Bloomberg Quicktake/CityLab explores how Vienna is tackling affordable housing for all in the city. Mike Eliason, syndicated columnist of The Urbanist, offers his perspective in the video, too.
City Council Land Use Committee votes to exempt proposed Interbay site from zoning rules.
On Friday, the Land Use Committee of the Seattle City Council passed an ordinance that will pave the way for a new Seattle Storm training facility. The mechanism allowing the new gym lifts the current size limits on athletic facilities in the Interbay neighborhood. The measure will be before the whole City Council next week.
This is the second meeting on the matter in three days. On Wednesday, the committee heard from representatives of the WNBA Champions. Testifying for the change was 12-time WNBA All Star and five-time gold medalist Sue Bird. She spoke of the changing dynamic in a growing WNBA that allowed some teams to build new facilities and draw her former teammates to new homes. Storm Co-owner and decorated olympian (rowing) Ginny Gilder testified that the facility would demonstrate equity by extending the support the city shows to men’s teams to Seattle’s sole professional women’s franchise.
The change lifts design rules that set a limit of 10,000 square feet on athletic facilities in the industrial areas. To some, the proposal sounded like illegal spot zoning. More broadly, the speed of the proposal calls into question the legitimacy of Mayor Durkan’s recent Industrial and Maritime Lands commission. If that commission resoundingly said that industrial uses should be protected on the city’s dwindling industrial lands, why is a gymnasium getting to jump ahead in the zoning process?
With its official launch, the Seattle Solidarity Budget coalition seeks to influence decision making over the 2022 City of Seattle Budget.
This weekend marks the launch of Seattle’s Solidarity Budget. Now in its second year, the coalition behind the effort is getting word out in advance of the release of Mayor Jenny Durkan’s proposed 2022 City budget (which is expected on Monday) with the goal of increasing the Solidarity Budget’s influence over the upcoming budget negotiations that will occur between the mayor and city council. These negotiations will offer vigorous debate and competing visions for how the City should invest its resources to advance the Covid pandemic economic recovery, develop a more equitable system of public safety, address the homelessness crisis, create affordable housing, reduce carbon emissions, and more.
Not to be confused with the People’s Budget, an effort undertaken annually by Councilmember Kshama Sawant (District 3), the Solidarity Budget arose out of the Black Lives Matter activism of 2020, bringing together 200+ community groups who sought for the 2021 City Budget to prioritize budget actions that would divest funds from policing and increase investments in the community. As a member of the Move All Seattle Sustainably Coalition (MASS), The Urbanist endorsed the 2021 Solidarity Budget. Other endorsers included Decriminalize Seattle, Creative Justice, King County Equity Now, Seattle Transit Riders Union, Disability Rights Washington, Real Change, 350 Seattle, Puget Sound Sage, and Seattle Democratic Socialists of America.
This year the coalition behind the Solidarity Budget has had more time to craft a longer, more detailed budget in advance. This budget, which addresses many areas of City governance, continues to centralize divesting from policing and making “corresponding investments into community care, support, and safety for Black, Indigenous, migrant, unhoused, disabled, queer, trans and low-income communities.”
2022 Seattle Solidarity Budget Highlights
The 2022 Solidarity Budget proposes taking actions in several areas, each of which contains recommendations for funding and/or implementation of public policy. Priorities and their key recommendations include:
Defund Police, Courts, and Prosecutors. The coalition demands that the “divestment from the Seattle Police Department (SPD) continue, and that Seattle commit to shrink other parts of the policing pipeline by defunding the municipal court and the criminal division of the City Attorney’s office.” Key recommendations include:
- Defunding SPD by 50% by eliminating position authority, reducing funding for positions, and ending funding for new hires and ending police spending on new tech, new buildings, new weapons, or police public relations.
- Defunding the misdemeanor punishment arm of the municipal court and the criminal division of the City Attorney’s office by 50% by eliminating courtrooms and shrinking the number of cases prosecuted.
- Investing $5.5 million in addressing gender-based violence and $40 million in capacity building grants for community-based organizations to build non-police responses to crisis and harm.
Put Budgeting in People’s Hands. The coalition’s vision is for a City “where all people can participate actively in democratic governance and community self-determination demands that the City scale up its investment into Black-led and centered participatory budgeting.” Participatory budgeting is a democratic process by which community members decide how to spend a portion of a public budget, and since 2015 it has been a practice in Seattle. Primary recommendation:
- The 2022 budget should double the current investment in participatory budgeting to $60 million.
The four members of the Washington State Redistricting Committee submitted their first draft of maps this week. At this stage the four maps — two Democrat and two Republican appointees — differ a lot, but it does appear like some districts will become more favorable for Democrats. This is a product of Democratic districts generally growing faster than the more rural Republican districts.
Broadly speaking, Washington’s 49 state legislative districts will tighten around metropolitan areas to reflect the greater population growth within them. Some of the fastest growing areas include Seattle, Vancouver, and the Tri-Cities. The maps take some very different paths in the requisite population shifting to get each district within range of the new district population average of 157,251, which reflects the 14.6% growth in Washington State since the last census in 2010. How redistricting plays out will have huge implications for controlling the state legislature, particularly in swing districts where a nudge in one direction could make a big difference. A stronger progressive tilt in a district could also improve prospects for progressive challengers against moderate Democratic legislators.
In the last two cycles, Democrats have had a firm grip on power with the Washington State Senate split 28-21 and the State House split 57-41. Democrats made big gains in 2018 and defended their new seats in 2020, swapping losses in Legislative District 19 for a Senate seat pickup in the 28th courtesy of T’wina Nobles and a House seat pickup in the 42nd via Alicia Rule.
The overall pattern is fairly consistent across the state and country. Urban areas lean heavily Democrat, while rural areas lean Republican. The biggest exceptions to that pattern are tribal lands and college towns, which both also break for Democrats and interrupt the sea of red between major cities. Suburbs can be a bit of a mixed bag, but in Western Washington they tend to break Democrat — save for some parts of the exurban fringe — particularly following the White Nationalist drift of the party in the Trump era.
While we could delve into all four commissions maps, let’s ignore the Republican maps for now to make this simpler and spare ourselves some groans. (Here are the links for Paul Graves’ map and Joe Fain’s map if you’re curious to see the Republicans’ proposals.) That leaves us with a map from April Sims, Secretary Treasurer of the Washington State Labor Council and the first women of color to serve on the commission, and a map from Brady Piñero Walkinshaw, CEO of Grist and the first Latino to serve on the commission.
Here’s how the maps are shaping up in key swing districts.
The 5th district has been one of Washington’s most contested swing districts. It was Republican controlled until the 2012 election, when Democrat Mark Mullet defeated Republican Brad Toft by a razor-thin margin. Mullet proved to be so moderate that he upset the progressive wing of the party with plethora of anti-union, corporate-friendly, and climate-delaying votes and stances. Ingrid Anderson — a nurse with strong union backing — challenged Mullet from the left in 2020, but he survived a recount to hold onto the seat.
At first glance, Sims’ map may actually make the district a little more conservative by dropping Renton, which is solid Democratic territory, and adding more unincorporated areas around Black Diamond. Walkinshaw’s map looks a bit more favorable to Democrats by adding much of Sammamish and more of Issaquah to the district, while dropping Black Diamond, Ravensdale, and part of Maple Valley.
This afternoon, City staff will brief the Seattle City Council on tree canopy protections and perhaps finally chart a way forward on a policy area that has long been stalled out, even after a proposal emerged in 2018. The presentation will provide an overview of the City’s Urban Forest Management Plan, which was finalized and published on September 14th, concluding three years of work by staff at the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections (SDCI) and Office of Sustainability and the Environment (OSE), the Urban Forestry Commission, and other important external stakeholders.
The publication comes on the heels of a recently released poll by the Northwest Progressive Institute (NPI) and TreePAC showing that over three quarters of the 617 participants favored Seattle enacting stronger tree protections, increasing the amount of trees planted in low income and previously redlined neighborhoods, and creating policies that encourage developers to retain existing trees.
This August I reported for The Urbanist in an interview with Weston Brinkley, chair of Urban Forestry Commission, that the City of Seattle has been operating under an interim tree ordinance since 2009 — despite the fact that some experts both in and outside of the city government have the deemed the ordinance to be insufficient. Over the years, local officials have expressed support for passing an updated tree ordinance, but failed to take action.
“Despite more than a decade of promises, Seattle leaders have failed to improve tree protections,” noted Joshua Morris, urban conservation manager for Seattle Audubon in a press release for the NPI poll. “Seattle can densify, prevent sprawl, protect more trees, and plant more new ones. We just have to plan for it. Washington, D.C., for example, continues to increase both population density and tree canopy cover through strong tree protections, dedicated funding, and coordinated urban forestry management. We can learn from their example.”
NPI’s poll indicates Seattle residents would favor adopting policies in line with those in Washington, D.C. or Portland, OR, whose Title 11 tree ordinance was created as an attempt to strike a balance between the city’s tree canopy goals and development goals. Before we move on to the poll’s results, let’s dive into some context around tree removal in Seattle.
Proposed Talaris development represents a flashpoint
The report to Council states Seattle’s urban canopy is made up of more than four million trees, which are valued at close to $5 billion in replacement value. These trees not are only threatened by a lack of tree ordinance protections, climate change is leading to increased harm from drought, disease, and pests. The arrival this summer of sooty bark disease, a deadly fungus which has been identified in 46 of Seattle’s street trees– although it has likely infected far more– may have been exacerbated by warmer summer temperatures.
New development in the city has also negatively impacted the city’s tree canopy, although often in ways that run counter to popular narratives that defend single family zoning under the banner of preserving urban trees. According to Brinkley, new development in many commercial and mixed zoned areas has actually resulted in the planting of new trees because of Seattle Green Factor requirements. These requirements, however, are not in place for single family zoned areas, which has resulted in tree canopy loss as trees are cleared when smaller single family dwellings are replaced with larger ones.
Perhaps the most troubling example of this trend in single family zoned areas is the case of Talaris, a proposed development of 65 large suburban style houses (i.e. McMansions) on the site of an 18-acre former research institute and conference center. The plan, which dubbed by The Urbanist‘s Ray Dubicki as an unmitigated disaster, has generated criticism from both Laurelhurst residents who wish to preserve the historic site and its trees, and housing advocates, like Affordable Talaris, who have expressed shock the city would approve a “cloistered enclave of McMansions at a time of climate, housing, and public health emergency.”
If the Talaris development comes into being as currently envisioned, it will result in the removal of 60% of the trees on the property — a total of two hundred and seventy-one mature trees, one hundred and seventy-five of which are considered exceptional, either by size or as part of a tree grove. The property is current zoned for single family development, meaning its trees are largely unprotected under the current tree protection code, which stipulates that property owners may remove trees if retaining them prevents the development of allowed lot coverage or floor area of the site’s land use. Property owners must show it’s not possible to retain the trees by using various “departures” from the zone’s land use code development standards, but according to Brinkley, the Urban Forestry Commission would like to see more flexibility written into the land use code around items like street setbacks and parking minimums that allow for the preservation of trees.
One last point to add about Talaris is that single family zoning of the site means any new development will not create affordable housing or raise funds through the City’s Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) program.
Burien is banking on bus rapid transit (BRT) and code changes to deliver a transit-oriented future on a primary city corridor. With the expected arrival of BRT via the RapidRide H Line in the fall of 2022, Burien has adopted an interim transit-oriented development overlay along the corridor. City planners are conducting a larger community planning study for the Ambaum and Boulevard Park areas that would result in wider regulatory changes in a year or so. For now, the adopted interim regulations establish what planners say are “minimum standards in new development to ensure pedestrian safety and comfort, and to complement the region’s investment in transit.” This allows an interim moratorium on development to be lifted.
The interim regulations are focused on properties within 300 feet of several intersections on Ambaum Boulevard SW. The regulations will emanate from seven intersections, which include SW 112th Street, SW 116th Street, SW 122nd Street, SW 128th Street, SW 136th Street, SW 142nd Street, and SW 148th Street. The selected intersections create special overlay districts that were specifically chosen to overlap with RapidRide H Line stations planned by King County Metro.
Any parcels that fall partially or fully within the 300-foot overlay become fully subject to overlay regulations, except for properties within the Downtown Commercial zone. The scope of new regulations is somewhat narrow, but the regulations critically attempt to promote transit-oriented uses and designs while securing sidewalk improvements. And importantly, where the interim regulations are in conflict with other Burien development standards, the interim regulations entirely supersede other development standards making the overlay a very powerful tool.
Sound Transit’s Chief Executive Officer Peter Rogoff will be departing from the agency by the end of May 2022. In a surprising turn, the agency’s board of directors chose not to renew Rogoff’s contract. Instead, the board opted to immediately open the CEO role to a nationwide search process and keep Rogoff on an interim basis to facilitate a transition.
Earlier this month, the board met to consider Rogoff’s employment with the agency. The board went into a very long executive session to consider Rogoff’s performance and action on a one-year contract extension that could then be extended twice more. The board eventually came back to announce that action on the contract would be tabled until the next full board meeting this afternoon. In essence a replay today, the board went into another long executive session before returning to take action on Rogoff’s employment with the agency.
Board Chair Kent Keel was first up to speak saying that Rogoff had told him and others that he, Rogoff, didn’t see himself remaining in the CEO role beyond the end of 2022. Keel pointed to the important body of work that lays ahead for the agency as justification for ending the agency’s relationship with Rogoff sooner rather than a year from now. The agency just wrapped a very tumultuous realignment process that could salvage most of the timelines for Sound Transit 3 transit projects despite somewhat bleak financial straights right now.
In a statement issued after the meeting, Chair Keel reiterated his rationale to start anew. “Given the volume and intensity of current and upcoming work and the agency’s needs and interests, the Sound Transit Board has exercised its discretion to proceed immediately to initiating a national search to select the agency’s next successful leader,” he said. “Now is a strategic time to identify our next CEO ahead of work to open light rail to the Eastside in 2023 and to Lynnwood, Federal Way, and Downtown Redmond in 2024.”