Testimonial from Share The Cities

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Housing, mountains, trees, a person biking, and a dog are in the Share The Cities logo.
Share The Cities is a Seattle-based organizing collective focused on land use and social justice. (Share The Cities)

In an effort to continue providing great journalism, programming, and advocacy, we’re launched our Spring Subscriber Drive this week at The Urbanist. We think what we do is valuable, but you don’t have to take our word for it. Below is a testimonial from Share The Cities.

The Urbanist is an invaluable resource for those wishing to be civically engaged in the Puget Sound region and Washington State. They are an important place for advocacy journalists to find their voice. The Urbanist’s writers approach wonk with a sense of humor that keeps difficult topics engaging. Articles are strongly progressive, aligned with race and social justice, and openly reject neoliberal surface solutions. It is amazing what they’ve been able to do with one full-time staff member.

Urbanism is often accused of being too White and too male. Through a strong election committee, they’ve worked to address valid criticisms. It is a work in progress with a bright, hopeful trajectory. Seattle would have a completely different advocacy vibe without The Urbanist. Let’s make sure they continue to grow.  

Spring 2021 Subscriber Drive Testimonial

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This Really Is a Tipping Point Election for Seattle

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Protesters react with fists raised in solidarity as Nikkita Oliver takes the stage at City Hall on Wednesday June 3rd. (Photo by Doug Trumm)
Protesters react as Nikkita Oliver takes the stage at City Hall on Wednesday June 3rd. (Photo by author)

Seattle’s next mayor faces a tough job. The challenges staring down the city are many and navigating through multiple crises won’t be easy. The Covid pandemic looms over the next mayoral term, and recovering from the pandemic and shoring up the City budget will be a top concern. But the climate crisis, homelessness crisis, and racial justice reckoning won’t wait idly by while we grapple with the virus. We need to make rapid progress on those issues, too.

Will the next Mayor take the traffic safety crisis seriously? Will the next mayor put political capital and precious budget dollars into redesigning our streets to be safer for everyone? Will we elect a true climate mayor ready and willing to challenge the car-centric status quo, aggressively phase out fossil fuels, commit to lower vehicle miles traveled, and dedicate more street space to people walking, rolling, biking, and in transit?

We’ve heard lofty visions from mayors before, but rhetoric alone won’t save lives or the planet. We need to back up vision with action. We’re seeking a mayor ready to forge ahead rather than drag things out with endless studies, stakeholder mediation, and visioneering. The mayor must be a strong leader capable of inspiring, delegating, coalition-building, and making tough decisions in a complex environment.

Campaigns and journalists tend to frame every election as pivotal and high stakes. 2021 really is a uniquely consequential election year with a logjam of issues.

Seattle is not meeting its climate goals.

The city’s climate emissions continue to rise despite a goal to be carbon neutral within a few decades. Seattle’s 2013 Climate Action Plan targets a 81% reduction in transportation emissions by 2030. Eight years later, the City has failed to make any significant progress toward that goal. Our emissions have continued to climb. This isn’t just a moral problem, we’re already paying the price with smoky summers due to worsening wildfire seasons.

Sunday Video: Why Jakarta Is Sinking

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The Indonesian city of Jakarta was colonized by the Dutch. Early on, the Dutch brought their canals and segregated the population, providing direct running water mainly to Dutch residents. Over the decades and centuries, the city evolved with piped running water being very limited. This has led to a serious problem for the seaside city as it slowly sinks as aquifers are depleted. Rising sea levels are not helping matters. How do cities like this across the globe cope with this kind of challenge?

Kicking Off Our Spring 2021 Subscriber Drive

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We hope to resume walking tours like this one once the pandemic has subsided. (Photo by Doug Trumm)

We’re launching our Spring Subscriber Drive today and we could really use your support. If you count on The Urbanist to break down the latest news in urbanism and Seattle politics, we’re counting on you to help us keep the lights on and grow our team. Our vision is a city rich in walkable, bikeable places, transit, social housing, amenities, and accessibility for all. We can get there together.

Twice a year, we run subscriber drives asking you to support our unique brand of advocacy journalism. Thanks to these efforts, we’ve been able to add one full-time employee (yours truly–thank you subscribers). Beyond that, our nonprofit is sustained by an amazing group of volunteers. We hope to bolster our organization and make roles like volunteer coordinator, advocacy director, and editor-in-chief paid positions.

We’re looking to take on more campaigns and stories. More paid staff will make that possible. We’re proud of our work, but, like Seattle, we have lots of room to grow.

Seattle should end exclusionary apartment bans and build sustainable social housing all across the city. Every neighborhood should have pedestrianized streets, protected bike lanes connecting to the citywide network, frequent transit service, and access to groceries, childcare, and healthcare. We know what 15-minute cities look like. The challenge is reclaiming street space and land use policy to make them a reality and ensuring anti-racism is baked into the transition. Let’s embark on that work together.

Last subscriber drive, we added 43 subscribers and we’d aiming to beat that mark this time. Please subscribe today!

Spring 2021 Subscriber Drive Kickoff

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What We’re Reading: Berkeley Reforming Zoning, Not Dying, and North Atlantic Rail

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Berkeley reforming zoning?: Berkeley could be on path to eliminating single-family-only zoning by the end of 2022.

Unserious party: An unserious Republican proposal would add taxes to transit and bikes ($) to raise money for highways in Washington.

Mobility map app: Google Maps could start helping users pay for transit fares and parking in some places.

We’re back: The United States has officially rejoined the Paris Climate Accords ($).

Eviction shenanigans: A federal judge from Texas says that the national eviction moratorium is unconstitutional.

Hoteling and not: Seattle appears to be turning away federal dollars that could be used to house people experiencing homelessness in hotels. However, the city will be putting some people in hotels temporarily for emergency shelter.

Bend Shoupista: A recently elected councilmember in Bend, Oregon wants to reform parking requirements in the city, possibly ending parking minimums.

Holland is walking: Streetsblog showcases how Holland, Michigan is putting pedestrians first in the winter.

Lidding in ATL: A 10-block lid park to cover Atlanta’s main highway has been floated.

AFFH in Boston: Boston’s zoning will include requirements to Affirmatively Further Fair Housing, making it the first city in the nation to do so.

Police misconduct: Cities across America shell out millions of dollars for police misconduct, but there is no consistency among them and holding agencies accountable is difficult.

Airport transit: With a new Federal Aviation Administration rule that allows greater flexibility in fee use, could that lead to better transit access at San Francisco International Airport? Meanwhile, a New York area advocate says that airport trains should be free while airport highways are tolled.

Early alert system: Washington will join a digital, early alter system for earthquakes.

Aligning for housing?: Sightline looks at how a left-right political coalition might work together to reform policy to attain affordable and abundant housing.

More reliant: A new study suggests that lower-income workers rely more heavily on bikeshare.

Philly S-Bahn: Streetsblog explores whether or not Philadelphia will ever get its “S-Bahn”.

QFC closures: QFC, a subsidiary of Kroger, says that 109 employees will be laid off as part of two-store closure in Seattle, which the company has partially blamed on the city’s new hazard pay requirements. Katie Wilson, however, argues that the decision to close was politically motivated by the company.

Investing people, not cars: Denver’s transit agency is looking to replace parking lots with housing near its stations.

Gas leak: The Central District in Seattle had an underground gas leak this week that led to fires and evacuations.

Cable car woes: San Francisco’s cable cars have been halted since the pandemic started and they could be in trouble if a plan doesn’t come together to save them ($).

Studying the known: Virginia is punting on adopting the Idaho Stop for people biking by requiring a study before moving forward on the policy ($).

Dismantling racism: Washington looks to elimination of racially-based insurance rates.

Fighting better participation: A legal fight over the use of an online teleconferencing system for a rezoning public hearing continues and could sink the Gowanus rezone in Brooklyn.

Not dying: The data appears to show that people aren’t fleeing Seattle, they’re just not moving here right now ($).

Spending cannabis taxes: Washington rakes in $1 billion in taxes from cannabis. How is the state spending those moneys?

Big Richmond development: A massive 2.9 million square-foot mixed-use development is being proposed in Richmond, British Columbia.

North Atlantic Rail: Could the North Atlantic Rail project between New York City and Boston be a centerpiece of the Biden administration’s high-speed rail hopes?

Funding Amtrak: With Amtrak ready to grow service and its network, Streetsblog wonders if the government-own passenger railway will finally get the subsidy it deserves.

Empire Station Complex: New York is moving forward with the massive Empire Station Complex Project, which would overhaul New York City’s Penn Station.

Tragedy: A person driving in Capitol Hill wound up crashing, killing a person walking and ending up in hospital.

Sue the suburbs: How can America’s racist suburban zoning and housing policies be reformed?

Blocking progress: Cities have supported greener building codes as part of the International Code Council, but now developers are trying to block them.

No longer “anarchist”: President Joe Biden has rescinded the absurd “anarchist jurisdiction” designation that the previous impeached president assigned to Seattle ($).

Trimming police spending: Seattle could cut police funding by $5.4 million in response to overspending in 2020.

Urban stadium district: The Oakland A’s are gunning for a new stadium and an urban district around it ($).

Seattle City Code Requires We Pave Over Playgrounds, But We Could Change That

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A school crosswalk busy with students and parents in a sea of cars.

The Washington State Legislature is in ongoing legal trouble for failing to properly fund schools. The City of Seattle has many solemn commitments to improving walkability and equity. Why, then, does City code require the school district to spend thousands of dollars every year asking for permission not to turn school property into parking lots? 

As shown in these illustrations, if the Seattle School District had complied with the City requirement for private car storage in the recent retrofits at Magnolia and Queen Anne Elementaries it would have obliterated all outdoor play space and a significant amount of indoor education space. The City also requires that the District move school bus loading from the road–a public space already designated for use in mobility–to within the school lot. Doing so at Magnolia and Queen Anne would remove space for education entirely.

A map shows that the code-required parking lot wouldn't fit on the site.
The parking plan for Queen Anne Elementary had to ask for a code departure. (Seattle Public Schools)
Magnolia Elementary School’s parking plan shows no space for a large parking lot save for paving over the playground park area. (Seattle Public Schools)

Paving playgrounds for parking lots

Following City Code requires the district to transform public land for educating children into private car storage.

Seattle is an increasingly dense city with high property values. Seattle Public Schools is continuously renovating and rebuilding existing school sites to accommodate increasing enrollment without purchasing additional property. 

Transportation is an equity issue. Affluent families are far more likely to own cars and have the schedule flexibility to drop kids off at school. A site plan that devotes scarce land resources to circulation for privately owned cars is inequitable. A site plan that provides safe and inviting spaces for pedestrians and bicyclists is one that can be equally accessed by all of Seattle’s residents.

Sound Transit Weighs ST3 Delay and Revenue Options in New Scenarios

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two trains at a station with little glass orbs sculpture overhead
Angle Lake Station in Seatac. (Photo by Doug Trumm)

Sound Transit boardmembers got a preview of Sound Transit 3 (ST3) realignment scenarios on Thursday. Agency staff walked through four examples of capital program realignment scenarios during the presentation. Each of these are based upon criteria adopted by the board last summer using funding gap assumptions. The agency is facing an $11.5 billion shortfall due to a combination of economic impacts from the pandemic and increasing project costs.

The agency envisioned that Tier 4 projects received the longest delays, which could stretch to 14 years in the no new revenue or as little as two years in the high revenue scenario. On a ridership basis, Sound Transit staff has ranked Graham Street, NE 130th Street, and Boeing Access Road infill Link stations as Tier 4, as are improvements to the RapidRide C and D Lines. However, Graham Street was ranked “high” on the equity criterion since it is one of the most racially diverse station areas in the system. Still, it is not clear if equity will be the determining factor for Sound Transit boardmembers or something else like ridership, phasing, or completing the spine among the eight criteria for realignment.

Each scenario first looks at a specific criterion. So on the basis of ridership, for instance, a project’s performance is analyzed by the kind of ridership it is expected to deliver for scoring and then packaged into categories. Sound Transit has packaged together functionally related projects. An example is the Everett Link extension that necessitates a new operations and maintenance facility. Without that element, the extension could not be delivered so it gets wrapped into a package. The same principle applies to the three Stride bus rapid transit (BRT) projects which require a new bus base. Those are four distinct projects, but functionally are one package, though individual Stride lines could be parsed out and delayed.

The differing objectives and tiers of each criterion scenario. (Sound Transit)
The differing objectives and tiers of each criterion scenario. (Sound Transit)

Additionally, each scenario uses revenue assumptions to create four sub-scenarios showing how many years of delay may apply to a package of projects. The baseline sub-scenario, or plan-required approach, assumes no new revenue or capacity would be provided. The alternative sub-scenarios assume $4 billion, $6 billion, and $9 billion in additional revenue or capacity, respectively. This does not necessarily mean that new revenue would need to be raised since project scope could be reduced or other project savings might be found.

The latter three alternatives are consistent with the expanded capacity approach that King County Executive Dow Constantine championed last summer.

None of the scenarios individually presented will form the final alternative that the board may choose later this year. In part, that is because the board is legally obliged to meet multiple objectives of the Sound Transit 2 and 3 plans. The scenarios do not achieve and do not account for specific subarea equity impacts. Agency staff presented the scenarios mainly for illustrative purposes to get the board thinking about tradeoffs at this point in the process.

As a note to the following scenarios, projects that are highlighted in blue require significant system investments to support them and asterisks in the delay tables indicate that current pandemic-related project delays may impact timing and make the indicated delay unachievable.

Regional Homelessness Authority Still Adrift as CEO Pick Declines Job

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Mayor Durkan and Executive Constantine sign a memorandum of understanding on homelessness back in 2018. (Mayor Durkan's Office)

After months of delay, King County’s Regional Homelessness Authority was supposed to get its Chief Executive Officer. There’s just one problem. The consensus pick, Regina Cannon, has turned down the job, Scott Greenstone reported in The Seattle Times yesterday. The reason Cannon declined the job isn’t yet known; the Atlanta-based homelessness and equity consultant has declined to comment thus far.

The agency CEO would oversee an annual budget of $132 million and have the tall task of bringing together key decisionmakers around the region to agree about homelessness policy. The ongoing vacancy leaves the authority rudderless and our regional response to homelessness adrift–without a CEO, the authority’s staff positions are also vacant.

Back on February 4th, Mayor Jenny Durkan had heralded the hiring decision: “Today we’ve reached a critical milestone in our efforts to address the humanitarian crisis facing our region. With the unanimous selection of Regina Cannon as the new King County Regional Homelessness Authority CEO we demonstrated the ability to come together to address one of our most challenging issues.”

Durkan praised Cannon’s experience saying “her strong background in equitable housing and supportive services, and the intersection with racial equity are huge assets.” The homeless crisis undoubtedly is racialized; Black and Indigenous people have born the brunt of the crisis, and are vastly overrepresented in homeless populations.

Regina Cannon was the consensus pick to lead the Regional Homelessness Authority. (Photo via the Annie E. Casey Foundation)

Seattle has been in a declared civil emergency on homelessness for six years. The 2020 point-in-time count found 11,751 people experiencing homelessness in King County, nearly half of them unsheltered. Homelessness has stayed stubbornly high despite the declared emergency.

Views on how to address homelessness run the gambit, with some suburban leaders committed to punitive approaches (as opposed to evidence-based ones) and swayed by conservative anti-homeless propaganda like KOMO’s Seattle Is Dying and Fight for The Soul of Seattle “documentary” specials. Some suburban cities and neighborhoods pushback vigorously to the prospect of hosting shelters and permanent supportive housing. Eight cities including Renton, Kent, and Bellevue opted out of a County tax aiming at funding the conversion of motels into permanent supportive housing for homeless people.

Last week, the Mercer Island City Council passed an ordinance attempting to ban people experiencing homelessness from the island. A Ninth Court of Appeals ruling (Martin v. Boise) has established that cities can’t sweep people experiencing homelessness unless they have adequate shelter space to offer. True to its snooty brand, Mercer Island doesn’t have a shelter but is attempting to circumvent the ruling by reserving shelter space in neighboring cities, Publicola‘s Erica C. Barnett reported.

“The four shelters to which Mercer Island plans to send people caught sleeping outdoors are far away, small, crowded (a particular concern during the ongoing pandemic), high-barrier, and often full; any of these factors could be used as an argument that the shelter isn’t really ‘available’ or acceptable for a particular person,” Barnett wrote. “The Ninth Circuit ‘made pretty clear that you can’t, for example, force somebody to adhere to a religious doctrine or practice a religion to access a shelter,’ or be ‘clean and sober,’ [ACLU Washington’s Breanne] Schuster said.”

In such an environment, leading the homelessness authority is likely to be a taxing, thankless job lacking a clear path to success–not exactly a combination likely to entice a candidate to uproot her life and move across country–even if it’s for a high profile job with $200,000 salary.

It’s been about a year since the CEO search began. The authority’s governing board had hoped to make its CEO hire by September, but now they’re scrambling to get Plan B together. “County staff are contacting members of the authority’s implementation board to find a time to reconvene and determine next steps,” Greenstone said.

The Regional Homelessness Authority CEO–whoever that ends up being–is in a more difficult proposition as suburban cities increasingly rebel against the vision of shared responsibility on which the plan was launched. To make matters worse, the authority’s founding structure was toothless, with no means to raise funds from suburban cities or force policy changes.

Giving suburban cities more votes than Seattle, which provides the majority of the authority’s funding and provides most of the region’s shelter space and social housing, may end up dooming the effort, or at least throwing up extra obstacles. On the other hand, getting the suburbs to buy into the vision of a compassionate evidence-based response centered on supportive housing is likely a hurdle that ultimately will need to be cleared to finally end the homelessness crisis in the region.

The search for a leader to spearhead that effort continues. One name out there was a runner up in the earlier executive search: Marc Dones, director of the consulting firm National Innovation Service. He was also rumored to be a leading candidate to staff the Mayor’s Equitable Communities Task Force.

“Although she voted for Cannon, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan was the only governing committee member to mention and commend Dones during the vote to select Cannon,” Greenstone reported. “However, when asked if she now supports Dones for CEO, the mayor’s office didn’t answer specifically.”

This article has been updated with the quote from Mayor Durkan.