Morning Crank: Just the Highlights

1. The HIGHLIGHT of last night’s mayoral debate at Seattle University, which I live-tweeted (Storify here): When “establishment” candidate Jenny Durkan, an activist for LGBT rights before she became a US Attorney under Obama, turned to her opponent Cary Moon and said, “Part of me wants to say, when did you get woke, because I’ve been working on these issues for 20 to 30 years in this city.” Durkan was responding to Moon’s sound bite about sharing power with all races and genders to create an racially and socially equitable city government.

2. The HIGHLIGHT of King County Superior Court judge Veronica Alicea Galván’s ruling against proponents of Initiative 27, which would have barred safe consumption sites throughout King County: The section explaining exactly why restricting the county’s spending power by banning safe consumption sites “impinges on the legislative authority of the county,” goes beyond the authority of local initiatives by attempting “usurp state law,” and conflicts with a state supreme court ruling that upheld the right of local public health authorities to respond to public health crises like the opiate epidemic. “Accordingly, I-27 in its entirety extends beyond the scope of local initiative power,” the ruling concludes.

3. The HIGHLIGHT of my conversation about the proposed First Avenue Streetcar with former Transportation Choices Coalition director-turned council land use chair Rob Johnson yesterday was his exasperated response to streetcar critics who say the city should return $50 million in federal money because it’s unclear where ongoing funding for streetcar operations will come from:

“All these capital projects come with a level of risk. … How come we’re not having those same discussions about Lander Street [a $123 million overpass project that was planned long before it received full funding]? We always pick on transit projects to ask these fundamental structural questions, but we never do that for road projects. We didn’t spend 25  minutes talking about Lander today. Instead, we spent 25 minutes talking about the streetcar. … It feels like this project is being singled out unfairly. So if my colleagues are going to continue down that path, we need to do it for all these other major capital projects.”

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: Jenny Durkan

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 doing projects like this interview series, which included conversations with all the candidates for city council, city attorney, and mayor. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers like you. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

Former US attorney Jenny Durkan has been pigeonholed—unfairly, she says—as the “conservative” candidate in the race for mayor, where “conservative” is a term broad enough to include a longtime activist for LGBT causes, former Obama appointee, and advocate for supervised drug consumption sites. She’s caught flak for her style (too stiff and inauthentic, some say), her views on homelessness (more conservative than ex-mayor Ed Murray’s, by some measures) and her tendency to respond to questions in elliptical, lawyerly soundbites (many of which have been edited out of this interview, because nobody wants to read those.) As the candidate with the support of Seattle’s business establishment (as well as most of the local labor groups), she’s also widely considered the frontrunner in the race, and has enjoyed a large spending advantage over her opponent Cary Moon—in addition to outraising Moon in absolute dollars ($727,689 to Moon’s $231,331, of which $111,521 is Moon’s own money), a business backed political action committee, People for Jenny Durkan, has raised $124,600 so far for an independent-expenditure campaign on Durkan’s behalf.

I sat down with Durkan in September.

The C Is for Crank [ECB]: There has been a lot of talk by candidates this year about revisiting the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda, particularly the amount of affordable housing developers should have to provide and whether single-family areas should be opened up to other types of development, like duplexes and row houses. Would you revisit any part of the HALA agreement?

JD: I never use the word ‘revisit.’ I think it is absolutely clear that we cannot bring on board the number of affordable housing units we need without the private sector participating strongly, and the only way you’re to do that is through a series of incentives. So I think we have to keep the part of HALA that is going to give us the ability to bring on more affordable housing, and as we roll it out, we have to make sure that there aren’t unintended consequences—that we aren’t impacting neighborhoods, communities, or families in ways that we didn’t think about.

I think we just have to make sure that we are looking at it how we implement it and make sure it makes sense. We’re getting two, three, four, five years away from when the deal was made and the marketplace is growing. So have we gotten that ratio of required housing and public benefit for housing right, or is there more room there? Should we have transportation impact fees? Should we have park impact fees? We  don’t want to kill the development, because there’s no question that we’re going to get more dense, but as we do that, can we squeeze out of that growth the benefits we need [such as] affordable housing [and] transit-oriented development?

ECB: Do you think Murray made the wrong decision by taking a proposal to allow duplexes and other modest density in single-family areas off the table, and would you revisit that decision?

JD: I think it was the smart thing politically to pull that off the table, because I think the whole thing would have collapsed if the mandatory [affordable housing] fees collapsed. We would not have the resources to bring on anywhere near the affordable housing we need. To pull the rug out from under the deal and be left with nothing—it would have crushed us as city.

ECB: Murray also cut ties with the neighborhood district councils, which prompted quite a backlash from single-family homeowners who say their views are no longer being heard at City Hall. Would you restore city funding and support for those groups?

JD: I would have neighborhood councils. They’d be configured differently, but I think we suffer way too much from top-down right now, and part of the reason there is so much anxiety in neighborhoods and communities is the city has quit listening to the neighborhoods’ needs. I’ll give you an example. I was down in Rainier Beach the other day and I spent several hours with the community and youth down there, because when I was US Attorney, I’d helped them get a grant for youth violence prevention, and I wanted to get updated on what’s working and  what’s not working. And they’ve done amazing things. Even with the huge amount of displacement, the increased violence, the deaths they’d seen, the community is fighting to maintain its place.

“What I hear from West Seattle, Ballard, Greenwood, Capitol Hill—everyone feels like they’re not being listened to, and I think you have to do that. Government exists to serve the people.”

 

But they’re not getting the help they need from the city, because the city has quit listening to them. From the activists to the kids, you will hear, ‘We think we’ve figured out a path out for youth violence prevention, for activating our corners, for having corner greeters, for empowering businesses, for helping bring business back here. I think that the support the city had historically given them has eroded. You can’t do neighborhood work from city hall. While you have to have a vision and policy that works for the whole city and move people beyond some of their own vested interests, you also have to listen to what they think the solutions are for their own communities and neighborhoods.

ECB: So did Murray’s decision to take some power away from the neighborhood councils make that harder?

JD: No, again, I really want to make clear that I don’t want to talk in terms of, ‘Do you agree with what Ed did?’ I’m telling you what I would do. I think you have to have a very vibrant Department of Neighborhoods that works with people in communities and listens to people and talks to people. As I understand it, in some neighborhoods, it became the same people showing up all the time, so it was a very limited spectrum of voices. My view is, the answer is not to shut down those voices—the answer is to bring more people in. Maybe not at the same room at the same time, but you can have more meetings at different times. You can have virtual meetings. You reach out in all the ways you can to get more voices in. What I hear from West Seattle, Ballard, Greenwood, Capitol Hill—everyone feels like they’re not being listened to, and I think you have to do that. Government exists to serve the people.

ECB: Opponents of supervised drug consumption sites have filed an initiative to ban the sites throughout King County. What’s your take on that lawsuit, and do you think Seattle will ever actually get a supervised-consumption site?

JD: I think the city of Seattle should consider joining that suit and challenge it in their own right. [Ed: Since our conversation, the city has expressed its intent to join the lawsuit.]

[Beyond that,] I don’t think they have the ability to stop the city from doing what it wants. If I’m mayor, we’re going to go ahead [with a supervised consumption site] and we’ll take the legal challenge, because the city of Seattle does not depend on King County for its rights. It has its own statutory rights, and one of those is to decide what it needs to do for the public health and safety of its people.

There’s no question in my mind that consumption sites are something we need to have as part of the health care response to a health crisis on our streets. Right now, we’re in a place where we give clean needles to people and tell them, ‘Go use it in the car, in the doorways, in the parks.’ It makes no sense. And for me, what’s most important is, if you read the task force recommendations, it’s not just a place where people can go and use drugs. It is a place where there will be health care workers, where they may get hooked up with addiction services and counseling and treatment. It may not ‘take’ the first time, the third time, the fifth time, the tenth time, but for somebody, it might eventually work, and that’s what we have to provide them, is that option. And they will never get it if they’re in the doorway or on the street corner.

 

“I think it was the smart thing politically to pull [allowing duplexes and row houses in single-family areas] off the table, because I think [HALA] would have collapsed.”

 

Right now, it’s being portrayed in such an unfair way. People might be surprised that a former federal prosecutor would say we should do this, but what is the alternative? I live downtown right now. My partner and I went out to dinner the night before last. In a three-block walk, we saw three different homeless people shooting up heroin, three who probably just had, and a couple of people looking to score. That’s in three blocks! What we’re doing right now is not working, and what we did in the ’90s didn’t work. I was in the front row. I was a criminal defense lawyer and saw that the war on drugs was really a war on addicts, and that’s who we locked up. And if we don’t have public health response to this crisis, we will end up in the same bad place. So we have to try things that are different. Will it work perfectly? Absolutely not. Is one site enough? Of course it’s not. But we have to show that there can be a different response that might work for some people some of the time.

ECB: Do you think the city has been moving in the right direction on homelessness, in terms of both encampment sweeps and the way the city spends its service dollars?

JD: I think what we’ve been doing on homelessness isn’t working. I think we have not done some of the really hard things we have to do to really move the dial. Number one is, we have to get real and we have to get forward-leaning on addiction services and mental health services.

I think the Navigation Teams are a mechanism for trying something different, and I think that from all the reports I’ve heard, from people who’ve been working with them, they’ve had some good successes. In my view, we have to get people out of tents and into treatment. When I talk to the various providers and the people working with the homeless, their estimates are that a significant majority of the hard-core chronic homeless are suffering either from mental illness, drug problems, or a combination of the two.

 

ECB: You’ve opposed opening up the police union contracts to observation and participation by the public. Given that the police department is still under a federal consent decree and the police union has been reluctant to institute reforms, why do you oppose opening up the contracts, and what would you do to increase transparency at SPD?

 

JD: There is no question, with Trump as president and the Janus decision coming down, that the right-to-work forces are going to be emboldened and they’re going to be coming after workers’ rights. In that context, I think it is irresponsible for anyone to say, ‘Let’s do their work for them and open up collective bargaining.’

Second, I’ve tried to talk to [reform advocates] and say, ‘Okay, what parts of police reform are they not doing because it’s against their contract?’ And the answer I’ve gotten back is, ‘Nothing.’ So the question of whether we can see what they’re bargaining is separate from the question of whether they’re doing it and if it’s effective. Going into police reform, we had a list of things we had to do, and so it wasn’t a question about, were they going to do them? A judge was ordering them to do it. So then the only part we aren’t seeing is what are we going to pay them to do it. And that all comes out when the city council has to vote on it, so there is more transparency than people think there is. My question would be, what things do people feel they don’t know?

 

“I’ve tried to talk to [reform advocates] and say, ‘Okay, what parts of police reform are they not doing because it’s against their contract?’ And the answer I’ve gotten back is, ‘Nothing.’ So the question of whether we can see what they’re bargaining is separate from the question of whether they’re doing it and if it’s effective.”

 

ECB: One thing we don’t know might be whether the city is going to pay cops a huge bonus just for wearing body cameras, for example.

JD: But we will know that when the contract gets presented and has to be voted on. We’re not in the room, but we set out the guiding principles—which I think the public has a right to do—and we see things that are going to be in the contract. Once we have the inspector general stood up, once we have the [Community Police Commission] more fully staffed, part of their function is going to be setting what those goals and policies are going to be. There will be transparency into that, because their job is to bring in the voices of the community and to report back. So we have built in already, I think, the ability to have more transparency, and I think some people just aren’t aware of it.

ECB: If the issue isn’t the police contract, then why do you think we’re stalled on police reform?

JD: I actually don’t think we’re stalled on police reform. I think we’re stalled on implementing some of the ordinances that I think will give greater civilian accountability. [Ed: The city can’t implement police-reform legislation until Judge James Robart signs off on the proposed reforms.] In terms of what’s actually happening on the ground—de-escalation policies, crisis intervention training, body cams—it’s all moving forward.

ECB: If that’s true, then how do you explain incidents where de-escalation training clearly didn’t work, like the shooting of Charleena Lyles?

JD: The Charleena Lyles thing shows us that reform is never done. Since the changes [requiring SPD officers to go through crisis intervention training], significant uses of force are down 60 percent in three years. That’s amazing. Charleena Lyles was a horrible, horrible crisis. I think we failed her as a society in so many ways even before the police got to the door. She had been living on the street, and she got into housing, but clearly still had issues with domestic violence, mental health issues, a single mom, and from what I can tell from the public record, about the only time she got provided services was when she was arrested and in jail. That’s the only time we as a society did anything for her. And so we have to change that equation where, if we are going to get people off the street and into housing, we also have to provide them the social services, the network, the support that they need day to day.

 

ECB: Your opponent has said she’ll expedite Sound Transit delivery to Ballard and West Seattle by loaning Sound Transit funds to build those segments more quickly. What would you do to help Seattle get its final two segments of light rail faster?

JD: The way we can best speed up ST3 is through accelerating the siting process. That’s the longest lead time that you have in these megaprojects, and we unfortunately tend to do those things very sequentially—environmental impact statement, community input, three different site alternatives, then SDOT weighs in… We can’t afford to do that. If I’m mayor, we’re going to try to do things, instead of sequentially, in collaboration. We know where the lines are going and there’s only so many locations that the transit stations can go. Let’s start doing the process now. Let’s not wait for all the alternatives. Let’s start engaging the noisy neighborhoods and the community voices now, and start having that robust dialogue. If you wait for two years, three years to engage, then you getting those intractable fights that seem to delay things forever. With these big projects, if you let them get away from you, they will get away from you. If you deal them at the beginning, you can impact how long they take.

 

 

Morning Crank: “Debt Is Still Debt.”

Cary Moon and Jenny Durkan at last night’s League of Women Voters forum, which I livetweeted at twitter.com/ericacbarnett.

Editor’s note/correction: I’ve been informed that the Mike O’Brien who commented on Sightline’s website about impact fees is not city council member Mike O’Brien but a different Mike O’Brien. I regret the error and have removed the item referring to the comment, which made an analogy between development and guns.

1. The conventional narrative in the mayor’s race is that former US Attorney Jenny Durkan is the “big money candidate,” backed by big corporate contributions, and that urban planner Cary Moon is running a people-powered, grassroots campaign backed primarily by small contributions from individual donors.

It’s undeniable that Durkan has the support of business (the Chamber) and much of labor (SEIU 775, the King County Labor Council). However, a look at contributions to the two candidates calls the rest of the conventional narrative into question.

According to the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission, Durkan has received $727,689 in contributions from 3,120 contributors, for an average donation of $234.50. (Contributions are capped at $500). Moon, in contrast, has received just 599 contributions—2,503 fewer than Durkan—for a total of $119,810. Her average contribution is only slightly smaller than Durkan’s, at $200.02. What this means is that not only has Durkan raised about six times as much as Moon, it has been largely in modest (non-maxed-out) contributions, although Moon does have a slightly higher percentage of small (under $99) contributions (about 6.8 percent of donor contributions, compared to Durkan’s 4.5 percent).

Yesterday, Moon’s campaign sent out a fundraising email with the subject line “3 to 1,” indicating that that’s how much Durkan has outspent the underdog candidate by. terms of supporter contributions, though, it’s more like 6 to 1, because Moon has self-financed with $111,521 of her own money. So far, Durkan has contributed $400 to her own campaign.

Durkan’s contributions.

And Moon’s.

2. Moon has proposed speeding up delivery of Sound Transit light rail to Ballard and West Seattle—approved by voters last year as part of the Sound Transit 3 tax package—by using the city’s excess bonding capacity to “help fund Sound Transit 3 (ST3) construction sooner (in other words we will loan Sound Transit the money to move this forward and Sound Transit will pay us back).” That commitment, along with a commitment to find  the money to bury light rail in a tunnel under the Ship Canal and add a (King County Metro) bus rapid transit line linking Ballard and the University of Washington, helped win Moon the support of folks like the Stranger and Seattle Subway, which gushed, “she had us at ‘Speed up design and planning of ST3 to maximize available construction funding,’ accelerate ‘delivery of Seattle projects with City money’ and/or combine that funding with bonding measures” in their endorsement statement.

But Sound Transit has rejected the kind of Seattle-backed bonding proposal Moon is proposing, noting that even if Sound Transit were to borrow money from the city, they would still have to pay that money back, and the revenue package voters just approved does not include the funds to finance the kind of additional debt the agency would need to speed up service in Seattle. In a statement, Sound Transit director Peter Rogoff said that “while Sound Transit can accept funding from third parties, debt that we have to repay is still debt and would count against our agency debt limits.”

“If there is to be any possibility of speeding up light rail to Ballard, two things must happen.  The city must work with Sound Transit and effected communities to identify a preferred alternative alignment no later than early 2019, and the city must eliminate the multiple layers of bureaucratic red tape that slows the delivery of new transit services to Seattle citizens. Sound Transit wrote to the Seattle City Council back in May of 2016  detailing 27 concrete steps the City could take to eliminate unnecessary and duplicative processes to save taxpayer money and deliver projects more quickly. Adopting these reforms is how we can create the potential to expedite the project.”

Most of the steps Sound Transit has proposed involve expedited permitting processes—using the existing environmental impact statement instead of requiring additional environmental reviews, fast-tracking master use permits, and exempting light rail stations from design review during the permitting process, for example.

If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, please considerbecoming 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.

Morning Crank: “If you haven’t learned, I’m sorry. That’s your fault.”

1.  Have we had enough transparency yet? The 15 candidates to fill the city council seat being vacated by interim mayor Tim Burgess have now had two chances to make the case for themselves, and what we’ve learned is that Alex Tsimerman thinks Lorena Gonzalez is a “cheap potato,” Tiniell Cato thinks it’s her “human right” to talk out of order and go over her allotted time, and Lewis Jones—the guy who made hand-painted signs for his “campaign” for mayor—believes special enzymes in purple grape juice cure the flu.

The job qualifications for the temporary council position include knowledge of the city budget and familiarity with city government. A group of advocates that included third-place mayoral candidate Nikkita Oliver and Gender Justice League director Danni Askini argued that the process for filling the seat needed to be more “transparent” so that a wider range of people would apply. That range extends, apparently, from people who use the term  “colored people” (Jones again) all the way to people named Doug who have the endorsement of “Doug’s Voter’s Guide,” written by Doug.

The clear frontrunner remains former council member Nick Licata, who has participated gamely in both forums, and praised the council for opening up the process to the general public. Tsimerman, for his part, described the process as a “circus for children” that would end up with the same result as if the council had just picked a candidate. Then he was removed from council chambers by security.

2. Mayoral candidate Cary Moon, who appeared alone onstage at a mayoral forum Tuesday night (her opponent, Jenny Durkan, was hosting a campaign fundraiser at the downtown offices of the K&L Gates law firm), has maintained that she will be able to serve on the Sound Transit board despite the fact that her husband, architect Mark Reddington, is a principal at LMN Architects, a firm that is doing design work on numerous Sound Transit light rail stations. (The Seattle Times was the first to report that Moon might be unable to serve on the board.) At a forum on the arts and environment earlier this week, Moon said the potential conflict “doesn’t mean I won’t get to serve on the Sound Transit board” and said that if that “very minor situation… arises, I will recuse myself and someone else from the city will be empowered to make that decision on my behalf.”

After Tuesday night’s forum, Moon told me she believed that if the board was taking a vote that could impact LMN, such as a vote on one of the firm’s contracts, she could delegate her vote to “somebody else, like the SDOT director or deputy mayor or someone on the council.” It’s unclear whether Sound Transit board members are able to delegate their votes in this fashion, however, and Sound Transit’s ethics policy includes no obvious provision for board members to tag in another Seattle representative in this way. It says,

If a conflict of interest is confirmed, the Board member shall disqualify himself or herself from discussion or voting upon the legislation or matter, and an officer shall refrain from discussion or recommendation concerning the legislation or matter, if discussion or voting thereon would constitute a conflict of interest, or apparent conflict of interest, as described in this section or violate any other governmental law or regulation. Any Board member or officer who is disqualified by reason of such conflict of interest shall, after having made the required disclosure set forth above, remove himself or herself from his or her customary seat during such debate and leave the Board Resolution No. 81-2 Page 14 of 20 chambers until such time as the matter at hand, from which such Board member or officer has been disqualified, has been disposed of in the regular course of business. Any action taken by the Board or a committee related to such interest shall be by a vote sufficient for the purpose without counting the vote of the Board member having the interest.

Sound Transit spokesman Geoff Patrick said he couldn’t “speculate about issues or circumstances around any particular candidate or other individual in the event she or he were to be appointed to the Board,” and noted that it’s up to the county executive to decide which Seattle representative or representatives to appoint to the Sound Transit board.

3. Also at Tuesday’s forum, things got heated between city attorney Pete Holmes and his opponent, former mayoral public-safety advisor Scott Lindsay, when Lindsay blasted Holmes for aggressively prosecuting men who pay for sex even when those men may be subject to deportation. (In recent years, the city has moved away from prosecuting prostitutes to cracking down on johns, in an effort to avoid revictimizing women who have been trafficked and sold against their will.) Lindsay said he would adopt an approach that did not result in men being deported for attempting to solicit prostitutes.

Then Holmes took the mic: “We have to hold sex buyers accountable for driving the commercial sex industry that, in turn, is driving most of human trafficking,” Holmes said. “We have a fundamental disagreement [with immigration lawyers.] It only takes a second violation for sex buying before you can be subject to deportation under federal law. The first one will not get you deported. And I’m sorry, I lose sympathy on the second one. If you haven’t learned, I’m sorry. That’s your fault.”

4. Seattle Subway, a transit advocacy group, has been in a bit of a war with the political arm of the Transportation Choices Coalition, the influential pro-transit nonprofit, over its endorsement of Jenny Durkan for mayor. (TCC spearheaded the Sound Transit 3 and Move Seattle campaigns; its endorsing arm is called Transportation for Washington). On its Twitter feed, Subway said that TCC’s endorsement was “clearly” not based on Durkan’s platform (nor, presumably, her political views, track record, or ability to deliver on her promises), but on some mysterious “something else.”

Yesterday, the group doubled down with this subtweet, claiming that “racist shock jock Jason Rantz” (of right-wing radio station KTTH) had endorsed Durkan:

The implication is that Durkan has views that are somehow in line with Rantz’s, and is perhaps even “racist” by association—and what kind of transit group would support a candidate like that? However, I found no evidence anywhere that Jason Rantz has endorsed or expressed support for Durkan—which makes sense, given that Durkan is a liberal Obama appointee and a mainstay in the local Democratic Party establishment. Rantz doesn’t write about Seattle electoral politics much (his audience is more “hypertensive suburban MAGA dad” than “Seattle odd-year voter”) but I did find one piece where he mentioned Durkan—as the candidate to vote for if your issue is “identity politics.”

If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, please considerbecoming 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.

Why Are There So Many Vacant Properties Near Rainier Beach Light Rail Station?

This post originally ran at the South Seattle Emerald.

Plans to turn some of the land immediately adjacent to the Rainier Beach light rail station into the centerpiece of a new “food innovation district”—a proposed network of food businesses and food-related activities aimed at creating living-wage jobs and preventing displacement in the Rainier Valley—remain stalled, after a property that advocates hoped would serve as the hub for that district sold last month to a company controlled by a local landlord who owns numerous single-family homes in the area.

As the Emerald reported back in May, the Rainier Beach Action Coalition had hoped to purchase the property on the southeast corner of Martin Luther King, Jr. Way and S. Henderson St., which is currently the site of a Mexican grocery store. Those plans were thwarted when another bidder, former city council member (and onetime food innovation district champion) Richard Conlin, outbid RBAC. (At the time, Conlin said he had no idea RBAC was bidding on the property, which he planned to develop as affordable artist housing). However, Conlin subsequently withdrew his bid, and the property sold to a mystery backup bidder.

The new owner, the Emerald has learned, is Greg Goodwin, a Rainier Beach landlord who owns and leases about a dozen single-family houses in the blocks surrounding the light-rail station. (Goodwin is the son of the late Albert (A.C.) Goodwin, a longtime property owner and manager in the area; the Goodwin family companies now include Greg D. Goodwin Co., Civetta Properties, and Roan Properties, which purchased the light-rail station property through a Las Vegas-based subsidiary called Radner Properties).

Neither Goodwin nor his sister Gael Goodwin, who is listed as the agent for the now-defunct A.C. Goodwin Properties, returned calls seeking comment about their plans for the property. David Sauvion, the co-founder of RBAC and coordinator for the food innovation district, says RBAC has tried to reach out to the family but “they don’t want anything to do with us. They are difficult to engage.” However, Sauvion says he has heard that “they have no short-term plan for the property; as far as we know, the space will stay vacant.”

Although the first leg of Sound Transit’s Link light rail opened nearly a decade ago, the corridor still has no shortage of vacant properties. Many are owned by Sound Transit—recognizable by their chain link fences and gravel lots, which leaf-blower-wielding workers periodically clear of trash and other detritus. So why are there so still many empty lots along the southern leg of the light rail line in the Rainier Valley? And why is it so hard to build new housing at light rail stations in South Seattle, given that “transit-oriented development” is such a critical component of new light-rail stations elsewhere in the city?

To answer those questions, you have to go back to the early 2000s, when light rail was still immensely controversial in the Valley. At the time, a group called Save Our Valley (whose members included Pat Murakami, a current candidate for Seattle City Council) was fighting to force Sound Transit to run its rail line underground instead of at-grade in order to minimize the impact on neighborhood businesses. Although SOV lost that battle, Sound Transit tacitly acknowledged their objections in its approach to buying land-use for light-rail construction staging in the area; they aimed, in the words of Sound Transit land use and planning director Brooke Belman, to “take the smallest amount of property as possible and acquire as minimal a footprint as possible. … The [Sound Transit] board, at the time, was certainly cognizant of not wanting to buy too much property from the existing property owners down there.”

The result was that Sound Transit was left with a large number of oddly shaped “remnant” properties that can’t be easily developed, including parking strips, narrow parcels immediately in front of existing businesses, and those weird fenced-in lots that dot the length of the light rail line.

Today, Belman says, Sound Transit’s approach to property acquisition “has done about a 180” since a decade ago. If light rail was being built in the Valley today, “We probably would have consolidated a lot of the staging that we did instead of just leaving those remnants.”

One issue Sound Transit didn’t anticipate, Belman says, is the failure of the private market to build housing, retail, and services in Rainier Beach on its own. “There was a lot of hope that private development would come right behind us in the Rainier Valley” and start to create residential and retail hubs at the stations, she says. But that hasn’t happened—at least not yet.

Sound Transit isn’t the only agency responsible for the lack of development at the Rainier Beach station; the city—specifically the mayor’s office and the city’s planning department, now known as the Office of Planning and Community Development—bears some of the responsibility as well. Right now, much of the land near the light rail station is still zoned for exclusive single-family use, rendering it off-limits for new apartment, townhouse, row house, duplex, or retail developments. The rest is low-rise or neighborhood commercial—land use designations that allow things like townhouses and four-story apartment buildings, not the kind of intense development seen at other stations (like Columbia City a few miles up the road.)

That is slated to change under HALA—the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda, which would upzone much of the station area, allowing four-to-seven-story buildings—but the fact remains that the zoning throughout much of the Rainier Beach station area is more fitting for a sleepy area with limited transit access—say, Blue Ridge—than a growing, but still relatively affordable, community within a few blocks of a major light rail hub.

Robert Scully, OCPD’s point person on Rainier Beach station development, says former mayor Mike McGinn directed the department to begin work on rezoning the area, but that work stalled under new Mayor Ed Murray, who wanted to take a more comprehensive approach to updating land use throughout the whole city. “We had a rezone proposal kind of ready to go up to the mayor’s office; we just got held up,” Scully says. That proposal would have provided incentives for food production facilities—in other words, a food innovation hub. Now, Murray is focused on affordable housing, not food production.

The land also presents other challenges—it’s shoehorned into a valley, with rising hills on each side, which makes large developments challenging and expensive. The single-family lots around the light-rail station are owned by dozens of different property owners, so any developer who wanted to build, say, a large affordable-housing complex would have to convince many different people to sell. And there’s really no way, Scully says, for the city to force land owners to include food production in private developments.

“We live in a political system and an economy that’s heavily based on property rights and the real estate market,” he says. “In doing this for the past five years, I’ve kind of arrived at the conclusion that the best tool is for the community, maybe in partnership with a developer or a nonprofit, to actually [purchase] some land down there—enough so that they could actually develop this facility, and that could help influence other development in the area.” Of course, that’s what RBAC had hoped to do. For now, the land will remain vacant.

“We tried,” Sauvion says.

The C Is for Crank Interviews: Pat Murakami

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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.

Should Amazon Cover Costs of Intern Bus Crowding?

This story originally ran in Seattle Magazine.

Last month the Seattle Times reported that hundreds of new Amazon interns, each wearing identical company-issued black backpacks, are crowding out other commuters on King County Metro’s Route 70. The overcrowded buses, which forced drivers to skip some stops when full, led Metro to take the unusual step of adding service to the route for the rest of the summer without the extensive public process that typically informs long-term service increases.

Metro service development manager Bill Bryant says the bus agency routinely provides extra service for special events, like Pride or the Women’s March, and temporary disruption such as the periodic closure of the Alaskan Way Viaduct. “We really do not want to see any situation where specific trips on a route are passing customers by on a regular basis,” he says. “We received multiple reports that people were getting passed by [on Route 70], and we decided to pull the trigger.”

According to Metro spokesman Scott Gutierrez, about 400 more people than usual were riding Route 70 when Metro decided to add service. The current uptick in service during morning rush hour—two extra buses between 6:30 and 10:30 a.m.—is costing Metro about $3,600 a week.

Shefali Ranganathan, director of the transit advocacy group Transportation Choices Coalition, says the “bottom-line question is, should Metro explore a broader partnership with Amazon where Amazon buys service hours from Metro” to mitigate their impact on the system. “Maybe this is something [Metro] should approach not just as a one-off [service improvement] but as a broader partnership that would benefit Amazon and the broader community, which is what Microsoft does,” Ranganathan says.

There’s precedent for this: Back in 2012, Amazon paid for the South Lake Union streetcar to run more frequently, although that money was compensation for land the city gave Amazon to expand its South Lake Union campus.

Microsoft, somewhat controversially, has given its workers a way to opt out of the public transit system entirely by creating a private option, the Microsoft Connector, which has grown into the largest private regional bus system in the nation. Since last year, Amazon has offered its own limited shuttle service, called Amazon Ride, which runs four shuttle buses between the company’s two main campuses in South Lake Union and the University District. The company also spends $12 million on ORCA transit passes for its employees.

Of course, Amazon’s expansion in the city isn’t limited to a few hundred summer interns. Earlier this year, the company announced that it was hiring 100,000 new U.S. employees by mid-2018, and advertised more than 9,000 new job openings in Seattle. Most of those new jobs will be in South Lake Union, meaning that the pressure on Metro service will only grow. “The growth in South Lake Union, just across the board, continues,” Bryant says. “The choice to add service to keep customers moving and to prevent pass-bys is not a hard choice for us.”

As a transit agency charged with getting cars off the roads, Metro wants to make sure all those new customers keep coming back to use its service, rather than giving up and driving to work alone. But Metro has also made a commitment, through its service guidelines, to serve low-income and minority communities, such as Southeast Seattle. When Metro decides where to add service during its twice-annual service adjustment process, it looks not just at demand but at how well the system is serving the goal of racial equity.

A few tens of thousands of dollars shifted over to South Lake Union over the summer may not sound like much. But if Amazon’s growth creates the demand for permanent shifts in service, that could put Metro in the position of choosing between racial equity and full buses passing people by.

Amazon, which provided information on its existing shuttle service through a spokesman, did not respond to a request for information about any plans to expand its shuttle service. Although the company confirmed that it is actively working with Metro to plan for increased ridership from the UW to South Lake Union, Bryant says “we haven’t had any significant conversations with Amazon about significantly increasing their shuttle service.”

Relief and Skepticism Over Seattle’s Closed-Door Waterfront Settlement

Earlier this afternoon, the city council approved a settlement in a lawsuit filed by the Alliance for Pioneer Square over the city’s plans to build an eight-lane highway on the waterfront. 

I wrote about the settlement, which took place behind closed doors and with no input from transit or pedestrian advocates, on the blog in March. This story, which takes a broader look at what the settlement will mean for the waterfront once the Alaskan Way Viaduct comes down, appeared in the June issue of Seattle Magazine

This past march, Leslie Smith found herself in an unusual position.

For years, Smith, executive director of the Alliance for Pioneer Square, had criticized the City of Seattle for its plan to build what she describes as a “nine-lane highway” on Seattle’s waterfront, near the downtown ferry terminal, after the Alaskan Way Viaduct comes down. Instead of expanding the roadway, Smith had supported a proposal to move most of the 600 buses that use the Alaskan Way Viaduct off the waterfront and onto streets in neighboring SoDo (including S Lander Street, and First and Fourth Avenues), to enable the city to make do with a narrower roadway on the waterfront.

Smith has been one of the most vocal critics of the project. As the leader of a group whose mission includes promoting tourism in Pioneer Square, she spent years trying to convince city leaders that the planned 102-foot-wide roadway would cut off Pioneer Square from downtown, defeating one of the stated purposes of the tunnel project: to better connect the city with its waterfront.

In November, after spending nearly three years cajoling, testifying and negotiating with the city, Smith’s organization appealed the city’s environmental impact statement for the project. The legal challenge wasn’t in itself unusual. Plenty of groups have complained about the city’s plans for rebuilding the downtown waterfront. Part of the reason for this width is that the new tunnel will be two lanes narrower than the current viaduct, and won’t include any downtown exits. As a result, the new surface Alaskan Way will function much like a regional highway, with as many as eight lanes for buses, freight traffic and cars (plus an extra lane in some places for parking). What made Smith and the alliance’s case unusual is what happened next: Instead of fighting back, the city settled, striking a closed-door deal, with a private organization that will determine how thousands of Seattle residents and visitors experience the waterfront for decades to come.

The city’s Office of the Waterfront—along with King County Metro and the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT)—agreed to narrow the road to 79 feet, eliminating the two transit lanes when the West Seattle light rail station opens in 2033, reducing the need for most bus routes between downtown and West Seattle. Until then, Smith agreed to accept the 102-foot-wide roadway as originally planned, with lanes for general traffic, parking and ferry queues, plus those 600 buses, which will run in transit-only lanes.

“We actually have come up with what we think is kind of an elegant solution to what will be a pretty wide roadway for another decade,” Smith says.
In the settlement, Metro agrees to run no more than 195 buses a day on the new Alaskan Way surface street after light rail opens. The tunnel is scheduled to open to traffic in 2019, and the waterfront project, including the roadway, will open three years later. And the ultra-wide road will stand between Pioneer Square and the waterfront for about a decade.

To understand how this settlement came to be, it helps to know a little history. When the city and state agreed to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct with a deep-bore tunnel with no downtown exits, that created a problem: how to accommodate transit, freight and general traffic—including the cars lining up for the ferry terminal—as well as bicyclists and pedestrians, all on a surface street.

Smith supported moving Metro buses to SoDo, eliminating the need for transit lanes on the waterfront. Transit advocates and King County Metro rejected that idea, noting that those rerouted buses would have to contend with more than 20 traffic lights. The city agreed to two transit lanes.

Meanwhile, the Port of Seattle insisted on two travel lanes for freight, rejecting a proposal that its trucks share the transit lanes with buses. The city agreed to two general-purpose travel lanes. And Washington State Ferries insisted on two ferry queuing lanes. The city agreed to two ferry queuing lanes, and two northbound turn lanes for drivers headed for Colman Dock.

That, more or less, is how the city ended up with a 100-foot-wide roadway right next to Pioneer Square, cutting off the historic district from the waterfront as surely as the Alaskan Way Viaduct has since 1953.

Sitting in the vast conference room of a Fifth Avenue building that overlooks the Viaduct itself in the distance, Marshall Foster, director of the city’s Office of the Waterfront, says, “The issues with the width of the road aren’t lost on anyone.” Mayor Ed Murray established the office in early 2014 to oversee the redesign of the downtown waterfront once the Viaduct comes down.

“The fundamental reason that we’re in this awkward place, I think, is that we’re [experiencing] growing pains as a city,” Foster continues. “We’re in the middle of this big transit transition, where we’re bringing on a huge volume of transit service, but we’re struggling to do it fast enough” to have light rail and buses integrate seamlessly, leading to an awkward 10-year period when they don’t.

Transit advocates aren’t thrilled with the settlement. Shefali Ranganathan, executive director of the pro-transit nonprofit group Transportation Choices Coalition, had hoped for a compromise that would allow buses to stay on the waterfront while also narrowing the roadway, calming traffic and making it safer for pedestrians. She also says she had expected to be at the table when the fate of the waterfront was being decided.

“I just find it really strange that an important public decision is being made with this sideways approach of a legal challenge, where the only stakeholders are government agencies and the person challenging the environmental impact statement,” Ranganathan says.

Ranganathan also questions the assumptions Metro made in preemptively limiting the growth of transit service on the waterfront to 195 buses a day. “We don’t know what transit use will look like 10 years from now,” she says. “We see transit ridership growing at a record pace, and to limit ourselves 15 years into the future based on expectations around buses now seems short-sighted.”

Similarly, Ranganathan questions the ferry system’s claim that it will always need two queuing lanes, no matter how demand for passenger ferry service or electronic reservation technology evolves.

Victor Obeso, Metro’s deputy general manager, says the transit agency is “comfortable” with its agreement to never run more than 195 buses a day along the waterfront once the West Seattle light rail station opens. “Based on our planning assumptions, we think we can live within the [limit of] 195 in the future,” Obeso says.

There are a lot of “ifs” built into this plan. The first big one is that this roadway narrowing project is contingent on a successful negotiating process between the port, Metro, WSDOT, the city, and Pioneer Square property owners and tenants. The agreement stipulates that beginning in the late 2020s—before the West Seattle light rail station opens—these groups will spend five years working together to decide what the roadway will look like once light rail is up and running, according to the agreement.

The second is that conditions on the waterfront could change significantly over the next 10 to 15 years, in ways planners today may be unable to anticipate.

Smith, now in her 60s, acknowledges that over time, someone else might need to fight to ensure that the agreement is implemented. “But I also have a signed agreement. It’s pretty airtight.” She says she doesn’t regret filing the challenge, or fighting for her vision for the waterfront, but she’s glad it’s over. “I think it wasn’t a bad thing that I filed. If I hadn’t appealed, I’d have a nine-lane road forever.”

Deal Reached in Waterfront Highway Lawsuit: Build 102-Foot Highway Now, Narrow It When Light Rail Opens

THIS POST HAS BEEN UPDATED, with comments from King County Metro and Transportation Choices Coalition.

The Alliance for Pioneer Square has reached a settlement with the city, county, and state in its lawsuit seeking to stop the construction of a 100-foot-wide, 8-to-9-lane roadway on the waterfront in Pioneer Square, The C Is for Crank has learned.

The settlement stipulates that the Washington Department of Transportation (WSDOT) will be able to build the 102-foot-wide surface highway as part of the Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement project, with lanes for transit, general traffic, parking, and ferry queues, on the condition that once Sound Transit opens its light rail station in West Seattle in 2033 and Metro no longer needs to run RapidRide buses from West Seattle to downtown, the city will narrow the surface Alaskan Way by eliminating the transit lanes and replacing them with new sidewalks, landscaping, or parking lanes. That will eventually bring the roadway down from 102 feet at its widest point, between S Washington St. and Yesler Way, to 79 feet. In the settlement, Metro agrees to run no more than 195 buses a day on the Alaskan Way surface street after light rail opens. The tunnel is supposed to open to traffic in 2019, and the waterfront project, including the roadway, is scheduled to open three years later, meaning that the ultra-wide road will stand between Pioneer Square and the waterfront for about ten years.

According to the settlement, which came in response to the Alliance’s appeal of the city’s Final Environmental Impact Statement on the waterfront reconstruction project,

Within fifteen (15) months of the opening of the Alaska Junction station of Sound Transit Light Rail service to West Seattle, the City will retrofit SR 519/Alaskan Way between Yesler Way and South King Street to narrow Alaskan Way by eliminating the transit lane on each side of Alaskan Way, and converting the area of the former transit lane to sidewalks, landscaping, and on-street parking.

“What we have agreed to is that I’m going to quit complaining about 600 buses a day and a 9-lane highway, and when light rail gets to West Seattle, they’re going to come back and make the road narrower, so that in the interim we are accommodating the transportation needs of a rapidly changing city, and in the future we will be more accommodating of the pedestrian and bicycling needs of the waterfront and the historic district,” Alliance for Pioneer Square director Leslie Smith says.

“What we have agreed to is that I’m going to quit complaining about 600 buses a day and a 9-lane highway, and when light rail gets to West Seattle, they’re going to come back and make the road narrower.” – Leslie Smith, Alliance for Pioneer Square

The debate over the surface street dates back to the mid-2000s, when a group called the the People’s Waterfront Coalition argued that Seattle should follow in the footsteps of progressive cities like San Francisco and tear down its waterfront highway—without replacing it. Thanks in part to state traffic modeling that assumed (incorrectly, it turned out) that the number of people driving downtown in single-occupant vehicles would increase indefinitely, that plan was rejected, and Seattle ended up getting not just a downtown tunnel, but a costly deep-bore tunnel with no downtown exits that is currently four years years late and $23 million over budget.

With the tunnel mostly off limits to transit and freight, the city, state, Port, and Metro had to figure out how to accommodate transit, freight, bikes, and pedestrians, along with cars lining up for the ferry terminal and general-purpose traffic, on the surface. No one was willing to budge on their demands—not Washington State Ferries, which insisted that it needed two car queueing lanes on Alaskan Way, not Metro, which argued that putting buses in general traffic would slow down the system from White Center to Ballard, and not the Port, which dismissed suggestions that it share a lane with transit, arguing that 18-wheelers shouldn’t be stuck behind buses that stop every couple of blocks. And that, more or less, is how the city ended up with a 100-foot-wide highway right next to Pioneer Square, cutting off the historic district from the waterfront as surely as the Alaskan Way Viaduct has since 1953.

“The issues with the width of the road aren’t lost on anyone,” Office of the Waterfront director Marshall Foster said Friday. Sitting in a vast conference room on Fifth Avenue that looks over downtown construction and, far away, the viaduct itself, Foster said the city has “worked for years to keep it as narrow as possible, [but] with the viaduct coming down, we have to not only deal with just the basic background traffic that we know will have to operate in that corridor,” but all the surface freight traffic through downtown, 600 buses carrying nearly 30,000 people a day, and hundreds of cars that line up for the ferry terminal at Colman Dock every afternoon (585 a day, according to the EIS.)

“We’re in the middle of this big transit transition where we’re bringing on a huge volume of transit service, but we’re struggling to do it fast enough.” – Marshall Foster, director, Seattle Office of the Waterfront

“The fundamental reason that we’re in this awkward place, I think, is that we’re in the middle of growing pains as a city,” Foster continued. “We’re in the middle of this big transit transition where we’re bringing on a huge volume of transit service, but we’re struggling to do it fast enough.”

I asked Nicole Macintosh, director of terminal engineering for Washington State Ferries, why the ferry division couldn’t use a reservation system, like the one it  just implemented in the San Juan Islands and Port Townsend, to reduce the number of cars that need to line up on the waterfront. Macintosh said “we don’t have the funding yet to bring the reservation system down to the more core car commuter routes, like Seattle, but I can tell you that with that reservation system we would definitely need two lanes”—one for people with reservations, and one for people who just drive up. What about running more passenger ferries? Macintosh said that would require a change in state law, and reminded me that the ferries are considered part of the state highway system—an objection Foster acknowledges, but also chalks up to “a cultural thing” within WSDOT that could be shifting. Macintosh also rejected the notion that some of the free parking that WSDOT provides to dock workers at Colman Dock itself—about 55 spaces in all—could be used as ferry queuing space, saying that the parking spaces are mostly in “unusable” areas of the dock.

Transit advocates weren’t thrilled when Smith filed her lawsuit challenging the waterfront plan, because Smith’s original proposed mitigation plan involved moving buses bound for downtown from West Seattle off the waterfront and onto S. Lander Street, where they’d have to traverse more than 20 traffic lights. “I just find it really strange that an important public decision is being made through this sideways approach of a legal challenge where the only stakeholders are government agencies and the person challenging the [environmental impact statement],” Transportation Choices Coalition director Shefali Ranganathan, who did not receive prior notice that the Alliance had reached an agreement with the city, county, and state, said Monday that she was disappointed that stakeholders like TCC hadn’t been involved in the settlement discussions, which she called “mysterious.”

“I was hoping for something that would bring our heads together, and this process limits that type of collaboration,” Ranganathan said Monday.

Ranganathan also questions the assumptions Metro made in preemptively limiting the growth of transit service on the waterfront to 195 buses a day. “I just don’t understand how we are making commitments about transit capacity so far into the future,” she says. “We don’t know what transit use will look like 10 years from now. Maybe Link [light rail] will be able to take all this capacity, maybe it won’t.  We see transit ridership growing at a record pace, and to limit ourselves 15 years into the future based on expectations around buses seems short-sighted.” Similarly, Ranganathan questions the ferry system’s claim that it will always need two queuing lanes, no matter how demand for passenger ferry service or electronic reservation technology evolves in the future. “The ferry system is going to change and adapt to the needs of its users, and that’s going to include how people access that facility, she says.

Victor Obeso, Metro’s deputy general manager, says the transit agency is “comfortable” with its agreement to never run more than 195 buses a day along the waterfront once the West Seattle light rail station opens. “Based on our planning assumptions, we think we can live within the [limit of] 195 in the future,” Obeso says. “Once rail is extended out to West Seattle, as we’ve done with every segment of rail so far, we would take full advantage of the capacity and speed of rail.”

Ferry queue traffic projection

There are a lot of ifs built into this plan. The first big one is that this roadway narrowing project—the first one in Seattle that Smith, a lifelong resident, can remember—is contingent on a successful five-year process involving the Port, WSDOT, the Alliance, the city, and Pioneer Square property owners and tenants, who are supposed to spend five years working together to decide what the post-light rail roadway will look like. That proposal will then have to be approved by a future city council and King County Councils, which are not legally bound to do what the settlement suggests. Smith, now in her 60s, acknowledges that “Yes, 10 or 12 years from now, somebody else may have to fight this the way I have fought it. But I also have a signed agreement. It’s pretty airtight.”

In addition, the proposal is still probably not enough to address many of the objections raised by the Transportation Choices Coalition, Feet First, and Cascade Bicycle Club in their letter commenting on the draft environmental impact statement last year. At 102 feet, the Pioneer Square section of the new Alaskan Way will be as wide as the reconstructed Mercer Ave. in South Lake Union—a vast, foreboding stretch of barren concrete that is a textbook example of pedestrian-hostile street planning—for a decade. And narrowing this short section, assuming it happens, still won’t address the fundamental issue at the heart of those groups’ objections—that widening roadways induces demand, leading to “immediate growth of vehicle miles traveled on a corridor.”

Smith, for her part, says she doesn’t regret filing the challenge, but she’s glad it’s over. “It took a series of long and very painful conversations” to get to a settlement, she says, but “I think it wasn’t a bad thing that I filed. If I hadn’t appealed, I’d have a nine-lane road forever.”

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.

Morning Crank: The Common Canard

1. Perhaps emboldened by the Queen Anne Community Council’s successful effort to delay a proposal making it easier for homeowners to build backyard cottages, a group of Phinney Ridge homeowners plan to appeal an environmental ruling allowing a four-story apartment building on Greenwood Avenue. The attorney for these homeowners, Jeffrey Eustis, also represented the Queen Anne council and homeowner Marty Kaplan in their effort to shut down the backyard cottage rules.

livable-phinney

Image from livablephinney.org

I reported last year on the intense furor over the building, which would add 57 new studio apartments to a commercial stretch of Greenwood. The project has already been through a nearly unprecedented four design reviews, after neighbors objected about details like the lack of washers and dryers in each unit, the fact that the units will lack air conditioning, and the lack of onsite parking for residents. Neighbors also objected to the modern style of the building and the fact that the people who rent there would be “forced” to live in tight quarters.

In a letter addressed to “friends and neighbors” of the development, the group writes, “Our appeal will tackle a major error in the city’s environmental policy code that allows developers to impose the impacts of their no-parking projects on the surrounding homeowners and small businesses that depend on street parking for their customers.  Even the error-filled parking studies submitted for this permit prove that there is NO MORE CAPCITY [sic] for parking cars within blocks of the site.  Those of you who commute by the #5 bus also know that the bus is already OVERCROWDED.  We need to challenge these developments until there is adequate transit and parking provided to meet the new demand they create. That is fair growth.” [Bold in original]

The appeal asks the Seattle hearing examiner to reject the development on the grounds that it violates the State Environmental Policy Act by creating an adverse environmental impact on the surrounding area. Put more plainly: Among other claims, it charges that homeowners and small businesses will be inconvenienced because it will become harder for them to park their cars. This assumption rests on the common canard that everyone in a city must own at least a car or two, when in reality, people who live in tiny studios on bus lines in cities are far less likely to drive than, say, homeowners who live in large houses with driveways and capacious parking garages.

2. Learn to trust the Crank: Yesterday, I reported that Seattle Public School director Stephan Blanford was considering a run for the Position 8 city council seat being vacated by Tim Burgess next year. (Several candidates, including former Tenants Union director and erstwhile Burgess opponent Jon Grant, have already filed for the November 2017 election). Yesterday, Blanford got back to me to confirm that he is “giving serious consideration” to running. “After 3.5 years on the school board, I have many factors to weigh, but my progressive values and ability to bring people together to work on tough issues like Seattle Schools’ opportunity gaps leaves me feeling like it might be a good fit,” Blanford writes. “I’m working through my process now, and looking at all of the options before me.”

3. Two nights ago, in a unanimous vote, the Mercer Island City Council decided to sue Sound Transit and the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT), alleging breach of contract over a 1976 agreement that granted Island residents the ability to drive solo in the I-90 high-occupancy vehicle lanes. The lawsuit seeks to halt Sound Transit’s plans to close one of the island’s three single-occupancy access points to I-90, requiring Islanders to do what everyone else in the region does when they want to drive alone: Drive to the entrance to the freeway and sit in traffic. (The new rail station provides an excellent alternative for commuters, and people who choose to carpool or take the bus will still be able to use the HOV lanes).

Yesterday, Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff responded to the lawsuit. In a statement, Rogoff said:

“Legal agreements dating back to before the I-90 floating bridge was even built dedicated the center lanes for public transit. More than eight years ago regional voters approved the funding to build the East Link light rail project on those lanes. It is highly regrettable that the City of Mercer Island is now attempting to delay the project in mid-construction. Neither the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) nor Sound Transit are empowered to reverse the Federal Highway Administration’s decisions regarding access by single-occupant Mercer Island traffic to the new HOV lanes across Lake Washington. These lanes are on schedule to open in June, enabling us to stay on schedule constructing light rail. While Sound Transit remains ready to reach solutions through negotiations, the agency will take all legal actions necessary to avoid delays or increased costs to taxpayers in fulfilling our promise to voters to complete East Link. Building fast and reliable light rail service across Lake Washington is not only a commitment to the residents of Bellevue, Redmond, Mercer Island and Seattle but to every resident of the Sound Transit District. Delays to the East Link project pose significant risks of increased costs to regional taxpayers and significant delays to opening the project in 2023.”

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 it 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.