The J is for Judge: It Takes One to Know One

Critics of Seattle’s out-of-whack zoning scheme—two-thirds of the city is zoned exclusively for single-family housing—have been arguing for decades now that Seattle needs to grow up (or build up, actually) and function like an actual city, not a suburb.

This isn’t an argument about aesthetics. It’s an argument for housing affordability and environmental sustainability, both urgent issues given the homelessness crisis and the latest climate change data from the U.N., respectively.

The blunt argument from pro-city urbanists is this: The Magnolia First ideology that single-family zoning stalwarts adhere to  (or Laurelhurst First ideology or Wallingford First ideology or Phinney Ridge First ideology) selfishly defends an unsustainable lifestyle of privilege and exclusion (including the delusion that people have a constitutional right to free parking in front of their houses).

In short: The NIMBYs’ aesthetic position—that we must preserve the “character” of exclusionary neighborhoods—is undermining Seattle’s livability and affordability for the rest of us.

If you think the urbanist critique of single-family zoning lacks credibility because hipster urbanists supposedly don’t have kids or haven’t lived here long enough or are too young or don’t own houses (most people in Seattle are renters, by the way), let me introduce you to the latest critic of Seattle’s refusal to grow up and act like a city: An actual suburbanite, who lives in an actual suburb, state Sen. Guy Palumbo (D-1, Maltby).

Palumbo is proposing a bill  that would make Seattle do something it refuses to do on its own: Upzone its suburban-style landscape to take on more density.

The 45-year-old state senator argues that Seattle’s failure to play its designated urban role in our region is undermining the state’s anti-sprawl Growth Management Act.  Palumbo’s point: Seattle’s refusal to accept more growth is causing sprawl, the very opposite of what smart cities are supposedly about. (Maltby is northeast of Kirkland and Woodinville, and due east of Lynnwood.)

Sen. Palumbo’s state legislative district (which largely overlaps with Snohomish County Council Districts 4 and 5 on the charts below) has, in fact, seen  growth on par with Seattle’s, at least as a percentage of population—around 14 percent, including 17.4 percent growth in portions of the district. It’d be one thing if that spike in growth simply represented small-town numbers growing to slightly bigger small-town numbers. But we’re talking an extra 40,000 people added to a population of 285,000. It’s as if everyone on Mercer Island picked up and moved to Palumbo’s district. And then a couple of years later, half of Mercer Island picked up and did it again.

Seattle itself has grown 17.2 percent over the same time (2010 to 2017). But Palumbo isn’t arguing Seattle hasn’t grown significantly; he’s pointing out that it should be growing a lot more than the suburbs if the region is going to grow sustainably.

“They are taking growth,” he says of Seattle. “The problem is the growth they aren’t taking is moving at too high a level to places that aren’t equipped to deal with it and service it. Snohomish is taking the growth that should be in Seattle,” he reasons. “If Seattle only built the types of housing people wanted and needed,” he adds, it would also increase housing supply, slowing the increase in housing prices that are nudging people out to the remote suburbs. Sprawl.

Palumbo condemns Seattle’s rigid zoning because, he says, it’s forcing families who would actually prefer to live in the city to move into his suburban southwest Snohomish County district instead. “Seattle is zoned low-density, single-family,” he says.  As a result, “people can’t even afford one of the few and overpriced houses there, and they have to move. And they move out to the suburbs. ”

Why, there oughta be a law!

Lucky thing Palumbo is a state senator.

According to Palumbo, his draft bill (which the Urbanist first reported earlier this month),  would require increased density within a mile of frequent transit service—areas near light rail stations or near bus stops where buses arrive at least every 15 minutes. Although the details of the bill could change, Palumbo envisions a mandatory density that slopes down as development fans out: 150 dwelling units per acre within a quarter-mile of frequent transit; 45 units per acre within half a mile of transit; and 14 units per acre within a 1 mile radius. (Asked whether cities could build more densely than the minimums required by his bill, Palumbo said he hadn’t thought of that.)

Palumbo tells me his legislation isn’t a one-size-fits-all bill, and those particular numbers are only intended for Seattle. Different numbers would apply to transit-friendly neighborhoods in smaller cities and towns where transit is less frequent and where target densities are lower. (He also acknowledged that his “units per acre” metric was a bit backwards—that is, you can’t logically prescribe units-per acre rules on an individual development without a universal picture of all the proposed developments in the upzoned area.)

He said his metric was simply meant to describe the ultimate density he envisions, and that Seattle could apply units per lot and floor area ratio metrics to achieve the 14 units per acre within his 1-mile radius performance standard, for example.

Seattle is already (sorta) moving in this direction, though as cautiously as a cat burglar tip-toeing up the stairs.

This year, the council is taking up a plan that’s been in play since 2015 to upzone a tiny percentage of the city’s vast single-family neighborhoods. Focusing on the edges of single family zones that are near designated residential urban villages, the city proposal, known as  Mandatory Housing Affordability (it simultaneously makes developers fund affordable housing), would upzone six percent of single family zoned land into slightly denser residential small lot zones, low-rise zones, and Neighborhood Commercial zones. The changes would help create  what pro-housing urbanists call the “Missing Middle.”

The density increase Palumbo’s proposing within a half and quarter mile of frequent transit service—45 and 150 units per acre, respectively—would already be allowed (though not required) under both current Seattle zoning and under MHA changes to Lowrise zones and Neighborhood Commercial zones.

Meanwhile, two-thirds of the MHA rezone area  in strict single-family zones (so about four percent of that current zoning)—the   Residential Small Lot upzone—would permit density of about 20 units per acre, according to some back-of-the-envelope math city staffers did after they read about Sen. Palumbo’s proposal for comparison’s sake.

Again, while not required (as it is in Palumbo’s formula), that would actually be slightly more permissive than the density Palumbo is proposing a mile away from transit stops (his 14 units per acre). But that’s only in the sliver of single family areas rezoned under MHA; under Palumbo’s mandate, the larger swath of single family areas left untouched by MHA would face a significant upzone.

In other words, when it comes to the majority of Seattle’s single family zones, Mr. Palumbo of Maltby is far more woke about requiring dense, sustainable land use than Seattle and its leaders—even though today’s leading climate scientists are demanding dramatic action to address pending environmental calamity.

Seattle leaders do not have a good track record when it comes to standing up to the Magnolia First faction and making this change. Back in 2009, former Mayor Greg Nickels initially backed  a Futurewise/Transportation Choices Coalition state bill that would have promoted more density around transit hubs. But when traditional neighborhood activists said the proposal would turn Seattle into Mumbai, intimidating Nickels’ wary deputy mayor Tim Ceis, Nickels stepped away from the bill as his reelection loomed. (The legislation failed.)

And, of course, former Mayor Ed Murray folded on his original proposal to upzone all single family zones in 2015, watering his proposal down to the current six percent plan when the NIMBYs at the Seattle Times protested on behalf of their home-owning readers.

I contacted the Seattle City Council and Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office to see if they supported Palumbo’s urgent push for more density. A spokeswoman for the mayor’s office said she hadn’t seen the bill, which is still in early draft form.

Meanwhile, Seattle City Council Member Rob Johnson, who’s leading the city’s limited MHA upzone effort, responded. Johnson, who was the director of TCC back in 2009 when the pro-transit  group went to the mat for the state upzone legislation, cautioned: “Been there done that.” He did note, though, that Palumbo was starting “an interesting conversation.”

Ultimately, Johnson argued that Palumbo’s statewide approach isn’t likely to succeed, pointing out that some suburban cities, such as Sammamish, Issaquah, and Federal Way, have gone so far as to impose moratoria on new development. (After a year, the Sammamish City Council effectively lifted the moratorium  as did the Issaquah City Council. )

However, Johnson has a point. Several Puget Sound cities have enacted development bans, making it clear that A) they’re queasy about more density and B) they’re not going to take kindly to some dude from the state legislature telling them how to manage growth.

Seattle is behaving like a suburb when the state is relying on it to be a city.

Johnson says the local approach he’s now heading up as a Seattle City Council member is more likely to work, although—recalling how Nickels backed away from the Futurewise/TCC bill—he acknowledged there’s dedicated resistance to new development in Seattle as well.  For example, he lamented the fact that single-family home owners are currently funding a legal effort to tie up the MHA upzone in a  battle in front of the City Hearing Examiner.

Resistance to development in Seattle has already undermined the rezones Johnson passed in 2016 and 2017 as part of MHA Part 1, when the city upzoned five (already) densely populated commercial/residential Urban Centers,  including downtown, plus one Residential Urban Village at 23rd & Union-Jackson.

To wit: After unanimously passing the downtown upzone, the city council halted one of the first proposed developments proposed under the new zoning (even drafting talking points for the opposition) when a developer wanted to tear down the talismanic  Showbox music venue to build more housing.

Johnson does have a point about state legislation: The merits of Palumbo’s bill are likely to be overshadowed by a meta question of governance that could stall the state senate legislation: Should the state have the right to micromanage local land use issues?

But Palumbo has a point too. When local policies spill over legislators’ borders to threaten a green and progressive state law like the Growth Management Act, which was intended to combat regional problems like sprawl, then yes, the state has a role to play.

It takes one to know one. Suburbanite Palumbo is telling it like it is: Seattle is behaving like a suburb when the state is relying on it to be a city.

Durkan’s Proposed Budget Adds Funding for Cops, Congestion Pricing, and Buses, But Not for Safe Consumption or New Spending on Homelessness

Mayor Jenny Durkan’s $5.9 billion budget proposes hiring 40 net new police officers, funds shelter and rental-assistance programs that had been at risk of being cut while keeping overall homeless funding basically flat, and dramatically increases transportation spending, at least on paper—the $130 million in new funding consists primarily of unspent funds from the Move Seattle levy, which is currently undergoing a “reset” because the city can’t pay for everything it promised when voters passed the levy in 2015. The new transportation funding includes funding 100,000 new Metro service hours, including “microtransit” shuttles to bring riders to the ends of the existing RapidRide lines and to the water taxi in West Seattle. Those additional hours will require Metro to  work overtime to add buses, drivers, and bus parking capacity, but Metro spokesman Jeff Switzer says the 100,000 hours were also included in the King County budget that County Executive Dow Constantine transmitted yesterday, as part of a total increase of 177,000 hours of bus service over the next two years.

City budget director Ben Noble said that if the city wanted to significantly increase spending on homelessness, “that is going to have to happen through reprioritizing [funding] or some as-yet-unidentified source of revenues.” Alison Eisinger, director of the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness, says that, given the ongoing homelessness crisis, “it is unconscionable to put forward a biennial budget … without additional resources for housing.”

The budget would also eliminate about 150 mostly vacant positions, eliminate funding for 217 basic shelter beds provided by the group SHARE after June of next year, fund a new city “ombud” independent from the Human Resources Department, to help employees in city department navigate the process of filing harassment or discrimination claims, and pay police officers $65 million in retroactive pay and benefits from the four years when they were working without a union contract. Officers, Durkan said, have “gone without even a raise but also [without] a [cost of living adjustment]. There hasn’t been pay raise since the beginning of 2014, so that’s four years of pay increases. …  You can get to seemingly large sums really quickly.”

Support

In contrast, the budget proposes making an “inflationary increase adjustment” to what it pays front-line homeless service providers of just 2 percent—less than the actual inflation rate.. Earlier this year, the Downtown Emergency Center sought more than $6 million for salaries and benefits—enough to raise an entry-level counselor’s wages from $15.45 an hour to $19.53 and to boost case managers’ salaries from a high of about $38,000 to $44,550 a year. (Currently, the lowest-paying job listed on DESC’s job board pays $16.32 an hour.) “Even a non-police officer, just a clerical position in a city department, is earning more money in salary—let alone salary plus benefits—than somebody whom we are asking to go out under bridges and work with people who have had years of being brutalized in this world,” Eisinger says.

I’ll have a lot more to say about specific budget proposals over the coming weeks as the city council digs into the details in a series of budget briefings that start on Wednesday, but for now, here are a few more highlights from the mayor’s proposal:

• Durkan’s proposed budget does not include any additional funding for a supervised consumption site (mobile or permanent); instead, it simply pushes $1.3 million that was supposed to fund a place for users to consume their drug of choice under medical supervision, with access to wound care, treatment, and case management forward into this year’s budget. Durkan said Monday that the city would not move forward with supervised consumption site until Durkan is “sure [that King County is] still willing to step up and fund the treatment portion of” a supervised consumption site. Activists, including at least one mother who had lost her son to a heroin overdose, stood outside the Pioneer Square fire station, where Durkan delivered her budget speech, protesting the fact that Durkan’s budget calls for continued inaction on safe consumption sites. It has been more than two years now since a King County task force unanimously recommended supervised consumption as part of a holistic strategy for tackling addiction to heroin and other drugs, the rest of which is slowly being implemented and funded. 

Marlys McConnell, whose son Andrew died of an accidental heroin overdose in January 2015, was wearing a “Silence=Death” t-shirt and holding up the right side of a large banner that read, “Overdose is killing a generation. Is it time to act yet, Mayor Durkan?” She said a safe consumption site could have helped diminish the shame her son felt about his own addiction, which he tried to hide from his family. “Had there been a space available for him, I would very much hope that he could have gone and taken advantage of it and been treated with love and respect and dignity. That could have been a bridge to treatment and other services early on.” McConnell is aware of the argument that safe consumption sites enable drug users to continue in their active addiction, but says, “You don’t get [recovery] ’til you get it.”

• Durkan said she would not support selling off more public land to pay for city budget priorities, as the city has done in the past. (The sale of land in South Lake Union funded new shelter beds and “tiny house village” encampments, as well as a rental-assistance program—all part of the nearly $20 million in services that this year’s budget proposal makes permanent.) The city has put its largest remaining property in South Lake Union, the so-called “Mercer Megablock,” on the market, but Durkan said the city would strongly prefer leasing the property long-term under a master lease to selling it outright. Affordable housing advocates have suggested that the city hang on to the property and use it to build high-rise affordable housing. Noble told me that nothing technically bars the city from using at least some of the land for affordable housing (either city-owned or built by a nonprofit housing provider); however, he noted that because the Seattle Department of Transportation used restricted gas-tax funds to pay for some of the Mercer Corridor Project, which used part of the megablock for construction staging, the city has to pay back SDOT (a cost that could account for about 40 percent of the proceeds from the property) before it can start building anything or funding other projects on the property. The city also has taken out significant debt on the future proceeds from the sale of the megablock site, which would also have to be repaid. Finally, high-rise housing is generally much more expensive (and therefore less appropriate for affordable housing) than low-rise, because it involves glass and steel, although advances in technology are slowly making high-rise affordable housing more feasible.

• Durkan’s budget is mostly silent on the question of the over-budget Center City Streetcar (currently stalled so city consultants can determine whether the city should finish building the downtown connector or cut its losses), but it does include about $9 million in funds over two years to help operate the existing South Lake Union and First Hill streetcars. Previously, the city had backfilled streetcar revenue shortfalls periodically as revenues consistently fell short of projections. The new budget pays for those anticipated shortfalls up front. “We’re trying to be more upfront and honest about what it’s costing for the streetcar so that we won’t continue to run in the red and having to incur the debts that we’ve seen” in the past, Durkan said.

• The transportation budget is otherwise a mixed bag for transit proponents. It includes $1 million to pay for an expanded study of congestion pricing (as currently conceived, a toll for people who want to drive into the center city during certain hours); funds new investments in adaptive signal technology, which Durkan touted as a solution for slow and delayed buses but which the National Association of City Transportation Officials says “can result in a longer cycle length that degrades multi-modal conditions” and is best for moving cars in suburban areas; and proposes asking the legislature to change state law barring the city from using traffic cameras to enforce rules against blocking bike and bus lanes. “Right now, you have to have an actual officer come over and pull them over,” Durkan said—an expensive proposition. The budget also eliminates funding for the “Play Streets” pilot program, which permanently activated some street right-of-way for active (non-car) use, and cuts funding for any new “Pavement to Parks” projects, “takes underused streets and creates public spaces for community use on a year-round, daily basis,” according to the budget.

• The proposed budget moves almost half a million dollars from parks department spending on the city’s four golf courses into the separate capital budget as a “bridge solution” for an ongoing revenue shortfall. Although the city recently invested in improvements to its golf courses—hoping that better facilities, along with higher fees, would bring in more revenue—that hasn’t panned out, and the city has hired a consultant to evaluate the program. Asked why the golf courses aren’t penciling out the way the city had hoped, Noble said that it may be that “golf just isn’t as popular as it used to be.” Affordable-housing proponents have suggested closing down at least some of the city’s golf courses and using them as sites for affordable housing.

The city council begins hearings on the mayor’s budget this week; a full schedule of budget meetings is available on the city’s website.

Afternoon Crank: Bad News for Sound Transit, a Good Idea From Sound Transit, and Grandstanding on Forced “Treatment”

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!

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.

An Ambitious Solution for the Mount Baker Mess

In addition to posting here, I’m also excited to announce that I’m now a staff writer at Seattle Transit Blog. Here’s an excerpt of my latest; check out STB for more.

Image via SDOT.

Image via SDOT.

Last Thursday, SDOT’s Accessible Mount Baker project manager Michael James—a youthful guy with an indifferently tucked shirt and an eager smile, presented an intriguing, but still unfunded, proposal to improve the transit, bike, and pedestrian connections around and between the Mount Baker light rail station on the west side of MLK and the Mount Baker Transit Center on the east side of Rainier.

The meeting, held in the windowless Kings Hall building behind the station, turned out a few dozen committed residents for tortilla wraps, a mixed-fruit platter, and a detailed discussion of what the station area might look like in the hands of SDOT’s “Accessible Mount Baker” team.

Although the city hasn’t identified any specific funding source for the project, expected to take up to a year to build, James said it was consistent with SDOT director Scott Kubly’s vision for spending the money raised by the Move Seattle levy, an ambitious $900 million proposal that will, if voters approve it in November, be roughly twice the size of the 2006 Bridging the Gap levy it would replace.

Like Martin, I can attest that the Mount Baker rail station and the flat concrete expanse of the Mount Baker Transit Center across the street are underdeveloped, poorly connected, and confusing even to a longtime transit rider like myself.

The transit center on the east side, which serves routes 7, 8, 9, 14, and 48, is separated from the light rail station by (let’s just call it what it is) a broad highway; a nearby pedestrian bridge is circuitous, indirect, and steep, encouraging pedestrians to jaywalk and drivers to pick up speed. And the road configuration, with its turn lanes in both directions, increases pedestrian wait times and forces many to dash across the street so they won’t have to wait a full three-phase light cycle.

It’s little surprise, then, that Rainier and MLK have had several times the “acceptable” number of crashes over the past few years; between 2010 and 2013, there were 42 crashes at MLK and McClellan; 65 at McClellan and Rainier; and 76 at Rainier and MLK. The “acceptable” number, according to James, is 10 crashes a year.

Read more at Seattle Transit Blog.