As City Moves Forward With Modest Upzones, Single-Family Housing Advocates Lawyer Up

Mayor Tim Burgess released the final environmental impact statement for what will likely be the most controversial set of upzones required to implement HALA yesterday.  The proposal, known as the Mandatory Housing Affordability plan, will increase allowable building heights in urban villages, multifamily zones, and commercial areas across the city, including modest upzones to just six percent of the city’s single-family land. The remaining 94 percent, which represents more than 60 percent of the city’s residentially zoned land, will still be preserved exclusively for detached single-family houses). In exchange for increased building heights, developers will have to make between 5 and 11 percent of their units affordable to people of modest means, or pay the equivalent (between $5 and $32.75 per square foot) into a fund that will finance housing construction elsewhere. City staffers say they expect about half of developers will decide to build on site and half will pay into the fund; however, this estimate is based not on empirical data (there isn’t any) but on the fact that the city tried to make the cost of building and the cost of paying the fee roughly equivalent. [*See wonky footnote for more on how this 50-50 split came to pass.]

 

To single-family preservationists, the new rules represent an unprecedented incursion on their right to own property without having to live in close proximity to (and share scarce on-street parking space with) renters who may be younger and lower-income.

 

The MHA proposal splits the baby between two earlier alternatives—one that would spread new density evenly between all parts of the city and one that would limit housing production in areas the city considers at “high risk of displacement” with “low access to economic opportunity,” like Rainier Beach and South Park. To housing advocates, this is maddening—by artificially restricting housing development in the places where demand and the risk of economic displacement is highest, the rules practically ensure that more low-income people will be forced out of those areas. To single-family preservationists, the new rules represent an unprecedented incursion on their right to own property without having to live in close proximity to (and share scarce on-street parking space with) renters who may be younger and lower-income.

 

The city has built some cushion into its timeline for the inevitable lawsuits. Residents and groups that oppose the upzones have until the Monday after Thanksgiving to appeal the FEIS, and neighborhood groups are already lawyering up; last month, the West Seattle Junction Neighborhood Organization (JuNO), the Seattle Displacement Coalition, and Seattle Fair Growth distributed a call for neighborhood groups to sign on to their planned lawsuit against the proposal, and neighborhood groups in Wallingford and Miller/Madison Park have also expressed strong opposition to the proposal. Any appeal would go to the city’s hearing examiner (who has already ruled in favor of single-family preservationists in another case involving backyard cottages); that process generally takes about six months, although a successful appeal could require the city to make changes to the plan and prepare a supplemental EIS, which would take longer. After the city council actually passes the legislation, opponents will have another opportunity to challenge the law, by taking the city to King County Superior Court.

City staffers and officials stuck by their timeline yesterday. Council member Rob Johnson, chair of the council’s land use committee, said the council “can do all the work that is necessary to get the bill ready for a vote while litigation is occurring—we just can’t take action. If we’re still under litigation this time next year, we just won’t be able to vote.”

The plan also includes new tree planting requirements, mandatory setbacks for buildings over a certain size, rules designed to discourage development near freeways, and new standards designed to encourage food-production businesses near the Rainier Beach light rail station, where development has been slow to follow light rail.

Read the EIS for yourself here, or check out the interactive map to see what the city has planned for your neighborhood.

* Wonky footnote, as promised: This is a change, though a subtle one, from the preliminary discussions that led to HALA; originally, during discussions of the voluntary “incentive zoning”  proposal in South Lake Union, council members proposed making the so-called “fee in lieu” more costly than actual construction, to encourage developers to build on site. By abandoning this plan to make the fee roughly equivalent to the cost of building, the city has eliminated the incentive for developers to build, which could push affordable housing away from the most desirable parts of the city. The MHA plan has provisions to mitigate this effect—by “distribut[ing] affordable housing units generated by in lieu MHA payments, and which will be developed by or for the City’s Office of Housing (OH), in locations proportionate to the area’s share of anticipated citywide residential growth”—but acknowledges that the city rejected the notion of encouraging affordable housing development generated by the fees in any particular area as “extremely speculative,” given that the city can’t predict where land will actually become available. The bottom line is that under the proposal, developers can pay fees to build housing in other neighborhoods, and the city has no real ability to require affordable housing in high-end neighborhoods like Wallingford or South Lake Union. A higher fee-in-lieu might have accomplished this.

Here’s how the city expects the distribution of housing generated by the fees to shake out:

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, phone bills, electronics, website maintenance, and other expenses associated with my reporting. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

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.

The C Is for Crank Interviews: Teresa Mosqueda

As the lobbyist for the Washington State Labor Council, the campaign chairwoman for Raise Up Washington (which ran last year’s successful minimum-wage initiative), and legislative director for the Children’s Alliance, City Council Position 8 candidate Teresa Mosqueda has credentials in Olympia a mile long. Most of the causes she has championed involve historically marginalized or disempowered groups, particularly women and children; this year, for example, she worked behind the scenes to pass a paid family leave law that’s the most generous in the nation. Her work as a labor lobbyist, however, has led her opponent Jon Grant to criticize her as a pawn of “Big Labor,” a term that some on the socialist end of Seattle’s political spectrum consider synonymous with Big Business. Mosqueda has endorsements from every Seattle labor group and the support of a political action committee, Working Families for Teresa, that is backed by the grocery workers’ union (UFCW 21), the home health care workers’ union (SEIU 775), the Teamsters, and the AFL-CIO.

I sat down with Mosqueda at her office at WSLC headquarters on South Jackson Street.

The C Is for Crank [ECB]: If you win, the council will have a six-woman majority for the first time since the 1990s. Do you think a majority-female council will emphasize different issues or produce different policy results than the majority-male councils we’ve had for the vast majority of Seattle’s history?

Teresa Mosqueda [TM]: I hope so. I think part of the lived experience that I’m going to be bringing to this seat is one of creating greater economic stability for working families and women. Women are part of the workforce now. We do not have affordable child care. We do not have affordable family leave yet. Although Seattle has made some good strides to push the state in the right direction, [the new statewide family leave plan is] not going to start coming onto the books until 2019, 2020. And, frankly as women, we are often left out of conversations about what retirement security looks like. Because we have to step out of the workforce so many times [to do unpaid work as mothers and caregivers], because we tend to get tracked into lower-paying jobs, our retirement security also suffers when we don’t have people proactively thinking about how to create equity.

One of the things I want to do is help prevent folks from getting retaliated against for speaking about their pay on the job. Right now, there are zero protections. It says on the books that you have protection from retaliation, but the reality is, talking about your pay at work gets people fired, it gets them demoted, it gets their hours cut. So we need to make that a protection. Second, I’m also very interested in looking at the data in terms of [job] tracking. Let’s take an organization like Safeway, for example, or Whole Foods. If you look at who’s in floral versus who’s in meat-cutting, it’s women in floral and men in meat-cutting, and meat-cutting pays significantly more than floral. And you can see that people are tracked into certain jobs in various industries based on their gender, and I want to make sure that is something that we look at and do an analysis of and seeing how we can prevent that. And then, lastly, I do think that it’s important that we ask companies to display their pay, to give more folks transparency in the workplace.

ECB: You identified child care as an economic issue that falls largely on women. What’s your plan to provide child care for women and families?

TM: The principles are pretty simple. One: We’ve said that nobody should spend more than 9.5 percent of their income on health care. I want to apply that same principle to child care. Seattle, as you know, is the most expensive city in the country right now for a parent to have child care. Right now, it costs more to pay for child care for a year than it does to go to the University of Washington for a year. So there are a few things I would like to do. Number one is creating a sliding scale subsidy, especially for those on the bottom levels of the income spectrum. Number two is to really encourage or try to facilitate people going into the early learning profession, by working with our local colleges to make sure that we’re getting more folks into child care and early learning.

One way to do that is to actually pay them better. One idea I have is to actually subsidize or enhance the pay rate that child care providers receive in our city. I know everyone’s got their eyes on the [Families and Education] levy right now, but I do think there is a direct tie-in [between child care and education]. I also think we should work with the state on the square footage limits that we have on child care. Right now, an in-home child care provider has to have 35 square feet per child inside, and I think it’s 65 square feet per child outside. What home can you buy right now where, if you wanted to have a dozen kids and make it a sustaining business, that you could actually have that amount of square footage? I also think there’s a lot the city could do in terms of zoning and incentives for child care throughout the city.

 

“I’ve seen the Freedom Foundation use very similar tactics that I’m hearing, unfortunately, from some [on the left], saying that labor is not representative. I think it’s extremely dangerous for us to be using right-wing rhetoric when it comes to electing local progressive candidates.”

 

ECB: Your opponent keeps suggesting that you are a tool of “Big Labor,” while he’s the true progressive in the race. Should voters be concerned about the fact that labor groups are spending tens of thousands of dollars on independent expenditures to help get you elected?

TM: People in the labor movement elect their leaders. Those in the labor movement decide through a democratic process who to endorse. It’s workers who’ve endorsed me. Every labor union has endorsed me. The workers, faith communities, organizations from communities of color, environmentalists, health care advocates are behind me. So I say that it’s a false narrative. I’ve seen the Freedom Foundation [an anti-union advocacy group] use very similar tactics that I’m hearing, unfortunately, from some [on the left], saying that labor is not representative. I think it’s extremely dangerous for us to be using right-wing rhetoric when it comes to electing local progressive candidates. I think this is exactly what the right wing wants us to do—to fight against each other, fight over the scraps and to pull our community apart. I’ve seen that language be used in the halls of  Olympia and across our country, where labor is being demonized, and I think now is the time for us to find the commonality between movements and find common interest in fighting the -isms, whether it’s sexism, classism, racism, and uniting against the forces that are trying to divide us.

I entered this race when I was 36. I’m now 37. I am a Latina woman who’s a renter in Seattle. I am a progressive advocate who has proven credentials that I brought to the table, fighting for health care for all kids, including undocumented kiddos, standing up for the rights of all workers, fighting for retirement security and affordable health care for kiddos—the issues that I brought to this race stand on their own.

ECB: Would you revisit any aspect of the city’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda, and can you address Grant’s proposal to require developers to make 25 percent of all new housing affordable to low-income people?

TM: I’ll start with the 25 percent affordability suggestion. I’ve looked into this in depth, and what we saw in San Francisco, which passed an initiative saying they wanted a 25 percent requirement for all new buildings, is that it basically brought development almost to a halt during one of the biggest economic booms in history. Now it’s back with their board of supervisors. They’re trying to make a decision about what is the right number across the city, and they’re looking at what we did in Seattle [where the mandatory housing affordability proposal calls for different density increases] zone by zone. I’m not interested in grinding us to a halt. I’m interested in actually creating the housing that we need right now.

“The two-thirds of our city that is zoned for single family use has got to be reevaluated. We cannot create the affordable housing that we need for the folks who are living here, working here, retiring here, and those who are coming here, if we do not go back and add cottages, duplexes, triplexes, and affordable units.”

 

If there was something that I was going to push for on city council, especially with a new mayor and a new city council, it would be to say, did we lowball it [on affordable housing requirements] before? Twenty-five percent has obviously proven too much of a requirement to actually incentivize building, but instead of looking at [a] 2 to 11 [percent affordability requirement], is there a range that would allow us to move forward in this economic boom and get the affordable housing that we need without driving us back to either the conference room table or into court?

What I’ve been talking about is looking at every developable parcel of land that the city, county, and state owns, and that Sound Transit owns, and turning that into affordable housing options across the income spectrum— working with community land trusts, working with nonprofit housing developers, creating cohousing, coops, and subsidized housing models.

And in addition to that, the two-thirds of our city that is zoned for single family use has got to be reevaluated. We cannot create the affordable housing that we need for the folks who are living here, working here, retiring here, and those who are coming here, if we do not go back and add cottages, duplexes, triplexes, and affordable units for folks who probably rent but would like to buy one day. We have to be creative. We have to think out outside of the box. I don’t know about you, but I think a lot of your readers are tired of people who run for office who make these grand promises and then don’t deliver. What I’m talking about is getting in to office and then delivering the affordable housing that we need across the income spectrum. So it’s not going to be a one-sentence bumper sticker solution, it’s going to be a multifaceted approach.

ECB: The city’s Pathways Home strategy for addressing homelessness is based on a report that explicitly decouples homelessness and housing affordability, and concludes that people may just have to move outside the city or county to avoid being homeless. Do you agree with that strategy, and would you change anything about the city’s current approach to homelessness?

TM: I see them as interconnected. We have a crisis in the city both in terms of the lack of affordable housing and in terms of the number of folks who are living unsheltered on our streets. So I think that we need to take  a comprehensive approach and overhaul how we’re addressing the homelessness crisis. Number one, we have to stop the sweeps. It is retraumatizing people. It is not creating equitable solutions for folks who have already been failed by the system so many times. Getting moved from corner to corner is not a way to make sure they feel safe, and it is not a way to make sure they can access the services they need. We have to treat this as the health issue that it is.

 

“We are going to politicize the process and polarize the process, and it will not result in an actual [police] contract. The Freedom Foundation wants open collective bargaining  because they know it will result in stagnation and finger pointing.”

 

I’ve been talking about building the shelters that we need, building the permanent supportive housing that they need, and getting folks inside navigation centers [low-barrier shelters]. We obviously have to work with the community so people know where they’re being placed and why they’re being placed there, but they have to be placed throughout the city so that they’re in places where people can actually access them. It does us no good to place a navigation center ten miles away from where somebody can actually walk to where the services are needed. But in addition to that, making sure that we have actual inpatient treatment services in Seattle is one big priority that I’d like to address with the county. We do not have inpatient substance abuse treatment in Seattle that is sufficient. Folks end up going to Harborview and they’re let go 12 hours later. What they can do at Harborview is stabilize people. They can’t give them the case management and the substance abuse counseling and the long-term care that they need to be able to actually get sober. They should not be acting as our primary care providers throughout our city.

ECB: You’ve said that, unlike your opponent, you don’t want to open the police union negotiations to the public. Why not, and what would you do to increase transparency in police contract negotiations?

TM: I have constantly said what we need in this city is to rebuild trust. We need to make sure that people are not fearful when they call the cops  because they’re having a mental health crisis or because they are fearful that somebody broke into their home. And without a contract, I think a lot of people are concerned that we’re not going to get that trust. A contract can help us to that, but we’re not going to get a contract if you open up negotiations, like the Koch Foundation and the Freedom Foundation have called for. Because what that will inevitably create is folks sitting around a conference room table grandstanding. We are going to politicize the process and polarize the process, and it will not result in an actual contract. The Freedom Foundation wants open collective bargaining  because they know it will result in stagnation and finger pointing.

What I would commit to is saying, here are the things that I would want to see as part of a collective bargaining process: Be transparent with the public about how we’re going to hold folks accountable, how we’re going to create trust, and then be honest about what actually happens post-negotiations. The other thing I’ve said is, in addition to what the [Community Police Commission] has called for, which is the inspector general being in the room, the Office of Police Accountability being in the room, and CPC being in the room, I want there to actually be a community member at the table.

ECB: Are you talking about this community member being an observer or an active partner in contract negotiations?

TM: An active partner. I would like to see somebody sit in for the duration of the negotiations and be an actual part of the negotiations. Obviously, there’s things that come with that we need to be confidential and we need to be very respectful of the negotiating process, but I think we could have one or two community members sitting at the table bargaining in good faith. I think it can help us get to a base of trust.

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 interviews like this one, which take an average of about 8-10 hours from start to finish. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers like you. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

Morning Crank: A Framework for Inaction

1. Nearly every candidate in this year’s Seattle elections, from urban planner Cary Moon to labor crusader Teresa Mosqueda to former US attorney Jenny Durkan, calls herself (or himself) an “urbanist.” (Moon was even endorsed by The Urbanist blog.) But what are the candidates telling neighborhood groups—the sort of organizations that too often stand in the way of the kind of new housing that would move Seattle toward an actual urbanist future?

At a recent candidate forum held by a group of Magnolia, Queen Anne, and Ballard homeowners, Moon said she would “restart” the process of allowing more housing in neighborhoods so that people already living in those neighborhoods—incumbent property owners—can make sure that their “culture” and neighborhood “character” is preserved.

Asked about Mayor Ed Murray’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda, which allows modest increases in housing supply in non-single-family areas, Moon responded:

The HALA process was way too insular and top-down. It was a small group of people, behind closed doors, who decided that they had a compromise with each other that they unleashed on the world and said, ‘You shall do this.’ That is not the way we do things in Seattle. A better process would have been to go to neighborhoods and say, ‘We’re growing this much and we need to create a healthy society where people of all income levels and all ages and stages of life can live in your neighborhood. Here’s the target goals for your neighborhood. How can we achieve these goals together?’ And work directly with these neighbors around how they want to grow. Do you want duplexes? Row houses? Backyard cottages? Upzone your urban village? [Put] the whole range of tools on the table and work with neighborhoods to figure out, what is the right way for you to grow that preserves your culture and your character of your neighborhood that you care about. That is what we should have done. And I would restart that process at this point and have a new discussion based in those constructive approaches and that positive future vision, because that’s the only way we’re going to make change in this city.

Moon’s response parroted both anti-development activists like Jon Grant, who’s running on a socialist party platform for council Position 8, and property values activists like Marty Kaplan, the Queen Anne homeowner who sued to prevent the city from allowing more backyard cottages and mother-in-law apartments in Seattle’s single-family areas. (Not to mention former mayor Mike McGinn, who ran unsuccessfully this year on a similar message).

Although Moon has, to her credit, been consistent with this let-the-neighborhoods-decide talking point (she said something similar to Transportation for Washington, the political arm of  the urbanist Transportation Choices Coalition, in their endorsement interview, and to me), she’s savvy enough to know that promises to preserve “your culture,” “neighborhood character,” and even “your neighborhood” are dog whistles,  not neutral policy goals. Assuring homeowners that the neighborhoods belong to them, not newcomers or renters, and defining “character” as “exclusive single-family areas” creates a framework for inaction, not a blueprint for growth.

2. On a more positive note, it’s been fun to see Moon and Durkan try to outdo each other with proposals to advance pay equity for women and in jobs primarily held by women over the past two weeks—something I’ve never seen from any male candidate for local elective office, ever. (This, in case you’re wondering, is one of many reasons we need more women in local positions—try to imagine any of the male council members of the past 50 years adding “gender pay equity” to the mission of a standing council committee, which Jean Godden did, or expanding that mission to “gender equity” in general, as Lorena Gonzalez did after Godden left the council.)

The latest shot across the bow comes from Moon, who on Monday proposed a set of rule changes to promote pay equity and transparency from large employers and an ordinance that would bar employers from asking prospective hires about their salary history. Women in Seattle currently make just 78 cents on the dollar compared to men doing similar work, one of the worst big-city pay gaps in the country. Salary history requests contribute to this gap, because when employers base salaries on women’s current pay in a system that underpays them, it only perpetuates the problem. In addition to the salary history ban, Moon proposed working toward a local version of state legislation that would have banned retaliation against workers for discussing their pay, prevented employers from paying some people less for doing the same work as other employees based on their job title, and tracking women into lower-paying jobs.

The pay gap, unsurprisingly, is even worse in the tech industry, where female programmers make, on average, almost 30 percent less than their male counterparts. Durkan is supported by the political arm of the Seattle Chamber, which includes the Washington Retail Association and the Washington Tech Industry Alliance, organizations that opposed SB 1605 this year. The Chamber’s PAC, Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy, has poured $86,000 into an independent expenditure group, People for Jenny. I reached out to Durkan’s campaign yesterday afternoon to find out whether she supports a ban on salary history or a local ordinance that mirrors 1605 and will update this post when I hear back from them.

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, phone bills, electronics, website maintenance, and other expenses associated with my reporting. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

Morning Crank: Keep Seattle What Now?

 

1. In announcing plans for a 1.75-cent-per-ounce soda tax last week, Mayor Ed Murray emphasized what he considers the nexus between sugary soda consumption (which has disproportionate impacts on low-income and minority communities) and what the tax will fund (programs that attempt to close the education and opportunity gap in those communities). As he did during his State of the City speech in February, Murray placed a particular emphasis on improving outcomes for young black men in Seattle Public Schools, by expanding mentoring programs aimed at keeping black male teenagers in school and out of the school-to-prison pipeline. The city’s program, Our Best, is based on an Obama-era program called My Brother’s Keeper that was widely criticized for focusing on male achievement while ignoring the specific, and different, challenges facing young black women. For example, African American Policy Forum director Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw wrote in the New York Times that young black women are more likely than other young women to be victims of sexual violence, become pregnant at a young age, get suspended from school, die violently, and be victims of sex trafficking than other girls. “The disparities among girls of different races are sometimes even greater than among boys.”

Crenshaw notes that “supporters of My Brother’s Keeper use the analogy of ‘the canary in the coal mine‘ to justify both a narrow focus on individual-level interventions — as opposed to systemic policies to narrow the persistent racial gaps in education, income and wealth — and the exclusion of women and girls. Black boys are the miner’s canary, the argument goes, and so efforts to save them will trickle down to everyone else.”

When I asked Murray last week why he, like Obama, planned to emphasize young black men to the exclusion of young black women, his response was straight out of the Obama playbook. “Lots of the programs I listed—STEM, extracurricular activity programs, and other programs that will be enhanced—those are for young men and young women in our high schools,” Murray said. “They’re not limited to just men.”

Dwane Chappelle, director of the city’s Department of Education and Early Learning, jumped in. “At Aki Kurose Middle School, they are doing My Brother’s Keeper for young black men, but they’re also focusing on young black women and Hispanic women as well, making sure that students are all taken care of. They just use the My Brother’s Keeper framework” for both boys and, Chappelle said. But when I asked Chappelle whether the Aki Kurose program focuses on problems that are specific to girls, like teen pregnancy, he said he didn’t know the specifics.

2. A neighborhood effort to prohibit a four-story, 57-unit apartment building from going in along a commercial stretch of Greenwood, where the zoning has allowed apartments for many years, has passed the point of absurdity and is becoming downright surreal. Neighbors of the development, which is located right next to the frequent Route 5 bus line, argue that its residents will have to have cars because they won’t have access to transit, that by building small apartments, the developers are trying to “force” people to live in “Soviet-Union-like” dwellings, that it is “inhumane and unacceptable” for people to live without air conditioning in Seattle, and that a small garden on the roof would be an invitation for renters to “party” and cause disturbances.

Encouraged by a city planning and development department that subjects small projects like this one to design review, and the passivity of a design review board that failed to challenge or reject any of their complaints (virtually none of them the province of design review), the residents filed a challenge to the building under the State Environmental Policy Act, arguing, among other things, that the apartments will inconvenience neighbors by making it harder for them to park their cars.

livablephinney.org

Last week, the group opposing the building, which calls itself (of course) Livable Phinney, released the list of witnesses they would like to hear from and exhibits they hope to introduce at their first appearance before the city’s hearing examiner. (That hearing examiner, Sue Tanner, recently found in favor of Queen Anne homeowners who argued that allowing people to build mother-in-law apartments would harm the environment by, among other things, making it harder for people to park their cars.) A typical witness list might include five or six witnesses; Livable Phinney’s includes a dozen, plus 47 separate exhibits. The proposed witnesses include a Metro employee who will testify that Metro’s Route 5 is often behind schedule, making it less than “frequent,” an architect who will testify that the new apartments will create shadows on a nearby high-end condominium complex, a resident of that complex, and several nearby neighbors who oppose the project. The hearing, which is expected to last three days, starts on Tuesday.

3. Washington State Wire, which “relaunched” in January after several years as a conservative-leaning blog whose chief writer, Erik Smith, now works for the Republican-led Majority Coalition Caucus, has given consultant John Wyble a weekly column, where, last week, he tried to explain his client Mike McGinn’s perplexing campaign slogan, “Keep Seattle.” Says Wyble: “It simply means keep Seattle a welcoming place for all.”

Wyble continues: “I understand that this shorthand phrase could be confused with nostalgia. I remember riding in my Dad’s Ford Falcon along Boeing Field in the early 70s when Seattle was a blue-collar scrappy fishing town and SeaFair was the biggest event of the year. While I remember that fondly, this campaign knows that cities evolve and change. But for who?

“This is a campaign about keeping the promise of a great city for every person who lives in it.”

I guess that… clears that up?

Washington State Wire editor DJ Wilson says Wyble will write a total of eight columns for the website. No word yet on whether they plan to give equal time to consultants or spokespeople for the other mayoral campaigns.

4. David Preston and Harley Lever, two of the activists behind the Safe Seattle Facebook group, announced on their Facebook page that they plan to announce their candidacies for unspecified city offices this afternoon. (I’m guessing council Position 8 and mayor.) Anyone who reads my Twitter feed has a pretty good sense of my thoughts on Preston, who has mocked me relentlessly and even filed a frivolous city ethics complaint after I published a public record that showed another activist in an unflattering light, but you can find out even more about him by Googling his name and checking out his web page, which is a pastiche of conspiracy theories, images of city council aides and other private citizens lifted from their Facebook pages and Photoshopped, and overwrought imitations of hard-boiled journalism, minus the journalism.  You can also check out the video of his appearance before a flabbergasted Ethics and Elections Commission, starting around the two-minute mark.

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: Kind of the Magic of the Place

1. In a State of the City address that focused on major initiatives like a $55 million property tax levy for homelessness and a potential lawsuit against the Trump Administration, Mayor Ed Murray’s brief announcement that he was activating the city’s Emergency Operations Center to respond to the homelessness emergency was easy to miss.

Murray didn’t explain how he planned to repurpose the facility, which is designed to respond to short-term emergencies like riots and weather events, to address the slow-drip homelessness crisis.  So I called up Finance and Administrative Services director Fred Podesta, who serves as the operations director for the city, to ask him how the mayor’s plan would work.

First, Podesta clarified that the EOC won’t be addressing homelessness full-time; rather, from 8:30 to 10:30 on weekday mornings., representatives from every city department—from the Seattle Police Department to the Office of Film and Music—will sit down to discuss the day’s top homelessness-related priorities and come up with a solution for addressing them. For example, if the city’s new “navigation team,” which will be headquartered at the EOC, is heading out to clear an encampment, representatives from FAS, Seattle Public Utilities, and the Human Services Department will be on hand to advise the team on connections to shelter, trash pickup, and any law-enforcement issues that might arise. (Why would Film and Music need to be at the table? Podesta says they might think of something other departments wouldn’t—like an idea for a benefit, or an impact the homeless community has on the nightlife industry that wouldn’t have occurred to other departments.)

That’s kind of the magic of the place, because it’s a very different sort of setting [than city hall], and a big place where we can get everyone in one room might shake loose some sorts of innovations that we might not have thought of before,” Podesta says. “If you lock everybody in the room and say, ‘I want a solution to this on Tuesday,’ it happens faster. Half of it is working on things we were already working on anyway. This is a way to accelerate it and get solutions that are faster and more comprehensive.”

2. UPDATE: Mayor Ed Murray’s office denies that the city has any plans to authorize more encampments. Murray spokesman Benton Strong says the city’s goal is to open just seven encampments total, including existing camps such as Nickelsville in Ballard. Four new sanctioned homeless encampments are reportedly planned as part of the city’s response to unsheltered homelessness. Last time the city announced four new encampments, they ended up opening only three, after community opposition made it hard for the city to find a suitable location. The three sanctioned encampments that opened most recently are in Highland Park, Georgetown, and Licton Springs in North Seattle.

3. Image may contain: textRemember the Women’s March, or Black Lives Matter, or the Stand With Immigrants rally at Westlake Park?

This is exactly like that, except instead of  “women”/”black people”/”immigrants fighting for their human rights,” this rally is more of a “residents of an exclusive high-rise whining that other rich people are building an equally exclusive high-rise next door” kind of thing.

To recap: Residents at the Escala condos, where units list for around $3 million, are mad because another developer plans to build a 45-story apartment and hotel tower directly across the alley from them. They want the city to intervene and enforce their nonexistent right to water views and “air,” arguing that two towers on two adjacent blocks represents too much density for downtown Seattle. I’ve been assured that this  homeowners association alert is real, so make sure you adjust your travel plans accordingly. I hear they’re bringing the Mercer Island Pipeline protesters with them.

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.

Morning Crank: The Right Side of History

Peter Rogoff

In the spirit of last Friday’s Morning Crank, here are five things I heard at the Transportation Choices Coalition’s New Year’s transportation forum, held last Wednesday at City Hall. I moderated the panel, which included city council member Rob Johnson, TCC advocacy director Abigail Doerr, King County Council member Claudia Balducci, and Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff. In truth, the statements I’m quoting are from Rogoff and Johnson, whose comments dealt specifically with the political situation in Seattle; this is not an attempt to silence Doerr or Balducci, the two other women on the panel, whose thoughts on Metro, transit on the Eastside, and the future of transportation advocacy were cogent and valuable. For my Seattle politics site, though, I’ve focused on the remarks specific to Seattle politics, and encourage you to watch the whole event yourself on the Seattle Channel website; the whole thing runs about an hour.

1. Johnson, on what it will take to ensure that Metro’s expansion of Rapid Ride bus service throughout the city will be true bus rapid transit, not just express buses stuck in traffic: “We need to connect with individuals on the ground about the rationale for why [we’re building Rapid Ride]. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a conversation with somebody who articulates their strong environmental values and in the same breath talks to me about how important it is for people to have more parking spaces in the city. We need to do a much better job connecting the values of our city around sustainability, the environment, and race and social justice with the importance of capital facilities like bus-only lanes.

“The 44 is a critical bus route that runs, basically, from the very tail end of Ballard all the way through Fremont, Wallingford, and the University of Washington, and I believe we should be expanding that as a Rapid Ride corridor and running it all the way to University Village. When we do, we’re going to receive opposition not just from the community but from business owners who will say, ‘Taking away a parking space hurts my business. My argument would be that everyone who gets on and off a bus has a wallet too, and they could be spending money in your business.”

“It’s really disturbing for me when I hear somebody talking about how glad they were to see the neighborhood district councils stand up for single-family zoning and then in the next breath disparage the president for wanting to build a wall between the US and Mexico. I see those two things as actually linked.” – City Council member Rob Johnson

2Rogoff, on the long history of collisions, many of them fatal,  between light rail trains and pedestrians in the Rainier Valley—a lower-income area, populated largely by people of color, that is the only part of the regional system where light rail runs primarily at street level: “This is not just a light or rail grade crossing safety risk. It is also, quite frankly, more prominently a pedestrian safety risk. There’s a tendency for people to be walking on the streets looking at their devices with earbuds in their ears and it’s killed a whole bunch of people. It already did. There’s only so much we can do, frankly, for someone who insists on walking singularly focused on their device, with music playing in their ears, when our warnings, our available warnings, in addition to putting down gates to actually block [the crossing] is lights and alarms.” (Rail crossings in the Rainier Valley, it’s worth noting, do not include physical barriers between pedestrian areas and the tracks.)

3. Johnson, on the possibility that the city and county will lose federal funds in retaliation for remaining “sanctuary” jurisdictions that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration crackdowns: “We will fight back against those cuts. There is a strong argument that we can make that says you can’t cut our transportation dollars because of a decision that we make on immigration, but we also are prepared to lose every single penny of those federal funds to make sure that we are a welcoming city.

“The biggest concern for me is watching the appropriation process on an annual basis, making sure that the federal funds that have been allocated to us as a region actually get appropriated to us.”

4. Rogoff, on the possibility that the Trump Administration could cut federal funding, to Sound Transit (Trump is reportedly taking its cues on transportation from the Heritage Foundation, which advocates eliminating federal funding for public transit, and his transportation secretary, Elaine Chao, is a GOP insider who is closely affiliated with the foundation):  “[Trump] said a lot of things, actually throughout the campaign. … There’s a lot of upticks that come with [transportation budget] proposals in some administrations and downticks that come with proposals [in] other administrations, but often Congress levels out the upticks and downticks quite a bit. Congress is going to have to consent to the budget presented by the White House. … I would just say, watch this space and see if their proposals will be as draconian as expected.”

Rob Johnson

5. Finally, Johnson, bringing down the transit-loving, density-friendly house on the contentious University District upzone, which Johnson’s Planning, Land Use and Zoning Committee will discuss tomorrow morning:  “This is about making sure that the council members that represent those districts where we’re going to see long-term investments are also going to be willing to stand up to single-family homeowners who are saying,  ‘Don’t turn my single-family home into a place where you can build a duplex or a triplex.’

“I feel, as the chair of the committee, that it’s my responsibility to make sure that we’re a welcoming city for everybody, and it’s really disturbing for me when I hear … somebody talking about how glad they were to see the neighborhood district councils stand up for single-family zoning and then in the next breath disparage the president for wanting to build a wall between the US and Mexico. I see those two things as actually linked. I see us, as a city, really needing to build more housing for more people, because we’re adding 40 people per day but we’re only building 12 housing units per day, and that’s creating an economic circumstance where lower-income people and middle-income people are being forced out of the city, and I think we need the political will for folks to step in that space and create change for more density around those stations. I firmly believe that. It may result in me only having this job for four years, but if that’s the case, I feel like I’ll have gone down on the right side of history.”

Meet the YIMBYs

This piece originally ran in Seattle Magazine; read the full version here.

Sara Maxana is exactly the sort of person you might expect to see getting involved in her neighborhood meetings. A single mom with two young kids, Maxana lives in a single-family 1931 Ballard bungalow of the type many neighborhood activists are fighting to preserve. Ballard, where the population grew 26 percent between 2010 and 2014, is ground zero in Seattle’s density wars, which pit pro-growth advocates, many of them young renters who moved to the city within the last decade, against the longtime homeowners sometimes disparagingly known as NIMBYs, for “not in my backyard.”

What you might find surprising is that Maxana isn’t a NIMBY. She’s one of a growing group of people who say “yes in my backyard,” coining a new acronym: YIMBY.

Maxana, who once worked at the sustainability nonprofit Futurewise, had more or less retired from politics. But she got re-engaged after Mayor Ed Murray proposed the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) in 2015. The plan (see sidebar, below), which proposes higher density across the city—including the addition of more backyard cottages and basement apartments in single-family areas—quickly became divisive.

Maxana started identifying as a YIMBY because she felt Seattle decision makers needed to hear a positive story about the changes that are coming to the city. She began speaking up at public meetings, studying the details of HALA and tweeting as @YIMBYmom, a quiet rebuke to those who say all urbanists—i.e., people who believe that cities should be dense, culturally vibrant, diverse places with lots of different transportation options—are single, transient renters with no ties to their community.

By embracing the YIMBY concept, Maxana joins a growing community of activists, researchers, housing experts and community-based organizations that see growth as an opportunity to create housing for all the new people who want to live in cities, rather than a hostile invading force. These groups make up a loosely organized, informal coalition of organizations and individuals across the country and, indeed, the globe (groups using the YIMBY framework have sprung up from Melbourne to Helsinki to Iowa City), who believe that the root of housing affordability is a housing shortage, and that the solution to that shortage is simple: Build more housing.

Image By: Maria Billorou
Zachary DeWolf at the 12th Avenue Arts Building: trying to make Capitol Hill a place for mansion owners and street people alike

Although they span the political spectrum, from far left social-justice activists to hard-core libertarian free marketeers, YIMBYs generally agree that cities should be accessible and affordable for everyone, whether they own a million-dollar mansion or rent a $900-a-month studio, and whether they work as a barista or just moved to Seattle for a new job at Amazon.

Seattle might not seem the most obvious axis for this pro-density revolution. For one thing, it’s a city where the single-family home, especially the iconic Craftsman bungalow, is sacrosanct. So thoroughly did Seattle embrace the postwar ideal of the detached single-family house with a yard that it’s written into our zoning code, which preserves a remarkable 57 percent of the city’s buildable land exclusively for single-family houses. (In Portland, the number is 3 percent.)

But as more and more people move to Seattle—the city’s long-range plans anticipate 120,000 new residents by 2035—tension between longtime homeowners and renters, many of them relative newcomers to the city, has mounted. Rents in Seattle increased more last year than those in any other big city in the country, and in the past five years, the median rent has increased from just over $1,500 to more than $2,000. Meanwhile, the median income of renters, $47,847, is less than half that of homeowners, $108,768.

Instead of merely complaining about the housing crisis, Maxana says, YIMBYs “see growth as something that can catalyze change and bring about good things for cities.”

“I don’t see YIMBYs as addressing a problem so much as addressing an opportunity,” Maxana says. “We’re not trying to stop things; we’re trying to say yes to change. I think it’s much more exciting to be pushing for a vision than against what’s happening.”

For Maxana, that vision includes more new neighbors, more interesting shops and coffeehouses, more places to walk and bike and ride—in other words, more of all the things that are coming to her Ballard neighborhood already. “In Ballard, we have all these new breweries, and they’re child-friendly and they’re dog-friendly, and there are places to sit outside with your kids,” Maxana says. “I see more people in the parks, on the streets, on the bus. In my neighborhood, I can walk to five bus lines that get me across town to everywhere I could possibly need to go in the city. And all of that activity lends itself to more vibrancy, and just a more interesting place to live.”

Maxana can rattle off the statistics that describe Seattle’s housing crisis—for example, 40 new people and 35 new jobs are added every day, yet only 12 new housing units a day. But she and other YIMBYs argue that statistics don’t change minds; values do. “We cannot convince anybody with the data alone. We have to be speaking about our values and we have to be speaking from our heart—not ‘I feel this way and so should you,’ but ‘I’m a mom in Ballard and I want my kids to be able to live here when they grow up, and ultimately, this is why I support [density].’”

YIMBYs are starting to make waves at city hall. In July, under pressure from YIMBYs and other urbanists who argued that the city needed to do more to include marginalized groups such as renters, immigrants and people of color, Murray announced the city was cutting formal ties with the 13 neighborhood councils that advise the city on growth and development, eliminating their funding and creating a new advisory group to come up with a more inclusive neighborhood outreach strategy. (The neighborhood councils, Murray noted, are dominated by older, white, wealthy homeowners, and are not representative of an increasingly diverse city.)

While the YIMBYs didn’t make this change happen on their own, their support helped provide political cover for Murray and his neighborhood department director, Kathy Nyland (a former Georgetown neighborhood activist who is openly sympathetic to the YIMBY cause), for what turned out to be a controversial move. Many neighborhood activists liked the neighborhood councils as they were.

Some neighborhood groups are starting to move in a YIMBY direction. A Capitol Hill renter and self-identified YIMBY, Zachary DeWolf stepped into a leadership vacuum on the Capitol Hill Community Council in 2014. He was first elected vice president in 2014, and then president in 2015. As president, he restructured a traditional neighborhood group dominated by older homeowners into an organization run almost entirely by young renters.

His goal: to make the group that represents Capitol Hill more welcoming and inclusive. He has encouraged young renters to run for leadership positions; changed the style of the meetings from a traditional format with leaders sitting at a table facing the audience, to a circular roundtable where everyone can participate; and instituted more after-work hours/evening “community conversations” and “socials” to give a wider range of people a chance to get to know each other and discuss neighborhood issues.

The group’s policy emphasis has been different, too. Instead of advocating for anti-urbanist causes, such as banning corner stores in residential areas and placing a moratorium on new micro apartments as it did in the past, the council is discussing how to accommodate a supervised drug-consumption site in the neighborhood. As DeWolf puts it, “Instead of pushing [drug users] out to neighborhoods that are farther out, where there’s less resources and community, why not just keep them here and take care of them ourselves?” He adds, “At the end of the day, every person that’s in our neighborhood—whether it’s someone living in North Capitol Hill in a gajillion-dollar mansion or someone sleeping in the doorway on 15th in front of someone’s business, every type of person is our neighbor. To me, that is very YIMBY.”

Dennis Saxman, a longtime Capitol Hill activist and renter who opposes what he sees as out-of-control development and gentrification in his neighborhood, believes YIMBYs are well-meaning, but that they misunderstand the root causes of Seattle’s affordability crisis. “I don’t think they understand that Seattle was once notable for the strength of its neighborhoods and their differing characters, and that at one time, that was seen as something important to preserve and desirable,” Saxman says. “Now it’s seen as a way to market neighborhoods while at the same time destroying what makes a neighborhood a neighborhood.”

Saxman says he admires a lot of what DeWolf has done to bring new people into the council, but argues that “they’re falling short” when it comes to including more racial minorities, longtime residents and low-income people. “I don’t think they’re authentically community-based,” he says.

Will Seattle’s future look more like DeWolf and Maxana’s vision—an ever denser city, where newcomers and their ideas are welcome—or more like the city of the past, where conversations were dominated by residents resistant to change? That may depend on whether YIMBYs can make the leap from a vocal group of contrarians who provide a counterpoint to conventional wisdom at city hall to a force that helps guide city policy while bringing new allies, including more single-family homeowners, on board.

One sign that yimbys in Seattle are having an impact came last June from 1,300 miles away in Boulder, Colorado. A group of 150 YIMBYs from all over the country convened at an inaugural conference, YIMBY 2016, to talk about their challenges and successes. The Seattle contingent, which included Maxana, Sightline Institute staffer and Capitol Hill renter Serena Larkin, and University District renter and YIMBY activist Laura Bernstein (who tweets at @YIMBYSea), showed up feeling a bit discouraged by local rancor over HALA. But they left energized after delegations from other cities expressed enthusiasm for what they see as an inclusive coalition of Seattle groups that support HALA, which include urban activists, developers, environmentalists and social justice organizations.

“All these other groups and cities kept telling us, ‘We need to do that work—how did you get all of those people at the table together?’” says Larkin. “It wasn’t the policies [the details of HALA] we came up with, but the relationships that they saw had been built through HALA.”

When you’re in the thick of things in Seattle, it’s hard to see what’s being accomplished here, notes Bernstein. “But when you compare Seattle to other cities, then all of a sudden we look like the success story. I think that there are battles that we’re losing, but we’re winning the war.”

Maxana points to the success of the housing levy, which funds low-income housing and which Seattle voters approved by more than 70 percent in August, as a sign that many Seattleites support the idea of building more housing, including affordable housing. “I see that, and I just have to believe something is clicking,” says Maxana. “And even though you have such a volume of vitriol on [private social media site] Nextdoor and in some of these neighborhood meetings, I think, for the most part, when I look at the city, I see people who want a good place to live not just for themselves, but for their kids and their neighbors.”

Including neighbors they don’t even know yet.

Do Latest HALA Plans Penalize Developers for Density?

screen-shot-2016-09-29-at-10-17-50-pm
Earlier this week, the city released maps showing what the proposed upzones under the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) plan could look like. Dan Beekman at the Seattle Times has a good summary of the changes that could come to multifamily and commercial areas, which could see buildings that are one, two, or three stories higher than what’s currently allowed.
One aspect of the upzone proposal that hasn’t gotten much coverage, though, is a change that would require developers to build (or pay a fee in lieu of building) more affordable housing in new buildings in neighborhoods where upzones are greater; so that, for example, someone building in a Lowrise-2 area that used to be single-family, a substantial jump in zoning capacity, would have to provide more affordable housing or pay a larger fee than a developer building in an area that got just a one-story zoning jump. “When more value is given, there would be a larger affordable housing requirement associated with that,” Nick Welch, a senior planner at the Office of Planning and Community Development, explains.
The result is that developers who are adding substantial density to an area would pay a larger penalty for doing so. The exact percentages haven’t been worked out yet, but the percentage that has consistently been discussed for a “typical increase” in zoning capacity is between 5 and 7 percent, so anything above a “typical increase” would presumably be more than that. On the map above, and the three new designations–M, M1, and M2–identify increasingly large jumps in density.
The new three-tiered set of designations would be in addition to another aspect of HALA, which HAS gotten some coverage, that would discourage density in areas (like Southeast Seattle) where people are at a higher risk of economic and physical displacement.
It’s easy to see the city’s logic–that developers who take advantage of greater increases in density should pay more in exchange for the higher profits that come from taller buildings–but another conclusion might be that the higher affordable housing requirements will discourage building in the areas with the most capacity for future growth.  If HALA makes a seven-story building possible in an area where only three stories are currently allowed, but requires developers to pay an extra penalty to build in that area, will developers just stay away? Given that our affordable housing crisis is largely a housing shortage, that seems like a question well worth asking.

Fact Checking Marty Kaplan, the Queen Anne Homeowner Who Wants to Stop Backyard Cottages

img_0328On September 30, a city hearing examiner will hear closing arguments in an appeal by the Queen Anne Community Council and its representative, former council president Martin (Marty) Kaplan, of legislation sponsored by council member Mike O’Brien to make it easier for homeowners to build backyard cottages and mother-in-law apartments. The council has appealed a finding that the change will have no significant environmental impact under the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA), and is seeking to force the city to put the legislation through a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), a process that would introduce significant cost and set the legislation back months.

The proposal, which was announced as part of Mayor Ed Murray’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) last year, would remove parking mandates for secondary units, loosen owner-occupancy requirements, and allow single-family homeowners to build both a cottage and a basement apartment on their property.

Kaplan argues that the changes will lead to rampant speculation by developers, who will buy up existing houses, tear them down, and replace them with a new house (shaped, in every rendering Kaplan brought during the initial hearing earlier this month, like a windowless, monolithic box) plus a tall backyard structure that will destroy neighbors’ privacy and take away their light and air. This developer rampage, to hear Kaplan tell it, will quickly turn Seattle’s single-family neighborhoods  into canyons of “triplexes” whose occupants overwhelm Seattle’s parking, road, sewer, bus, and electrical infrastructure and quickly render the city “unlivable.”

One of the speakers at Monday night’s Queen Anne Community Council meeting, where Kaplan gave an update on the appeal, predicted the cottage legislation would “unleash a waterfall of development that will make our neighborhoods unrecognizable. What gives them the right to rewrite the contracts of all single-family owners in our city? This is a part of our contract that we bought. Who are they to say that doesn’t exist anymore? What city has ever done that?”

qacc

At the hearing on his appeal, where discussion is supposed to be limited to environmental impacts, Kaplan has been relatively measured—kept in check by hearing examiner Sue Tanner, who has reeled him back in when he’s started in on tangents about “neighborhood character” and “the largest rezone in the city, ever.” In front of his supporters on Monday night, though, Kaplan was less constrained. I decided to fact check some of the claims Kaplan in front of this completely friendly audience.

The claim: “People have said they’re not really triplexes, but that’s not my word—the word ‘triplexes’ was used in the HALA agenda when they were discussing this legislation … and the mayor quickly pulled that back … and he said, ‘I’m not touching the single-family properties, you’re right.’ But in the document they called it a rezone, essentially allowing triplexes on single-family property.”

Fact check: Kaplan is right that the original HALA report called for “allow[ing] more variety of housing scaled to fit within traditional single-family areas to increase the economic and demographic diversity of those who are able to live in these family oriented neighborhoods.” And he’s correct that Mayor Ed Murray backed down on housing diversity after a misleading column by the Seattle Times’ homeowner advocate Danny Westneat prompted an anti-renter backlash. However, the “triplexes” HALA refers to are just that: Triplexes, three-unit buildings housing three unrelated households, not backyard cottages or in-house mother-in-law apartments. “Triplexes” is a rallying cry for anti-density homeowners, I believe, because it evokes images of low-income renters living in rundown, ramshackle buildings.

The claim: “O’Brien’s idea is that this is going to be affordable housing. You can build a bunch of these things and it’s going to help out. And it will change the character of single-family neighborhoods and that’s okay as far as he’s concerned. …

“The average cost of these backyard cottages is between $300,000 and $350,000. If you do the numbers, which I did, these ‘affordable housing units’—if you want to rent an 800-square-foot housing unit, you’d be paying about $2,500 to $2,800 a month to live in a backyard cottage [of that size], and that’s their own testimony, so there’s no affordability component to this at all. That’s the Madison Avenue approach to convincing everyone that these will bring the cost of housing down. … I think that any reasonable person would look at it and realize that $2,800, $3,000 a month is not the goal that they’re shooting for for affordable housing. Affordable housing in this city is $500 a month. These are not affordable.”

Fact check: Although OPCD acknowledges that their initial estimate of the “average cost” to build a DADU, $55,000, was artificially low (that average included renovations by homeowners who simply needed to get an existing DADU up to code, for example), they say Kaplan’s $300,000-$350,000 estimate is absurdly high for a 1,000-square-foot unit. (The legislation increases the maximum size from 800 to 1,000 square feet). This is backed up by reports from other cities that have less stringent regulations on backyard cottages; for example, a 2014 report by the state of Oregon found that the average cost of building an accessory dwelling unit was $78,760, or $221,240 less than the low end of Kaplan’s “average” estimate. In 2011, Governing magazine estimated that an “elaborate” backyard cottage could a Seattle homeowner up to $140,000, still less than half Kaplan’s claim.

Kaplan’s  rent estimates, too, seem concocted out of worst-case scenarios and thin air. Typical rents for DADUs, according to the city, are “affordable” (meaning they cost no more than a third of a renter’s income) for people making between 80 percent and 120 percent of the area median income, meaning about $1,500 to $2,000 a month, or a little less than the Seattle-area average of $2,031. A quick Craigslist search for backyard cottages yielded three results in Seattle, ranging from $1,500 to $1,600 for both one- and two-bedroom cottages, and a search for mother-in-law apartments brought up eight results ranging from $925 for a one-bedroom basement apartment to $2,175 for a three-bedroom unit that occupies the bottom half of a house.

Kaplan, like many homeowners, has apparently lost touch with the rental market in Seattle, too: Although $500, which he cites as an “affordable” rent, is close to what the city considers “affordable” for a very low-income person in a studio apartment, non-subsidized apartments at that level effectively do not exist.

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The claim: “In order to protect neighborhoods, we want to make sure that there’s not an incentive … for people to speculate, to come into a neighborhood and say, ‘I’m going to tear that house down and build two of them, and I’m going to rent them out, and over time I’ll do that ten times and I’ll make more money from it because now I own part of the neighborhood.'” And: If the legislation is adopted, “a speculator can buy the house next door to you and set up an LLC—because they all will be LLCs—and then have his nephew live there for eight months and then, good, he’s gone.”

Fact check: The legislation requires the owner of a backyard cottage to live on the property one year, starting with final approval of the building permit, “as the owner’s permanent residence.” That requirement is designed (necessarily or not) to discourage speculation. But the fact is, builders aren’t exactly scrambling to  build extremely low-density developments (three units, at most, per property) in single-family areas; instead, they’re building low-rise apartments and townhouses in areas zoned for low-rise housing, because that’s what’s profitable. Since Seattle’s zoning code changed to allow backyard cottages in 2009, only 220 have been built citywide, and there’s no evidence that allowing a basement apartment would open the doors to a developer frenzy.

The claim: “If you have a big enough site, you can just fill it up with a 1,000-square-foot backyard cottage, a 1,000-square-foot mother-in-law apartment, and a house of unlimited size.”

Fact check: This is simply not the case. In single-family zones, “big” sites–those over 5,000 square feet–are limited to 35 percent lot coverage, which means that two-thirds of the lot must be open space. So on, say, a 7,200-square-foot lot, which is one of the largest lot-size designations in Seattle, the maximum amount of building on a lot would be 2,520 square feet, or a 1,000-square-foot cottage and a house with about a 1,500-square-foot footprint. Theoretically, a creative homeowner could shoehorn a 1,000-square-foot apartment into the basement of that main structure, but given that the house itself couldn’t be taller than 35 feet, the remaining living space would be very much “limited” by existing city regulations.

The claim (referring to the fact that new cottages might be built where residents currently park their cars): “The parking, a lot of times in single-family, is kind of open space. If you’ve got a garage and a driveway that goes up to it, that’s open space and it allows your neighbor light and air.”

Fact check: The city of Seattle defines “breathing room open space” as consisting of “parks, greenspaces, trails, and boulevards”; it does not include parking spaces or driveways in that definition.

The claim: “There could be a real impact on density, to the point where it takes away the tree canopy. City hall should be really concerned about that, because there’s what’s called the Urban Forestry Commission in Seattle that comes up with goals and plans for growing our tree canopy. … That has been thrown under the bus. There is not one mention of preserving a tree.”

Fact check: Kaplan is right: The proposed legislation is silent on the question of the city’s tree canopy. However, as I’ve written previously, “Save the trees!” is  just a sneaky slogan that makes single-family advocates sound like they’re in favor of sound environmental policy while supporting policies (like preserving two-thirds of Seattle’s residential land for single-family use) that promote sprawl. And it’s sprawl, not a lack of trees on privately owned land, that is destroying actual forests and farmland, even as it “saves” the odd backyard conifer.

The claim: “What we’re talking about here is [rezoninig] half the area of the city of Seattle with no public input, no right for you to comment, and only a proclamation from city hall that says ‘There’s no environmental impacts, let’s just lie this sucker through.'”

Fact check: The city council adopted a resolution back in 2014 committing to explore changing land-use rules to allow more backyard cottages. In 2015, the city released a report that includes detailed descriptions of the potential code changes that the city was considering, including allowing both an ADU and a DADU on a single lot, eliminating the owner-occupancy requirement, and removing the parking mandate. In January and February of 2016, O’Brien and the Office of Planning and Community Development held two public meetings to discuss the legislation, and took public input that is summarized in this report.

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