is, I don’t support anything that is going to encourage the creation of a permanent underclass. Accepting that people live in RVs and tents is wrong.

We are now getting a rat infestation problem where a lot of RVs are located. I was at a meeting in South Park and seniors were complaining that they live in a facility called Arrowhead [Gardens, run by the Seattle Housing Authority], and they couldn’t open up their windows because the stench of human feces that’s out on the street is enough to knock them over. It’s not just a public safety issue, it’s a public health issue.

“Just like with sex offenders, it’s better that everybody knows where [people with criminal records] are, versus, they could be anywhere and you don’t know who you’re getting as a potential tenant. If they’re in one place and they’re kind of being monitored, you can see if they’re going back to their old habits.”

ECB: But would you agree that the larger problem is that we don’t have adequate affordable housing, and won’t for a long time?

PM: I’ve heard that churches have been willing to host them, and we need to let them do that. [Ed: A pilot program called Road to Housing, in which churches offered spaces in their lots to people living in vehicles, only provided spaces for 12 cars.] I can’t believe the expense of what it was for the sanctioned RV sites [which the city has since abandoned]. They said it was about $1,700 a month per RV. At that amount give them a friggin’ housing voucher! And maybe they’ll be renting in Renton or Kent or Auburn but at least they’d be in decent housing. We also have surplus city property that we could be looking at. Let’s build single-occupancy boarding houses, like we used to have, and when the crisis is over with, those could be converted to youth hostels for tourists.

ECB: What do you think of the fair-chance housing legislation that just passed, which prohibits landlords from asking about a prospective tenant’s criminal history?

PM: I have mixed feelings about it. I really think that our low-income housing providers, like SHA, should take all of these folks as tenants initially, let them establish themselves back into the community, show a good year or two of credit history, that they’ve paid their rent on time, etc., and then have them go out into the general public.

ECB: It seems like that would create a weird situation for SHA residents—if you think these folks are too dangerous to be allowed to rent on the private market, why do you think low-income people should be forced to live next to them?

PM: They could have one building that’s for transitional housing and have it separated somewhat. Just like with sex offenders, it’s better that everybody knows where [people with criminal records] are, versus, they could be anywhere and you don’t know who you’re getting as a potential tenant. If they’re in one place and they’re kind of being monitored, you can see if they’re going back to their old habits. I think in some ways, there should be an exchange program so that people are sent to a new community where they’re connected with services and they get a fresh start. When they’re forced to go back to the county where they committed the offense, sometimes the easiest thing to do is go back and hang with the same people you did before, that got you into trouble in the first place.

ECB: What do you think of expanding programs like LEAD [Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion] and the therapeutic courts?

PM: I think that’s a good idea. I’d like to see more community courts and restorative justice. I think the city should fund social workers in every single school. And kids whose parents are engaged tend to be more successful in school, so we need to develop programs that help parents be successful. In the South End, for example, I think we need more acculturation classes. We’ve brought in lots of people from East Africa. Many of them are single women who lost their spouse to conflict in their home country, and they’ve not been given enough information about how things work in America. We need to empower them to stand up—like if their oldest kid is a male, they sometimes give away way too much power to the child. They still need to be a parent. We need to teach them, ‘Okay, in this country, you can’t hit your kids but you still can control them, and this is how you do it.’ There’s just so much more we could do to ensure success. Their chances of success are diminished when we’re not properly supporting them. We are really letting people fall through the cracks.

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.

Africatown, Forterra Part of Partnership to Redevelop Midtown Center

Midtown Center—the property at 23rd and Union that has been the subject of an on-again, off-again debate about how to provide new housing in the Central District without economically displacing its remaining African American residents—has been sold to Lake Union Partners for $23.25 million. LUP, in turn, will sell 20 percent of the block to the conservation nonprofit Forterra, which will then work with Africatown to transfer the property into a community development partnership.

The Lake Union Partners-owned portion of the property will include between 400 and 420 apartments, including around 125 apartments that will be affordable to people making between 60 and 85 percent of area median income, or about $40,000 to $65,000 a year, under the city’s Multifamily Tax Exemption program, which provides developers a 12-year tax break in exchange for building affordable housing, and the Mandatory Housing Affordability program, which will require that 10 percent of the units be affordable to people making 60 percent or less of the area median. (The city council has not yet approved MHA for the Central District.) The rest of the site will be developed by Forterra and Africatown, and will include between 120 and 135 apartments affordable to people making 40 percent or more of median income, or about $26,880.

As I reported back in March, the original deal for the current owners of the Midtown Center block, the Bangasser family partnership, fell apart after a dispute between the Bangassers and Africatown, which led protests against the family when it changed the locks on a space occupied (though not formally leased) by the business incubator Black Dot and, in a separate action, evicted Omari Tahir Garrett, father of Africatown leader K. Wyking Garrett, from the house where he had been living without paying rent since at least 2012.

The increasingly heated dispute makes it appear highly unlikely that Africatown will be successful in its efforts to partner in the redevelopment of Midtown Center, which requires cooperation from the Bangasser family members who control Midtown Center. (Tom Bangasser was removed as controlling partner on the family partnership last year). The latest clash between the Garretts and the Bangassers comes just two weeks after Africatown and Forterra announced plans to buy the Midtown Center property, and just a month after a deal to redevelop the property involving Africatown, Miami-based multifamily housing developer Lennar Communities, and Regency Centers, which was planning to purchase the property from the Bangassers, fell through.

The original plan for the site would have included 475 apartments, some of them affordable, along space for small retail businesses.

In a statement, Mayor Ed Murray said the development “will ensure that 23rd and Union remains connected to Seattle’s cultural heritage and ongoing struggle for racial justice and equity of opportunity.”

The proposal now enters the long approval process, starting with design review, which will begin this fall.

If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site! 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 substantial time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as costs like transportation, equipment, travel costs, website maintenance, and other expenses associated with my reporting. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support!

The C Is for Crank Interviews: Cary Moon

Cary Moon, a civic activist and urban planner best known for leading the fight against the downtown tunnel (read my 2004 story about that effort here) is an unlikely candidate for mayor. A wonk who recently cowrote a four-part series about neoliberalism and gentrification for the Stranger, Moon has never made herself the center of attention, and seems more comfortable debating the granular details of housing policy than she does speaking directly into a camera, as she did in the video announcing her candidacy. She’s running, she says, because she wants to address the growing divide between Seattle’s “haves and have-nots,” with progressive taxation, a crackdown on speculative property buyers, and by having a conversation with Seattle residents about “what kind of city we want to be.” I spoke to Moon by phone on Thursday.

The C Is for Crank: A lot of people seem to be jumping in to this race because they perceive that Murray is newly vulnerable. Do you have a specific critique of Murray’s record and positions?

Cary Moon (CM): I think he has done quite a bit and he deserves to be proud of that. He’s made a lot of good changes for the future. [But] I feel like we have had a lot of big, transformative changes in the city. We’ve become a city of haves and have-nots, and I don’t think he has the right analysis of why that’s happening. I feel like in a time of change, we need a really strong vision and idea of what we’re aiming for, and we need an action plan to get there, so people feel like they have a voice on housing affordability, and on building a local economy that circulates [wealth] back into small businesses and local businesses. There’s things the city and state could and should be doing to increase the ability of the city to share prosperity.

“Housing used to be local. It used to be local players, building housing for local people. Now they’re acting more and more like Wall Street, where outside predators are piling on just left and right.”

ECB: Can you give some specific examples of times when Murray has used the wrong analysis to inform his policy choices?

CM: I think we missed some opportunities with HALA. There’s some good things in it. I like the mandatory affordability proposal. I like the proposals about what to do in single-family zoning to add townhouses and duplexes and accessory dwelling units—building the missing middle. But I think we’re missing some good opportunities. We’re not really understanding everything that’s driving up demand. So yes, let’s build houses for everyone who wants to live here, but there are other causes that are escalating housing prices that the city is not considering. We need to figure out what to do with those.

ECB: Like what?

CM: If you look at what’s happening in other world-class cities, you see this phenomenon of outside investors piling on and taking advantage of everyone wanting to move here. It’s just like Wall Street—when Wall Street sees a stock go up two days in a row, all of Wall Street piles on to that stock. That same phenomenon is going on in our housing market.

Housing used to be local. It used to be local players, building housing for local people. Now they’re acting more and more like Wall Street, where outside predators are piling on just left and right.

ECB:  You’ve mentioned this theory before—that foreign investors from places like China are snapping up properties here as investments and leaving them vacant, which helps drive up housing prices. But all the available data seems to show that while this is happening in Vancouver, it isn’t happening here. I’m not saying it couldn’t happen in the future, but what evidence do you have that so-called hot money is driving up housing prices now?

CM: I don’t have any secret information that nobody else has, but the dynamic is there. I’ve read enough articles that have said that investors that have been in Vancouver are now looking at other cities, and Seattle is one of their choices. It’s not just hot money, it’s not just foreign investors, but everything has changed in the last 10 years. It used to be, you buy property, you build a building, you get a certain rate of return, and you get your money back, maybe 7 percent in 20  years. It’s completely different now. Now, you buy a building and sell it right away, and the return on investment comes not from the slow, long revenue stream of rents coming in, but from the quick turn of selling at a higher rate and doing the same thing again and again and again and again. Our development world is behaving more like Wall Street than it used to. It’s developers leaving buildings vacant, it’s people buying investment properties, it’s Airbnb, it’s people building second and third and fourth homes that might not have anybody living in them for most of the year. Real estate is a great place to put your money, if you have money.

“It’s very attractive to anybody that’s trying to find a place to live that’s affordable, so everyone piles on. ‘We can live in the Central District. It’s close to downtown, close to work.’ It’s escalating.”

ECB: Isn’t the bigger problem that a lot more people want to live here, and that housing supply isn’t keeping up with demand? Wouldn’t the obvious solution to that be just—build more housing?

CM: I think people are moving here because there are jobs here, and that’s great—I don’t want people to stop moving here—but there’s additional pressure on neighborhoods that have been traditionally redlined, where society and government and banks and the real estate industry kept prices low and kept segregation happening, and now those prices are different than the rest of Seattle. It’s very attractive to anybody that’s trying to find a place to live that’s affordable, so everyone piles on. ‘We can live in the Central District. It’s close to downtown, close to work.’ It’s escalating. We need to take a very careful look at what can we do to preserve access to the neighborhood for people from the community, with cultural ties and family ties in the community, so that we’re not blasting out those people and filling the neighborhood up with a bunch of wealthy white people.

ECB: So what do you propose to prevent displacement from those communities?

CM: Strong tenants’ protection rights are a part of it. I think looking at rent stabilization—not rent control, but are there things you can do to dampen rent escalation, to slow it down? Are there things you can do with the community to benefit the people from the community that already live there? There are a lot of subtle things that you can do that are going to benefit folks from the community.

I think [HALA] wasn’t enough. I think it was a good step. But where we were three years ago when HALA started—that was as far as developers were willing to go. I would like to revisit and look at some of the solutions we proposed, things we didn’t do yet in single-family-zoned lands, like townhouses and duplexes and accessory dwelling units. I want to have that conversation.

ECB: Those things were all originally part of HALA, and they all got shot down during that process. How would revisiting HALA change that outome?

CM: I think it’s a matter of leadership and vision. The way I think people perceived HALA was that it was a power struggle between stakeholders, and everybody fighting for their own interests. I would like to set aside that way of operating for a minute and ask the people of Seattle what kind of city we want to be. How do we want to welcome young families? How do we want to welcome all communities and restart this debate towards a constructive goal around what kind of city we want to be? We need to change the framework, change the context, and talk to  people about what kind of city we want to be.

ECB: Homelessness has become a huge issue during Murray’s term. What do you think of his approach to homelessness—from the ongoing sweeps of homeless encampments to Pathways Home, which focuses on rapid rehousing and rebidding city contracts with service providers?

CM: The proposal that was put forward by the organizations involved in homelessness and Mike O’Brien and the ACLU—that was much closer to what we should be doing. I would like to go back to that proposal and figure out the best way to do this in a way that respects people’s human rights and dignity.

[In general] ,my feeling is that there are a few things we need to do differently. First, we need to get better data, a better sense of collaboration, and a commitment to those values across city agencies and the nonprofit community and providers. It feels like Barb Poppe was possibly right that there was a lot of duplication of effort and a need for efficiencies. I like the idea of housing first—people need shelter to get back on their feet, and you can’t really accomplish anything if you don’t have a place to sleep. I like low-barrier shelters, and I like the idea of looking at the shelters where people are staying for months and months and months and not moving. I like the idea of figuring out what those folks need to do to move on.

I’m concerned about the voucher system. Unless we address the root cause of affordability, vouchers are not going to do it. Vouchers might work for a family that just had a temporary crisis and lost their job and had a fairly easy time getting back on their feet. But for people whose incomes are low and are going to stay low, the voucher system is very impractical. We need to figure out how to build more affordable housing or people are going to be back out on the street.

“Low-income people, middle-income people, have been generous enough. They pay, as a proportion of their income, seven times more than wealthy people do in taxes.”

ECB: You and ex-mayor McGinn hold a lot of the same views, support many of the same policy positions, and seem likely to draw support from the same set of progressive young urbanists and social justice advocates. What distinction would you draw for voters who are torn between you and him?

I’m wondering what he’s all about with his slogan of Keep Seattle, because it’s signaling, like, a direction I don’t quite understand. We might have a lot more policy differences than I thought we did. Definitely, our style of leadership is different. I want to build will and momentum toward a common vision, and I think he loves the street fight of scrappy power struggles. And I believe I have a much deeper analysis of how to tackle the affordable housing crisis and how to build affordable housing. I’ve spent the last two years working on that as well as democracy reform—how to spread power across spectrum, not just to wealthy white people.

ECB: Do you agree with McGinn that people in Seattle are overtaxed, and that the city should adopt an income tax, even one that’s unlikely to hold up in court?

CM: I see the same problem as he does. Low-income people, middle-income people, have been generous enough. They pay, as a proportion of their income, seven times more than wealthy people do in taxes. I want to have a big, broad conversation with the city and all the most creative lawyers in the city about how do we do this. Wealthy people should be paying their fair share, and a lot of wealthy people believe that too. We have to build the public will and the right legal strategy. I’ve heard that a capital gains tax is a better place to start [than income tax] because it’s more likely to hold up, but I need more information on that. I would say yes, I’m for finding new sources that are more progressive.

 

ECB: When they were teasing your candidacy before you announced, Moxie Media described you as a “well-resourced” candidate. How much of your own money are you willing to put into this race?

CM: I don’t know. I’m fundraising like hell, because that’s important to building commitment and credibility and expanding the movement. I’m going to do that first.

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How Seattle Is Dismantling a NIMBY Power Structure

Seattle Department of Neighborhoods Director Kathy Nyland (Credit: The Rose Center for Public Leadership)

This story first appeared on Next City as part a series focused on community-engaged design made possible with the support of the Surdna Foundation.

For decades, activist homeowners have held virtual veto power over nearly every decision on Seattle’s growth and development.

In large and small ways, these homeowners, who tend to be white, more affluent and older than the average resident, have shaped neighborhoods in their reflection — building a city that is consistently rated as one of the nation’s most livable, as well as one of its most expensive.

Now — in the face of an unprecedented housing crisis and a dramatic spike in homelessness — that may be starting to change.

Last July, Mayor Ed Murray and the director of the city’s Department of Neighborhoods, Kathy Nyland, announced that Seattle was cutting formal ties with, and funding for, the 13 volunteer Neighborhood District Councils that had been the city’s chief sounding boards on neighborhood planning since the 1990s. Through this bureaucratic sleight of hand, Murray and Nyland signaled their intent to seek more input and feedback from lower-income folks, people of color and renters — who now make up 54 percent of the city — and away from the white baby boomers who have long dominated discussions about Seattle’s future. The message: We appreciate your input, but we’re going to get a second opinion.

A few months later, the Department of Neighborhoods doubled down on its commitment to community engagement, putting out a call for volunteers to serve on a new 16-member Community Involvement Commission, which will be charged with helping city departments develop “authentic and thorough” ways to reach “all” city residents, including underrepresented communities such as low-income people, homeless residents and renters. Finally, DON will also oversee and staff a second new commission, the Seattle Renters’ Commission, which will advise all city departments on policies that affect renters and monitor the enforcement and effectiveness of the city’s renter protection laws.

The shakeup has rattled traditional neighborhood groups, which have grown accustomed to outsized influence at City Hall, and invigorated some groups that have long felt ignored and marginalized by the city.

The shift toward a more inclusive neighborhoods department, and neighborhood planning process, is more than just symbolic; it’s political. The homeowner-dominated neighborhood councils have typically argued against land use changes that would allow more density (in the form of townhouses and apartment buildings) in and near Seattle’s traditional single-family neighborhoods, which make up nearly two-thirds of the city. Including more renters and low-income people in the mix could dilute, or even upend, those groups’ agendas.

“Our city has changed dramatically since our district councils system was created three decades ago, and we have seen them over time become less and less representative not only of their neighborhoods but of Seattle itself,” Murray said last year.

His statement echoed a point Nyland made in a memo to the City Council back in May: “We have heard from residents active in the system that ‘District Councils work for us.’ … However, they don’t work for everyone.”

Nyland should know. She came up through the council system, first getting involved in the Georgetown Community Council where she questioned the purpose of a new trash dump in the largely industrial neighborhood where she lived and owned a boutique called George with her partner, Holly. She also got involved with the Greater Duwamish District Council and helped fight down a proposal that would have turned Georgetown into the city’s official strip club district. She eventually became the chair of the citywide Neighborhood Community Council, and recalls sending emails “at 1 in the morning in my pajamas sitting in my living room, because that’s when I had time to do it.

“We have systems in place that are not easy to navigate,” Nyland says, and people in established groups who say that “people are just choosing not to come to the meetings. … What if someone works at night? What if someone has kids and can’t get a babysitter? What if someone can’t speak English? What if someone just didn’t know about the meetings? They’re not making a choice not to come. They can’t come!”

 

Mohamud Yusuf came to Seattle as a refugee from Somalia by way of Nairobi, Kenya, in 1996, when the Somali community in Seattle was still “very small,” he recalls. Today, his community is thriving in areas like southeast Seattle, which is still one of the most affordable parts of the city, although rising costs are pushing many immigrants and refugees farther south, outside Seattle. Yusuf was a writer, activist and photojournalist in Somalia in the 1980s and 1990s, and 10 years ago, he started a newspaper called Runta News; “runta,” in Somali, means “the truth.” Today, Yusuf also works as a community liaison to the city, earning $50 an hour to connect community members to city programs and services.

The changes at City Hall excite Yusuf. “I’ve been involved in the community since I was here but I’ve never seen this kind of involvement,” he says. “What we needed was to be included, to be at the table and have a voice.”

Credit: Alex Garland

Mohamud Yusuf came to Seattle as a refugee from Somalia in the 1990s and now works as a community liaison to the city.

Yusuf recounts a recent effort to get the Somali community involved in a long-range plan for Seattle Public Utilities, which provides the city’s trash service and drinking water. Instead of just making materials available in Somali and other languages upon request, the city sent outreach workers to meet with community members where they already were — in neighborhood community centers, in libraries and during English-language classes at the local Goodwill — and talked with them, in their own language, about what forthcoming changes will mean. They taught the immigrants how the city’s sanitation system works too, equipping residents with knowledge they will be able to use next time there is a question about trash collection or clean water in their community.

“The people I talked to were so happy to know more about where the water goes,” Yusuf says. “They would say, ‘We all know our garbage goes away, but we didn’t know where it was going. We are drinking clean water now at home, but we didn’t know who was doing it.”

Nyland’s reform can be traced back to a 2009 audit of the district councils that found an obsolete system that did not reflect the city’s true demographics. “The system is dominated by the presence of longtime members whose point of view is overly dominant at both the district council and city neighborhood council levels and potentially not representative of their communities,” the city audit found. “The district councils in general are not sufficiently representative of the communities they nominally represent,” it concluded.

The disconnect was even deeper in 2016, when a report by the neighborhoods department found that while the population of Seattle was becoming younger, more diverse and more evenly split between homeowners and renters, “residents attending district council meetings tend to be 40 years of age or older, Caucasian and homeowners.”

“If you’ve ever gone to some of these community meetings, they’re just deadly dull, and the same 25 people have been there for 100 years,” City Council Member Sally Bagshaw says.

At a meeting of the Ballard District Council in northwest Seattle immediately after the announcement, district council members seemed shell-shocked by the city’s decision to cut them off. Sitting around a horseshoe of tables at the area’s branch library in northwest Seattle, they took turns grousing about the change. One member argued that the mostly white, mostly middle-aged council should be considered diverse, because “this group represents homeowners, environmental groups, businesses and other organizations.” “We have people here from every state,” he added. Another suggested that the city had made the move in haste, without a plan to replace the councils. “If you’re going to get rid of the current plan, you need to have a new plan in place before you get rid of the old one,” he said.

“Right now, we’re just planting seeds. We might not see the results for a long time.”

At another recent meeting of the group formerly known as the Magnolia/Queen Anne District Council, which represents a wealthy enclave just south of Ballard, one member asked plaintively, “Why do we have to encourage certain groups to come? Why can’t it just be an open forum?”

In a sense, traditional neighborhood groups are right to feel threatened. Nyland’s announcement, coupled with her department’s new emphasis on outreach to communities that have rarely had a say in city decisions, represents a fundamental shift in the very definition of the “neighborhoods” department. By emphasizing outreach to underserved groups such as renters, immigrants and refugees, Nyland is shaking up traditional notions of community engagement and redefining community as something based not on geographic proximity, but on personal and cultural affinity.

“It’s kind of taking off in a way that I can’t keep up with,” says Sahar Fathi, a member of Nyland’s team. “We get a lot of emails from people who are like, ‘We want this to come to our community. We’re starting to go into places where people have never heard of us, and they don’t even know what government services are” — including, she says, “communities we didn’t even know existed.” In Seattle, a city of about 650,000, 25,000 residents were born in another country; of the 120 languages spoken there, the city’s liaisons collectively speak at least 65.

Fathi is one of Seattle’s relative newcomers. The Boston-born Iranian-American moved to the Emerald City a decade ago, when she was in her early 20s. After a stint as a legislative aide to City Council Member Mike O’Brien and an unsuccessful run for the State House of Representatives, she put her background as a lawyer and immigrant rights advocate to work as a policy analyst for the city’s Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs. These days, Fathi oversees DON’s Public Outreach and Engagement Liaison program, which recruits and pays community members like Yusuf to serve as links between the city and marginalized groups. The liaisons’ job duties include everything from driving people to resource fairs where they can sign up for city assistance programs, to facilitating meetings at community gathering places and interpreting for city staffers, to engaging people in their first language in larger community discussions over neighborhood spending, parks programs, and planning debates.

“Before, the city would say, ‘We have a pedestrian master plan meeting, and we want people to come and give us feedback,’” Fathi says. “With all due respect to the pedestrian master plan, there are a lot of people who can barely afford to pay rent. So how do we meet people’s needs first and then build their capacity” to come to meetings about city policies that affect their neighborhoods.

Seattle’s modern neighborhood movement dates back to at least the late 1980s, when then-Mayor Charles Royer appointed neighborhood activist Jim Diers to head up the new Department of Neighborhoods and create the 13 neighborhood district councils and a citywide council made up of representatives from all the councils. Ever since, the district councils have enjoyed outsized influence at City Hall, staking out and defining “neighborhood” positions on issues and channeling city grant dollars toward their own pet projects, such as National Night Out events, neighborhood welcome signs and security lighting.

For decades, the councils advised the neighborhoods department on what “the neighborhoods” wanted, and if that advice happened to coincide precisely with the interests of the comfortable, white homeowners who dominated the council, nobody at the city seemed to mind. The councils frequently advocated against zoning changes to allow more development in or near the city’s single-family neighborhoods, including Murray’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda, which would upzone much of the city and require developers to build affordable rental housing. Neighborhood activists have shown up in force at council meetings and community briefings by city staff to oppose the HALA recommendations, and one neighborhood group has successfully sued to block an approved HALA rule change that would make it easier for homeowners to build backyard cottages.

In recent years, though, groups that have traditionally been left out of the process have started demanding seats at the table, including advocates for transit-oriented development and immigrants and refugees, and renters. At a recent City Council briefing on the new renters’ commission, Erin House, a renter, told the council, “I see conversations at both City Hall and in neighborhoods dominated by homeowners, often at the expense of renters’ best interests. As a city, we need to find ways to correct this trend and give renters a seat at the table on conversations about Seattle’s future.”

Last year’s announcement severing ties with the neighborhood councils was a first step in that direction. For the first time since its inception in the late ’80s, the city’s neighborhoods department would spend as much time engaging with underrepresented communities as it did listening to the concerns of white property owners.

“DON has great programs,” Nyland says, “but the department has not evolved with the changing demographics of the city.”

Nyland’s department is small relative to other city agencies, but it has found ways to connect with residents without a huge infrastructure. Ice cream giveaways at summer events. Crowd canvassing at the West Seattle Farmers Market. Plopping down in a temporary parklet on the annual (PARK)ing day. And partnering with organizations like the local Goodwill training center once a quarter, to offer services and information about opportunities to get involved with city initiatives. Some of the department’s efforts have had mixed success. A recent push to engage people of color and low-income residents in the HALA planning process fizzled after the city failed to adequately prepare new participants and follow up when they stopped showing up. But others have been effective at getting new people connected to City Hall.

Nyland notes that many people bemoan the loss of neighborhood service centers, the “little city halls” where residents could talk to city staffers face-to-face. Most of those closed down years ago, the victims of city budget cuts and a population that increasingly does business with government online. Today, Nyland says, what people need more than storefronts is opportunities to engage with the city on their own time. That means telephone town halls instead of in-person presentations by city staffers; online surveys instead of public comment cards; and Skype calls instead of nighttime meetings in library activity rooms and church basements.

“My mantra is, people should be able to participate on their own timeline, from their own location,” Nyland says. “DON has been in existence for 30 years, and it has a lot of really important programs, but I think its mission and its purpose has gotten lost. We haven’t kept up with change. We haven’t refreshed. … I mean, I can’t force people to participate, but we can create opportunities to make it easier.”

At the most recent Goodwill event, Fathi says, the public outreach liaisons came in and took over the second hour of a group of immigrants’ English as a Second Language class. First, they talked briefly — in 17 different languages — about the mayor’s upcoming education summit, which aimed to find solutions to address racial disparities in Seattle schools. Then, they signed the residents up for “all the services the city had to offer” — utility discounts, low-income transit passes and summer programs for kids. This may seem superficially unrelated to the kind of community building and neighborhood planning that is DON’s primary mission, but Fathi says it isn’t. “There are a lot of people who can barely afford to pay rent, so we ask ourselves, how do we meet people’s needs first and then build that capacity, and we think being a good government neighbor is the first step.”

But what the next step holds is a question that some critics say hasn’t yet been substantively answered. Dustin Washington is an experienced community organizer in Seattle and the director of the American Friends Service Committee’s local community justice program. He used to be a member of a race and social justice roundtable created by Murray and is no stranger to City Council. To him, DON’s community outreach efforts are little more than meaningless lip service to cover for the mayor’s pro-gentrification, developer-friendly agenda. “When the mayor and the City Council want to engage with developers — the folks who really hold the power in the city — they don’t have to create any of these mechanisms,” Washington says. “You can set up any mechanism that you want, but I don’t think this mayor is truly interested in engaging with voices that have been left out of the process.”

In many ways, community activists who question the mayor’s sincerity and neighborhood activists who think the mayor is trying to shut them out are coming from the same place — a profound skepticism that the city is interested in hearing what they have to say. Nyland says she understands those concerns. “Right now, we’re just planting seeds,” she says. “We might not see the results for a long time.” Nyland urges skeptics on both sides to be patient and give her a chance to earn their trust.

Over in Magnolia, at the meeting of the group formerly known as the Magnolia/Queen Anne District Council (they’re still searching for a new name), members spent more than an hour crafting a new vision statement to reflect their new mission as an organization. On the second pass, they came up with this: “This group is a catalyst for enhancing quality of life and community building by being a forum for all voices, leading to effective influence on government and in our communities through innovation, education and advocacy.” Hardly a full-throated endorsement of Nyland’s agenda, but it’s a start.