Tag: neighborhoods

Takeaways From Seattle’s Upzoning Endgame

After another epic committee meeting—lengthened, this time, not by public comment but by a barrage of amendments intended to chip away at modest density increases on the edges of urban villages—the city council moved one big step closer yesterday to finalizing the remaining citywide portion of the Mandatory Housing Affordability plan, which has been in the works for the past four years. (MHA has already been implemented in several neighborhoods, including downtown, South Lake Union, and parts of the University District).

City of Seattle

The plan, on the whole, is modest. It allows developers to build taller, denser buildings inside multifamily and commercial areas and urban villages, and expands some urban villages (areas where, under the neighborhood plans first adopted in the 1990s, density is intensely concentrated as a way of “protecting” single-family areas) to include about 6 percent of the land currently zoned exclusively for single-family use. One reason the plan is modest is that the upzones are small, generally increasing density by one zoning step (from Neighborhood Commercial-65, for example, to NC-75, a height increase of 10 feet) in exchange for various affordability contributions. The second reason is that by continuing to concentrate density along arterial slivers instead of legalizing condos, townhouses, duplexes, and small apartment buildings in the two-thirds of Seattle’s residential area that’s preserved exclusively for detached single-family houses, the changes can’t be anything but modest: 6 percent of 65 percent is still just a sliver.

Most of the amendments the council passed yesterday—generally with opposition from the two at-large council members, Lorena Gonzalez and Teresa Mosqueda, and District 5 (North Seattle) member Debora Juarez—were aimed at decreasing the size of even that tiny concession.

For example: All of the amendments proposed by District 6 representative Mike O’Brien in the Crown Hill neighborhood, as well as his proposal to create a new, entirely speculative protection for a strip of houses in Fremont’s tech center that some people feel might have historic potential, were downzones from the MHA proposal. O’Brien, who was unable to attend yesterday’s meeting, has said that the proposals to shrink MHA in Crown Hill and Fremont came at the behest of “the community,” and that they were all offset by increased density along 15th Ave. NW, making them a win-win for density proponents and the Crown Hill community. (Lisa Herbold, in District 1, made a similar argument for her own proposal to downzone parts of the Morgan Junction neighborhood from the MHA proposal, saying that “I feel really strongly that the work, not just that I’ve done with the community, but that community leaders have done with other folks that have engaged with this effort, should be honored.”)

O’Brien’s Crown Hill downzones all passed, along with corresponding upzones that will further concentrate density (to put a human point on it, apartment buildings occupied by renters) on the noisy, dirty quasi-highway that is 15th Ave. NW, where it intersects with NW 85th St.:

The intersection where “the Crown Hill community” says they will allow renters to live.

Council member Teresa Mosqueda—who told me before the vote that the revelation that 56 affordable units would be lost if all the downzones passed increased her resolve to vote against all of them—pointed out the environmental justice implications of banning renters in the heart of a neighborhood and restricting them to large buildings on busy arterials: “When we look at neighborhood changes that would squish the zoning changes to an area along 15th, which we know to be a high traffic area with noise and pollution… it doesn’t feel like an equitable way to best serve our community. … I think it’s important that we take the opportunity to create not just access to housing along 15th, but really talk about how we equitably spread housing throughout the neighborhood.”

District 5 council member Debora Juarez added, “Of course [residents of a neighborhood] can organize, and of course they’re going to find a way to opt out or reduce their responsibility or their role or how they would like to see their neighborhoods grow. I know what happens when you do that, because then the burden shifts to those neighborhoods that we are trying to protect particularly from displacement.” Although District 3 council member Kshama Sawant countered that the people in Crown Hill are largely “working-class homeowners” at high risk for displacement, citywide council member Lorena Gonzalez quickly put that notion to rest, pointing out that the city’s own analysis found that Crown Hill is a neighborhood with high access to opportunity and a low displacement risk.

O’Brien’s amendments passed 5-3.

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Other amendments that came up yesterday:

Although several of District 4 council member Rob Johnson’s amendments to reduce density in the Roosevelt and Ravenna-Cowen neighborhoods passed, a proposal to preserve a single-family designation for a single block of houses in Roosevelt failed, sparking some pointed comments from both Mosqueda and Gonzalez about the need to build housing near transit corridors and future light rail stations like the one four blocks from the block Johnson proposed keeping single-family. “We have to, as a city, either be committed to the urban village growth model or not, and to me this is an example where we need to be committed to that urban village growth strategy,” Gonzalez said.

• A proposal by O’Brien to reduce the proposed zoning along N 36th Street near the Fremont Troll statue by two full stops (from Low-Rise 3, which allows apartments, to Low-Rise 1, which allows townhouses), lost on a unanimous vote. Council members pointed out that not only is the street O’Brien wanted to downzone within spitting distance of high-tech companies like Google and Tableau, making it a prime location for new housing, the houses on it do not have any historic designation, which was one of O’Brien’s primary justifications for the amendment. “This is quite literally a dense area,” an exasperated Mosqueda said.

• A suite of Herbold amendments to reduces some of the proposed upzones near the West Seattle Junction, and the site of the future Link Light Rail station, from low-rise (1 through 3, depending on the lot) to residential small lot all passed. Herbold justified the downzones from the MHA proposal by noting that Sound Transit hasn’t finalized its alignment through West Seattle yet, and expressing her “commitment” to come back and adopt some kind of upzone in the area once they do. As she has before, Herbold suggested that not upzoning would be a cost-saving measure, because Sound Transit will have to purchase some land in the area for station construction, and land zoned for higher density typically costs more. When Juarez, whose district includes two future light rail stations (at Northgate and N. 130th St.), noted that her district clamored for more density around the stations, not less, Herbold said that Sound Transit currently has “three different options, and they’re spread across about 10 different blocks.” Mosqueda chimed in, saying that her “argument would be that it’s precisely because we have a new [light rail] line… that we should be doing everything we can now to raise the bar, so that when a decision is made [any new density] would be in addition to that baseline.

The committee declined to reduce a proposed height increase in southwest Delridge, in an area that, Herbold said, “provides a very wonderful view of Mount Rainier… in a low-income neighborhood in an area that doesn’t see a lot of city investment.” Both Gonzalez and Mosqueda pointed out that the downzone from MHA that Herbold was requesting wouldn’t actually reduce heights at all—the only difference would be how much low-rise housing property owners could build on private property—and District 7 council member Sally Bagshaw said she had been swayed by Mosqueda’s argument that the point of MHA is “build back in the opportunity for people to live in areas that they were excluded form living in.” However, Bagshaw added, she had already committed to supporting the amendment, which ultimately failed on a 4-4 vote.

• Two other Herbold amendments—one sweeping, the other potentially precedent-setting—are worth noting. The first, which supporters referred to as “the claw-back provision,” would nullify all the MHA upzones if a court overturns MHA’s affordability requirements at any point in the future. Mosqueda argued forcefully against the provision, saying, “I am not interested in sending a message that we would have some sort of moratorium [on development]. I think that could have adverse impacts on our ability to build affordable housing.” Johnson, who said that he “philosophically agreed” with Mosqueda, argued nonetheless that the amendment was “purely intent language”; it would only go into effect if a court overturned MHA’s affordability requirements in the future. That amendment passed.

The second, an amendment that triggers a new neighborhood planning process whenever “more than 25 percent of the [Morgan Junction] urban village could be affected by proposed zoning changes,” impacts a small area but could set a precedent for throwing MHA zoning changes (or other future zoning changes) back to community groups whenever they start to appreciably change the way an area looks and feels (which is, some might argue, the entire point of zoning changes). “I’m not hearing a rational basis for the establishment of a 25 percent benchmark,” Gonzalez said. “I’m worried about the establishment of a benchmark … based on a feeling or a sense that that that seems to be the right place to engage in the conversation. I’m not sure that’s wise policy. I’m not really sure how we even quantify what 25 percent” means.

That amendment passed 6-2, with Juarez and Mosqueda voting against.

The full MHA package passed the committee unanimously, with O’Brien absent. It now heads to the full council for a vote on March 18.

Bonus Crank: “Why Can’t It Be an ‘And’?”

1. In a letter sent on Tuesday to members of the city council’s select committee on Mandatory Housing Affordability, the Seattle Coalition for Livability, Affordability, and Equity (SCALE) urged council members to adopt a raft of amendments scaling back the (already watered-down) citywide Mandatory Housing Affordability plan, which would allow duplexes, townhomes, and some small apartment buildings on six percent of the city’s exclusive single-family areas.

SCALE’s letter encourages the council to adopt all “neighborhood self-determined amendments and resolutions,” which I wrote about last week, and zeroes in on a few specific amendments, including:

• An amendment reverting the MHA zoning back to whatever it was before the council adopted the plan, “should the courts find the affordability housing requirement sections (e.g. requirements to build on site or in-lieu fees) not legal.” MHA requires developers to fund or build affordable housing in exchange for the higher densities allowed by the plan.

• An amendment requiring “one-for-one replacement” of any housing removed as the result of development under MHA. The city has argued that mandatory one-for-one replacement discourages new development and does not accomplish the broader goal of producing more affordable housing throughout the city than is lost directly to development through physical displacement.

• Another, similar amendment requiring that any new development that results from developers paying a fee into an affordable housing fund be inside the same urban village as, or no more than 10 minutes’ walking distance from, the new development. This would also have the impact of reducing development, and thereby lowering the number of new affordable housing units built under MHA.

• Amendments mandating large new setbacks (15 feet in the front and rear, and between 5 and10 feet on the sides) and yards for new development, including small, low-rise apartment buildings, which would be required to have “at least one 20′ x 20′ area at grade for landscape and a large tree planted in natural soil.”

• An amendment changing the definition of “family-sized housing,” which is required in some affordable-housing developments, to three bedrooms (from the current two). The letter justifies this change, which would likely prevent some development because larger apartments are both more expensive and less lucrative, by arguing that “[f]amily sizes for low income, immigrants and refugees and people of color tend to be larger.” The average household size in Seattle, as of the 2017 American Community Survey, was 2.11—1.85 for renters.

The city council took up the first set of district-specific MHA amendments, including some proposed by residents and some from council members themselves, on Monday; on Wednesday, they’ll consider the second batch. I wrote about all those amendments here.

Mayor Jenny Durkan and citywide mobility director Mike Worden

2. As the longest (by one week) Seattle highway closure in history enters its third weekday, predictions of “viadoom” and “carpocalypse” haven’t come to fruition. But as city, state, and county leaders reminded the city at a press event last week, the “period of maximum constraint” is a long-term issue, which is one reason, Mayor Jenny Durkan explained, that the city needed to hire retired Air Force general Mike Worden, one of the two finalists for the Seattle Department of Transportation director job that was ultimately filled by Washington, D.C.’s Sam Zimbabwe, to oversee the city’s “mobility operations.”

It didn’t get coverage at the time (most of the assembled press were focused, understandably, on the coming permanent closure of the Alaskan Way Viaduct), but Durkan offered her most detailed explanation yet of why she believes the city needs not only a new SDOT director and a director of downtown mobility, but a “director of citywide mobility operations coordination,” which is Worden’s full, official title.

“Both Sam and the General came up through the SDOT search, and both of them were enthusiastically supported by the search committee, who said, ‘Either one, you’re going to get a winner.’ And I said, ‘Why does it have to be an or? Why can’t it be an and?'”

Durkan went on to joke that Worden would benefit from his past experience under “enemy fire” and reiterated that Worden’s job wasn’t just monitoring traffic, but coordinating responses from “29 city departments” (which is, incidentally, all of the city departments). 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.”

Worden also cited his military experience as something that uniquely prepared him for his new job as, effectively, the city’s traffic czar. “My experience with coming together on the eve of a crisis with a bunch of strangers who are arriving from different locations, different countries, facing a crisis, and the ability to work with them to build relationships, to get everyone on a common frame of reference, to achieve the objectives, may come into play … as we transform like a butterfly into the city that everybody wants to be,” Worden said.

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Morning Crank: Democrats, Taxes, and “The Ideological Anti-Parking Agenda”

Detail from Seattle frequent transit map; click for link to full map.

1. A last-ditch email from anti-development activist Chris Leman with the subject line “Parking SOS!! E-mails and calls needed to prevent devastation of neighborhood parking” heralded next Monday’s vote on parking reform legislation that will clarify where apartments may be built without parking, require more bike parking at new buildings, and require developers of large buildings to “unbundle” the cost of parking and rent by charging separately for each.  Council member Lisa Herbold has proposed giving the city’s Office of Planning and Community Development the authority to institute parking  mandates, refuse to grant residential parking permits to new renters, or take other steps to reduce competition for on-street parking as part of the environmental mitigation process, arguing (among other things) that cars circling the block for parking produce climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions.

Leman’s email makes several misleading claims, implying that the city wants to define “frequent transit service” as three buses per hour (in reality, it allows that frequency during low-ridership midday hours if a route offers extremely frequent service at rush hour, like the RapidRide buses that arrive every 10 minutes), and claiming that “many more areas of the city will be open to developers putting in dense buildings with no parking.” In reality, while the changes will slightly increase the amount of the city served by frequent transit service (from 18.6 percent to 22.5 percent), the changes will only allow new buildings with no parking in six small portions of urban villages served by six frequent bus routes (full list on page 20 of this report.)

But the biggest misrepresentation in Leman’s letter, which describes Herbold as a lone voice of sanity against the “ideological anti-parking agenda” of North Seattle council members Rob Johnson and Mike O’Brien,  is that eliminating parking mandates contradicts “the majority wishes and interests of [council members’]  constituents.” For months, tenants, commuters, and environmental advocates have been showing up in council chambers and at public meetings to make the case that renters shouldn’t have to pay extra for  parking spaces they don’t want or need. Although the old-guard neighborhood activists may not like or want their input, those people are constituents, too, and their numbers are growing.

2. This one is still in the “credible rumor” category, but former state Senator Rodney Tom—the Republican-turned-Democrat-turned-leader of the Republican-voting Majority Coalition Caucus—may be considering a run for the 48th District state senate seat currently held by Democrat Patty Kuderer. And he’d be running as a Democrat.

Tom, who did not run for reelection for the Bellevue-Medina seat in 2014, did not return a call to his office on Tuesday. But Halei Watkins of Moxie Media, which recently merged with Kuderer’s campaign consulting firm, Winpower Strategies, says she has heard the rumor repeated frequently enough, and with enough “fervor,” that she believes it. “I think he is going to run because he thinks he needs to, [and] is probably being encouraged by the business community,” Watkins says. “Frankly, I don’t think that it matters to him if he runs as a d or an r he might as well just run as [a member of the Rodney Tom party at this point.” Tom was one of two nominally Democratic members of the so-called Majority Coalition Caucus, creating a 25-24 Republican-voting majority in a senate that had a Democratic majority on paper. Tim Sheldon, the other Democratic member of the MCC, remains in the senate, which has had a true Democratic majority since the 2017 election of Manka Dhingra in the 45th, another Eastside district that neighbors the 48th.

Kuderer, for her part, doesn’t sound worried about a challenge from the right in her Democratic-leaning district. “I really don’t know” if Tom is running or not, she says, but “it doesn’t change my campaign strategy any” if he is.

3.  As the city council gets ready to take up the recommendation of the Progressive Revenue Task Force, including a new, $75 million employee hours tax on businesses, the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce put a phone poll in the field out this week focusing on the tax proposal, homeless encampments, and Seattle City Council member Mike O’Brien. Summer Stinson, a Democratic Party activist and co-founder of Washington’s Paramount Duty, a pro-school-funding group, live-tweeted the poll. Among the questions Simpson said she was asked (linked and reproduced here with permission):

• What do you think of Mayor Jenny Durkan, Amazon, and city council member Mike O’Brien?

• Do you see “the ineffective city council as a problem?”

• Do you think  “there is too much influence from labor unions on city government?”

• Do you agree “that the Seattle City Council has raised too many taxes and fees?

• “Is homelessness getting worse because the City Council, despite spending millions a year, does not know how to reduce homelessness?”

Chamber spokeswoman Alicia Teel confirmed that the organization is funding the poll. Asked about its purpose—and, specifically, why the poll zeroed in on O’Brien—Teel said, “Understanding public opinion is part of our overall advocacy strategy; we poll on a fairly regular basis to get a sense of how much people are tuned into developments at City Hall, including how Council is stewarding taxpayer dollars. The tax on jobs”—the Chamber’s preferred term for the employee hours tax—”is a proposal that would affect all of our members in Seattle, so it’s definitely top of mind for us. As for asking about specific Councilmembers, we are curious about how well people feel that they are being represented by their district Councilmembers.”

4. After publishing a nearly 9,000-word defense of his behavior as chair of the King County Democrats (a defense that included four sentences that could be generously construed as apologetic), Bailey Stober temporarily ceded his duties as chair last night but did not step down, saying that he wanted the chance to defend himself in an trial that will take place on April 8, followed by a vote by the county’s precinct committee officers on whether to remove him from office on April 15.

For all the details on last night’s meeting of the King County Democrats, and Stober’s non-apology apology, I’ve posted a few highlights from Twitter below, and collected all my tweets here.

Stober remains on paid leave from his job as communications director for King County Assessor John Arthur Wilson while the office, with the help of an outside attorney, investigates the charges against him and determines whether they impact his ability to do his job as chief spokesman for the assessor. Chief deputy assessor Al Dams says the investigation will be limited to the allegations of harassment and other inappropriate workplace behavior; the county will not look into allegations that Stober misused Party funds because he does not have the authority to spend county funds. Dams did not immediately respond to a request for Stober’s salary; last year, when his job was listed as “administrative assistant II,” the 26-year-old made $90,445, according to the Tacoma News Tribune’s public employee salary database.

If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site or making a one-time contribution! For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers, which pay for the time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as reporting-related and office expenses. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

Morning Crank: 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.

“I Do Not Care If These Druggies and Tweakers Have Homes”: Some Responses to Mike O’Brien’s RV Legislation

For just $5,500, the good life could be yours!

City council member Mike O’Brien has received hundreds of emails vehemently opposing his proposal to exempt some people living in their cars or RVs from the city’s parking scofflaw ordinance. (He has also received a handful of positive responses.) Currently, cars or RVs that remain in one place for more than 72 hours, or whose owners have too many unpaid parking tickets, can be impounded and towed, leaving people who live in their vehicles without even the inadequate shelter of an RV or car. Under O’Brien’s proposal, people who agree to participate in a new “vehicular residence program” aimed at putting them on a path to permanent housing would be exempt from most parking enforcement except when they pose a threat to public safety or block access to the public right-of-way.

The proposal attempts to accomplish a few goals. One, it acknowledges the fact that people who are desperate enough to live in their vehicles can’t afford to pay their parking tickets or, in some cases, get their vehicles up and running. Two, it effectively decriminalizes vehicular living at a time when there is nowhere close to enough permanent housing for the thousands of people experiencing homelessness in Seattle. And three, it recognizes the plain reality that people are better off with some shelter than with none—homeless people living in their vehicles will not suddenly become housed people if the city takes their vehicles away; rather, they’ll just take their place among the thousands of people already sleeping outdoors, in tents, or on the floors of temporary shelters in one of the richest cities in the nation.

Anyway, from the emails O’Brien has been receiving—which I obtained through a public records request—you would think the city was proposing to open the jails and let the inmates roam freely through the streets of single-family Seattle neighborhoods.

Good God, it’s bad enough we are Freeattle are you trying to ruin neighborhoods and tourism? I do not care if these druggies and tweakers have homes. They don’t want to work, they just want to do their thing and you’re coddling them.

I just saw your latest bullshit. I am writing you as a citizen who will also be more than willing to file suit against you and the council for allowing methheads, heroine addicts and sexual abusers from living in derelict vehicles, dumping their trash and needles and precluding my children from being safely able to walk to and enjoy our city.

I am an honest, tax paying citizen. I work…I contribute to society and yet I have to pay when my parking meter expires. It almost makes a person want to quit their job, start shooting up heroin, start a meth lab, steal from neighborhood cars and the CITY WILL LET YOU PARK WHEREVER YOU WANT & THE AVERAGE PERSON BE DAMNED.

This proposal is insanity at its highest level!!! How about ticket & tow for parking illegally (according to the LAW!),arrest the heroin addicts for illegal possession of a controlled substance, clean up the rolling meth labs, and make them clean up their own trash and feces and not the beleaguered city workers? I would love to see these rolling meth labs, heroin dens and filthmobiles roll up and park in front all your houses. Because according to this proposed ordinance they would be allowed to do it and since it can’t be towed or ticketed the RV occupants can stay there as long as they “seek help”? ARE YOU SERIOUS?

A lot of people threatened to do something that none of them will ever actually do: Sell their comfortable single-family houses and move into their cars.

What would prevent anyone from just buying a vehicle and living rent/hassle free because we are now allowing that (say a google employee buying a nice RV and parking in Fremont), because that’s what I would do if I was fresh out of college and moving to this expensive city for a job – why pay rent if the city permits long-term parking for the purpose of housing?

Go along the Shilshole ave yourself and see the disgusting RVs parked along the side of the road. Visitors to the city take these roads often and thats what they see. A run down, broken disgusting RV parked in premium locations around Ballard.

So if this horrible idea actually passes, what is stopping me from instead buying and over priced house in the area, buy a run down RV and just move it around the city to places like Golden Gardens, boat ramps, Alki Beach and maybe see how the people of Laurlhurst are doing, and enjoy nice views and never have to pay taxes again?

If this goes through, I’m selling my home and buying a top of the line RV and living on Alki or the best view areas in Seattle. I will also buy additional RVs and rent them out as AirBnBs.

Others did the thing Seattleites always do—they complained about parking.

All people wanting to avoid parking issues will sign up for the program.

If this proposal goes through, expect a class action suit against the city by all of those who receive parking tickets. Figure out a different solution, proposing discriminatory Laws will not help.

I’ve made a lifestyle choice too: I decided when I became an adult that I would take care of myself. I would pay my own rent, or own my own home. I would go to work every day to help support my family. I would pay my taxes, and vote for Democrats so that more citizens could benefit from all our tax money. I also made a choice NOT to live in an RV encampment, but in a modest, somewhat diverse neighborhood, which will not have a single parking place left if this scheme of yours goes into effect.

[Redacted] Street, my street, will be LINED with RVs, and we will listen to the sound of generators night and day. There will be no parking left for tax-paying residents, their families, or visitors.

Many seemed to believe that people who live in cars and RVs just prefer being homeless, despite the fact that in every survey, people experiencing homelessness overwhelmingly say what they want is a home.

I’ve been reading about this initiative and it seems you’re missing that most of the people who live in those vehicles live there because they want to, or rather, they are not willing to participate in the normal societal processes.

We should on the contrary, constantly make their life in the cars extremely uncomfortable and leave them just two choices — leave the city or actually work on their integration in the society. Those who are actually on down-low and want to re-integrate should be helped and will be willing to accept the help. The professional homeless, junkies and alcoholics should not be encouraged to live like this in our city.

Some argued that throwing homeless people in jail might teach them a lesson about paying their parking tickets.

This will attract RV’s and car campers to Seattle. The parking rules are fine the way they are. What they need is to really enforce them, people need consequences like maybe jail?

Others resorted to my favorite red-herring argument: If you think RVs are so great, how would you like it if someone parked one in YOUR driveway?

STOP SCREWING us hard paying homeowners. I don’t see any of you city council members take a homeless person into your home or letting them park in your driveway.

Why the f*ck should I have to have a homeless vehicle/person in front of my house harrassing my kids & wife, piling up their drugs/garbage and waiting for me to go to work so they can break into my house?????

Most of these homeless, even if they were drug free, don’t have the skills to earn enough to pay the ridiculous rents in Seattle.

STOP AND GRABBING MONEY FROM HOMEOWNERS AND JUST LET THE HOMELESS LEAVE THE CITY.

Really sucks when the city council rams the homeless down the throats of tax paying homeowners.

How about you guys adopting some homeless into your spare bedrooms and in front of Your houses??

And harrassing your childen and wife when they’re parked in front of your house!! YaH!!!

Lowering our lifestyle to cater to them harms us. Do you not see this? Would you tolerate an filthy, shabby RV parked in your driveway? Would you want to try to use the library or a playground by stepping over sleeping bodies with needles and alcohol scattered around them? I have personally experienced this along with foul language and drug dealing. This is truly an emergency! If DOT, the parks or police dept can’t maintain order then the National Guard should be called out. I am serious! I’ve heard from countless people who are visit Seattle and are so disgusted that they vow to never return to experience this filth again.

Finally, some saw the proposal as part of a larger conspiracy: drive down property values so that land can be sold cheaply to developers so that [???]. Which might hold water (actually, no, it wouldn’t) if single family homeowners’ property values had not doubled in the past five years, and appreciated 13 percent in the last year alone.

Perhaps you’re mining for taxpayers, or voters for 2019? Or perhaps you hope that a citywide Intentional Blight™ will free up more single-family homes for redevelopment? Or perhaps you’re just using hate-baiting tactics because you want to paint your district and beyond in broad strokes as folks who lack compassion for our homeless neighbors. Perhaps you have another upzone planned. You has just declared war on families and children. It’s a shame we’re not the demographic you’re looking for. There will be hell to pay.

Tell me, is this the following intention true or false?

IT IS ALL ABOUT PASSING THE $469 MILLION HOMELESS TAX Mike O’Brien and the homeless services advocates who wrote the vehicular residence legislation have 1 goal: make homelessness worse in Seattle so they can pass the $469 million King County homeless tax.

Interestingly, the most contentious element of O’Brien’s proposal inside city hall may not be the provision exempting homeless people from parking tickets that has his constituents so worked up, but a separate “safe parking program” that would designate between 30 and 50 small lots across the city as safe havens for between 300 and 500 vehicles. Apart from the practical challenges such a widespread, highly decentralized program would present, council member Tim Burgess says he and other council members are concerned that such a “policy of accommodation” might conflict with the city’s new push to move people into housing as quickly as possible rather than allowing them to stay on the streets.

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: Inherently Dangerous

Image result for "fair housing act of 1968

1. If you’re a renter who makes less than six figures, you already know how hard it is to find an affordable apartment in Seattle. Now imagine that you’ve convicted or arrested at some point in your life. (Quite possibly, you don’t have to imagine—according to the city, 173,000 Seattle residents have an arrest or conviction on their record.) The legislation, sponsored by council member Lisa Herbold, would prohibit landlords from advertising that they don’t accept tenants with criminal records, and would bar them from asking prospective tenants about convictions that are more than two years old, juvenile records, convictions that have been expunged, criminal charges that did not result in a conviction, or pending charges.

As I’ve reported, the legislation as originally proposed included a number of exemptions—on top of the two-year window, it did not apply to landlords of small buildings (four units or fewer) who live on the premises. By exempting small landlords who live on their properties, the original bill effectively accepted the premise that people with criminal histories are inherently dangerous—too dangerous, anyway, for landlords to live next to them.

That exemption, as it turns out, has a fascinating history. It originated in the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1968, also known as the Fair Housing Act, where it was known as the “Mrs. Murphy exemption.” That exemption says that it’s acceptable under federal law for a landlord to discriminate against someone because of their race if they rent to no more than four people or families and live on the premises. (Mrs. Murphy was, as the New York Times’ Adam Liptak put it, “an apocryphal bigot.”) That exemption has remained in place to the present day; however, many state statutes go beyond federal law and do not include the exemption.

The city’s Office for Civil Rights was unable to say precisely how the exemption got into the proposal, except that it was originally included “to address concerns raised during the stakeholder process,” according to OCR policy manager Brenda Anibarro. “We recently learned of the history of the federal FHA exemption from an article in the Harvard Law Review which includes a significant history steeped in racism,” Anibarro said in an email. “It is for this reason we believe Councilmember O’Brien’s amendment striking this exemption is the correct course of action.”

Interestingly, the “Mrs. Murphy exemption” does not appear anywhere else in Seattle’s municipal code, and the city’s “first in time” rule, which prohibits landlords from discriminating against prospective tenants because of their source of income, only exempts single-family homeowners who live at their properties and are essentially renting to roommates.

Last Tuesday, the council’s Civil Rights, Utilities, Economic Development, and Arts Committee discussed an amendment by council member Mike O’Brien (who is out of town) to remove the exemption. Council member Lorena Gonzalez noted that the exemption for small buildings could make “naturally occurring affordable housing”—the small, mom-and-pop type units that anti-displacement advocates often argue the city must preserve—off-limits for the people who need it the most.

Other amendments to the proposal would prohibit landlords from considering an adult prospective tenant’s juvenile sex offense record (landlords could still refuse to rent to adult sex offenders) and remove the two-year “lookback” period. (The sex offender amendment is Herbold’s; the lookback amendment is O’Brien’s.) As advocates have pointed out, people exiting jail are much less likely to reoffend if they have stable housing; nonetheless, one in five people exit King County Jail directly into homelessness, according to All Home, largely because landlords refuse to rent to them.

Herbold, who has not decided whether to support O’Brien’s lookback amendment, says she has heard from small landlords who say they might choose to to sell their buildings instead of renting to people straight out of prison, removing affordable units from the rental market. On the other hand, many people who are just leaving jail or prison would probably be disqualified from renting on the private market anyway, because they wouldn’t pass a standard credit check, so eliminating the lookback may have little practical impact in any case.

The committee will consider the amendments, and the legislation, again at its meeting on August 8.

2. On Tuesday morning, the council’s Planning, Land Use, and Zoning Committee voted unanimously on what council member Rob Johnson called a “no-brainer” proposal that will remove one step in the process that opponents of new projects must go through before filing a formal appeal to stop a proposed development. The step, called a land-use interpretation, costs $3,150 and is required before a project can go before the city’s hearing examiner, the judicial official who ultimately decides whether contested projects can move forward.

As I reported earlier this month, a council staff analysis concluded that removing the interpretation step could “facilitate judicial appeals of land use decisions for projects that may be considered locally undesirable by near-neighbors, such as low-income housing projects, work-release centers, and homeless shelters.” Those appeals will now cost just $65, making it easier than ever for homeowners to stall projects they don’t like—projects like the 57-unit Phinney Flats development, which Phinney Ridge homeowners have held up for more than a year by filing endless appeals on issues such as parking, transit headways, shadows, and lack of air conditioning and washing machines in the new apartments.

3. The land use committee also considered, but did not vote on,  three amendments Herbold proposed to legislation that would it easier for the city to force property owners to demolish vacant buildings that have fallen into disrepair.

Currently, city law requires property owners to wait a full year before tearing down a building if it was most recently occupied by renters; the changes would lower that timeline to four months (which the city’s Department of Construction and Inspections says  is still plenty of time to “ensure that good-quality rental housing is not inappropriately removed”) and make it easier for the city to demolish or clean out hazardous properties and so-called squatter houses.

Herbold’s amendments, which she describes as a three-part package, would: Exempt many houses slated for redevelopment from the new four-month requirement; set up a mandatory vacant property monitoring and registration program; and prohibit land owners from demolishing buildings unless the cost of repairing the building exceeds half its replacement value.

Herbold’s reasoning, as she explained it Tuesday, is that vacant buildings could still be used as housing while they await demolition and redevelopment, and that the original proposal—which lacked a monitoring program—could provide a perverse incentive for property owners to kick out tenants and let their buildings fall into disrepair. “The language as originally proposed was much broader than I intended,” Herbold said Tuesday.

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: Endless Appeals Are a Common Tactic

1. Depending on your perspective, a meeting tomorrow night to discuss efforts to prevent displacement and gentrification in light of a proposed upzone in the Chinatown/International District is either: a) A “special meeting” of the city council’s planning and land use committee, with a “focus on Chinatown/International District” (the city’s version) or b) a “town hall” to “Save the Chinatown – ID—Stop Displacement Now” (the Interim Community Development Association’s version). “WE SHALL NOT BE MOVED! Come and make your voice heard to City Council!” Interim’s announcement urges—and if that use of a Civil Rights-era slogan didn’t put a fine enough point on what the activists think is at stake in the upzone, these flyers, which appeared around the neighborhood in the past week, certainly did:

And here’s the source material:

The second poster is a notice posted during World War II, when the US rounded up tens of thousands of Japanese Americans and sent them to internment camps. The (very slightly) coded message is that if the city upzones the Chinatown/ID, the gentrification and displacement that result will have a similar impact on its residents as the forced removal of Japanese Americans in the 1940s.

2. The Chinatown/ID meeting will actually be the second contentious meeting in one day for the land use committee. Tuesday morning, they’ll take up a proposal related to the design review process—ostensibly a process to consider the design of proposed new buildings; in reality an opportunity for anti-density activists to stall projects they don’t like—that could make it easier for development opponents to file appeals. (In August, the council will consider more sweeping changes to design review that could streamline the process for developers.)

The proposed change would remove one step in the process that opponents of new projects must go through before filing a formal appeal to stop a proposed development. The step, called a land-use interpretation, costs $3,150 and is required before a project can go before the city’s hearing examiner, the judicial official who ultimately decides whether contested projects can move forward. According to a council staff analysis, removing the interpretation step could “facilitate judicial appeals of land use decisions for projects that may be considered locally undesirable by near-neighbors, such as low-income housing projects, work-release centers, and homeless shelters.” According to the Livable Phinney website, the group “with other activists in West Seattle and Council member Lisa Herbold” to eliminate the interpretation requirement.

Endless appeals are a common tactic used by neighborhood groups to prevent new housing near single-family areas. For example, a group of Phinney Ridge homeowners has successfully stalled a four-story, 57-unit studio apartment building on a commercial stretch of Greenwood Avenue for more than a year by filing appeal after appeal; although previous complaints have involved everything from the lack of air conditioning and washer/dryer units in the apartments to the size of the units, they’re now arguing that Metro’s Route 5, which runs along Greenwood, is inadequate to serve the 57 new residents. Ultimately, like many such battles, this argument comes down to parking—the opponents believe the new residents will all own cars, which will make it harder for existing Phinney Ridge homeowners to park their cars on the street.

3. Just weeks after issuing a statement denouncing “the politics of personal destruction” after a man who had accused Mayor Ed Murray of sexual abuse in the 1980s withdrew his lawsuit, mayoral candidate Jessyn Farrell reversed course, saying last night that the mayor should resign instead of serving out his term. Farrell said newly disclosed information in a separate sexual abuse case “severely undermines our confidence in his ability to carry out the duties of his office,” according to Seattle Times reporter Daniel Beekman. On Sunday, the Times reported that an investigator with Oregon’s Child Protective Services concluded that Murray had sexually abused his foster son in the early 1980s. Murray denied the allegations, noting that the case was withdrawn and no charges were ever filed.

Farrell’s dramatic reversal (dramatic in part because there was no reason she had to weigh in at all) makes more sense in light of events that transpired after she defended Murray the first time. Back then, Farrell was still seeking the mayor’s endorsement, and believed she had a real shot at getting it. Since then, Murray has endorsed Jenny Durkan, saying the former federal prosecutor “has the best chance of winning.” While Farrell may be relieved that she lost Murray’s endorsement to Durkan, the snub had to sting—and it’s hardly a stretch to see Farrell’s denunciation as payback.

4. If you still aren’t sure which mayoral candidate you prefer, there are at least two more chances to see the candidates debate before you fill out your ballot. The first, a live debate sponsored by CityClub, KING 5, GeekWire, and KUOW, is sold out, but a viewing party from 6:30 to 9pm at the nearby Flatstick Pub will also offer a post-debate opportunity to meet the candidates. And on Tuesday, LGBTQ Allyship will sponsor its own debate, featuring candidates for mayor and council positions 8 and 9, focusing on LGBTQ issues. That forum will be held at the Southside Commons in Columbia City from 6 to 9 pm.

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

How Seattle Is Dismantling a NIMBY Power Structure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Credit: Alex Garland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Proposed City Program Could Save Seattle’s Legacy Businesses—but Should It?

This article originally ran in the February issue of Seattle magazine

If you haven’t been to Husky Deli in West Seattle’s Alaska Junction in a while, don’t worry: It hasn’t changed much since the last time you were there. There’s still the same ice cream counter featuring flavors like Husky Flake, Almond Joy and spumoni; the old-school deli with classic made-to-order sandwiches; the shelves stocked with staples and an oddball selection of British treats—Hobnobs, Marmite and Kinder Bueno bars.

It’s the kind of place that may still exist in your neighborhood—an old-fashioned grocery store and gathering place, owned and operated by the same family since 1932, when the place sold chocolate-dipped ice cream bars to local schoolkids. Jack Miller, the deli’s apple-cheeked, barrel-chested paterfamilias, started working here as soon as he was “old enough to help make ice cream”—around age 6 or 7, he thinks. He took it over from his father (who took it over from his father) in 1975.

“When people come back to town after being gone, they come in here, because they want to see what’s still here,” Miller says. On 9/11, he recalls, “We were full—people came in because they wanted to run into some place where they knew they were going to see people they know, and Husky’s is that kind of place.”

City Council member Lisa Herbold, who represents West Seattle and has lived in the neighborhood for decades, wants to make sure businesses like Husky can survive the rising rents and booming development that have doomed neighborhood institutions across the city—the Harvard Exit Theatre, Ballard’s Sunset Bowl, West Seattle’s Alki Tavern. Last November, Herbold secured $100,000 in the 2017 city budget (approved in an 8–1 council vote) to study the cost and scope of creating a “legacy business program,” to help “preserve businesses that contribute to the City’s unique culture and character and are at imminent risk of closure.” That includes businesses like Husky, which ranked fourth on a questionnaire Herbold posted on her council website asking, “What business do you fear will go away?” In that questionnaire, Scarecrow Video in the University District came in at No. 1.

“We need a bridge to our past,” Herbold says. “Development happens, growth happens, but the people who made this city what it is are still here.”

The San Francisco program on which Herbold’s proposal is loosely based includes both a registry of legacy businesses and a dedicated fund (passed by 57 percent of San Francisco voters in 2015) to pay for direct assistance to historic businesses, along with financial incentives for landlords to keep renting to those businesses. Herbold says she doesn’t plan to propose a property tax in Seattle. Instead, she hopes to provide incentives and assistance to businesses through existing city funds. Assistance could include help from the city’s Office of Economic Development with marketing, relocation or complying with complex regulations.

David Campos, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors member who spearheaded the legacy business effort there, says that in San Francisco, the main threat to historic businesses is rising rents: “A lot of these legacy businesses were not getting long-term leases, because the owners of these properties saw that they could make many times more money if they kicked them out and rented to somebody else.” The grants to property owners, which are capped at $22,500 a year, help make up the difference between market rent and what the businesses are able to pay; the grants to the businesses, capped at $50,000 a year, help businesses pay for ongoing operating costs, whether or not they stay in their original location. The program just started issuing its first grants.

One of the challenges of the legacy business project is defining just what bumps a business into the “legacy” category. San Francisco has grappled with this, without coming up with a definitive answer. Campos, who represents San Francisco’s rapidly gentrifying Mission District, says the case-by-case process is “intangible and very neighborhood-specific,” with businesses chosen based on testimony from the community and a hearing before the city’s Historic Preservation Commission.

Seattle’s definition may be similarly subjective, though Herbold says, “It has to be something other than nostalgia. I don’t see this as being a way to a save every quirky little hole-in-the-wall business in town.” The point is to heed community input. “It is really important that we don’t have a legacy business template, but rather, that each community has the ability to identify what’s important for them.”

Jaimee Garbacik, a local author whose multimedia historical mapping project, Ghosts of Seattle Past, collects “the venues, restaurants, shops and institutions we’ve lost to development,” according to its websites, is a vocal advocate for Herbold’s proposal. The way to make sure “legacy business” isn’t just a synonym for “quirky dive bar” is to work with and survey neighborhood residents from all backgrounds and find out what matters to them, she says. “I would hope that a space with cultural significance to a specific community, including gathering places, historically significant spaces that don’t qualify for landmark status and businesses that offer specialized services should be distinguishable from somewhere that merely has niche flavor,” Garbacik says. And just because defining what counts as a “legacy business” is difficult, the city shouldn’t be dissuaded from undertaking the project.

Of course, not everyone is in favor of preservation for preservation’s sake. Advocates for housing development tend to be skeptical of proposals that would require preserving the buildings where legacy businesses are located, arguing that this will discourage new housing and serve as another avenue for neighborhood activists to stymie projects they don’t like.

One such skeptic is Roger Valdez, a lobbyist for local apartment developers. Sitting at a table at Joe Bar, a quirky little hole-in-the-wall coffee shop on North Capitol Hill, he notes: “Whatever Lisa says, I know there are going to be people who use [her project] to stop development. It feels like another opportunity for people who want to monkey-wrench the [development] process.” And change, he says, is inevitable. Some businesses that fit into a neighborhood 20 years ago no longer do. “Small businesses are just hard to run, and sometimes the neighborhood changes and doesn’t support that business anymore. I don’t see how you’re going to put your finger on the scale and say, ‘Nobody goes to Café Whatever anymore, but there’s a group of people who want to save it, so let’s save it.’”

Ethan Phelps-Goodman, founder of the development-tracking website Seattle in Progress, spoke recently at an event curated by Garbacik about lost or threatened Seattle institutions. He agrees that small, community-based businesses add character to a neighborhood, but worries that the definition of that “character” will be determined by a narrow slice of neighborhood residents. “You can say that it will be a community-driven process, but we’ve seen repeatedly how without extreme care, open community processes are captured by the most engaged, connected and already privileged members of a community”—that is, the single-family homeowners who often show up to oppose new development already. Phelps-Goodman argues that the best way to keep small businesses viable is to create new mixed-use development that includes spaces for both old and new small businesses. “By far the most important thing we can do is address the shortages of affordable small commercial spaces that are the root of the problem,” he says.

It’s closing in on noon back at Husky Deli, and nearly every seat is taken in the small dining area. Miller, the owner, knows he and his business are in an enviable position. As owner of the building, he’s the master of his fate. His building will only be torn down for redevelopment if he decides to take that step. “We’ve got no plans to do that.” While redevelopment could mean a financial windfall, there are other important things—like making the kind of human connections his place of business fosters. It’s true even for newcomers to the city. “They start off eating at Chipotle and all the places that they know, but pretty soon they realize that it’s pretty cool to go to a place that’s been there a long time.” Herbold sees her proposal as a bridge to that kind of past—to a time when guys like Miller passed their businesses down from generation to generation, and everyone bought their ice cream by the cone.

How Seattle’s Well-Intentioned Planning Experiment Went Wrong

This post originally appeared on Next City; learn more about Next City and its mission here.

When the city of Seattle began drafting a proposal to increase density and improve housing affordability across the city, known as the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda, or HALA, city officials knew the plan would be controversial.

They also knew that if they didn’t have buy-in from residents, it would be difficult to pass the many interlocking pieces of legislation needed to implement the plan — legislation that includes citywide density and height increases, affordability requirements for new apartment buildings, and the expansion of areas where multifamily housing is allowed in this predominantly single-family city.

Finally, they knew current community involvement efforts weren’t working — meetings and public comment periods were dominated by homeowners from the city’s more affluent areas. Often, they came to the meetings because they opposed the HALA changes — and the city was well aware of their opposition. Now decision makers wanted to hear from everyone else — renters, immigrants and refugees, and people who live in lower-income neighborhoods.

So they decided to do something different. Instead of sending out meeting notices by email and postcard and hoping a diverse group of people show up, the city’s Department of Neighborhoods proposed a series of focus groups to help shape and provide feedback on the HALA proposal over a period of months, rather than in two-minute bursts at public comment periods. After meeting for nine months, the focus groups would come back to the city with recommendations to improve the HALA proposals, and those recommendations would be incorporated, in some form, into the final legislation.

From the beginning, the process was bumpy. After an initial call for applicants produced a pile of applications from the same activists from wealthier parts of the city who already dominate neighborhood meetings, DON broadened its outreach, enlisting community groups that work in marginalized and underrepresented communities and offering translation services, child care and financial incentives for those who wouldn’t otherwise be able to participate.

They even recruited a local social justice organization, Puget Sound Sage, to recruit focus group members and provide support like education and transportation throughout the process. “It’s a core principle of Sage that the communities most impacted [by development shifts] need to be part of decision making, so it was clear that we need to have more people representing communities of color” involved in the process, says Giulia Pascuito, a research and policy analyst with Sage.

Of the initial group of more than 600 applicants, the city selected 181 — many of them renters, people of color and immigrants — to serve on the focus groups. Eight were recruited by Sage; the rest responded to the city’s expanded outreach efforts.

What happened next shows that it isn’t enough to just recruit marginalized people to participate in a process that has traditionally excluded them; you have to keep them engaged, and that requires sustained, ongoing effort. Since the focus groups began meeting in April 2016, attendance has fallen off a cliff — from 76 percent at the initial meeting to 41 percent in September, the last month for which attendance records were available.

And although the city hasn’t taken any demographic surveys, monthly attendance sheets, along with anecdotal accounts from participants and city staffers, indicate that many of the no-shows seem to be people of color, immigrants and residents of the city’s less-affluent, more racially diverse South End — the exact folks DON had hoped would help bring some new perspectives to the process.

Jesseca Brand, the DON staffer who headed the city’s outreach and recruitment for the focus groups, says that although she expected some drop off in attendance during the months-long focus group process, she had hoped that by the end of the process, “we would have close to the same demographic split that we started with and we wouldn’t be losing any one set of people … but the numbers tell me that I was not totally correct in that [hope].”

The one clear exception to the pattern is the eight focus group members who were recruited by Sage. Pascuito says that sustaining those long-term commitments required long-term investment from her organization. Sage didn’t just make sure their members could afford to attend the focus groups; they also held a “meeting after the meeting” each month, for members to ask questions and get up to speed on the technical details of the zoning and affordable housing proposals.

“This is really complicated, and this is why people go to planning school. You can spend years learning about the intricacies of land use decisions, and it’s hard to mash it all into a six-meeting process where you’re meeting once a month,” Pascuito says.

That sort of intervention may have proven useful for Laura Bernstein, a community activist from Seattle’s University District who resigned from her focus group in September. She says she got frustrated when she saw her group being dominated by longtime neighborhood activists who were far more knowledgeable about the intricacies of local land-use law and asserted their authority as “experts” over newcomers who struggled to just get up to speed. “What was the point of getting such a diverse group of people if the people with power weren’t going to do more to foster an inclusive environment to retain them at the table[?],” Bernstein’s resignation letter concluded. “This is what fake equity looks like.”

In a survey of 46 focus group members conducted in August, 34.9 percent of respondents said they were “dissatisfied” or “very dissatisfied” with the process. About 20 percent said it was too soon to say. In written comments, many participants said they were “confused” by the process and the content of the presentations (“so much is above my head,” one complained) or didn’t get enough help getting up to speed (“Does not feel like we are getting the true knowledge base we need to understand the choices we are being asked to comment on,” another said.)

DON director Kathy Nyland says the focus groups have been a learning experience for the city, one that she vows to learn from. “We did all this work up front, and I think the lesson was, we need to continue that work until the end [of the process] and beyond. We knew [participating in] the focus groups was a big ask, and a long ask. The work doesn’t end when the recruitment process is over.”

And she says DON will do much more in the future to get people who are new to the city’s sometimes byzantine processes up to speed before throwing them into dense debates about land use and zoning. “We have to acknowledge that everyone has different starting points, and everyone has a different knowledge base, and craft our plans [in the future] so everyone feels comfortable participating,” Nyland says.It’s probably too late to apply those lessons to HALA — the final focus group meetings were held in December — but Nyland says that next time DON manages a major outreach and engagement process like the focus groups, she hopes to make it easier for people to participate in planning processes on their own terms and time, whether that means making sure translators are always available, holding meetings in neighborhoods outside downtown Seattle, or holding virtual meetings online. (After all, when Nyland first got involved in her own neighborhood council years ago, she did most of her work “at 1 in the morning, in my pajamas,” she says.)