Wednesday, 23 September, 2020

Midweek Video: One Chart Shows How America Can Leave Fossil Fuels Behind

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In this video, Vox highlights a Sankey diagram that shows where all of America’s carbon emissions come, which can inform how the country should be most effective in decarbonizing. The shortcut to decarbonizing is changing the economy to carbon-free electric systems as fast as possible.

Council Overrides Mayor Durkan’s Budget Vetoes

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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)

The veto overrides preserve $17 million for community safety programs, $3 million for participatory budgeting, and budget provisos intended to trim 100 positions from the Seattle Police Department (SPD).

The Seattle City Council rebuked Mayor Jenny Durkan’s attempt to collaborate by veto, overriding the Mayor’s rebalancing budget veto in a 7-2 vote Tuesday. Councilmembers Alex Pedersen and Debora Juarez dissented, but joined their colleagues for the two remaining unanimous override votes on new allocations for community investments.

The outcome of the special meeting was in doubt after several councilmembers played it close to the vest and didn’t announce their positions ahead of the vote. Nonetheless, when the dust cleared after a long and contentious meeting, the Mayor’s vetoes were erased.

Facing a troubling setback, backers of the effort to defund SPD and invest in community safety instead rallied support. In addition to phone and letter-writing campaigns, more than 70 people signed up for public testimony in favor of “holding the line” and overriding the veto. The Urbanist joined the chorus in sending a letter we also published yesterday. In comparison, only about 10 commenters argued for sustaining the veto.

Pro-veto vote-whipping was fierce, too–if ultimately ineffective. Mayor Durkan took the rare step of issuing a press release during the meeting directly appealing to councilmembers to collaborate with her–on her terms. The invitation came with more sharp criticism for the Council and a far-reaching ultimatum, which took most of the Council’s rebalancing budget off the table.

“While Council may not be concerned about the details, I am. And they actually do matter,” the Mayor said in one breathe, while in the next pivoting to “Our community is demanding that we work together…” and “I hope Council takes this moment to chart a path forward together.”

Though she supported overriding the Mayor’s vetoes, Council President Lorena González offered an alternative bill that incorporated the ultimatums from the Mayor. González said she wanted to ensure at least some of their progress was retained if the veto was sustained. Ultimately, the alternative bill was not needed with the votes to override.

Public Safety Chair Lisa Herbold (District 1) emphasized that the Council’s budget provided much greater funding to community safety groups led by Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC).

“The alternative short-changed community members and organizations who have the expertise we need to build community safety, by proposing a mere $3.5 million investment instead of the $17 million Council had appropriated,” Councilmember Herbold said in a statement. “The $2 million the Mayor proposed for investment in violence prevention and crisis intervention is wholly inadequate to the need, given the increase in gun violence that Seattle is experiencing. Funding the Seattle Community Safety (SCS) Initiative to scale up gun-violence intervention and prevention is necessary now for true community safety efforts like the work of BIPOC-led organizations like Community Passageways, Urban Family, SE Safety Network Hub Boys & Girls Club, and the Alive & Free Program – YMCA.”

Herbold also included an appeal to Durkan to implement the budget: “With today’s vote the Council can’t force the Mayor to spend these dollars. But I plea with her to do so.”

Negotiating by veto

Councilmember Andrew Lewis (District 7) worried a pattern of the Mayor “negotiating by veto” was emerging and hurting the chances of real compromise, for which he was still holding out hope.

“This process of veto, negotiate, and then insist on sustaining is wearing and it has been unproductive,” Lewis said. “It has contributed to be frayed relations between the Mayor and Council, and there have to be better ways to resolve our differences.”

Councilmember Dan Strauss (District 6) noted SPD forced their hand with its violent response to protests over the summer and lack of ability to control their budget. “It was as if eight years of reform didn’t occur,” he said. “And the 45% budget increase in those last eight years went unchecked. The changes proposed in the 2020 rebalancing package are not radical or earth-shattering; they are reasonable, responsible first steps to the long process of re-envisioning how we handle public safety.”

Talaris Mansion Plan Is an Unmitigated Disaster

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Talaris Conference Center. (Joe Mabel)

Using a pack of highlighters to show the absurdity of developing a private enclave in the city.

Last Tuesday, the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections (SDCI) held an online public information session to discuss the permitting process for redeveloping the Talaris campus. The proposal is to locate 65 new single-family detached homes onto the 18-acre former research institute. Neighbors in Laurelhurst have expressed opposition to changing the historic site and losing trees. Civic organizations like Affordable Talaris have expressed shock that the city would approve a cloistered enclave of McMansions at a time of climate, housing, and public health emergency.

Between the very big ideas of community and the very small plans to build a house, there is a thin layer of paperwork that establishes the shape of places we live. We’ve talked a little about it before, drawing property lines through subdivision. Right now, in real time, we see that process at Talaris. It is ruining an invaluable resource. By virtue of its single family zoning, the development is exempt from the Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) program that would have required affordable housing contributions.

Understandably, “process” can be hard to see because it is difficult to connect those plansets with the real world. What does this mess of lines and tables actually translate to in real life? Today we’re going to talk about reading those documents, how you can do it, and why it’s very important you give it a try. Bonus: there will be coloring.

Highlighters Out

To start, let’s get a set of plans. Seattle makes this fairly easy. Start at the Seattle Services Portal. If you received notification as a neighbor or heard about the project through a community organization, you probably have a project number. Search using it. The Talaris project is 3030811-LU. If you don’t have a number, try the address or the name of the project. And if you don’t add the “-LU” extension, the search will turn up a lot of garbage.

Look for the most recent application that has a “review in process.” Depending on your search, this may be higher or lower on the list. When you find it, click and you’ll be directed to a page about the particular project. You want to click on “Attachments” because that’s where all the uploaded documents live. For Talaris, the plan set is on page 10 because there’s been a lot of correspondence. The full plan has text and extra images that we’ll use later, but here’s a picture of the overall version we’re going to work with:

Submitted subdivision plan for Talaris. (Quadrant Homes)

Now that we have a current set of plans, let’s get into reading them. That starts with coloring. You can stick with a few basic colors. Leave the art markers for destress coloring. The point is to go around each type of line on the plan with a separate color. Here’s the breakdown in colors and the order that I layer them over the plan:

  • Orange – Property lines
  • Yellow – House lots
  • Blue – Roads
  • Green – Environmental
  • Red – Easements
  • I also keep a red pen on hand to liberally circle and label things “WTF?”.

For this article, I colored things digitally because I needed the illustrations for this article and I wanted to sit on the couch and watch Umbrella Academy (which had a much better second season than first). If you do this on a computer, anything more than a PDF markup app will be overkill. You don’t need a universe of colors and vector tools. My suggested colors come from a pack of highlighters that I used to mark up paper copies for years (darker colors and shades involved going over something a second time). The important thing is the process.

Northwest Nonsense – Ask Questions

Using color, we can build up an understanding of what’s happening on the site. Let’s start in the northwest corner at the top left. It’s the main entrance from Sand Point Way via 38th Avenue NE. The boldest black lines labeled with directions are property lines. Let’s start there and build up colors. Orange for property lines. Yellow for house sites. Blue for roads. Like so:

Dear Seattle City Council: Override Mayor Durkan’s Veto and Divest from Racist Policing

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Protesters marching on Ballard Avenue with signs
Divest from SPD and invest in communities of color has been a rallying cry for protests across the city.

Dear Seattle City Councilmembers,

The Urbanist implores you to do the right thing, hold the line, and take an important step toward racial justice. The straightest path to those goals starts with overriding Mayor Jenny Durkan’s veto of the rebalancing budget Council passed unanimously in August. The Council budget set the wheels in motion toward divesting from racist policing to invest in communities of color. The Mayor’s “compromise” budget gums up the works and throws up new obstacles.

Even worse, failing to override the veto would set a terrible precedent of capitulation ahead of 2021 budget deliberations. Is the Council’s official position that they’ll only pass a budget where every item has the blessing of the Mayor? Why even have a City Council then? What can they hope to accomplish if they’re not willing to overrule the Mayor on anything?

Yesterday Councilmember Andrew Lewis argued that because the Mayor could refuse to spend the money they allocated that the capitulation budget is a wash and the Council might as well go along. This is backwards defeatist thinking. If the Mayor refuses to spend money that the Council has allocated, that’s on her.

The fallout of the Mayor blocking this funding will blow back on the Executive not on the Council. The Council funded groups doing vital social justice work and the Mayor stood between them.

It’s not that hard to create a narrative for the Council budget because diversionary programs and community investment are popular and morally just things. So rather than fretting about the Mayor’s narrative and power, the Council must get busy creating their own.

Seven of you have endorsed the defund campaign, which seeks to reinvest 50% of the Seattle Police Department (SPD) budget in community-based organization and social services in communities of color that are disproportionately harmed by our policing and criminal justice system. A sweepingly broad coalition under the masthead of Decriminalize Seattle and King County Equity Now have carried this demand and urged you to override the veto. We urge you to stick to your word and honor the tens of thousands of Seatteites who have taken to the streets to protest. Many of you have joined protests as this movement was picking up steam in June. As Seattle’s elected legislators, you’re the only ones who can deliver this message to Mayor Durkan via the budget process this fall. Please override this veto to maintain our hard-fought momentum.

The alternative is incredibly murky. Rhetorically at least, the Mayor has raised the banner of “reimagine policing,” but we still have no idea what that actually means months into this content-lite PR blitz. The Mayor has not committed to shrinking the police budget and the so-called compromises she offered primarily bent the Council to her will on key questions.

Join Us for Affordable Housing Lunch and Learn with Shane Phillips on Thursday September 24th

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Affordable City book cover with a headshot of Shane Phillips
The Affordable City was just released and we recommend you read it. (Graphic by Share the Cities)

Join Share The Cites and The Urbanist in welcoming Shane Phillips to a Seattle-centered discussion about his book The Affordable City this Thursday September 24th from noon to 1pm. The book is a comprehensive look at how to make housing more affordable and has 50 recommendations focused on what the author calls the three S’s: Supply, Stability, and Subsidy. The event will feature a conversation with the author on his book and its recommendations followed by questions, with some time at the beginning and end to connect with other people interested in solving our housing crisis.

The Affordable City is a great read for anyone interested in how to make housing more affordable and secure, from those just getting interested in the topic to those who have been in the policy trenches for years. So often the issue of housing is presented as a polarized discussion between those who think that we just need to build more housing and those who think we need to focus only on protecting existing residents. The Affordable City says yes to both and shows in its 50 well researched policy proposals how we can help prevent displacement, make cost-burdened people more secure in their housing, while at the same time building more and different types of housing to welcome new people into our city.

The book, and this talk, are well timed for this moment in Seattle as we struggle to accommodate growth while protecting our existing residents, many of whom face eviction as the Covid pandemic persists and its related economic crisis continues to unfold.

Shane Phillips is an urban planner and housing policy expert based in Los Angeles. He currently manages the UCLA Lewis Center Housing Initiative and has recently taught public policy as an adjunct instructor at the University of Southern California. Originally from Seattle, Shane got his bachelor’s degree in biochemistry at the University of Washington before moving to LA for grad school, and he writes (infrequently) about housing and transportation policy at his blog, Better Institutions.

You can register to receive the Zoom link here and RSVP on Facebook here.

A Better Bel-Red

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Aerial rendering of Bel-red neighborhood with TOD near Link stations.
A sketch of a future Bel-Red envisioned Bel-Red Subarea Plan. (City of Bellevue)

Bellevue should plan for high quality public spaces, walkability, and dense transit-oriented development–plus add an in-fill light rail station in Bel-Red.

Walk down Bel-Red Road and you’ll probably find it a bit difficult to tell where exactly you are. Look around and you’ll find few things to guide you; the road seems to listlessly run off towards the horizon (at this point it doesn’t even matter what direction you’re looking) as cars whoosh past just inches away. 

What was meant to be a short stroll to the grocery store now seems like it will take an eternity. You can swear that you’ve been walking for half an hour now, but the strip malls and drive-thrus seem to go on forever.

Bellevue is a car city. Traffic lights prioritize them. Roads cater to them. And things are too spread out too far apart as to require them. Taking the bus or biking is possible, yes, but hardly ideal. Driving is ten times faster than walking–and Bellevue’s wide roads are calling.

Over the years there’s been little challenge to the automobile’s supremacy in Bellevue. New roads are still as wide as ever (the roads bounding the transit-oriented Spring District are more than four lanes wide), and bike infrastructure remains lacking

It’s almost as if Bellevue is a time capsule trapped in 20th-century autopia. It’s still holding on to single-family zoning, increasing housing prices, reducing housing stock growth, and increasing inequality. It’s resilience that’s problematic, an unwillingness to change that’s holding the whole region back. It doesn’t have to be this way–light rail expansion to Bellevue is our chance to rewrite the rules of the city’s urban future.

A Five-Minute City

Imagine that you could leave work on the light rail and read a book while watching the scenery pass by. A lively street lined with small stores greets you as you hop off, and you might even grab some groceries on your way home. The sun shines through the canopy trees onto the path that takes you to your apartment doorstep, where the whole journey from the station to doorstep takes just five minutes. There’s neither sitting in traffic, changing lanes, nor waiting for the light to turn green. That’s what the world of Bel-Red could be.

In its Bel-Red Subarea Plan, the City of Bellevue set about creating a blueprint for Bel-Red and Crossroads neighborhoods once light rail arrives. East Link runs right through the heart of the neighborhoods, making them excellent candidates for transit-oriented development (TOD). Bel-Red is one of the Eastside’s last remaining light industry areas and the Crossroads ranks among Bellevue’s most diverse neighborhoods.

The Subarea Plan itself is built around three key elements: redesigning the street network, restoring nearby creeks and adding green space, and creating dense, mixed-use developments. It’s a bold vision, a top-down approach that’s similar to Bellevue’s plans for Downtown but on a much grander scale. There’re even provisions for inclusionary zoning–a Bellevue first.

East Link will reach Redmond Technology enter by 2023 and extend to Downtown Redmond in 2024. (Sound Transit)

So far though, there hasn’t been much progress. Not much construction has taken place since when the plan was first put forth in 2009, and progress on redesigning the street network seems to have hit a pause. Worse yet, the 130th/Bel-Red Station has morphed into a park-and-ride lot–the pure antithesis of TOD.

But this gives us time to reconsider our next steps. Is the current Bel-Red plan the best we can do? How can we make transit-oriented development in Bel-Red even more vibrant? 

What We’re Reading: King County Migration, Bankrupt, and Redlined Impacts

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Structurally opposed to cities: The United States Senate is structurally set up against urban areas and in particularly large cities, effectively giving a third of their electoral power to rural areas.

Highway removal: Utrecht is restoring a historic canal by removing an old 1970s highway segment.

King County migration: During the boom years, where did King County residents come from and go ($)?

Funding transit: Lawmakers in Nevada have sent a constitutional amendment to voters that would allow the gas tax to be used on public transportation investments.

A Maryland first: The first bus rapid transit line in Maryland is almost ready to launch.

Inequitable distribution: Federal grants for transportation investments have been favored in rural areas by the Trump administration.

Delayed: Staffing shortages and budget shortfall may delay D.C.’s Metrorail Silver Line extension.

Disproportionate impacts: Migrant workers are getting hit hard by the pandemic.

BART funding: The Bay Area Rapid Transit system has gotten $1.2 billion in federal grants and another $500 million in grants from California.

Cleared for construction: Virginia’s Long Bridge expansion project for trains has cleared environmental review, which would primarily benefit regional passenger rail.

College town pain: Businesses in Washington’s college communities are feeling the economic fallout of the pandemic.

Equitable TOD: Chicago has released its first equitable transit-oriented development plan.

Open Letter: Seattle’s Climate Note Legislation Is a Misguided Distraction

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Moss covered old growth cedars with a bed of ferns below
Hall of mosses in the Hoh Rainforest. We shouldn't miss the forest for the trees. (Photo by Doug Trumm)

Dear Councilmembers,

My name is Andrew Grant Houston and I am a queer architect of color, urban designer, housing activist, and serve as a board member for both the Pike/Pine Urban Neighborhood Council as well as Futurewise Washington. Though I have taken a backseat in recent months while watching and reporting on council actions related to civic issues, as this topic is within my personal area of expertise, I felt it imperative to provide my thoughts on the matter. I am writing you this note to express my concern with Resolution CB 31933, “A RESOLUTION expanding the requirements for the Summary and Fiscal Note that accompanies new legislation so that it also considers impacts of climate change.” As the resolution is currently written, there are four main reasons as to why I believe you should vote against the “carbon note” legislation in its current form:

  1. It lacks an understanding of the current state of the climate crisis and how a “carbon budget” works;
  2. It is not informed by local leaders or grassroots organisations working on this issue;
  3. It could delay climate action and do harm through those delays; and
  4. It is a distraction from actual action to combat the climate crisis.

Carbon Emissions Don’t Stop At the City Line

A major concern with the current resolution is that the questions focus solely on Seattle and only within the frame of an increase in carbon emissions or a decrease in carbon emissions, the goal being (from my understanding) that all new proposed legislation does not contribute to an increase in emissions. The problem with framing our emissions as a city in isolation from the county, region, and even the state is that emissions don’t stop at the city line. A discussion and strategy on how to best use the remainder of our carbon budget—the permissible amount of emissions between now and a 1.5° Celsius increase in global temperature—should be happening at the regional level.

As one of the jobs centers within the Puget Sound, we both have the right as well as the obligation to use more carbon emissions in the short term than other cities in the form of transit and housing infrastructure. When we choose not to do so, those policy choices have impacts on where people can choose to live and how they are able to get to work, which both have impacts on the amount of carbon emissions that the region as a whole produces over time. Does the legislation as written require this level of regional recognition of carbon emissions?