Thursday, August 16, 2018

Wonkabout Washington: Pierce County Doubles Protected Farmland, Next Steps on Sound Transit’s Paid Parking

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Submit your nominations for the Futurewise Livable Community Awards!

Each year, Futurewise honors community leaders in five categories (Local Government Excellence, Equity and Environment, Protecting Natural Resource Areas, Smart Growth and Transportation, Community Champion). We want your nominations for 2019! Submit your ideas online.

Pierce County Council Votes to Double Protected Working Farmland

On August 14, 2018, the Pierce County Council voted to double the working farms county policy will conserve long-term. The recent Pierce County Fresh Look report concluded that “[t]here’s near-consensus support for protecting Pierce County’s best farmland and sustaining the economic viability of local agriculture.”

Legal advocacy from Futurewise was critical in reaching today’s outcome. Futurewise identified inconsistencies in the Pierce County Comprehensive Plan that made farmland vulnerable to rezoning and development. Futurewise appealed the plan to a state agency, then worked directly with local partners, community members, and county councilmembers to draft a final policy that balances stakeholder needs.

Suburban sprawl has been a major threat to conserving Pierce County’s agricultural land. Since Pierce County first adopted its current agricultural land designation criteria in 2004, Pierce County has lost 7,987 acres of protected agricultural land. As the Fresh Look study found, “[f]armers further from urban centers are also feeling pressure of development on their operations. Even in the south end of themcounty, where livestock production (mainly beef cattle) is the primary agricultural activity, residential growth is challenging to farmers and ranchers.”

While protected farmland has declined, demand for farmland has increased in Pierce County. Between 2007 and 2012, the land in farms in Pierce County grew by four percent or 1,800 acres. In that five-year period, the market value of food and other agricultural products sold by farmers and ranchers increased by nine percent. In a recent three-year period, the local land trust has heard from over 45 farmers who are looking for land and are interested in starting or expanding their farm businesses in Pierce County.

Yet the Pierce County report, Preserving Farmland and Farmers: Pierce County Agriculture Strategic Plan, concluded that one of the barriers to economically viable agriculture in Pierce County was the need to maintain “[a] critical (minimum) threshold amount of land and number of farmers …; otherwise the industry loses options to sustain itself and grow.”

If no improvements to the county plan were made, Pierce County would lose another 13,313 acres of working farmland. Instead, the new policies approved by the Pierce County Council will stanch these loses, designating over 22,000 acres of protected farmland, removing the designation criterion that allowed the continued farmland losses, and including policies to better protect working farms.

Equity Impacts of High-Speed Rail

Futurewise is serving on the Advisory Committee for the Ultra High-Speed Ground Transportation Study–a Washington State Department of Transportation effort to investigate intercity passenger transportation system traveling at speeds of 250 mph or more between Vancouver, British Columbia and Portland, Oregon (with several possible stops in between). The committee includes a mix of local, state and international leadership, including legislators and representatives from the Governor’s office, and the office of the BC Premier, and will be meeting over the course of the next year to provide guidance and feedback. While this concept has been around for at least a decade or more, the most recent effort was given new life by interest from the private sector, including Microsoft, who are participating in the study phase of the project funding.

Broad strokes on many of the study’s focus areas were presented at the first meeting in July–primarily by the WSP consulting team–including the corridor planning, ridership analysis, governance models, economic analysis, and financing.

However, there was one important point that was not mentioned in the presentation–although it was highlighted by Seattle Chamber of Commerce CEO Marilyn Strickland and Futurewise–which was the project’s equity and social justice considerations, particularly the impacts on jobs, housing, and displacement. There was a lot of discussion of project benefits, but almost no discussion of who benefits from the project. The consultant team was careful to point out that the study being undertaken did not include a “local” analysis of housing or growth impacts–but that doesn’t mean that it couldn’t. Moving forward, Futurewise will advocate for more comprehensive analysis of who benefits from high-speed rail, with a focus on impacts on housing.

Pressing Sound Transit to Improve Paid Parking Policies

On July 26th, the Sound Transit Board voted to offer priced monthly parking permits. Futurewise testified in support of this initiative, while offering recommendations to improve the program.

Overall, the Paid Parking Program is a positive step for Sound Transit. Offering priced monthly permits for Park and Rides will help to achieve more reliable parking capacity while also reducing early morning stress for riders who struggle to get to lots early enough to find a parking spot.

However, Sound Transit has room to make equity improvements in this policy. Most importantly, Sound Transit could further reduce the permit price for ORCA-LIFT users. Riders that are eligible for ORCA-LIFT have very low-incomes that already make living in our region difficult. The current reduced price may be too high for low-income riders to utilize the convenience of a permitted parking spot. The performance-drive price adjustment strategy is a good start; Sound Transit could improve by also evaluating the price-effectiveness specifically for ORCA-LIFT users and consider further reducing the cost.

Another way to improve the program? Make residents living outside the Sound Transit service area eligible to purchase a parking permit. These restrictions have insufficient rationale and create an inequitable system where non-resident users are able to utilize these lots for free, but are not able to choose to pay for a permitted parking spot. We would like to see this restriction lifted and the ability to purchase a parking permit expanded to any user of Sound Transit. Doing so provides equal opportunity access to our transit system to all users, regardless of their address.

Overall, the Sound Transit Paid Parking Program is an important first step in parking management for our region. Implementing the above recommendations would improve the program by increasing the accessibility of parking permits.

Urban Village Boundary Contractions? No Thanks.

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Wallingford Community Council proposed 2017 Comprehensive Plan amendment to remove more than 50 blocks and only park from the urban village. (City of Seattle)
Wallingford Community Council proposed 2017 Comprehensive Plan amendment to remove more than 50 blocks and only park from the urban village. (City of Seattle)

In my Sightline piece from May, I described how homeowners in Wallingford have worked for decades to block housing via downzones, increasing development burdens, and dominating the inequitable and anti-tenant neighborhood planning process. Just last year, the Wallingford Community Council (WCC) proposed a comprehensive plan amendment that would have removed over 50 blocks and the only park out of the already gerrymandered Wallingford Urban Village.

Of course, nearly all areas eliminated were zoned single-family, which will see a nominal uptick with Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) Program rezones. The inequitable aspect here is that Wallingford is majority renter with a median age of 33. Per a colleague, the proposed gerrymander wasn’t even put to a vote (oops), unsurprisingly the WCC board’s demographics are the complete inverse of the neighborhood. This gerrymander would have increased development pressure on existing buildings in the urban village, placing existing businesses and multifamily housing at greater risk for redevelopment — all the while removing a sizeable chunk in future MHA units or in lieu fees.

The city council summarily rejected the proposed comprehensive plan amendment, and I kind of assumed classist tactics like that wouldn’t be tried again. So I was a little surprised to see that the Phinney Ridge Community Council put out a survey to test the waters about removing a significant portion of the (already inequitably gerrymandered) Phinney/Greenwood Urban Village. The survey is titled, ‘Should we change the boundaries of the Greenwood-Phinney Urban Village If doing so means developers would provide more on-site parking in the future?’

Ah yes. Parking. I should have guessed it.

City Council Saves The Showbox, Vacates ROW, and Sets Move Seattle Levy Process

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On Monday, the Seattle City Council temporarily expanded the Pike Place Market Historic District, effectively saving the Showbox for now. The reprieve doesn’t guarantee perpetual protection of the famed music venue, but it does set in motion a process to study a permanent expansion of the historic district to the property in order to keep the space open for concertgoers and bands alike.

The effort to save the Showbox came in response to a pre-application submitted by a prospective developer last month that is considering a 44-story, 442-unit highrise tower. Canadian firm Onni Group has built other large-scale highrise projects in Seattle and hopes to do the same on the Showbox site. However, the historic district expansion will apply for 10 months allowing for a full review and landmarking process to proceed.

The hatched area indicates where the historic district expansion applies temporarily. The grey area is the existing Place Place Market Historic District. (City of Seattle)
The hatched area indicates where the historic district expansion applies temporarily. The grey area is the existing Place Place Market Historic District. (City of Seattle)

The Unfinished Promise of the Center City Connector

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Pioneer Square has the most to potentially lose–but also gain–from the connection of Seattle’s downtown streetcar lines.

During her daily commute into Pioneer Square on Link light rail, Lauren Davis, who is assistant director of ArtXchange Gallery, noticed a change in ridership after the completion of the Capitol Hill and University of Washington stations in 2016.

“The cars are packed,” said Davis. “It’s clear that people in Seattle are hungry for connected transit systems.”

Davis is hopeful that Center City Connector (CCC) will offer Pioneer Square access into another connected system. As the director of a well-established gallery on 1st Avenue just south of S. Jackson Street, Davis knows that customer access is essential to her gallery’s success, and she is tired of listening to customer’s frustrations about “circling for an hour for a park spot.”

“I would personally like to have the CCC in the long run,” said Davis. “If the [streetcar] connector were finished and there were new resources for parking, I think that would be ideal.”

On July 24th Mayor Durkan released a letter explaining her decision to halt construction of the CCC, pending completion of a technical review by the firm KPMG. While the fate of the CCC hangs in the balance, no other neighborhood is waiting for what comes next with as much anticipation as Pioneer Square. Because of the utility work being completed on 1st avenue, the neighborhood has already been living with the painful reality of being stuck in the middle of a major road construction project for several months.

What We’re Reading: CSO Failures, Superblocks, and Historic Lows

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Low-cost activation: Why are cities bringing giant games to parks and plazas?

Walkability: What makes a place walkable?

CSO failures: King County has been fined $118,500 since 2013 ($) for multiple combined sewer overflows.

Safer streets in Canada: Why Canada has a better road safety record than America.

Not much progress: Is a regional coalition making any headway on addressing homelessness?

Olmsted treasure trove: The Library Congress now has a massive digital database of Frederick Law Olmsted’s works.

23rd Ave E: Rechannelization work on 23rd Ave E near Montlake is about to begin.

Sugar high: Seattle’s soda tax has brought in $10 million in its first six months ($).

Superblocks: What is it like in a pedestrian-first superblock?

Covering preventable tragedies: Lazy coverage of pedestrian deaths often hides why streets are so dangerous in the first place.

This is different: Is the skyrocketing housing prices in America just another housing bubble?

Tech issues: Seattle’s new online permit system appears to have had some major glitches following its launch ($).

CRC redux: Vancouver, Washington wants the Columbia River Crossing resurrected with transit priority.

New chief: Carmen Best will be appointed as Seattle’s newest police chief on Monday.

Historic lows: In Seattle’s suburbs, housing construction is at historic lows ($).

Green streets: Sightline talks about Vancouver, British Columbia’s very healthy and livable street designs.

Nominated: Historic Seattle has submitted a landmark nomination for the Showbox.

Tacoma: Getting To Know My New City Through Walking

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I moved to Tacoma the last weekend of July. Even as I got keys to my apartment the day after I arrived, my stuff wasn’t scheduled to arrive until later in the week. I spent my first weekend in the city in a hotel. These in-between-places days forced me into a sort of nomadic existence that wasn’t entirely unwelcome.

I’m not the first to recognize that walking in a city is the best way to really get to know it. My involuntary nomadism forced a meeting that, given how things go when you first move to a new place, you don’t always get.

It’s also true that not all cities are set up for walking. Some cities–it’s as if they don’t want you to get to know them: not really, not intimately. Sidewalks end, or weren’t there to begin with. Multi-lane roads and high speed limits clearly tell you that you proceed at your own risk. Crosswalks are non-existent or few and far between. I come to Tacoma from a city that works against getting to know it.

Sunday Video: Barcelona’s Superblocks – Change The Grid, Change Your Neighborhood

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Streetfilms takes a look at what it’s like to live in Barcelona’s vibrant pedestrian-oriented superblocks (superilles).

Nathanbabble, III of III

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You may remember Sho Luv, from the 358. He looks like a friendlier version of Ice Cube, with more gold in his teeth. Always in bright spirits, at least when I’m around. We’re both from South Gate. He’s explaining how he was just down in Los Angeles. A flood in a living space he was visiting there had resulted in problems.

“I was down on Skid Row for five days and five nights.”
“Skid Row, uh oh!” Like our Jungle, Skid Row has housed a large homeless population since before the 1930s.
“Went down there for a high school reunion.”
“In Skid Row??”
He bellowed with laughter. “Naw, silly! In LA! Ah found a hotel, finally. The sign said sixty dollars, I said okay.”