Saturday, 19 September, 2020

City Launches “ADUniverse” Website for Pre-approved Backyard Cottage Designs

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Backyard cottage with woman in patio and sunset.
The pre-approved backyard cottage from Artisan Group on the City's ADUniverse website.

On Tuesday, the City of Seattle rolled out a website called ADUniverse that will offer 10 pre-approved accessory dwelling unit (ADU) designs and other information to help homeowners navigate the process of adding a backyard cottage or mother-in-law apartment (or two) to their lot.

“In addition to providing an easily accessible design option, the pre-approved designs will shorten the permitting process by at least 2-6 weeks and save homeowners about $1,500 in permit fees,” the Mayor’s office said in a press release. Nick Welch, senior planner with the Office of Planning and Community Development (OPCD), said that time and monetary savings could be even greater in some cases by avoiding costly corrections to initial designs.

Last summer, the Seattle City Council passed ADU reform–but only after a lengthy delay caused by a Queen Anne Community Council appeal forcing the City do a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and then appealing the EIS by ironically arguing under the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) that more parking was needed, a case the Hearing Examiner ultimately rejected. The new law allows two ADUs on large lots and makes ADUs feasible on more lots than previous rules. Sightline Institute declared Seattle’s new ADU policy, which former Councilmember Mike O’Brien had shepherded, the best-in-the-nation.

After signing the law, Mayor Jenny Durkan directed City agencies to identify strategies to reduce permitting times and costs. The City launched an effort to get pre-approved ADU designs, appealing to the architect community and originally floating compensation for those designs as a possibility. Ultimately, the City did not offer compensation when they put out the call in December, deciding it was enough that firms get their name out there and get the $1,000 in royalties each time their design is built.

Architect Mike Eliason opined that the City’s pre-approved plan effort was built on uncompensated labor in a column in The Urbanist. Welch said the City got an overwhelming response with 165 designs submitted–even without upfront compensation for architects. All the designs will appear on the site to recognize their participation in the process and perhaps drum up business for those not so lucky to win.

“All architectural plans–ranging from a studio under 300 square feet to a 1,000-square-foot two-bedroom–will be available direct from the designer for $1,000 or less,” the Mayor’s release said. “Cottage designs have been reviewed against codes for the structure and its energy use; however, homeowners remain responsible for permits and inspections related to zoning, site preparation and the foundation, utility connections, and other site-specific requirements.”

Carbon Notes May Help Seattle Council Make Smarter Climate Decisions

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Space Needle shrouded in wildfire smoke
Smoke from Oregon and California forst fires blew north inundating Seattle in a cloud of particulate pollution. (Credit: Mark Ostrom)

I woke up coughing this weekend–no, not from Covid-19–from wildfire smoke that’s settled on Seattle like a clammy yellow shroud.

Last Friday was a better day because all five members of the Seattle City Council Governance and Education Committee–Councilmembers González, Mosqueda, Juarez, Lewis, and Sawant–unanimously passed Councilmember Pedersen’s Resolution 31933, the Carbon Note, and sent it on to a full Council vote on September 21st. Councilmembers González and Mosqueda were instrumental in working to edit the resolution to be more actionable by Council Central staff, and aligned the resolution with the City’s Race and Social Justice Initiative. The Mayor’s Office also testified in favor. 

What’s in a Carbon Note?

The theory behind a Carbon Note is that all projects we collectively create should be guided by how much extra carbon those projects put into the atmosphere, or draw down from it. Just as Councilmembers are given information about construction and operating costs of the projects they vote on in a Fiscal Note, our elected officials should be able to know if they are voting on projects that increase or decrease carbon dioxide (CO2) and equivalent gases or if they will have no impact on our atmospheric load. A Carbon Note is good in theory. We value what we measure and a Carbon Note tells us to measure collective CO2.

How do we measure carbon?

Measuring carbon can be difficult in practice. It’s hard to calculate embodied carbon and externalities building a single bike lane, a multifamily mixed use housing project, or a major bridge, but local organizations including the University of Washington’s Climate Impacts Group and the Northwest chapter of the National Climate Assessment are dedicated to creating models to calculate collective CO2.

What We’re Reading: FB Goes East, Pier Problems, and Railway Urban Life

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FB goes east: Facebook is buying REI’s corporate digs in Bellevue’s Spring District.

Marysville masterplan: Marysville wants feedback on what people think of the city center ($) in order to update a masterplan.

Biketown 2.0: Portland’s Biketown bikeshare expansion has been implemented with upgrades to e-bikes.

Food scene: A 2018 California bill allowing restraurants to locate in homes has brought a “dining revolution” to the food scene.

WMATA problems: Washington, D.C.’s Metrorail Silver Line stations have more cracks, but how will that affect Phase 2 expansion?

Density bonus delivers: Austin’s housing density bonus program is bringing thousands of affordable housing units online.

Climate change denial: A big Maryland expansion plan is getting much scrutiny.

Pier problems: Seattle’s Pier 58 partially collapsed Sunday evening ($) after removal work had started. Meanwhile, New Westminster’s park pier was engulfed in fire later on Sunday.

Quarantining gas impacts: It appears that Americans quarantining during the pandemic saved $22 billion in gasoline expenditures and society way more.

Monument to racism: The toppled Confederate monument at Lake View Cemetery in Capitol Hill is not coming back.

Penn’s Landing: Philadelphia has a $2.2 billion redevelopment plan for Penn’s Landing, a waterfront area, with a chosen developer.

Failure to approve: San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors kill a legislative proposal to speed up development of affordable housing.

Stuck in gear: E-bikes probably aren’t coming to Boston’s Bluebikes bikeshare program anytime soon.

Railway urban life: What can the world learn from life under Tokyo’s railway tracks?

Structural problems: Citymetric explains how the pandemic is magnifying the structural problems of America’s housing market.

Don’t stop short: Strong Towns says that it’s going to take more than zoning changes to realize missing middle housing policies.

Micromobility sticking around: NACTO says that micromobility is here to stay despite setbacks from the pandemic.

Keeping pace: The urban housing markets are keeping pace with the suburban housing markets in America with few exceptions, according to Zillow.

Map of the Week: The West is on fire ($).

Sound Transit Recommends Unpausing 10 Project Actions, Other Projects Remain on Hold

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Rides board a Route 512 bus in Lynnwood.
Passengers board the Route 512 in Lynnwood. (Sound Transit)

On Thursday, the Sound Transit Board of Directors met for another briefing on paused actions from the capital expansion program. Staff recommended executing $76.5 million in project actions, but Sound Transit funds for upgrades to RapidRide C and D Line (promised in Sound Transit 3) and RapidRide G Line on Madison Street remain on the paused list. The economic downturn from the coronavirus pandemic triggered the programmatic realignment process that the agency is facing. The focus of the meeting Thursday was on agency staff recommendations to either advance or keep specific actions on pause.

Agency staff went through the actions by programmatic mode. Starting with the Sounder capital program, agency staff recommended the advancement of two parking and access projects. Tied together, the Kent and Auburn Station parking and access improvements are recommended to advance with execution of a design-build project management contract for $4 million. Likewise, the Sumner Station parking and access improvement project is recommended to advance with a similar contract but at $6 million. Agency staff reason that the contractors will be able to “develop lower cost scope and contract packaging options to determine if the projects can be delivered within the Transportation Improvement Sumner Plan (TIP) estimates.”

Projects with red asterisks have paused actions. (Sound Transit)
Projects with red asterisks have paused actions. (Sound Transit)

Roger Millar, the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) Secretary, was skeptical that any contractor would actually deliver a lower cost program based upon his many years as an engineer in the private sector. He also took issue with parking projects that are ultimately very expensive per rider and only likely to serve a small sliver of riders, perhaps around 20%, who drive to transit like Sounder commuter rail. Millar said that focusing on improving access between stations and parking garages, but not walking and biking is a very disproportionate approach when the vast majority of riders reach stations by walking, biking, or taking the bus.

Claudia Balducci, a King County Councilmember, said that it may be worth dusting off the agency-wide policies for station access and parking to have a deeper discussion and updating those policies. Peter Rogoff, the agency chief executive officer, reminded the board that all parking stalls will eventually be a paid access feature.

Agency staff recommended four other Sounder capital projects remain on pause until 2021, which include:

  • Authorization for environmental review and conceptual engineering for the Edmonds and Mukilteo parking and access improvement projects ($2 million);
  • Authorization to start project development of the South Tacoma parking and access improvement project and alternatives development for the South Tacoma and Lakewood parking and access improvement projects ($4 million);
  • Authorization to start project development and alternatives development for Sounder South platform extensions ($3 million); and
  • Authorization to execute a design-build project management contract ($2 million) and baseline construction ($210 million) for the Sounder Maintenance Base.

Generally, the reasoning for these delays was to allow for more time to pass in order to analyze the impact of teleworking and whether immediate project need has been reduced. Though, the timeliness of other competing projects were also cited as higher priority over these projects.

Court Monitor Bobb Helped Create Seattle’s Police Reform Mess

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Protestors gather behind a police barricade at the East Precinct building, chanting “Hands up, don’t shoot,” on Sunday, May 31.
Protesters gather behind a police barricade at the East Precinct building, chanting “Hands up, don’t shoot,” on Sunday, May 31. (Photo by Ethan Campbell)

Former Mayor Mike McGinn contends Monitor Merrick Bobb’s top-down approach doomed Seattle’s police reform efforts from the start–long before SPD’s recent fall from grace over its violent response to protests.

“The SPD is at its nadir,” court-appointed Seattle Police Department (SPD) monitor Merrick Bobb wrote in his resignation letter, which blamed a failed response to recent protests for derailing the police reform effort he led–otherwise characterized as masterful. Former Mayor Mike McGinn sees it differently: “If it’s a nadir like said Merrick Bobb, he’s the one who built the luge run to it.”

Merrick Bobb served as the SPD Monitor for seven years before stepping down this month. Bobb’s parting letter details what he sees as his police reform successes, the obstacles that remain, and even storm clouds ahead. Bobb criticized both SPD’s brutal crowd control tactic versus protesters, and a Seattle City Council’s meddling. He saw the City Council’s pledge to defund SPD by 50%, and strict chemical weapons ban as counterproductive and overreaching.

Bobb complimented federal Judge Richard Jones for enacting a carefully tailored temporary chemical weapon prohibition–in contrast to the City Council’s more sweeping ban.

McGinn asked why, eight years into the Consent Decree, SPD didn’t have better crowd control and de-escalation tactics that would have prepared them for a summer of protests. Instead of preparation, we saw a department determined to teach protesters a lesson. SPD blew through its stockpile of pepper spray and blast balls and casually turned to copious amount of tear gas. Children, journalists, legal observers, and medics were pepper sprayed, blast balled, and tear gassed; many received serious injuries.

“Merrick Bobb has had the greatest influence on SPD policy and operations over the past eight years than any other person,” McGinn said. “Since he was appointed, we have had five different mayors, the City Council’s nine members have completely turned over and there have been seven police chiefs. And police reform is not succeeding.”

We shouldn’t need court orders to stop police from brutalizing Black Lives Matter protesters. It should be standard practice for SPD to prevent unnecessary violence. Instead, by brutalizing people protesting police brutality, SPD has proven their critics’ point. Even a sympathetic observer in Bobb admits, “[T]he SPD set itself up for criticism.”

While generally gushing praises on SPD officers for enacting reform, Bobb did have some criticism for the Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG), which represents more than 1,300 sworn officers. He didn’t connect the dots that those commendable officers have elected leadership that have fought that reform.

SPOG has only gotten more resistant to change during the Consent Decree process. Alycia Ramirez laid out SPOG’s radical rightward drift in a recent South Seattle Emerald article. SPOG decisively elected a hard-line president in Mike Solan early in February 2020 who essentially ran on tear gassing, punishing protesters, and tamping down on Leftists.

“When you bend to the mob, we lose as a society, we lose as a nation,” Solan said in an interview with KIRO radio’s Dori Monson show. “Seattle and Portland are the epicenter of far-left progressive socialism and neo-Marxist ideology. This is all about November’s election and police are caught in the middle.”

With an outlook like that, it does seem that Black Lives Matters protests have gotten harsher treatment than right-wing protests or religious demonstrations.

“The consent decree process is failing,” McGinn said. “When you have SPD putting on music to amp themselves up for protesters, covering up their badges, not going into the CHOP when people are hurt, abandoning the East Precinct…”

While Bobb paints himself as the hero of the Consent Decree process and insinuates McGinn was one of its villains, former Mayor Mike McGinn’s story sharply contradicts that. Obviously both men want to paint themselves as strong reformers on the right side of history, but Dominic Holden’s account of events gives some credence to McGinn’s, as he titled one piece: “How Mayor Ed Murray Unraveled Two Years of Police Reform in Only Two Months.” While Holden paints McGinn as “feckless” on reform, he grants progress did happen and Murray actively undermined it in his first year.

Monitor Bobb appears to have done little as Murray weakened accountability measures, and in fact credits Murray as a reformer.

“Unquestionably, Mayor Murray had the best of intentions and helped the SPD to achieve substantial compliance. He thus realized one of the principal goals of his administration,” Bobb wrote.

Praise for Murray seems to be a reflection of Bobb’s high esteem for Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole, who Murray appointed in 2014 and who served in the role for three years. In contrast, he paints McGinn as “hostile” and “strongly opposed” to him–Bobb started his role as Court Monitor in April 2013 during McGinn’s final year in office.

“Indeed, it is notable that the Team achieved reform within five years from then, given the intensity of the opposition the Team faced during the first two,” Bobb wrote. “We had a hostile mayor and an angry, resentful police department run tightly by a small coterie of men who had worked together for years to thwart reform.”

McGinn isn’t shy in his criticism of Bobb, either. “Bobb is always the smartest guy in the room in his estimation.” McGinn said Bobb wasn’t on his list of candidates for Monitor because he worried about his willingness to collaborate with community advocates and commitment to a strong role for the Community Policing Commission (CPC). When the DOJ, City Attorney Pete Holmes, and the Seattle City Council by an 8-1 vote insisted on Bobb, McGinn said he ultimately bowed to their wishes.

Early days of Seattle’s Consent Decree

The sparring between Bobb and McGinn reflects that both played major roles in the consent decree and had different philosophies about it. McGinn also seems to have earned Bobb’s ire when his administration questioned his invoices which included some personal expenses not officially approved for City reimbursement. Bobb pulled in about $50,000 per month, McGinn said. Bobb noted in his farewell that the Egyptian sheets (for which he took some flack) were purchased at Costco.

McGinn was elected Mayor in 2009 and took office in January 2010. A chain of events starting in McGinn’s first year in office set the Consent Decree in motion:

Sunday Video: How “Forever Chemicals” Polluted America’s Water

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Throughout America, “forever chemicals” are polluting waterways because they effectively cannot be broken down. Vox explains how that happened and what that means for our waterways.

She Strong

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We were fresh into town from the long drive up from Rainier Valley, approaching Pike Street, our last stop on Third. A large and hulking figure came up to stand near me, silently. We watched the road together. He had on a do-rag and skullcap, with leather construction boots and an outdoor jacket. Partly for my own comfort, I felt a need to break the ice and offered him a transfer.

“Hey. D’you need this just in case?”
“Yeah. Ah ‘ppreciate it, sir.”
“Oh for sure.”
“What time is it?”
“Eleven-thirty.”
“Okay.”
“Is that a good time?”
“Yeah. Just gotta make it home before Mom leave for work, ‘bout eleven forty-five.”
“Okay she’s workin’ some serious hours!”
“Yeah, she gets it done, man…” he shifted his weight, grabbing a stanchion. He was realizing I was someone he could really talk to. I’ll never know how or what I do to have this effect on people, but I’m endlessly grateful when it happens. He continued: 

Community Transit Charts Two Service Recovery Paths

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A Swift station with a bus waiting.
Swift bus pulls into the station at Wetmore Avenue. (Credit: SounderBruce)

Community Transit is charting two very different paths for service growth as local transit agencies grapple with the economic fallout of Covid. In the six-year draft Transit Development Plan (TDP), Community Transit contemplates what service would look like under “slow recovery” and “rapid recovery” scenarios. The delta between the two scenarios is $135 million in assumed sales tax receipts, according to the transit agency. However, Community Transit forecasters believe that the realized revenue shortfall will land somewhere in the middle of the two scenarios. Regardless of the revenue crunches, the transit agency is promising that expansion the Swift bus rapid transit network will still advance over that timespan.

“We’ve committed to building out Swift and connecting to Link light rail in 2024,” said Roland Behee, director of planning and development for Community Transit. “Details on other bus routes to support the full transit network are still in development, and will be different under the two revenue scenarios.”

Service levels for the fall and next year are planned to remain at 85% of the pre-pandemic benchmark when scheduled annual service hours stood at 457,410. Weekday service levels will therefore remain a high priority while reductions to weekend service will be a little more pronounced.

Looking ahead, the pace of service recovery is a bit foggy given the economic and financial uncertainty. However, Community Transit has provided some details on the two scenario recovery in the draft TDP. The “slow recovery” scenario is fairly similar to that of the Great Recession, leaving service level below the pre-pandemic benchmark by about 32,000 annual service hours. During the Great Recession period, Community transit vastly cut service levels as revenues and reserves evaporated. Conversely, the “rapid recovery” scenario would see service levels restored to the pre-pandemic benchmark by 2023 and net new service growth of about 62,000 annual service hours by the end of 2025.