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

This post originally ran at the South Seattle Emerald.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“We tried,” Sauvion says.

The C Is for Crank Interviews: Pat Murakami

Quick PSA: If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site! For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue doing interviews like this one, which take an average of about 8-10 hours from start to finish). This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers like you. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

Image result for pat murakami seattle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ECB: Why not?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The C Is for Crank Interviews: Jessyn Farrell

Image result for jessyn farrell

This afternoon, state Rep. Jessyn Farrell (D-46) will formally announce that she is resigning her seat to run for mayor full-time, freeing her to start raising the funds she’ll need to stand out in the 21-person race. Farrell is popular in her North Seattle district but relatively unknown outside it, and she told me last week that if she wants to expand her support base, she’ll need to raise at least $250,000 for television alone. State law prohibits legislators from raising money while the legislature is in session, or for 30 days before session convenes, which has restricted both Farrell and another mayoral candidate, state Sen. Bob Hasegawa, from raising money. “I take my duties as a legislator very seriously, but in getting into this race, I want to win and it’s important to put skin in the game and put something on the line,” she said. “I’m willing … to walk away from a job I really love to do what it takes to win this race.”

Prior to running for state house in 2012, Farrell was a senior advisor at Pierce Transit and, before that, executive director of the Transportation Choices Coalition.

I sat down with Farrell last week at Fuel Coffee in Wallingford.

The C Is for Crank (ECB): If you’re elected, you’ll be the second former state legislator in a row to hold the office. One early criticism of Murray was that he lacked experience as an executive. How do you think your experience in the legislature will translate into the job of running a city with 11,000 employees?

Jessyn Farrell (JF): On the one hand, there are a lot of really good things about being a legislator. I have had the experience of making a lot of decisions that people don’t like, and I think there are a lot of other people in the race who do not have that experience of having to explain sometimes to your base—hello, MVET vote—why I did that and why it’s the right thing to do. [Editor’s note: Farrell, along with other House Democrats, voted for legislation that changes how Sound Transit calculates the motor-vehicle excise tax on newer vehicles, after car owners and Republicans complained that the fees—authorized by the legislature and affirmed by the voters—were too high. The reassessment will cost Sound Transit around $2 billion.] There’s also, though, that art of being willing to listen and have your views on issues impacted by what the community is saying. There has to be a degree of openness, because you’re a  representative of the people and that really matters. That is something you only get through the experience of being an elected official.

ECB: So what about that MVET vote? Why did you vote for a measure that cut funding to Sound Transit, even though the legislature itself approved the valuation before it went to voters?

JF: The politically easy thing to do would have been to just vote no, but my role as a legislator is, I really believe, to be a steward of our tax system. People really have to believe that there’s fundamental integrity in the tax system. So if there’s a valuation system on your car and it’s not really reflective of what you could sell your car for, that’s a problem. If it were your paycheck and I was taking taxes off, like an additional five percent, and you didn’t even actually get paid that, you would have a real problem with that.

ECB: If I voted for it, then I would say, ‘I think I need to look at what I’m voting for more closely next time.’

JF: That’s what makes it tricky. There were a lot of eyes on that 2015 vote and [the MVET valuation schedule] did not come up the way it should have and that really stinks. I really wish that we had just fixed it in negotiations quietly. Nobody would have cared and it would have been the right thing to do, but we didn’t, and if we’re going to ask voters to raise their capital gains, or an income tax, or do a major tax reform, and people don’t trust that the underlying integrity of the system is in place, that is a real problem. I know it stinks, and what I would say is, I don’t take a hit to Sound Transit lightly, and I am totally committed as a mayor to making Sound Transit whole and delivering on those projects. And I definitely have some ideas about how we do that.

ECB: If you’re elected mayor, then you’ll be on the Sound Transit board, and you’ll find yourself in the opposite position as you do as a legislator.

JF: Yes, but what I would say is it’s really a benefit to the city to have as a mayor someone who knows who to work with Olympia. One of the obviously frustrating things about being in Olympia is that so much of what we’re doing is trying to minimize harm to Seattle constantly. The good news is, I’m a pretty good legislator and I know how to talk to Republicans. I think that’s in part why Ed has been effective as a mayor too—he’s been able to quietly work behind the scenes in Olympia and minimize ham and get some good things done, and that’s definitely been a benefit for the city—having his savvy around. He was a very good legislator.

“If there’s a valuation system on your car and it’s not really reflective of what you could sell your car for, that’s a problem.”

ECB: Distinguish yourself for me, as a voter, from the other two pro-transit urbanists in this race, Cary Moon and Mike McGinn.

JF: I would say the big distinction is that I’m the one who has actually delivered on the stuff that we care about—whether it is helping pass Sound Transit 2 when I was at Transportation Choices, or authorizing ST3 [as a legislator]. It was no sure thing that we were going to be able to authorize that legislation, and then doing it in a way that had lots of really interesting, progressive things in it, like that $500 million amendment that I forced through at midnight in the transportation budget. [ECB: Farrell’s amendment, a last-minute response to Republicans’ efforts to hold some of Sound Transit’s taxing authority hostage, dedicated $518 million in tax revenues to future education-related projects in the three-county Sound Transit region].  I think that in a negotiation, you can get to yes when you fundamentally understand what’s in someone’s heart and what’s driving their values on an issue. I’m not scared of being bold and taking risks, but I’ll do them in a way that actually gets the job done. I adore [Moon and McGinn], but think that’s just a key difference.

ECB: There’s been a lot of debate over the payments developers will be required to make under the city’s Mandatory Housing Affordability program; some social justice advocates say they’re too low to make a dent in displacement, while some urbanists, including the Sightline Institute, say they’re so high they discourage development. What do you think? Would you change anything about MHA, or the mayor’s larger Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA)?

 

JF: I am fundamentally supportive of HALA. I deeply believe that Seattle needs to increase its housing stock and housing options across the economic spectrum in a really significant way. I think the zoning changes, though, are only one piece of the affordability puzzle, and I would like to go much beyond that.

HALA is really about private-sector incentives, and that’s a really important piece. We have to have incentives to increase private-sector housing and to push affordability in that area. I would argue, though, that because of the major pressures that Seattle faces from the tech boom—which is a great thing—and international investors and a whole host of bigger global issues, we need to get beyond the traditional debates around zoning. We need to have those debates, but we need to know that those debates alone aren’t going to solve the affordability crisis. I believe that there are a few more really important pieces of the puzzle that we need to put together. One is that that [aforementioned] $500 million amendment is going to start coming to the region in 2020. That’s money that we can bond against, and that’s money that can be used to provide founding for wraparound support for homeless and vulnerable youth. Surely, with $500 million, we can figure out how to house every kid near their school, and that would take a big chunk out of homelessness. And we don’t even have to raise taxes to do it! The money’s already coming.

“I am fundamentally supportive of HALA.  I think the zoning changes, though, are only one piece of the affordability puzzle, and I would like to go much beyond that.”

Second, and I’m really kind of stealing an idea from [House] Speaker [Frank] Chopp here,  we need to inventory all the surplus property in the city—whether it’s WSDOT, Sound Transit, Seattle Public Utilities—all publicly held property, and land bank it as the cornerstone for a major new investment in public housing. That has traditionally been a really important strategy for providing housing stability and economic mobility for people, especially in Seattle. With the city’s property, you would need to have city staff and city technical resources really dialed in and really focused on putting together those deals. And it then becomes an effort around matchmaking, so that you find the nonprofit or private developer resources to do the development.

And then the third piece—and this is my really radical but super-wonky idea—is: Just as we allocate population growth across the region through [the Puget Sound Regional Council’s] 2040 plan, I think we need to set a target of $1 billion in affordable housing and allocate affordability targets across the entire city, so you’re not really letting any neighborhood off the hook. Then you create neighborhood-based plans that use an array of affordability tools, so some neighborhoods are going to focus more on rental vouchers so that people who are living in current housing can stay there; some neighborhoods are going to focus more on [accessory dwelling units]; some neighborhoods are going to have more traditional density. We need a strategic plan for the city that allows us to hold ourselves accountable, and then we can create programs within every single neighborhood.

That, obviously, is not easy. There are neighborhoods that aren’t necessarily going to want it. But here’s what I see: There are people in every single neighborhood who are worried about affordability, whether it is their kids not being able to buy into Seattle, whether they’re worried about property taxes or whether they’ve been in their houses for 40 years and now they’re on a fixed income. Clearly, renters are worried. And I think that you appeal to people from that perspective: Look, we are all in this together. We cannot solve this problem in traditional ways. Our traditional frame in Seattle has been around zoning, and that is a piece of the puzzle, but it cannot be the only piece. We need major public-sector investment, and then we need to really open up all of the different tools. And I think it becomes really micro, property-by-property, arterial-by-arterial planning. Part of that is preserving cultural spaces in neighborhoods and preserving environmental spaces in neighborhoods. Upzoning certainly has a role, and there are places where we need to do it, but there are so many other affordability tools that we can use and that I think neighborhoods would embrace.

“We need to inventory all the publicly held surplus property in the city and land bank it as the cornerstone for a major new investment in public housing.”

ECB: Don’t you think that a lot of people who object to upzoning will also object to other tools that would increase affordable housing in their neighborhoods?

JF: I think that the only way you deal with that is by literally going into the neighborhoods and having dialogues with people. There are loud people who don’t like change. I am not that candidate. Don’t vote for me if you don’t want any change. On the other hand, my own sense of environmentalism comes from a very place-centric notion, which is that the places we live in, we have to steward. And so I get that kind of knee-jerk reaction around being averse to change. Part of that is saying, let’s do some of these things in steps, and I would want to get feedback from neighborhoods about how to do that. There is a diversity of opinions around housing in the city, and the folks who are really nervous about changes are the ones who are really weighing in loudly right now. I just know from my own neighborhood and my own constituents that there is really a diversity of opinion, and people really understand the crisis.

ECB: Do you support the mayor’s current policy on clearing homeless encampments?

JF: I think that they have done some things well, and they have done some things that have been really harmful. On the one hand, the Navigation Team [a group of police officers and outreach workers that removes encampments and offers services to people living there] has been a really important effort. On the other, the sweeps have been really harmful, and we should not be doing that. So the question becomes, how do you allow for people to have access to services, sanitation, and public safety, while recognizing hat we do not have enough shelter beds for all the people who need them? So that’s why we’re talking about encampments. For me, the homelessness conversation has to be embedded in the affordability crisis. Those two things are very related to each other. If you are a mom with kids and living in your car, that is very much because of the affordability crisis in the city.

“There are loud people who don’t like change. I am not that candidate. Don’t vote for me if you don’t want any change.”

ECB: Given that there aren’t enough shelter beds or permanent housing for the whole homeless population, do you support sanctioned encampments?

JF: I do believe in sanctioned encampments. The trick, though, or the core issue is, you have to have services available to people. You have to have public safety, so that those places are safe for women. You have to have mental health services and sanitation available. I really do think you need to do it in places where a lot of those services are. I don’t think unsanctioned encampments in parks and public places are where we want to be going with this. If I were mayor, I would those kinds of things in place before the next rainy season.

The second thing is that there is more experience now with tiny homes. They’re not a permanent solution, but in terms of having a drier place to sleep where you can keep your stuff safe, I think they’re a good investment. There are a lot of unions and other non-governmental entities that really want to step up and provide that kind of housing, and I would think that we would want to do that in a significant way.

And the third is that we need to inventory the shelter space that the city has access to. I don’t support shelters in community centers, in part because those have other uses, but there are other buildings that King County has, that Seattle has, that other entities have, that even the private sector has, that could serve as shelters. We need to do that because the homelessness issue is, in part, because there just aren’t enough shelter beds.

ECB: Have you read the Pathways Home report that the city is using as the basis for its homeless housing plan? What do you think about the focus on rapid rehousing—providing short-term rental vouchers—instead of more service-intensive or long-term solutions?

JF: You have to have a degree of stability. You can’t make those changes in your life if you are having to be out of a place in three months—that’s just not how that works. Even six months isn’t long enough. People really need housing stability as a fundamental piece of mental health and recovery. In the longer term, we need a significant reinvestment in public housing for very low-income people. The feds are not going to do it for us, and the state is not going to do it for us, so we need to get creative really fast about how we do it.

“The way our housing incentives work is that when you put that all the tax credits together, that equals one to two bedrooms. So what if the donor community step in and says and we’re going to fund that third bedroom in these buildings?”

ECB: If you win, you’ll be the first female mayor in 91 years. How will that translate, if at all, into the kind of issues you prioritize and the policies that come out of your office?

JF: I’m 43, so I think having a Gen X mayor might actually have a greater impact than necessarily gender. So for example, I’m in the heart of raising a family right now and I think there are a lot of people across the city, across races, across economic lines, who are very fearful of their ability to stay in the city and fearful of the ability of the public school system to deliver a fair and equitable education to every kid, and that kind of conversation has not entered into typical mayoral politics. I will be talking about a city for families in a really different way than other candidates have and other mayors have, and surely that is because I’m raising a family here.

ECB: The mayor’s office has historically been a bit of a boy’s club, and there are issues specifically related to gender—like pay equity and paid family leave—that previous mayors haven’t really advocated until women brought them to their attention. Is that something you’d change?

JF: There is no doubt that who is in leadership, and their life experiences, impacts their priorities, so I will answer really definitively that having women at the top and having women in leadership positions absolutely matters, and I see that in the legislature all the time, with things as simple as what is the expectation around the work flow. I know the mayor is a 24/7 job. I would absolutely anticipate being able to handle that. But when you are a parent and have to make sure that you’re also prioritizing your kids, you get really strategic about priorities. You cannot do everything, and a city cannot do everything.

There are a whole bunch of questions that start to get asked when you have women in positions of leadership, because women are still traditionally on the front lines of raising a family—and the same goes for having women of color in particular. We need a great deal of diversity around the decision makers. That absolutely matters, and we have to reflect the fabric of the city in that way.

“I think we should have impact fees on developers to support public school infrastructure. Most jurisdictions do that and I don’t think that is something that is at all unreasonable.”

Affordable housing generally tends to be one and two bedrooms, so how do we get that third bedroom? The way our housing incentives work is that when you put that all the tax credits together, that equals one to two bedrooms. So what if the donor community step in and says and we’re going to fund that third bedroom in these buildings?

So yes, because I’m a woman, I’m thinking that way. Because I have kids, I’m thinking that way. And I think that it would make life a lot easier for women with kids if we were asking those questions and delivering services with how to make the city work for families and kids in mind.

ECB: Advocates against youth incarceration have argued that King County should reconsider rebuilding the youth jail in favor of programs that support restorative justice and other alternatives to incarceration. What’s your position on that project, and on youth incarceration in general?

JF: It’s kind of like the old transit/transportation debate—why are we spending our money on old infrastructure that only makes the problem worse? Congestion begets more congestion. I think there is a similarity—why are we spending precious resources on facilities that are meant to jail youth, instead of those supports that keep kids out of jail and out of the criminal justice system?

We need to make investments to make the current jail whatever it needs to be, but then we need to ask, what if we were using that money to build preschools? What if we were using that money to provide high school students with summer opportunities? I think there are really three specific things that we could do that would have an impact. One is summer programming. Middle-class kids, wealthy kids, have access to all sorts of awesome things all summer long that poor kids don’t have access to. They may lose access to transit, and they lose access to a lot of enrichment activities and academic activities. So I think the city should take a really robust role in making sure that kids have those supports all summer long.

The second piece is, I think we should have impact fees on developers to support public school infrastructure. Most jurisdictions do that and I don’t think that is something that is at all unreasonable. Then the third thing is, to the extent that we’re going to be doing another Families and Education Levy, we should use that levy to address some of the serious racial and economic inequities in our system—things like not having school nurses and mental health counselors and other things that kids need in poorer schools.

There are both monetary investments that we need to make, and some really important systematic changes that we need to make around criminal justice. We need to be really reorienting our investments so that we’re focusing on kids and youth in positive ways, and I would also say the city needs to take a stance of listening to communities about what they need, because they know best about how to support their kids.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ferry queue traffic projection

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

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

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

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

Morning Crank: The Common Canard

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

livable-phinney

Image from livablephinney.org

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site! For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers, which pay for the substantial time I put into it as well as costs like transportation, equipment, travel costs, website maintenance, and other expenses associated with my reporting. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

Morning Crank: “We Are the Dakota Access [Pipe]line Tribe.”

Last night, the Mercer Island City Council voted unanimously to sue Sound Transit and the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT), in part, to preserve the right of island residents to drive alone in the westbound I-90 HOV lanes.

The island has been fighting to preserve this highly unusual privilege for decades, despite the fact that the original agreement granting them special access to carpool lanes, signed in 1976, anticipates a future when transit lanes, or fixed-rail transit, will supplant some freeway lanes and require island residents to give up their access. (Mercer Island also wants its residents to be permanently exempt from tolls on I-90, to restrict parking at the Mercer Island park-and-ride serving light rail to Mercer Island residents only, and to prohibit bus transfers on the island, keeping the people who ride buses from deboarding in the wealthy enclave.) The lawsuit seeks to force the state and Sound Transit to grant all these privileges, which, as Zach Shaner at Seattle Transit Blog has noted, would be “completely unique to Mercer Island.”

If you weren’t following along last night, I Storified all my tweets here.

2. Jan Angel, a conservative Republican legislator from Port Orchard, has introduced a bill that would prohibit cities from passing laws barring landlords from discriminating against tenants based on their source of income—a proposal that would, if passed, slap down Seattle’s new law that says landlords can’t refuse to people because their income comes from sources like Social Security or unemployment, and requiring them to rent to the first qualified applicant. (The Seattle law also prohibits landlords from offering special deals to employees of specific companies, such as Amazon.)

That Angel has introduced such a bill is hardly news—in recent years, the conservative Republican has proposed drug testing for welfare recipients and business-friendly changes to the workers’ compensation system. What was surprising is who showed up to testify in favor of the anti-Seattle bill: Smart Growth Seattle lobbyist Roger Valdez, who once worked for a liberal environmentalist think tank, the Sightline Institute, and a liberal city council member, Peter Steinbrueck.

“At a time when demand for housing is outpacing supply, producers and operators of housing have faced an ever-expanding gauntlet of rules, regulations, fees, fines, inspections, infringements, and limitations that are confusing for both housing providers and consumers,” Valdez said. “It’s time for the state to take back the control. … What’s also important is that the mayor and council have pursued this improvisational regulatory spree with no consultation of housing developers, property managers, or anyone in the housing business whatsoever. None. That’s true. They have not talked with us at all. That’s why this was a problem.”

Sen. David Frockt (D-46) pointed out that developers were very much represented on the Housing Affordability and Livability Committee, which worked to create many of the rules Valdez was opposing so vociferously; in fact, supposed overrepresentation by developers is one reason many neighborhood groups and anti-development liberals oppose HALA. In a testy back and forth, Frockt challenged Valdez, who eventually allowed that the city did give developers a seat at the table, but that “sitting in the room on a large committee is not consultation.”

Historically, anti-discrimination laws have come from cities first before being adopted by the state; it is unprecedented for the state to adopt renter protection laws before they have first emerged at the municipal level.

3. Crank hears that another candidate may soon be jumping in the race for City Council Position 8, the citywide seat that Tim Burgess will vacate next year: Stephan Blanford, a Seattle Public School director who has focused on closing the achievement gap between black and white students in Seattle schools. Blanford, who was endorsed in his 2013 school board run by local Democratic groups and elected officials as well as the political arm of the Chamber of Commerce and former King County Executive Ron Sims, would join a crowded race that already includes 2015 Burgess challenger and tenant organizer Jon Grant and Washington State Labor Council policy director Teresa Mosqueda.

Grant sent out two job announcements this week seeking a campaign manager and an organizer; his campaign will rely heavily on the city’s new Democracy Voucher program, which provides $100 in vouchers for Seattle residents to donate to the candidate or candidates of their choice.

If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site! For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers, which pay for the substantial time I put into it as well as costs like transportation, equipment, travel costs, website maintenance, and other expenses associated with my reporting. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

Morning Crank: The Right Side of History

Peter Rogoff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rob Johnson

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

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

No, Trump Won’t Be “Good For Cities”`

TrumpPointing

Over the last few days, I’ve seen a number of urbanists claiming that even if Donald Trump does deport millions of undocumented immigrants, ban abortion, eliminate health care coverage for 20 million Americans, and devalue the lives of women, people of color, LGBTQ people, and religious minorities, at least he’ll be “good for cities.”

After all (the argument goes), Trump is a developer, and a New Yorker—which makes him fundamentally urbanist, right? I mean, check it out: Not only did he help build the biggest, most urban city in the nation, he made a promise to “rebuild America’s inner cities,” which could definitely use some sidewalks and pothole fixes. And he vowed to spend $1 trillion on “rebuilding America’s infrastructure”—which can only be good news for mass transit, sidewalks, and crumbling city streets. (Finally, a Pothole President!) And just think: By clearing away local and state regulations that hamper housing production—like environmental laws that keep housing away from freeways, and zoning restrictions that draw borders around developable areas–President Trump will clear the way for a new urbanist renaissance.

Bullshit. Trump would be a disaster for cities, and not just because his ascension represents a total rejection of the diversity of thoughts, ideas, opinions, and people that makes cities great. He would be a disaster for cities because every policy he has espoused is (like his largely rural support base) profoundly anti-urban—and if you believe, as I do, that Trump means what he says, then it’s time to take a gimlet-eyed look at what Trump has said he will do in, and to, cities. Urbanists must stop indulging in the fantasy that there is a “real” Donald Trump who supports investments in public transit, urban housing, and programs that will give poor people in cities opportunities to succeed. There is only one Donald Trump. Here is what that Donald Trump seems likely, based on his own words and actions, to do.

Cut federal funding for mass transit.

When Republicans talk about transportation “infrastructure,” they mean, first, big highway projects, and second, roads and bridges in rural areas. The GOP platform adopted this year says this quite explicitly. “One fifth of (trust) funds are spent on mass transit, an inherently local affair that serves only a small portion of the population, concentrated in six big cities,” it says. “We propose to phase out the federal transit program.” Sound Transit 3, which voters overwhelmingly adopted Tuesday, relies heavily on that transit program–it includes $5 billion in matching funds from the federal government—as do most of the transit funding measures passed by urban voters across the nation last week.

Privatize roads, highways and bridges–and leave those that can’t turn a profit to crumble.

If you think a President Trump will not only renege on his party’s promise but reject it wholeheartedly then you haven’t looked at his infrastructure plan. In effect, Trump’s proposal would privatize the nation’s roads, bridges, and highways by providing tax credits to subsidize $1 trillion in private investment in infrastructure. Companies would make their money back for charging people to drive on those roads, bridges, and highways, and any project that doesn’t pencil out—that is, that doesn’t turn a profit for investors—won’t get built. (On Friday, Trump announced his pick to head up his “transportation and infrastructure” team—literal asphalt lobbyist Martin Whitmer.)

This will lead not only to a widening gap between poor counties and cities and wealthy ones, but a disinvestment in inner-city transit infrastructure. (picture wealthy exurban homeowners driving on pristinely maintained toll roads while overcrowded buses ferry carless city dwellers through traffic-jammed, pothole-riddled streets. Rail and express-bus lines that serve the suburbs will be able to pay for themselves through higher user fees, but public transit, which relies heavily on federal funding as well as local subsidies, won’t. (Think about it: Even if King County Metro raised bus fare to, say, $10 a ride—about what it would cost absent other funding sources—the vast majority of riders would be forced to stop riding, making the system unprofitable. Oh, and there’s that whole equity and social justice thing.)

Privatization also creates a perverse incentive for builders to cut corners and endanger public safety, by saving costs on bridge reinforcement, for example, or using less-reliable or less-durable materials. It also means that cities whose citizens can’t afford to pay for improvements  themselves—say, struggling citizens of Flint, Michigan poisoned by lead in their water pipes, or parents in low-income school districts with school buildings that are unsafe and out-of-date—will be left behind. Inner cities aren’t the crumbling, post-apocalyptic hellscapes Trump made them out to be on the campaign trail—far from it—but his privatization plans would send them spiraling in that direction.

Eliminate some federal housing subsidies, and abandon commitments to fair housing made by President Obama.

Trump hasn’t yet said who he’ll appoint to head up the Department of Housing and Urban Development,  and in fact, the issue of housing—particularly housing for the homeless, a population that has boomed in cities even as the economy has recovered—didn’t really come up during the campaign. That’s a shame, because it would be instructive to know how Trump plans to address the growing crisis, which has led three West Coast cities (including Seattle) and Hawaii to declare an official state of emergency.

Seattle, in response to HUD policies under Obama that direct federal funds into “rapid rehousing” vouchers, recently released a plan called “Pathways Home” that reflects this approach, but if HUD dramatically changes direction, reducing the federal subsidies on which cities like Seattle rely or relying on privatization schemes like the one Trump has proposed to pay for other kinds of infrastructure, cities could find themselves trying to dig out of an ever-deeper funding hole. (That’s assuming that those cities that have declared themselves “sanctuary cities” for immigrants, including Seattle, still receive any federal funding at all).

Trump’s family, famously, was accused of discriminating against African American tenants in New York City in the 1970s, when Trump was president of Trump Industries. (A New York Times investigation uncovered “a long history of racial bias at his family’s properties, in New York and beyond.”) On the campaign trail this year, Trump vowed to overturn a rule adopted by the Obama administration called Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing, which requires local jurisdictions that receive federal housing funds to address housing segregation and other disparities in housing access, in part by encouraging affordable housing development in more affluent, whiter neighborhoods. Right-wing outlets and pundits, from the Daily Caller to the Daily Sturmer, effusively praised Trump for his promise to reject Obama’s efforts to, as one alt-right site put it, “force ‘diversity’ on white neighborhoods.”

One day after the election, Mayor Ed Murray said he would consider floating another levy (in addition to the $290 million housing levy voters adopted earlier this year) to address the city’s homelessness crisis. As the impact of Trump’s presidency sets in, we’ll see how serious he is about that idea.

• Adopt policies that make the homelessness and addiction crises worse.

Last year, the One Night Count of the homeless counted about 10,000 homeless people living in King County, about half of them sleeping unsheltered. (Service providers suggest doubling that amount to get an accurate figure). Reducing that number will require funding not just for housing but for drug and alcohol treatment, mental health care, and job assistance.

Trump hasn’t said anything specific about dealing with those root causes of homelessness, but his health care plan consists of repealing the Affordable Care Act, which will leave some 20 million Americans, most of them lower-income, without health care. That includes mental health care, including treatment for addiction. Meanwhile, Trump’s only public statements about drug addiction have consisted of wonderment that an opiate epidemic could exist in America’s beautiful rural areas (“How does heroin work with these beautiful lakes and trees?”), and a promise to build a wall with Mexico to cut off the flow of drugs, War on Drugs-style. Neither of these statements bodes well for reducing the addiction epidemic, or for helping people who are homeless because of addiction get housing and health care.

This is far from a comprehensive list of reasons urbanists, and those who love cities, should be alarmed about the next four years—there’s also the promised crackdown on religious and sexual minorities, the prospect of mass deportations, the rejection of climate science, and the imposition of a 1950s good-ol-boy culture that is fundamentally provincial, anti-intellectual, and conformist. The next four years will reveal how much of this vision Trump manages to inflict on America, and how much cities react by pulling up the drawbridges and becoming not so much urban archipelagos as urban islands.

If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site! For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers, which pay for the substantial time I put into it as well as costs like transportation, equipment, travel costs, website maintenance, and other expenses associated with my reporting. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.