Despite Its Bluster, Bellevue Is Ill-Prepared for Amazon Boom

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Downtown Bellevue viewed from the east with I-405 chasm setting off Wilburton. Seattle skyline and Lake Washington in the background. (
Downtown Bellevue viewed from the east with I-405 chasm setting off Wilburton. Seattle skyline and Lake Washington in the background. (Photo credit: CommunistSquared, Wikimedia Commons)

Yesterday, Puget Sound Business Journal published a story on Bellevue’s affordability efforts. Despite some optimistic quotes from local leaders, Bellevue has yet to crack the code or doing anything of note, as far as I can tell. Notwithstanding bluster about outdoing Seattle, Bellevue suffers from the same problems, and arguably is worse off and doing less about it.

Approximately 75% of Bellevue is zoned for detached-single family homes. Backyard cottages are illegal in those zones and the rules around attached accessory dwelling units (ADU) are restrictive, and unlike Seattle and several other Puget Sound cities, it hasn’t passed reform liberalizing ADU rules.

Four-term Bellevue City Councilmember Jennifer Robertson has even argued changing single-family zoning is impossible because of Bellevue’s “heavy clay soil” and the need for expensive sewer upgrades, which Bellevue, despite being one of the richest cities on earth, apparently can’t afford.

Robertson remains popular. She most recently defeated civil rights attorney James Bible, former head of the King County chapter of the NAACP, garnering more than 60% of the citywide vote. Bible argued the city was too beholden to Amazon, ill-prepared for the influx of office workers, and needed to boost funding for social housing.

headshots of Jennifer Robertson and James Bible in business atire
Jennifer Robertson won her fourth term in 2019, defeating civil rights attorney James Bible, who is pictured right. (Credit: campaign photos)

Bellevue has followed in Seattle’s footsteps in funneling the bulk of its growth to its downtown core. Tony Lystra’s reporting suggests Bellevue Mayor Lynne Robinson still is hoping that can work: “None of those policies touches single-family homes, Robinson said. Still, she said, with 30% of downtown yet to be built out, there’s a chance for Bellevue to make condos and apartments affordable for those with more modest paychecks.”

Zillow pegs the median home value in Bellevue at $1,056,000, while RentCafe estimates the median rent in Bellevue at $2,188–$200 higher than Seattle’s current median. It’s also on a starling trajectory. “The city saw a 33% jump in its rental prices between 2019 and 2020, according to the Bellevue Chamber of Commerce, one of the steepest increases in the nation among similar-sized cities and larger,” Lystra noted.

A zoning map of Bellevue shows mostly canary yellow for single family zones, except from downtown and narrow slivers along the freeways.
About 75% of Bellevue’s land zoned as single-family as shown by the pervasive canary yellow. (City of Bellevue)

This is a city with an affordability crisis arguably worse than Seattle’s, caught flatfooted about it, but still acting superior and on top of things.

Bellevue badly needs to tackle its restrictive zoning and land use policies, like nearly every city in the region. But unlike many other suburbs, Bellevue is a hotbed of high-end office growth to serve the various tech giants. Amazon has made a splash pledging it will bring 25,000 jobs to the city in the next four years, while hinting it will spurn Seattle due to frustration with its failure to buy the Seattle City Council and thus prevent the City from taxing it. In 2020, the Seattle City Council passed a progressive payroll tax (which hit Amazon most of all) as part of the JumpStart Seattle plan aimed at Covid relief and funding social housing.

600 Bellevue Tower–the tall building in the middle of this rendering–will be the centerpiece of Amazon’s Bellevue campus when it opens. Single-family land remains untouched in the background. (Credit: NBBJ)

Likewise, Kirkland is focusing its rezone efforts on promoting office growth rather than housing growth. It’s NE 85th Street plan calls for nearly four times as much office space as housing, with a 10-acre site near its NE 85th Street bus rapid transit station set to become a major expansion of Google’s Kirkland campus. Kirkland, at least, liberalized its ADU rules to allow two per lot.

Eastside leaders seem to relish the opportunity to siphon corporate jobs from Seattle, but they haven’t grappled with the consequences to their local housing crises. While they tout housing investment efforts from Microsoft and more recently Amazon, municipal leaders have yet to provide the broad upzones those corporations say are needed to support their job growth with housing growth.

In 2019, Redmond-based Microsoft made a $500 million affordable housing commitment to the Puget Sound Region–mostly in the form of low-interest loans, though some grants were included too, and it added another $250 million in 2020. Last week, Amazon made a $2 billion pledge–again mostly low-interest “below-market” loans to affordable housing providers–across its three headquarter regions, meaning Puget Sound would share the bounty with Northern Virginia and Nashville.

The company says its initial investment in the Puget Sound Region will be $161.5 million in loans and $24 million in grants. The grants will be used to preserve 1,000 homes in King County at rents below 80% area median income–470 of which have already been acquired in Bellevue. Amazon is partnering with the King County Housing Authority on the investments, which does not operate in Seattle city limits. The omission could carry with it a message to Seattle’s leaders for passing the JumpStart tax.

Amazon and Microsoft have admitted their sizable investments are not enough to solve the housing crisis and encouraged officials to take more actions to promote affordability. Since Amazon’s strategy is to preserve rather than build new homes, it’s also primarily mitigation rather than directly ramping up housing production.

Like the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, Amazon says it supports zoning reform, but hasn’t flexed its political muscle to get it–even with Bellevue portraying itself as the city that will partner with companies rather than antagonize them with taxes and rhetoric.

Republican-leaning Bellevue City Councilmember Jared Nieuwenhuis boasted of the fact while conversing with conservative radio host Jason Rantz: “Quick, side story: Myself and a couple of colleagues–like Councilmember Jennifer Robertson–met a couple of folks from Amazon at a business dinner recently, and we actually went up to them and said, ‘We’re glad that you’re in Bellevue, welcome. Let us know if there’s anything we can do for you.’ And they looked us like we were from Mars.”

Apparently, Amazon’s direct entreaties haven’t included broad zoning changes–or those councilmembers were exaggerating their cooperativeness.

Downtown Bellevue looms in the background above the guideway leading up to Wilburton Station. (Sound Transit)

Amazon lobbyist Guy Palumbo is a former state senator who pushed a “minimum density” bill preempting local zoning in order to promote density near transit back in 2018. Palumbo failed to get his ambitious bill passed. At Amazon’s lobbying shop, he’s continued to make the case–though he and Amazon have also backed conservative candidates that oppose zoning changes, like Seattle City Councilmember Alex Pedersen. Amazon also gave $2,000 to Jennifer “clay soil” Robertson in 2019, according to Public Disclosure Commission filings.

“It’s up to cities and counties to change zoning laws that are creating scarcity,” Palumbo said in a recent tweet. “If they can’t, then the state needs to. It shouldn’t be illegal to build a duplex in a majority of the state’s largest city. #housingequity”

A city of 148,000 just across Lake Washington from Seattle, Bellevue will be the beneficiary of East Link light rail expansion in 2023. The city is looking to promote growth near its light rail stations, particularly East Main, Downtown, Wilburton, Spring District, and Bel-Red. Downtown Bellevue already got a rezone, and East Main and Wilburton rezones are in the works. Like the Spring District master plan, these plans tend to emphasize office over housing growth, though Sound Transit’s transit-oriented development site is a welcome exception. So far citywide changes don’t even appear to be on the radar, despite efforts by advocates like Christopher Randels to start a conversation about zoning and transforming to a 15-minute city.

With Amazon’s next 25,000 jobs in the region apparently headed to Bellevue, it’s crucial the city get it right. Their zoning is much more restrictive than Seattle’s, with higher parking requirements and backyard cottages banned. Amazon appears to have leverage to push for changes, but instead of using it they’ve supported candidates who oppose changing zoning outside of a few narrow areas. Instead of being a visionary city of the future, Bellevue may end up known as Clay City–famous for being stuck in the mud and providing excuses why it can’t change or end its apartment bans.

Update: I added a sentence noting Kirkland’s ADU reform.

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Doug Trumm is The Urbanist's Executive Director. An Urbanist writer since 2015, he dreams of pedestrianizing streets, blanketing the city in bus lanes, and unleashing a mass timber building spree to end the affordable housing shortage and avert our coming climate catastrophe. He graduated from the Evans School of Public Policy and Governance at the University of Washington. He lives in East Fremont and loves to explore the city on his bike.

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mr moderate democrat (one of the last)

Companies are not moving to the eastside for more affordable housing. They are just looking for a safe and clean place to put their employees. Have you seen Seattle lately? If you want free housing, hard drugs and lawlessness, then move to Seattle. Bellevue, not so much. Seems like the progressives have done a great job in Seattle over the last decade, congrats on your massive wealth and ability to use it making a world class city.

Yes. I’ve see Seattle lately. I live here. I would encourage you to move beyond a KOMO “Fight for the Soul of Dying Seattle” windshield perspective. It’s still a great city. If people suffering or abusing drugs repulse you, the solution is solving root issues of poverty and addiction, not just further criminalizing and stamping out the symptoms. If you know where the free available housing is, please share with the class. If you think hard drugs are nonexistent in Bellevue, I’m sorry to inform you, you’re mistaken.

Seattle is trying to grapple with root problems instead of playing whack-a-mole. And Bellevue benefits from Seattle providing the bulk of the region’s homelessness services. If we didn’t, Bellevue would have more homeless folks to deal with, rather than just pushing them on Seattle. This doesn’t have to be a competition. Our region would work a lot better if we worked together toward shared goals.

mr moderate democrat

Doug
I vote democrat. I am not a republican so you can stop being repulsed. But please accept that there are other legitimate views on these issues, including KOMO’s. I look around our city where we democrats have been calling the shots for decades and I wonder, what went wrong? I used to blindly follow liberal talking points, but I now look around and realize, it’s not working, even with our vast wealth and spending!!!! We need to open our minds/hearts and also get back to practical actions. You might think that Seattle is awesome and well run, but I have stopped believing that. Something has to change, what we are doing

Using your windshield metaphor is perfect…all you have to do is drive around and you can see which city is run better. Stop defending the city politicians/policies that have made the problem worse, not better. Unless you think they are doing a great job? Our city has incredible wealth and literally no republican politicians blocking our policies in Seattle. I know this is not groundbreaking information as Seattle is known as a very liberal city. With Seattle’s massive wealth, you would think we could treat the homeless humanely. But maybe you prefer just letting them commit slow motion suicide in our parks using Hard drugs.

Lets talk homeless policies. Why can’t the city set up camps that include supportive services, sanitation, garbage service. Where are the giant tents we set up for COVID? Why do we treat refugees better than our own citizens? Can we at a minimum set up refugee style camps and support these people!! This free-for-all is not working!!! I never hear this talked about and I would like to see this idea discussed. Set up huge tents, and let homeless people set up their smaller tents inside of the large tents. bring in toilets, running water, showers, laundry…. Let the people know we care and give our public spaces back to the public. These types of facilities could also be set up in warehouses or whatever. For an emergency, we sure don’t treat it like an emergency!!!

One last time back to your windshield metaphor. I want you to look out your windshield and decide if our cities policies are doing the job? I have looked at the reality and it is not acceptable to me, nor should it be to you.
Policies have consequences…time to change ours.

Please do an article analyzing the possibility of Refugee style camps for our homeless!! Sanctioned and run by the government. Thanks!

Meara Watson

You may want to check the City of Bellevue Affordable Housing plan and all the work being done to implement it right now. Talk of AH in TOD nonexistent? You’re missing a lot of information.

Douglas Trumm

My understanding is Bellevue’s goal for the plan is creating 2,500 affordable homes over a decade which isn’t all that ambitious. Seattle’s HALA plan called for 20,000 net new affordable homes over a decade, by comparison, and still isn’t as ambitious as needed. Plus, Bellevue’s plan stresses that changes in single family areas would be minimal which suggests Bellevue, like Seattle, is trying to fight with its hands tied behind its back. King County’s Regional Affordable Housing Task Force estimates that an additional 244,000 affordable homes are needed by 2040. Every city has to do more to rise to the occasion..

If this information is incorrect or you’d like to share more, I’d definitely welcome that. Thanks for reading.

Keith Tyler

While overall correct, and tracks my fears as a resident of DTB, the suburban obsession with MILAs and ADUs is a nonsensical non-solution to the problem. Even without rezoning the entire city, much of the city could be rezoned to encourage residential. (And whatever happened to mixed-use? Spring Dist is the only talk of TOD, but Bellevue is getting a half dozen new stations in three years — which may be too late for a lot of us in town to use before we’re priced out.)

Bellevue keeps talking about how it will soon be adding thousands of jobs… but its talk of adding thousands of units to accommodate that is nonexistent.

The city is still too beholden to class-antagonist developers like Kemper F. who look down on anyone who can’t afford a $2M condo or $4000/mo rent, and developers obsessed with “granite countertops” and “stainless steel appliances.”

Jay Arnold

Your statement that “Likewise, Kirkland is focusing its rezone efforts on promoting office growth rather than housing growth” doesn’t account for the middle work that Kirkalnd did last year. In addition to cottage housing, we allowed one attached and one detached ADUs per property. See https://www.theurbanist.org/2020/09/18/kenmore-kirkland-adu-reform-snoco-next/ and https://www.kirklandwa.gov/Government/Departments/Planning-and-Building/Housing/Accessory-Dwelling-Units.

The conversation about the 85th station area is just starting with the City Council discussing alterntatives during a study session at 5:PM on Tuesday, 1/19. Especially with Google recently acquiring property in the station area, the mix of office / housing / commerical is very much in play.

Jay Arnold
Kirkland Deputy Mayor
Disclaimer: https://www.kirklandwa.gov/Government/City-Council/City-Council-Social-Media-Disclaimer

Keith Tyler

If you think MILAs and ADUs will solved the impending residential capacity problem facing the Eastside, you’re bad at math.

Douglas Trumm

Hi Jay, thanks for reading and sharing. I added a sentence noting Kirkland’s ADU reforms. Like Keith I don’t think ADUs can be a primary solution because of the scale problem. Seattle hopes to get about 2,500 additional homes out of its ADU program over a decade, but we need to be increasing housing much more than that. https://www.theurbanist.org/2019/07/03/what-seattles-best-in-the-nation-mother-in-law-apartment-and-backyard-cottage-reform-does/

Dmitri V Kotchetov

There is a fine difference between Seattle and Bellevue – lake Washington. If one works in Seattle, then livining in Seattle is very convenient. If one works in Bellevue then entire East Side is a fair deal. Therefore looking just at Bellevue as a place where future Amazon employees will choose to live makes little sense .

RossB

Right. Headquarters in Seattle (where most of the people live) with a satellite office in Bellevue makes a lot of sense. You also attract (i. e. poach) former Microsoft employees, giving them the option of working either place.

Daniel Thompson

Very few employees go from Microsoft to Amazon. They go from Amazon, which has a burn out culture, to Microsoft that abandoned Ballmer’s burn out culture.

Microsoft often sets policy for other tech companies. They plan on a three tiered working from home policy: one group will be allowed to work 100% from home, one tier around 40% from home, and one tier (mostly executives) mostly work on campus. This fits in with Microsoft’s aggressive public stance on climate change (and its Teams video software).

I don’t know how much office location will factor into an employees future job decision. I know Amazon employees complain about the difficulty getting to South Lake Union, by car or transit. With Facebook, Microsoft, Google and now Amazon on the Eastside my guess is most tech employees — certainly married with kids — will live on the Eastside already. I think when East Link passed in 2008 more employees lived in Seattle but have migrated east since then.

I think much of Amazon’s decision to form a separate headquarters and increase its presence in Bellevue (and my guess Tacoma in the future since Tacoma scored high on the Amazon employees’ questionnaire of places to live and work and Tacoma would roll out the red carpet for Amazon) had to do with the unpredictable Seattle Council, and the anti-Amazon rhetoric from the council.

It is one thing to ask Amazon to pay more in taxes, but another for local politicians to call Amazon a bad partner or evil when Amazon thinks it has been a good partner for Seattle, and Bellevue is so eager to be a good partner, although surprisingly Amazon didn’t demand any subsidies or concessions from Bellevue, which suggests the move is more about Seattle than Bellevue.

It has been rumored since the council’s first Amazon tax that Amazon was quietly moving out of Seattle, and Amazon’s recent leasing and commercial development decisions in Seattle and Bellevue tend to support that.

How that will pan out, or affect Seattle, only time will tell,and probably depend on Amazon’s experience in Bellevue, and where staff want to commute to for work.

Keith Tyler

IIRC the bulk of Facebook’s Seattle presence is in Westlake.

As for Microsoft, their treatment of employees (and more to the point, contractors) is notoriously anemic. Certainly not on my want-to-work-for list (neither is AMZN frankly). Heck, does anyone even have a blue badge anymore? They’re certainly not raining down like manna.

asdf2

From the looks of things, Amazon seems to support upzones vs. preservation of single family homes, but their higher priority is minimizing taxes, so the latter overrides the former when they choose who to support.

Taxes is not just about what they pay directly, it’s also about their ability to recruit talent, particularly if politicians who are pushing for a payroll tax today are the same ones likely to push for an income tax in the future. In the case of Seattle, they’ve certainly been trying, even if they’ve been failing in court so far, there’s no guarantee they will continue to do so.

RossB

Great article. Nice reporting. I appreciate the perspective, as it isn’t one you get that often.

I started thinking of an analogy to Bellevue, and while it isn’t perfect, thought of Arlington County, Virginia. I ran across this excellent Virginia Tech Study https://arlingtonva.s3.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/15/2020/08/VirginiaTech_ArlingtonStudy_HistoryofResidentialDevelopmentandPlanning.pdf. It has some interesting incite:

Throughout its recent history, and especially in the 21st century, Arlington County has struggled with providing housing affordable to residents during the rapid urbanization of the last 100 years. … The County’s median housing value is $669,400 compared to the national average of $204,900.

Today, Arlington’s landscape remains dominated by single-family detached neighborhoods with dense multi-family development surrounding Metro stations and very few buildings that fall in between these two densities.Over 70 percent of residential land allows only single-family detached homes, but these homes are only 26 percent of Arlington’s housing

Between 2010 and 2018, Arlington’s population grew by roughly 24,000 and the County gained 9,112 new housing units. Arlington had a net gain of 552 single-family detached homes, 926 single-family attached homes [i. e. row houses], and1,205 units in buildings of two to four units.The County had a net loss of 194 units in buildings with five to nine units. The majority of the housing supply added in the last decade has been in buildings with more than 20 units where 8,449 units were built.

So this means that there have a fair number of new subdivisions, with single family homes, row houses and duplexes/triplexes/quadraplexes added. But mostly, there have been a lot of small apartments that have been torn down and replaced by big apartments. This has, predictably, lead to very high housing prices.

I fear that Bellevue, given a similar history, will follow the same approach. There will be the occasional “dense multi-family development surrounding Metro stations”, (for example, the Spring District) but by and large, the landscape will be dominated by single family detached houses, on very big lots. The result will be similar to Arlington County — high housing prices.

Anonymous

Hi Doug, I am not the poster who thinks working from home will be all the “rage”. That is another poster you also corrected. All I said is from what I have read experts predict commuting will decline 20% to 40%, which even at the upper range is still commuting three out of five days/week.

My real point is I don’t see the eastside agreeing to abrogate single family zoning. Ever. And part of the reason Amazon is moving to Bellevue is its workforce already lives there, in single family houses.

Cities are not in this together. They are competitors. Bellevue has coveted Amazon for a very long time (which city wouldn’t, except perhaps NY). ST subarea equity proves we are not all in this together. The issues on Mercer Island are not Bellevue’s issues, and I wish we had Bellevue’s money. Actually growth on the eastside is outpacing Seattle today, although total growth in King Co. is slowing dramatically. https://seattletransitblog.com/2020/05/28/seattles-growth-slows-again-as-eastside-grows-faster/

Yes we are in this together when it comes to the homeless and affordable housing, finally, but as I have posted before there are strong differences on the county regional housing authority between east and west King Co. on the best approaches. I think it was a real mistake for Dow Constantine to propose using the sales tax increase to move Seattle’s homeless to distressed hotels in outer cities, and the fiasco with Renton has really set back cooperation between east and west. As I have suggested before, I would not be surprised if within the next decade east King Co. seeks to form its own county.

I agree Bellevue has a chip on its shoulder, and when it comes to Seattle being arrogant and condescending I would point to your article. Your write dismissively of Bellevue like scolding a school child, when Bellevue is a real powerhouse, with a chip on its shoulder.

The existential issues for Seattle all come down to future tax revenue which comes down to total revenue, because that determines levels of transit service, public funding of housing, homeless funding, education, funding for disadvantaged communities of color, bridges (yes, bridges), healthcare, climate action, and other progressive issues. I just don’t’ think progressives get that. Someone has to make the money to tax and spend. Letting Bellevue steal Amazon blows my mind when Seattle has so many natural advantages.

RossB

” Actually growth on the eastside is outpacing Seattle today, although total growth in King Co. is slowing dramatically. https://seattletransitblog.com/2020/05/28/seattles-growth-slows-again-as-eastside-grows-faster/

Actually, you didn’t read the article carefully, or bother to look at the graphs. In the last decade, more people have moved to Seattle than have moved to the suburbs. The suburban numbers only look impressive when you look at percentages. A small town with 3 people in it doubles in size if another family moves in. They triple if they are Mormon!* That doesn’t mean that the town is growing like crazy. It just means it started out really small. This is common for suburban areas. That is why percentage growth is a stupid way to measure growth.

The best way to measure growth is people per square area. In that respect, Seattle is still adding more people than the suburbs (no matter how you measure the suburbs). This is important, as it suggests that the region is healthy. If and when this reverses, the region is likely to collapse, like Detroit. That clearly isn’t happening, and may never happen. But it is important to understand the facts, and right now, Seattle is growing faster than the suburbs (as it has for quite some time).

* I’m sorry if members of the LDS community find that joke offensive. My mother was LDS, so I mean it in a good spirited way.

RossB

Letting Bellevue steal Amazon blows my mind when Seattle has so many natural advantages.

Wait, what??? Bellevue is stealing Amazon (the way that Seattle stole Amazon from Bellevue back in 1994). I didn’t realize that. This should be headline news. Not only in the Seattle Times, but in the New York Times. Do you know something we don’t know? You have a real scoop, Daniel — please tell us more.

Or is it simply that Amazon is opening up a satellite office in Bellevue, just as they have in Austin, Cambridge, Cupertino, Detroit, Gurnee, Herndon, Irvine … [do I really have to copy the whole list from Wikipedia, Daniel, this is getting tedious, and I haven’t even made it out of the United States. This is only the “major development centers” — I can’t even find Bellevue].

Dude, Amazon is huge. They are still growing. They are growing in Seattle, and growing in Bellevue. Someday, the offices in Bellevue may get their own listing in Wikipedia, just like Gurnee and Herdon. But for now, they are simply a satellite office, just like Redmond. Hmmmm, Redmond … what else is in Redmond … why would they be adding 600 jobs in Redmond, in their AWS (cloud services) division … any ideas Daniel?

Daniel Thompson

Thanks for the link. It is hardly a surprise though, and rumors had been circulating since the first head tax and HQ2 search. I have friends in the commercial office game, and they all knew Amazon was moving to the eastside, and that meant so would many other companies. Hence all the proposals for massive office complexes.

Although Link opens in 2023 the problem there is first/last mile access, especially from any Seattle residential single family neighborhood, although the train will stop on 112th in Bellevue, and Bellevue is planning on a series of electric driverless shuttles from 112th to Bellevue Way. So if you work in Bellevue my guess is you will want to live there, especially if you can afford a single family home or have a family. Plus Bellevue just finished number 2 for school districts in WA (Mercer Island was no. 1), and 22% of Seattle parents place their kids in private K-12 schools, second highest in the U.S.

The unanswered question is what will Amazon do with the 45,000 workers in Seattle right now, but I don’t think the answer to that question is very hard. The other rumor is look for Amazon to make a big move to Tacoma. Tacoma got very high marks on Amazon’s employee survey about where they would like to live and work, in part because the cost of housing (particularly single family homes), car and transit access, access to outdoor activities, and apparently Tacoma is a cool city for younger employees who might find the eastside a little suburban.

RossB

The much bigger question is why Amazon and these other progressive tech companies are moving to Bellevue or the Eastside?

Is it really? Well I guess the big question before the really big question is what makes Amazon a “progressive” tech company, and not just a tech company?

Anyhow, I can answer the question fairly quickly — all companies have satellite offices, and downtown Bellevue is a very good satellite office location. For many, it is more convenient than downtown Seattle. But not for most, which is why very few (if any) headquarters are moving.

This also explains why companies want to see more liberal zoning. The more people within an area, the easier it is for them to get to work. Otherwise it becomes a pain opening satellite offices in Tacoma, Lakewood, and all over the Puget Sound.

Daniel Thompson

The much bigger question is why Amazon and these other progressive tech companies are moving to Bellevue or the Eastside? I really wish this article had asked — and examined — that question, because my guess is this is just the start for Amazon of moving its operations to the eastside, which really is becoming its de facto second operations center. I guess the other question is why a Seattle progressive cares about highly paid Amazon employees or housing on the eastside? There are enough problems in Seattle, future revenue being the most important.

To argue Bellevue is somehow being gifted East Link fails to understand ST generates no revenue. The revenue comes from taxpayers in the subarea. Bellevue and the eastside subarea have paid for East Link, and subsidies for other subareas like 100% of east-west buses and a share of the second transit tunnel to allow train capacity for West Seattle and Ballard. From what I can tell the enthusiasm over East Link, which was passed in 2008, is beginning to cool on the eastside, and the rage is now working from home. Transit is just not a very important issue on the eastside, or a game changer. Residential zoning is, and is the third rail of politics along with schools. (Mercer Island and Bellevue were just rated number one and two for public schools in the state by far https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/seattle-neighborhoods-with-top-rated-k-12-public-schools/ar-BB1cJfnk?ocid=hplocalnews).

To argue Bellevue must adopt Seattle’s policies, including residential zoning, when businesses are flocking from Seattle to the eastside, misses the big picture. Businesses like Amazon are moving to Bellevue and the eastside because of the business climate, but also because so many of their employees have already moved to the eastside. You are correct Bellevue is pretty happy with itself, and where the city is right now, certainly compared to Seattle, although its bluster is backed up with results.

Bellevue has become a cash cow, and a pretty good mixture of business and family friendly polices with a nod to progressive issues. Part of that intrinsic agreement with the residents is a very tall commercial center, tons of parking requirements (the Hines project will have 1500 stalls), huge park and rides, some TOD and multi-family housing, a strong commitment to ARCH, law and order, and the rest single family zoning which has been the bedrock agreement with the citizens from the beginning.

If anything, Bellevue sells itself as the anti-Seattle, and apparently that is working. As one wag put it on another blog, although ST buses in Seattle have banners stating Bellevue is getting closer, you won’t find any banners in Bellevue saying Seattle is getting closer.

The idea Bellevue will upzone Clyde Hill when Seattle hasn’t upzoned Laurelhurst is not reality. Sure Microsoft releases public relation statements stating it will provide “market based loans” for affordable housing, but all its executives live in Medina.

There are so many issues to deal with in Seattle, and so many unknowns in Seattle’s progressive experiment, I would focus my energies there, and not worry about Bellevue. Maybe if housing becomes more affordable in Seattle Bellevue can look at Seattle’s zoning, or eastside residents can move to Seattle for the affordable housing, but so far housing in Seattle is as unaffordable as on the eastside. Bellevue will be alright, and like you note really doesn’t care what others might think of its policies, that appear to be working.

I can also tell you coming from a small eastside city local politicians and city staff are treated with much more respect by Bellevue than Seattle, although Bellevue is top dog. Seattle is incredibly arrogant and dismissive of surrounding smaller cities, and King Co. has just become an extension of Seattle. Bellevue has done a good job of building relationships and interlocal agreements for fire and police with the smaller eastside cities, which mostly think Seattle has gone totally bonkers, and is powerful enough to counteract any foolish county or state policies that attempt to invade local control.

10 years ago my wife and I would have never gone out to Bellevue for dinner or entertainment, we always went to Seattle. Now we never go to Seattle, although I work in downtown Seattle, at least until our lease is up in 2022.

Bellevue does not have existential issues, Seattle does. Focus on those, otherwise the tax revenue will dry up, and progressives in Seattle forget what a poor Seattle, like from 1970 to the mid 1990’s, is like.

Douglas Trumm

Daniel, by your same logic, a Mercer Island resident should probably stick to Mercer Island and leave both Seattle and Bellevue alone, but obviously that’s not what has happened.

Yes we know you think work from home is all the rage. You manage to bring it up on every article even when it’s not pertinent. You call Seattle arrogant, disrespectful, and dismissive but Seattle has held up its end of the bargain on the Regional Homelessness Authority and provides the majority of funding. We have absorbed the lion’s share of the region’s housing growth in the last decade. The chip is not on our shoulder.

I’m completely at a loss what existential issues you think Seattle has but Bellevue doesn’t. The cities are inextricably linked. Solving our housing crisis will require regional cooperation and my whole point is no city should feel immune or like they’re doing enough.