Tag: Mayor Durkan

Where Is Durkan’s $195,000 Cabinet-Level General? “Out and About,” According to His Schedule

When Mayor Jenny Durkan decided to hire retired Air Force general Mike Worden as a special, cabinet-level “director of mobility operations coordination,” she explained the move as a way of freeing up Seattle Department of Transportation director Sam Zimbabwe to focus on the day-to-day operations at SDOT while Worden dealt with crisis management. (Worden, whose most recent job was for defense contractor Lockheed Martin, was a runner-up for the SDOT director position, and his $195,000 salary is funded at least partially through SDOT.)

Worden, the mayor said, would “coordinate across all departments” to respond to emergencies that impact transportation; for example, “When a tree comes down and blocks a road, that’s not necessarily a Seattle Department of Transportation issue; it could be a City Light issue because it could take wires with it. It could be a Parks Department issue, because the tree was originally in a park.”

At the time, the city was dealing with the closure of the Alaskan Way Viaduct, which many officials thought would result in nightmarish traffic jams. The city opened its joint operations center—essentially, an emergency traffic management center staffed 24 hours a day—to respond to the coming “period of maximum constraint” downtown. When that “carpocalypse” (predictably) failed to occur, Worden was assigned to more, ahem, general duties. (As I reported earlier this year, city staffers were initially instructed to refer to Worden as “the General” or “General Worden,” a directive that was reportedly later rescinded).

But what, exactly, are those duties? Worden has been one of the least visible members of the mayor’s administration, rarely appearing at press events and taking a back seat at major announcements; at the mayor’s recent housing speech, for example, he stood in the back of the room and left immediately after Durkan concluded her remarks.

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I asked the mayor’s office for a copy of Worden’s schedule, starting in March of this year—after the fears of Viadoom had mostly subsided.

The first thing that jumps out about the schedule is the large number of the pages in Worden’s schedule that are largely blank—unusual for a mayoral cabinet member.

The second obvious departure from a traditional high-ranking city employee’s schedule is that a huge amount of Worden’s time is unprogrammed “out and about” time. “Out and about,” in fact, makes up the largest category of time in Worden’s schedule other than unprogrammed time represented as blank spaces in the calendar—in the 85 work days represented in his March, April, May, and June calendars, 285 hours—or the equivalent of nearly 36 full eight-hour work days—is earmarked as “out and about.” Twelve more weekdays are blocked out as “DNS [do not schedule]—will attend cabinet or mayoral meetings.” 

Here are a few pages from Worden’s schedule (full calendar here). Below them is the schedule for SDOT director Sam Zimbabwe for those same days.

Asked about Worden’s current duties, Durkan spokeswoman Chelsea Kellogg said he’s focused on “implementing citywide process improvements to better address traffic incidents” like the fish truck spill in 2015, which took place under the previous administration and eventually led to 30 recommendations for improving traffic incident management. “Director Worden manages the Traffic Incident Management and Congestion Management program, which is a cross-department, City-wide coordination effort,” Kellogg said. “This work is happening in coordination with the regional Seattle Area Congestion Management Joint Operations Working Group to implement region-wide process improvements.”

As for all that “out and about time,” Kellogg said: “During that time Mike rides buses, light rail, or the [S]ounder to talk to transit drivers and riders.” (Sounder and light rail are run by Sound Transit, not the city; the buses are run by King County Metro). “Sometimes Mike goes to traffic pinch points or other points of observation to watch traffic, incident responses, traffic clearing, traffic officers, etc.  When there is an incident, Director Worden often goes to see response in person, sometimes hitching a ride with a responder. If required, Director Worden corrects response protocols on the spot unless there is a serious unresolved trend which needs to be elevated.”

Referring to the unscheduled stretches in Worden’s calendar, I asked Kellogg whether I was “missing things that are happening that are not explicitly on the schedule,” and for examples. Kellogg responded: “To your question about his day-to-day responsibilities outside of City projects, that would be reflected in the regular working time not taken up by meetings.”

“Each member of cabinet has different responsibilities. Some cabinet members manage large teams of people and huge departments; some do not. We believe it valuable to have a cabinet member like Director Worden who can focus on and elevate the cross-departmental work of departments on incident management and congestion management,” Kellogg said.

Tense Meeting Sets Up Fight Over Durkan’s “RV Ranching” Legislation

Mayor Jenny Durkan’s proposal to allow the city to fine and prosecute anyone who “allows” another person to live in an “extensively damaged” vehicle met with a cool reception in city council chambers this morning, particularly after the mayor’s director of Finance and Administrative Services, Calvin Goings, likened homeless people living in RVs to “dogs” living in inhumane conditions. (FAS oversees the city’s towing program).

Goings’ comment came after a testy exchange with council member Teresa Mosqueda, who took issue with Goings’ statement that “the foundational question” for the council was, “does the council agree this is a problem?” Goings said. If they agreed that it was a problem for people to be living in “squalor conditions,” Goings said, they had a “moral obligation” to support some version of the mayor’s legislation.

“If there were animals living like this, then we would seize those animals. Please tell me that Seattle is not a place where we would not allow a dog to live where we would allow human beings to live.”–Seattle Department of Finance and Administrative Services director Calvin Goings

“It’s very clear to me that the full council shares the concerns,” Mosqueda responded, noting that they have continued to push for more funding for shelter and services and have repeatedly increased the size of the mayor’s Navigation Team. But, she added, “when we’re looking at specific legislation, we have to look at the language here. Words matter. The words in the legislation matter.”

Goings responded: “If there were animals living like this, then we would seize those animals. Please tell me that Seattle is not a place where we would not allow a dog to live where we would allow human beings to live.”

Mosqueda was leaving the meeting during Goings’ comments, but council member Mike O’Brien piled on, noting that the mayor’s legislation neither defines “RV ranchers” (people who buy derelict RVs and lease them out) nor says how common the problem is. Although Goings and other mayoral officials at the table reiterated that the bill was meant to target “the predatory rentals of unsafe vehicles,” the legislation as written would allow the city to go after people who live in RVs with family members as well as people living in cars or RVs that meet just two of a long list of deficiencies that includes things like cracked windshields and leaking fluids.

“Do you know what we do for animals that need a home? We shelter them. We give them food. We give them a bath. This legislation does none of those things for these individuals.”—City Council member Teresa Mosqueda

“Are are we talking five? Are we talking 300?” O’Brien asked. (The city estimates that between two and five individuals are renting out RVs to other people, but has no exact number or estimate of how many RVs those two to five people own).  “I would expect someone to get that information.” O’Brien also noted that some of the photos Goings and staffers from the city’s RV remediation program and the mayor’s office showed in council chambers looked like examples of hoarding, which is also fairly common among people with homes.

Council member Sally Bagshaw asked why the legislation didn’t include any additional funding for enhanced shelter or tiny house villages, which would allow people living in tents or RVs to keep at least some of their possessions and wouldn’t require people to separate from their partners or pets. Tess Colby, the mayor’s homelessness advisor, described the Navigation Team’s outreach on “the day of the clean” (which, as I’ve reported, no longer routinely includes nonprofit outreach workers) and said that only 10 to 15 percent of people living in RVs tend to “accept services” when they’re offered.

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The penalty for “RV ranchers” who rent substandard RVs will be up to $2,000—payable directly to their former “tenant” in the form of restitution—plus a $250-a-day fine and potential criminal charges. Bagshaw asked whether it’s realistic to believe people who own derelict RVs have that kind of money. “We believe that they do, and we also think that this is an important message to send to ranchers and  a disincentive to continue to do this,” Colby said.

After the meeting, Mosqueda said she found Goings’ comments comparing people living in RVs to “animals” living in abusive conditions “shocking” and off point. “Do you know what we do for animals that need a home?” Mosqueda said. “We shelter them. We give them food. We give them a bath. This legislation does none of those things for these individuals.”

“We’re actually supportive of is getting people into safe living situations, and nothing in that legislation was actually targeted toward helping individuals.”

The city council’s central staff wrote a memo outlining what the legislation would do, along with a number of questions for the council to consider, that is very much worth a read.

Mercer Megablock Sells to Real Estate Equity Firm for $143 Million

Mayor Jenny Durkan announced today that the city will sell the “Mercer Megablock” property—three parcels in South Lake Union totaling just under three acres—to Alexandria Real Estate for a total of $143 million. (I was first to report that the city had chosen Alexandria as the buyer last month.) The sale of the property, one of the largest undeveloped properties in South Lake Union, will net $78 million for various affordable housing uses (including both low-income and middle-income housing); pay back several loans the city took out against the future sale of the property; and provide $5 million for unspecified homelessness-related programs—including, perhaps, the restructure of the city and county’s homelessness response systems into one regional agency.

The $143 million price tag includes a $38 million “discount” in exchange for Alexandria’s guarantee to provide affordable housing; the price without affordable housing would have been just over $171 million. “It’s a new benchmark number in terms of price for square foot” on the portion of the property Alexandria plans to develop, Steven Shain, from the city budget office, told reporters during a briefing on the plan last week. “I think we did a great job negotiating. … I don’t want to characterize in the press that they’re overpaying [but] they are going way above to make sure that they won this project.”

During last week’s briefing, Mayor Jenny Durkan called the deal “one of the most consequential property deals the city of Seattle has ever done. … I think it will be one of those things that people look back and say, that really was a generational opportunity for the city of Seattle and they were able to seize it and make our city better because of it.”

Here’s a detailed look at what the project will look like and where the money from the sale will go.

What will be included on site:

The project will primarily be a life-sciences campus like the ones Alexandria has already developed in cities like San Francisco, San Diego, and in South Lake Union—”creating … hundreds of new jobs, if not thousands of new jobs, that will lead to our ability to be the city that cures cancer and other things like that,” Durkan said.

In addition to commercial space, the project will include a community center of up to 30,000 square feet, according to Shain, at no rent to the city, and will a single, large building (up to 12 stories tall) combining 175 units of low-income housing—the minimum number the city asked for in its original request for proposals—with about 38 moderate-income units built under the city’s Multifamily Tax Exemption (MFTE) program, which grants developers a property tax break if they keep units affordable to moderate-income households for 12 years. (City officials who briefed reporters on the plan last week said the developer could build as many as 190 units in addition to the affordable ones, but has not committed to a specific number, which will determine the exact number of MFTE units).

The affordable units, according to Shain , would be distributed throughout the same building as the market-rate apartments—”there wouldn’t be two separate doors”—and would be available to people making less than 60 percent of the Seattle area median income, or about $45,600 for a single person. The new units would mostly be studios and one-bedrooms, not the family-sized units that are most lacking in Seattle, particularly in the downtown core.

Alexandria would also be responsible for building two blocks of protected bike lane on Mercer St. and to open a pedestrian path through the campus on the block between Mercer and Roy. The company has agreed to pay for pay for environmental remediation on the site, which has been the site of a dry cleaner and a gas station, among other things; Shain said the cost would probably be a “significant eight-figure number.” Continue reading “Mercer Megablock Sells to Real Estate Equity Firm for $143 Million”

Afternoon Crank: Mayor Vetoes Soda Tax Bill, Council Plans to Override, and Streetcar Faces New Hurdles

Image via Pixabay.

1. On Friday, as I first reported on Twitter, Mayor Durkan vetoed council legislation that creates a dedicated fund for excess revenues from the sweetened beverage tax, and stipulates that this money can only be used for new or expanded programs benefiting the low-income communities most heavily impacted by the tax.

In her veto letter, Durkan reiterated her claim that by stipulating what the tax can be spent on, the council is “cutting” funding for previously existing programs that Durkan funded last year by using revenues from the tax to supplant general-fund dollars that had previously paid for the programs and re-allocating those general fund dollars for other purposes. “I agree that the Sweetened Beverage Tax is regressive and should be used only for the purposes set forth in the adopting ordinance, and to further expand important City investments for our most vulnerable population,” Durkan wrote. “Every one of the programs funded in the adopted and endorsed budget met these requirements. Council has now changed its mind and only wants to fund new programs.”

In fact, the council’s legislation will “require that all SBT revenues be used to expand existing programs or create new programs that align with the spending guidance” (emphasis added).

“I think the veto is really more about a statement against this mayor wanting to see her executive power curbed, as opposed to the substance of the issue.” – Council member Lorena Gonzalez

At its briefing meeting this morning, the council made plans to override the mayor’s veto this coming Monday. (Overriding a mayoral veto requires a 6-vote council majority; the legislation passed 7-1, with Abel Pacheco voting “no” and Debora Juarez absent).  Because the council is about to go on its annual recess, next Monday’s meeting is the only opportunity the council will have to veto the bill within the 30-day window specified under city law.

Council president Bruce Harrell, one of seven council members who voted for the soda-tax legislation, called Durkan’s veto “just a complete waste of time,” adding, “I’m not sure of the substantive reasons to do this, other than to make us revote a vote that was not even a narrow vote.” Council member Lorena Gonzalez added, “I’m disturbed by some of the rhetoric coming out of the mayor’s office, but also her agencies,” about the impact of the legislation. “I think the veto is really more about a statement against this mayor wanting to see her executive power curbed, as opposed to the substance of the issue. … It’s clear that the sugary beverage tax has always been intended … to ensure that the dollars were going to be spect in exactly the manner that we have now indicated that they should be spent.” Continue reading “Afternoon Crank: Mayor Vetoes Soda Tax Bill, Council Plans to Override, and Streetcar Faces New Hurdles”

Durkan Legislation Would Fine Anyone Who “Allows” Another Person to Live in “Extensively Damaged” Vehicle


Mayor Jenny Durkan just sent legislation down to the city council that would give the city the authority to fine and prosecute anyone who “allow” other people “to occupy any motor vehicle or recreational vehicle… that is extensively damaged.”

Durkan first announced that she would be proposing a crackdown on junk RVs back in June, on the grounds that unethical RV owners are exploiting homeless people by charging them exorbitant rates to live in inoperable and dangerous vehicles. At the time, the mayor’s office also instituted a new policy that makes it easier for the city to confiscate and destroy “derelict” vehicles instead of allowing them to go back on the market. Durkan’s office provided no data suggesting the extent of this practice, known “RV ranching” or “car farming,” and the legislation doesn’t specify how common it actually is, using phrases like “has increased in frequency over time” and words like “many” to suggest that the problem is widespread. (I’ve asked the mayor’s office for any analysis they used in crafting the legislation.)

The bill, which will likely be amended by the council, would impose a fine of $250 a day on anyone who “allows” people to live in a derelict vehicle, a definition that encompasses everything from cracked windows to leaking fluids to inadequate interior waterproofing.

One thing that is certain is that residents and businesses—particularly in the SoDo industrial area, which is one of a limited number of places in Seattle where parking RVs is legal—have complained repeatedly about the proliferation of RVs near their properties.

The bill, which will likely be amended by the council, would impose a fine of $250 a day on anyone who “allows” people to live in a derelict vehicle, a definition that encompasses everything from cracked windows to leaking fluids to inadequate interior waterproofing. That person—presumably, but not explicitly, a “landlord” who actually owns the vehicle—would also be required to pay up to $2,000 in restitution to the person or people living in the vehicle. The second offense would be a misdemeanor, subject to a fine of up to $1,000 and up to 90 days in jail. Continue reading “Durkan Legislation Would Fine Anyone Who “Allows” Another Person to Live in “Extensively Damaged” Vehicle”

Unanswered Questions from Durkan’s Housing Announcement

On Wednesday, city staffers, supporters of Mayor Jenny Durkan, and members of the media crowded into a  small black-box theater at the 12th Avenue Arts building on Capitol Hill to hear what was billed as a major speech outlining the mayor’s vision for affordable housing in Seattle. (Press, many of whom had expected the event would include an opportunity to ask questions, were relegated to a “reserved” row in the very back.)

Ultimately, the event—which consisted of a State of the City-style address outlining what the city has done on housing recently, followed by an announcement of two initiatives that were already in the works—didn’t make much news. Durkan said that Seattle plans to take advantage of a new state law allowing cities to use a portion of existing state sales tax for housing, by bonding against future revenues to get about $50 million for housing for formerly homeless people up front. And she said the city would extend the multifamily tax exemption program that gives developers a property tax exemption if they agree to set aside 20 percent of new units for low-to-middle-income renters for 12 years. (The city renews the tax break every three to five years).

In fairness, the MFTE announcement did include a bit of real news: Under Durkan’s plan, the city will cap rent increases at MFTE units at 4.5 percent a year. Under federal rules, potential (though not necessarily actual) rent increases for these units track to area median income—when median income goes up, say, 10 percent because a bunch of high-paid tech workers move into the city, rents for low-income people living in tax-exempt buildings can go up 10 percent as well, even though the people living in those units obviously aren’t seeing their incomes rise 10 percent every year. (In practice, huge annual rent increases for existing units would be out of scale with the overall market in many parts of town, although it does happen). Last year, the city used some creative math to freeze rent increases at MFTE properties to prevent apartment owners from raising rents at the rate of median income increases, but the 4.5 percent cap puts a firm limit on how much landlords can charge.

Otherwise, though, Durkan’s “Seattle Housing Now” announcement raised more questions than it answered. Here are some of those questions, along with a few potential answers.

• What’s going on with the pending sale of the Mercer Megablock?

Durkan provided a few sparse details about the pending sale of the Mercer Megablock, a three-acre city-owned site in South Lake Union that could bring in upward of $100 million. The mayor will likely announce a plan and buyer—reportedly Alexandria Real Estate Investment, Inc., a real estate investment trust that focuses on life science campuses—in the next two weeks. The mayor’s office recently briefed council members on the deal, sort of: Staffers reportedly showed council members a PowerPoint that contained few specifics, and took the document with them when they left.

What we do know from the mayor’s speech is that the new development will include some housing on site (the request for proposals for the project called for at least 175 rent-restricted units), and that the city will use some of the revenues from the sale to buy properties in areas with a high risk of displacement, to provide low-interest loans to struggling homeowners who want to build cottages in their backyards, and to fund homeownership opportunities.

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What was unclear from Durkan’s pre-announcement announcement was how she will propose splitting up those revenues among programs that help low-income renters, middle-income workers (the “teachers, nurses and firefighters” that are a frequent Durkan talking point) and higher-income homebuyers and homeowners. Some housing advocates had argued that the city should hang on to the megablock property and build affordable housing on the site, or, failing that, invest heavily in housing for low-income people who are being driven out of the city by rising rents. It remains to be seen how much Durkan took their pleas to heart, but programs for homebuyers and homeowners tend to be aimed at people making as much as 120 percent of median income, or about $130,000 for a family of four. (For a single person, 120 percent of median works out to $91,000). If Durkan’s plan for the megablock money is skewed toward subsidizing people making six-figure salaries, it will likely come under fire from the council; on seeing an early draft of the mayor’s ADU plan, council member Lorena Gonzalez reportedly responded that the high-income subsidy (a loan product aimed at people making up to 120 percent of median) would end up disproportionately benefiting  white homeowners, not people of color facing displacement in areas like the Central District. Her office says they’ve asked the mayor’s office to do a race and social justice analysis of the proposal, and that they’ve said they will.

The mayor will likely announce a plan and buyer—reportedly Alexandria Real Estate Investment, Inc., a real estate investment trust that focuses on life science campuses—in the next two weeks.

• Why didn’t the MFTE plan go further?

One perennial question about the multifamily tax exemption program is whether it results in enough  affordable housing to justify the cost, which amounts to about $26 million in lost taxes every year, according to the most recent program status report. The program ensures that between 20 and 25 percent of new units are available to people making between 65 and 85 percent of median income (a number that varies depending on the size of the unit and where it is in the city). The idea behind the 12-year tax break is that by the time the tax expires, new development elsewhere will have been built to meet demand at the top of the market, and the MFTE units will have depreciated in value to the point that rents will be affordable relative to the rest of the market. Because housing development hasn’t kept up with population growth, this hasn’t happened, raising the question of whether the subsidy is deep enough to justify the tax break for developers.

One perennial question about the multifamily tax exemption program is whether it results in enough  affordable housing to justify the cost, which amounts to about $26 million in lost taxes every year,

Options the mayor and her middle-income advisory council, which advised Durkan on the plan, could have proposed include lowering the income eligibility so that lower-income people could participate in the program, which would lower rents (currently, MFTE landlords can charge someone making 80 percent of median income $1,737 for a one-bedroom apartment, which is basically market rent); placing a more stringent cap on rent increases; or limiting the program to larger “family” units, on the grounds that the market is already producing lots of small units at rents basically equivalent to the units the program subsidizes with tax breaks.

• What’s up with the Uber/Lyft tax?

Durkan has been working since last year on a plan to tax Uber and Lyft rides to pay for a laundry list of transportation and housing programs, but the proposal has been slow to get off the ground. Uber and Lyft generally have opposed the plan, arguing that it won’t reduce congestion downtown, because ride-hailing services only amount to a small percentage of car trips downtown and because of a phenomenon called induced demand, where small reductions in congestion lead people to drive when they ordinarily wouldn’t have. The ride-hailing companies have called for broad congestion pricing on all downtown drivers, which (unlike a tax targeting them specifically) would require voter approval.

Durkan’s latest plan would reportedly fund new investments in housing with the tax. But  it’s unclear when—or whether—the mayor will actually release a final proposal. Another question, if Durkan does end up proposing the tax, is whether the revenues will go to capital investments (building new units) or operations and maintenance (the less flashy but critical work of running them). Permanent supportive housing units for very low-income people (like the ones that would be funded through the new sales tax revenues) are expensive to run because they (unlike regular apartments) require full-time staffing and case management. If the ride-hailing tax passes, that money could be used to build housing around transit stations (providing a nexus, sort of, to justify using a transportation tax to pay for housing) while the money from the sales tax can go toward O&M. Without the Uber/Lyft tax, that equation becomes more challenging.

Durkan’s latest plan would reportedly fund new investments in housing with a new tax on ride-hailing services. But  it’s unclear when—or whether—the mayor will actually release a final proposal.

• When is Durkan going to announce a new Office of Housing director?

Durkan told OH director Steve Walker (whose final day is today) he was out back in March. His deputy director, Miriam Roskin, went on sabbatical shortly after that and is not expected to return. Durkan has had four months to appoint a replacement for Walker, but has not yet done so. It’s unclear when the mayor will announce Walker’s replacement. In June, 30 housing advocacy groups sent a letter to the mayor outlining their values and recommendations for the hiring process—an effort, according to Puget Sound Sage policy and research analyst Giulia Pascuito, to “push back on [the] narrative we’ve seen from the Mayor’s office around ‘middle-income housing’ and to let the city know that advocates are paying attention” to the appointment.

• Why didn’t Durkan acknowledge state Rep. Nicole Macri (D-43), in her speech?

An oversight, perhaps—her official press release mentions Macri by name—but it was somewhat jarring that Durkan didn’t shout out one of the prime sponsors of HB 1406, the legislation that made it possible for the city to use sales tax revenues to fund housing, during her speech, which included praise for Macri’s co-sponsor, June Robinson, as well as house speaker Frank Chopp and state Sen. David Frockt.

“We Are Intentionally Tying Our Hands”: Council Passes Soda Tax Spending Plan with 7-Vote Majority

 

The simmering tension between the mayor’s office and the city council boiled over this afternoon, as the council passed (and Mayor Jenny Durkan immediately vowed to veto) legislation sponsored by council member Mike O’Brien that creates  a dedicated fund for excess revenues from the sweetened beverage tax, and stipulating that this money can only be used for new or expanded programs benefiting the low-income communities most heavily impacted by the tax. The vote was a veto-proof 7-1, with Debora Juarez (D5) absent and interim District 4 council member Abel Pacheco voting no.

“We are intentionally tying our hands,” O’Brien said Monday afternoon, by “making a clear policy statement that this money should be off limits except for the stated purposes” laid out in the legislation.

This debate has a long history. In 2017,  the council passed the controversial tax with the stipulation that the revenues from the tax would be poured back into programs promoting equitable food access in the communities most impacted by the tax—low-income communities and communities of color that lack access to affordable, healthy food. One year later, with soda tax revenues coming in higher than anticipated, Mayor Jenny Durkan proposed (and the council approved) a budget that used those “extra” dollars to fund food-access and education programs that had previously been funded through the city’s general fund. The budget swap came with a caveat: By 2019, the council said, Durkan needed to come up with a plan to ensure that soda tax revenues were used to fund healthy-food initiatives, not used to free up funding for other mayoral priorities.

Durkan expressed her “disappointment in the City Council’s vote to pass legislation that creates a significant hole in the City’s budget and cuts funding for critical low-income programs”

That didn’t happen, which brings us to the latest impasse. Last week, Durkan’s departments of Human Services and Education and Early Learning sent letters to providers warning them that the council planned to “cut” their funding. As I reported, dozens of service providers responded with letters rejecting this framing, condemning the mayor for (as they saw it) holding their funding hostage to a political battle over revenues that shouldn’t have been used to supplant general-fund dollars in the first place. On Monday, representatives from these groups showed up at city hall to support O’Brien’s legislation. For Durkan “to end funding for basic needs and services is the unthinkable and simply cruel,” El Centro de la Raza human services director Denise Perez Lally told the council—an especially blunt, but by no means isolated, assessment of Durkan’s position.

At the same time—and completely unbeknownst to the council—the Senior Action Coalition, a group that represents Chinese American seniors with limited English proficiency, showed up in force to oppose O’Brien’s legislation. It was unclear how many of the dozens of seniors who filled the council chambers were familiar with the details of the proposal. Several spoke generally, in English, in favor of preserving funding for food banks, but there were no translators for the non-English speakers in the crowd. “We weren’t told they were coming,” a surprised-looking council staffer said. Tanika Thompson, a food access organizer with Got Green, addressed the group directly during public comment. “I want you to know that the mayor has the power to fund your programs and is working on her budget right now,” Thompson said. “This is a scare tactic to pit our united organizations against each other.”

Pacheco, who was appointed to serve the remainder of former council member Rob Johnson’s position back in April, tried to introduce an amendment that would push back the effective date of the legislation until 2021, arguing that because the council “endorsed” a tentative 2020 budget last year as part of the normal budget process, any changes now would amount to “cuts.” (This is exactly the argument Durkan has made, arguing that O’Brien’s legislation “directly cuts” programs funded through 2020 in the endorsed version of the budget.) In fact, the mayor proposes a new budget every year; the “endorsed” second-year budget always changes—sometimes dramatically—based on a mayor’s priorities, available funding, and spending obligations created during the intervening year, making this an unusual and arguably tenuous argument that ignores the ordinary push-and-pull of the annual budget process.

“I don’t think that those of us who are sitting here now imagined a world in which we would be put in this unfortunate situation of manufactured division among communities of color and disadvantaged communities.” — Council member Lorena Gonzalez

After his amendments failed, Pacheco apologized to human services providers on behalf of the council for failing (before he was appointed) to secure long-term funding for the programs Durkan moved out of the general fund last year. This prompted a stinging rebuke from council member Lorena Gonzalez, who said, “The only apology that I’m going to give to the community is that we didn’t catch this when we passed it back in 2017, because it has always been our intent to have this be a dedicated revenue source.” Back then, Gonzalez continued, “I don’t think that those of us who are sitting here now imagined a world in which we would be put in this unfortunate situation of manufactured division among communities of color and disadvantaged communities and the pumping out of terribly inaccurate information that has resulted  in creating a tremendous amount of fear in community-based organizations.”

Morning Crank: Seattle vs. Broken Windows, Burgess vs. “Ideology,” Showbox Contract Suspended

 

In SODO and Georgetown, lots of arrests and a focus on clearing out RVs, and just one referral to Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion, for 1,500 hours of emphasis patrols.

1. On Wednesday, the city council’s public safety committee got into a philosophical discussion about the”broken windows” theory of policing with representatives from several city departments, during a presentation on Mayor Jenny Durkan’s decision to extend “emphasis patrols” in seven neighborhoods beyond the initial 30-day period announced at the end of April. The patrols have been controversial, with critics contending that the seven neighborhoods—which include Ballard, Fremont, and Pioneer Square—were chosen based on the volume of complaints from residents rather than the presence of actual crime. (The mayor, for her part, said that she was unaware of any such criticism).

Council members Lorena Gonzalez and Teresa Mosqueda pushed SPD strategic advisor Chris Fisher and assistant chief Eric Greening to explain the difference between “broken windows” (the widely debunked theory that graffiti, panhandling, vacant buildings, and other types of “disorder” create an atmosphere that leads people to commit more crime), and the theory behind the emphasis patrols. The theory, popularized by George Kelling and James Q. Wilson, was implemented in cities across America throughout the 1980s and 1990s and has become synonymous with zero-tolerance policing and Rudy Giuliani’s New York City.

Fisher called this a misinterpretation. “Different people have different interpretations of broken windows,”  Fisher said. “I think the original theory involved working with the community… [and] I think some departments, some other researchers or practitioners, took it as meaning zero tolerance. [They] didn’t involve the community, and they just decided they were going to arrest everyone for everything, but that wasn’t the intent of broken windows.”

Highfalutin theories aside, it’s notable that the Durkan administration appears to be explicitly embracing the broken windows theory, in the form of ramped-up arrests for low-level crimes in the emphasis areas (broken down by neighborhood in the report) and neighborhood “cleanup” efforts that include removing graffiti, getting rid of newspaper boxes, and cutting back vegetation as well as removing more encampments without prior notice or offers of outreach or services.

Christopher Williams, the parks department director, pointed to a skatepark in South Park where workers have picked up litter, gotten rid of graffiti, and cut back vegetation, all “things that really emphasize that broken window theory—the quicker we can clean it up, the more that gives a message to the community that this is a cared-for, loved space and the community tends to treat it that way.” Williams also said his department is “treat[ing] single tents and encampments like stand-alone obstructions and we will have those removed immediately, for the most part,” rather than providing 72 hours’ notice and offers of shelter and services to encampment residents.

Council members, including District 4 representative Abel Pacheco, still seemed unsatisfied by SPD’s explanations for how the seven neighborhoods were chosen, an issue Fisher seemed to chalk up to the way the information was being presented, rather than the information SPD has provided to the council itself. “I asked for data about why these specific neighborhoods were chosen, and I believe the answer I got from you was that it was [a] combination of data … and calls and complaints that were generated from neighbors,” Mosqueda said. “To me, that’s not a quantitative way of explaining why we’re going into certain neighbors.”

In Ballard and Fremont, lots of calls for service from neighbors contributed to the decision to add patrols.

Fisher (essentially repeating what he told the council back in May) said the neighborhoods were chosen based on “an increase in calls and crime and complaints.” For example, “Fremont was our hottest neighborhood … in terms of an increase in reported crime and calls for service. It was sort of the clear winner,” Fisher said.

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2 . Former council member and mayor Tim Burgess sent out an email Wednesday telegraphing which city council candidates his blandly named political action committee, People for Seattle, will be supporting in the August primary elections. Not too surprisingly, they overlap 100% with the candidates endorsed by the Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy (CASE), the political arm of the Seattle Metro Chamber of Commerce, with the exception of Districts 6 and 7, where People for Seattle did not make a recommendation. The candidates People for Seattle (and CASE) support for Districts 1-5, in order, are: Phil Tavel, Mark Solomon, (former Burgess aide) Alex Pedersen, and council incumbent Debora Juarez.

Burgess’ group, in other words, is snubbing two of Burgess’ own former colleagues, Lisa Herbold (D1) and Kshama Sawant (D3) in favor of candidates who, as Burgess put it in his email, can “best lead our city forward and change the current approach at the City Council.”

People for Seattle currently has about $220,000 in the bank, much of it raised in $5,000 chunks from developer and tech industry folks like Clise Properties CEO Al Clise, Amazon senior vice president Doug Herrington, developer Richard Hedreen, telecom moguls Bruce and John McCaw, and billionaire Mariners owner John Stanton. So far, they owe EMC Research $40,000 for polling, presumably to test messages like the one Burgess underlines in his email: “Please spread the word that we need a new City Council that gets back to basics and focuses on our city’s most pressing challenges. We want the next City Council to bring us together with solutions and not divide us based on ideology.”

Because there’s nothing “ideological” about calling Seattle a “Mecca [for] homeless,” opposing the streetcar and Sound Transit 3, or denouncing the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda as a “backroom deal for real estate developer upzones.”

3. Last month, a King County Superior Court judge dismissed every one of the city of Seattle’s arguments in favor of recently adopted legislation that prevented the owners of the downtown Showbox building from selling the property to a developer. The legislation, which supporters pitched as a way to “save the Showbox,” added the two-story unreinforced masonry building to the Pike Place Market Historic District across the street for an initial period of six months; that period was later extended until December of this year because two consultants hired by the city’s Department of Neighborhoods said they needed more time to evaluate a proposal to make the building a permanent part of the Market. The consultants were charged with doing public outreach and determining whether it made sense to include the Showbox building, which the city recently upzoned twice in an effort to encourage density downtown, in the Market.

DON now tells The C Is for Crank that the department has suspended its contracts for the two consultants, Stepherson and Associates (a communications firm) and AECOM (an engineering firm). Although the firms were hired back in February, it appears that they didn’t do much work until very recently; according to a Department of Neighborhoods spokeswoman, the city has only paid out about $24,000 of their original $75,000 contract—$12,000 to Stepherson and $12,554 to  AECOM.

Durkan’s Backyard Cottage Plan Would Have Kept Some Old Restrictions, Imposed New Ones

Mayor Jenny Durkan planned to propose her own accessory dwelling unit (ADU) legislation that would have restricted homeowners’ ability to build second and third units on their property, going far beyond the limitations in the legislation the city council passed unanimously yesterday afternoon.

The restrictions Durkan proposed would have been more lenient than previous regulations, which had resulted in just a handful of ADUs per year, but would have included many provisions requested by ADU opponents, including parking requirements for second ADUs, preserving the current owner occupancy requirement, and imposing new limits  on the size of backyard units.

Ultimately, as I reported this morning (item 2), Durkan did not propose her own legislation, and the bill the council passed yesterday does not include any of these restrictions. Still, Durkan’s ADU proposal gives a glimpse into her thinking about how much the city should limit how many people (and what kind of people) should be allowed to live in single-family neighborhoods.

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This report is based on documents I received through a records request filed in March. The mayor’s office provided unredacted versions of these documents this morning.

First, the mayor set out her goals in drafting her own ADU legislation: “1. Encourage ADUs—especially affordable ADUs—throughout Seattle’s single-family neighborhoods. 2. Prevent speculative development and the demolition of existing single-family homes.” Her plan also laid out a set of “principles,” which included “Retain existing single-family neighborhood character.”

To those ends, here’s what the mayor’s proposal (which, again, was never sent to the council as legislation) might have done:

1. Imposed a cap of 1,000 accessory units permitted per year. (The legislation the council passed includes no such restriction.)

2. Required homeowners building a second ADU to sign a legally binding document stating that they would never use that ADU as an Airbnb (a new restriction that would allow someone to own two houses on adjoining lots and rent one as an Airbnb, but would ban a neighbor with two ADUs from renting out their backyard unit).

3. Required two years of continuous ownership before a homeowner could build a second ADU, such as a backyard cottage in a house that already has a basement apartment. This restriction went further than council member Lisa Herbold’s proposal for a one-year ownership requirement, which failed; the legislation the council passed does not include any ownership-related restrictions on ADU construction.

4. Required homeowners to build one off-street parking space when they build a second ADU. Notes from staff on the mayor’s proposal indicate that “many infill parcels, especially those without alley access, cannot easily accommodate off-street parking, making this requirement a significant impediment to ADU development.” The legislation that passed yesterday includes no parking mandate.

5. Imposed a new floor-area ratio (a measure of maximum density) on detached units while eliminating the previous minimum lot size of 5,000 square feet. Although getting rid of maximum lot sizes sounds like a good thing, in practice, this measure would have little practical impact while imposing a new restriction on what people on smaller lots could build. I’ve explained this in a bit more detail below*, but the impact would be that any lot smaller than 5,000 square feet would have to build a backyard unit smaller than 1,000 square feet—and the smaller the lot, the smaller the cottage. In contrast, O’Brien’s legislation allows backyard cottages of up to 1,000 square feet on all lots, subject to the city’s existing maximum lot coverage of 35 percent.

Although getting rid of the minimum lot size entirely might seem preferable, the impact would be tiny—according to the city, just 7 percent of the single-family lots in Seattle are smaller than 3,200 square feet, and ADUs on very small lots are unlikely for the reasons I explain below.

6. Required a homeowner or a homeowner’s family member to live on the property for at least six months out of every year. O’Brien’s legislation got rid of the existing six-month owner occupancy requirement because it effectively banned renters from living in at least one of the units on lots with an ADU (suggesting that backyard-cottage renters require owner supervision.) Durkan’s proposal would have continued to prevent renters from occupying every unit on lots with ADUs, but allowed family members to serve as owner proxies. The proposal doesn’t define “family member,” but other elements of the municipal code limit the number of people who can live on a single lot unless they are “related,” a term that is undefined in the code.

Because I filed my request for these documents in March, they don’t include any discussions that happened after April 1 that might shed light on why Durkan decided not to propose her own ADU legislation. The mayor’s office did not immediately respond to a question about why they dropped the proposal this afternoon.

*Two hypothetical examples illustrate the impact of this change on lots of two different sizes.

A homeowner with a 4,000-square-foot lot could cover a total of 1,400 square feet of that lot with buildings, subject to the maximum height limit of about 30 feet. That could include, say, a 1,600-square-foot two story house (covering 800 square feet of the lot) and a two-story, 1,000-square-foot backyard cottage (covering 500 square feet). Under Durkan’s proposal, though, the backyard cottage would also be restricted by the 0.2 FAR, limiting it to a total of 800 square feet no matter how the rest of the lot is configured. This is the limit that existed before O’Brien’s legislation raised it to 1,000 square feet, so in this case Durkan’s proposal would have preserved the old status quo.

A homeowner with a 2,500-square-foot lot, who couldn’t build a backyard cottage under the rules adopted yesterday, would theoretically be able to do so under Durkan’s proposal. But the restrictions would make this exceedingly unlikely, because the backyard cottage would be limited to a total of 500 square feet—on a lot where only 875 square feet can be developed in the first place. Playing this out presents some very unlikely scenarios, such as a tiny front house towered over by a narrow two-story backyard tower. The point is, the effect of these restrictions would have been primarily to limit the size of backyard units, not to expand homeowners’ ability to build them.

Morning Crank: “I Have Not Seen Any Speculative ADU Bubble”

1. The city council finally adopted legislation to loosen regulations on backyard and basement apartment construction Monday, 13 years after the city allowed homeowners to build backyard cottages in Southeast Seattle on a “pilot” basis in 2006.  The city’s analysis found that the new rules, which would allow homeowners to build up to two accessory units (such as a basement apartment and a backyard cottage) on their property, will add up to 440 new units a year across Seattle, or about one unit for every 80 acres of single-family land.

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The city expanded its initial backyard cottage pilot to include the rest of Seattle in 2009, but it never took off in a major way, thanks in large part to restrictions on lot and unit size, owner-occupancy requirement, and parking mandates that made accessory dwelling units, or ADUs, difficult and expensive to build. Efforts to make it easier to build second and third units ran against the usual objections from single-family homeowner activists, who claimed that changing the law would turn Seattle’s exclusive neighborhoods into triplex canyons, and from left-leaning development opponents, who claimed  that loosening the rules would lead to a frenzy of speculative development, with builders snatching up affordable single-family rental houses and destroying them to make way for new houses with two additional units, which they would rent out at higher prices or turn into Airbnbs.

Litigation by a group of homeowner activists dragged the process out for years, but the city prevailed in May, enabling the legislation to finally move forward. Although council members generally supported the proposal, some of them wanted to add new restrictions, such as owner occupancy and ownership requirements and even a ban on leasing the units as short-term rentals, which would have subjected backyard cottages and basement apartments to more stringent anti-Airbnb rules  than any other kind of housing in the city.

Ultimately, the only one of those amendments that saw the light of day on Monday was Lisa Herbold’s proposal to require homeowners to own a property for one year before building a second accessory unit—a provision Herbold said was necessary “to address the speculative market that will flip these units”—with even socialist council member Kshama Sawant saying that she saw no reason for the restriction. While she is concerned about “corporate developers” building luxury apartment towers, Sawant said, “I have not seen any speculative ADU bubble anywhere.”

The legislation, which Sightline called “the best rules in America for backyard cottages,” passed 8-0, with council member Bruce Harrell absent.

2. Often, when the council passes a piece of legislation they have been working on for some time, Mayor Jenny Durkan sends out a press release praising the council for passing “the Mayor’s legislation.” That didn’t happen with the ADU bill that passed yesterday—not because Durkan didn’t have her own version of the proposal, but because she never sent her own version of the ADU legislation to the council. Instead, after a team of staffers spent months working on draft legislation and crafting an outreach plan for an alternative proposal, the mayor apparently decided to support O’Brien’s legislation after all.

It’s hard to quantify how much staff time the mayor’s office and city departments dedicated to drafting legislation that never saw the light of day, but the sheer volume of communications in the first three months of 2019 suggests it was a substantial body of work. (I filed my request at the end of March and received redacted records in mid-June, which is why I don’t have any documents dated later than March 31).

At the moment, it’s also hard to know what problems Durkan had with O’Brien’s proposal, since most of the documents her office provided about her strategy and legislation look like this:

I would show more, but it just goes on like this.However, series of text messages between two mayoral staffers that were provided without redactions shows that one of the changes Durkan was considering was an even longer ownership requirement than what  Herbold proposed—two years, rather than one, before a homeowner could build a second accessory unit.

I’ve asked the mayor’s office for unredacted versions of the documents I received in  and will post more details about her proposal  when I receive them. In the meantime, here’s one more page from those redacted documents—this one a list of ideas the mayor’s office had to “further allay concerns” about “speculative development.”