Electric Vehicles Could Help Combat Disastrous Power Outages

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Pierce Transit is adding Proterra battery buses. (Credit: Proterra)

Across the country, climate change-fueled extreme weather events are causing increasingly frequent power outages and are presenting a growing threat to our nation’s energy infrastructure.

Last winter, Texas’s electrical grid failed spectacularly following an unexpected, deep freeze while this summer’s heat and drought fanned the flames of California wildfires, forcing power cuts across the Golden State. In September, Hurricane Ida knocked out power for more than 1.2 million people across seven states, and the latest Gulf Coast storm left thousands in the dark in Texas. 

In response to the new reality of frequent extreme weather events, we need to address the underlying cause —climate change— as well as find better ways to respond to these crises. By transitioning from fossil fuel-powered transportation to electric vehicles, we can slow down and better prepare for climate change — at the same time.

When power outages strike, essential services like running water, heating and cooling often collapse. Electric vehicles could act as mobile batteries in emergencies to restore power to key homes and businesses.

A fully charged Proterra ZX5 transit bus can store up to 660 kilowatt-hours of power — enough to provide electricity to an average American household for more than 20 days. These “batteries on wheels” have the potential to become a key part of emergency response plans, improving local disaster resiliency. 

Advocates Debate Tiny House Villages’ Role in Reducing Homelessness

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A photo of a tiny house with an orange door.
An example of tiny house in a village run by the Low Income Housing Institute in Seattle. (Credit: LIHI)

It’s City budget season and the Low Income Housing Institute (LIHI) is seeking to boost funding for tiny house villages that shelter people experiencing homelessness. LIHI, the sole operator of tiny houses villages in Seattle, is asking supporters to testify before City Council on Tuesday, October 12th, in favor of funding three additional villages and increasing funding for the existing tiny house villages to ensure “equitable standards are maintained” across the sites.

However, the Lived Experience Coalition (LEC), an organization whose membership is made up people who have experienced homelessness, has become increasingly vocal in its opposition to expanding the tiny house model, arguing the tiny houses are “in fact sheds rather than tiny homes.”

“This is not HGTV tiny houses we are talking about,” Zaneta Reid, Director of Operations for LEC, said. “We don’t want these villages to become a dropping place for people are struggling and can’t advocate for themselves.” Reid spoke to The Urbanist after a rally for a proposed tiny house village in South Lake Union in September. When asked if LEC is advocating for specific alternatives to tiny house villages, Reid emphasized that “real affordable housing” was the only solution for Seattle’s homelessness crisis.

Few would argue against Reid’s assertion that what people struggling with homelessness really need is a home: a place where they can feel comfortable, safe, and have access to the basic amenities like an individual source of running water. However, with more than 3,700 people sleeping unsheltered each night in Seattle according to estimates, tiny house villages remain an interim solution some Seattle leaders wish to expand.

Case management and services

At the rally in South Lake Union, Tracy Williams, a former tiny house village resident and current LIHI employee, spoke passionately to the crowd about the positive change living in the tiny house village brought to her life. Williams was not the only former or current resident to come out to express support.

A woman wearing a dark blue hoodie speaks at podium. A sign describing the tiny house village is behind her.
Tracy Williams, a former tiny house village resident and current LIHI employee, spoke very positively about her experiencing living in a village after having experienced homelessness. (Photo by author)

More than a dozen residents were amid the crowd, including Ryan Hoess and Kimberly Phillips who were both enthusiastic to speak about their desire to see the tiny house village model expanded.

“I came from sleeping outside in doorways for years,” Hoess said. “Living in the village made me feel human again.” Hoess further explained that he is now employed at a coffee shop, something that he felt would not have been possible before moving into the tiny house village.

For Phillips, access to services was the greatest benefit offered by village life. “I think the whole premise is great,” Phillips said. “You have a case manager who can help you get into a home. They help you, but they don’t do it all for you. You also have to make an effort yourself.”

Still Phillips, who is Canadian and moved to the U.S. with her American husband a few years ago, conceded that difficulty in navigating a complex social system makes the case management assistance invaluable. “I could see a lot of us getting stuck homeless here for a long time without the help,” she said.

Neither Hoess or Phillips had been living a tiny house village for an extended period of time, but they had heard stories of people moving from village to village, as well as of differences in village management and services between villages. Even so, they both expressed gratitude for having the chance to live in a tiny house village and a desire to see that opportunity extended to more people confronting homelessness. Yet, despite pledges of support from Seattle leaders, progress on tiny house village expansion has remained slow.

1,000 tiny houses that never materialized

On the campaign trail back in 2016, Mayor Jenny Durkan promised to build 1,000 new tiny houses during her first year in office. She ended up building 73 tiny homes in her first year. Nearly at the end of her four-year term, the current number of tiny houses in Seattle tallies to roughly 295, with another 90 more tiny homes becoming available in the near future as two additional villages in North Seattle open to residents.

Sunday Video: How America’s Hottest City Is Trying to Cool Down

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Vox looks at Phoenix, a very hot city, to see the challenges it faces in cooling it down from extreme heat. The city wants to green up the city with trees, but doing so poses real issues in being accomplished equitably. It’s also not the only kind of key improvement the city needs to make to attain better environmental equity.

What We’re Reading: Zero-Emissions District, Dingbats, and The Interurbans

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Several trains await at platforms in the train hall of Dresden Hauptbahnhof. (Credit: photo by author)

Zero-emissions district: A Norwegian city is planning a district as completely zero-emissions.

Planning for all: How can less car-centric planning benefit rural areas, too?

Not recreational camping: As the housing crisis persists in the Western US, people are finding refuge in forests.

Gold standard: Bike Portland opines about Paris’ prestigious public bikeshare system.

Tacoma votes: How do Tacoma’s mayoral candidates line up on issues?

Affordable housing effort: Philadelphia has passed a new affordable housing law to encourage more in well-to-do neighborhoods.

Committed to service: Boulder is looking for certainty in getting more transit service by the regional provider.

Stalled: An Atlanta plan for more density stalls out.

Left out: Intercity bus service is struggling to restart due to lack of government assistance.

Seattle Police Officers Guild Still Resisting Vaccine Mandate, 32% Haven’t Submitted Proof of Vaccination

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Three bike-wielding cops form a barricade around a sweep with a large contingent of officers behind
Police gathered in large numbers to ensure houseless were swept and cleared in rapid fashion with no interruption from encampment residents or their allies. (Photo by Enrico Doan)

Every major public sector union has cut a deal with the City of Seattle to implement the Mayor’s Covid vaccine mandate, but the Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG) is the odd one out. SPOG continues to fight the mandate, and its vaccination rate continues to lag.

Mayor Jenny Durkan’s vaccine mandate is set to go into place on October 18th, and proof of vaccination was due by October 5th. That means it’s too late for an officer to begin their two-dose Pfizer or Moderna vaccines and have full immunity in time to be compliant for the deadline — though beginning their immunization may buy them some leniency. Employees could meet the deadline with the single-dose Johnson & Johnson shot if they act fast.

The Seattle Police Department (SPD) reported Wednesday that 292 sworn officers have yet to submit their proof of vaccination. Furthermore, an additional 111 officers have filed for an exemption from the vaccine mandate, Publicola’s Erica Barnett wrote. In sum, 38% of police operations staff are unvaccinated in a county where “19% of eligible King County residents have not completed their vaccine series as of Oct. 4, according to Public Health Seattle & King County,” KUOW reported Tuesday.

Some proof of vaccination paperwork continues to trickle in after the October 5th deadline. The Mayor’s Office reported 242 sworn officers had yet to submit their paperwork. 734 sworn officers had confirmed they are vaccinated, and 100 sworn officers continue to seek an exemption. That puts the unvaccinated rate among sworn officers at 32% if all those who have submitted proof aren’t vaccinated.

“Prior to October 18, it is premature to assume that people who have not submitted a vaccine verification form are also not vaccinated,” Mayoral spokesperson Anthony Derrick said in an email. “We anticipate that a good number of people will continue to submit their vaccine verification forms as they either become fully vaccinated, or simply remember to do so.”

Compliance appears to be higher among SPD’s non-sworn civilian staff with 262 confirming vaccination, six seeking exemption, and seven yet to submit their required paperwork, the Mayor’s office reported. While the police guild has framed the mandate as unfair, it does seem to be driving up the vaccination rate at SPD even if some resisters remain.

Mayor Durkan had been hesitant to specify consequences that police officers would face for failing to comply with the mandate. She declined to specify if firings would occur when Q13’s Brandi Kruse asked last month. That position has gotten more tenuous as it’s become clear hundreds of officers likely will not voluntarily comply with the mandate by the deadline, as she hoped. Today the Mayor did broach the subject of terminations in an interview with KUOW’s Katie Campbell.

“All city employees on the front lines will be vaccinated,” Durkan told KUOW. “If there is a valid religious or medical exemption, then we have an obligation to determine whether we can accommodate them with other jobs that will not put them in that position where they could expose others. And if we can’t, then they will not be able to continue in their employment.”

Facing a high rate of attrition at SPD, Mayor Durkan has also proposed hiring 125 additional officers for a net gain of 35 sworn officers in her 2022 budget proposal. The Mayor is targeting an average officer count of 1,230 next year. To argue for hiring more officers, Durkan has contended this would drive down violent crime, significantly lower response times, and solve more murders — although the data does not support a causal relationship between officer head count and curbing violent crime, let alone a correlation.

“You’ve talked to us before about your efforts to get new officers onboard, retain the officers we have, but if you have officers saying they disagree with the mandate for whatever reason and you can’t afford to lose more officers, that seems like they have the upperhand,” Campbell pressed the Mayor in a follow-up question.

“Look I truly believe that most individuals presented with the opportunity to do something that will keep them safe, their coworkers safe, and their community safe — and continue to do a job they want do — will make that choice” the Mayor responded. “[T]hey know what is required for them to maintain the job they have. If they make the decision not do it, that’s their individual choice.”

As Developer Stalls, Affordable Talaris Offers Greener Vision

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More Housing Choices, a vision of Laurelhurst development by Affordable Talaris. (illustration courtesy of Jacqui Aiello, Amy Broska, Francesca Buchko, Matt Leavitt, Brandon Milling, and Justin Oaksford)

One year into master plan and environmental review, the real activity is among volunteers offering a new direction for the Talaris site in Northeast Seattle.

No progress has been made on permits or environmental review in the year since Seattle’s Department of Construction and Inspections held its last public comment session about the proposed development of Talaris, the wooded 18-acre former research institute site near Seattle Children’s Hospital in the Northeast sector of the city.

The last opportunity the public had to comment on a proposal to build 65 new single-family detached homes was September 15, 2020. At that meeting, SDCI was accepting comments on scoping for an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The agency received hundreds of comments asking them to reconsider the permit that would authorize the removal of hundreds of trees and replace them with an exclusive enclave. 

The EIS was supposed to have a draft review within 5 to 7 months. Now a full year later, there has been no movement on the site or the proposed development under its master permit application. Additionally, there are $39,063.10 in unpaid fees on the application, with no invoices paid since April 2021. On October 1, 2021, the applicant did submit a “Certificate of Approval” to the Seattle Landmarks Board, but no date has been set for a meeting. The site itself is gated, sealed to the public, and falling into disrepair.

While the developer has been sitting on their hands, Affordable Talaris has been busy. The volunteer group of Seattle neighbors has been meeting with elected officials and local agencies to discuss alternatives to sprawling suburban development inside the City. The group welcomed guest speakers from the Thornton Creek Alliance and the Seattle Audubon Society and worked with other organizations to build coalitions preparing for the upcoming comprehensive plan rewrite. It’s vital work as Seattle prepares to elect a new mayor who will have immense power over the next 20 years of the city’s development.

Affordable Talaris also organized two design charrettes. Held in January and April, these meetings allowed members of the team’s Design Group to present three focused alternatives for the site: tree preservation, history, or housing. In stark contrast to the dull, detached boxes proposed by the Talaris developer, Affordable Talaris worked to respond to the actual situation on the ground and the needs of a changing city. During those sessions, the team took comments from a panel of architects and urban planners who spent their free time envisioning a better future for the 18 acre site. (I was permitted to attend with the promise I sit quietly in the back and not smoke.)

WHAT IF…?

What if the Talaris design goes forward as its owners currently propose? Essentially Ultron wins. A giant, faceless (tree) murderbot comes in and takes out most of the site’s vegetation to sculpt Talaris’ historic landscape into front yards for 65 individual lots. We’ve called the proposal an “unmitigated disaster” because it locks the site into another 50 years of the same kind of polluting sprawl that’s rendering the world uninhabitable (like Ultron). The property is shredded apart into single family tracts, each owning parts of the private streets to boost the allowable size of the house, thus skirting the City’s so called “McMansion ban,” which places limits the size of new single family homes. Those streets are expected to be controlled by a homeowners association that only has 65 members and thousands of feet of asphalt to repair and replace. The owners want to hack into environmentally sensitive and historic areas to remove trees and sequester an eagle’s nesting area into the smallest community parcel possible. It’s really a dreadful plan (as most of Ultron’s tend to be). 

Midweek Video: How Rotterdam’s Flood Defences Could Help Save Us All

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The engineering and technical experience in flood defences of Rotterdam and The Netherlands could help countries across the globe implement flood prevention strategies to fend off rising sea levels and more frequent, severe flood events brought on from climate change. Bloomberg Quicktake explains how.

Join Us for Our Monthly Meetup with Nicole Thomas-Kennedy on October 12th

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Nicole Thomas-Kennedy is running for Seattle City Attorney. (Photo courtesy of campaign)

The Urbanist is pleased to be joined by Seattle City Attorney candidate Nicole Thomas-Kennedy at our monthly meetup on October 12th. Thomas-Kennedy has boldly staked her campaign on decriminalizing poverty through decreasing prosecution of misdemeanors of poverty.

She pulled off an impressive upset in the primary race for Seattle City Attorney. Three-term incumbent Pete Holmes was sent packing after Thomas-Kennedy grabbed first place with 36% of the vote, and Republican Ann Davison snagged second. This sets up a general election of sharp contrasts.

Davison is seeking to crack down on the poor and is preaching debunked broken windows theory, a Seattle is Dying-style crackdown on homeless people, and a general ‘get off my lawn’ approach. The City Attorney can’t prosecute felonies since that’s the County Prosecutor’s jurisdiction, but that hasn’t stop Davison from insinuating she can and running on stopping violent crime.

Thomas-Kennedy has advocated for an abolitionist approach that would prosecute far fewer misdemeanors and focus more City resources on fighting wage theft and defending new progressive city laws from legal challenges.

Investing in the social safety net rather than punitive criminal legal system could get at root causes that really cause crime, and that’s why The Urbanist Election Committee endorsed Thomas-Kennedy in the primary and the general. “We have the opportunity to elect a transformational City Attorney who will not prosecute homeless people for stealing food. We should do so,” they wrote. Hear more about abolition and Thomas-Kennedy’s platform at our October meetup.

The Zoom call opens at 6:15pm and Thomas-Kennedy’s talk starts at 6:30pm. Our monthly social event is free, all ages, and open to everyone. In November, we will be joined by Hack & Wonks host Crystal Fincher.

Watch the video of Thomas-Kennedy’s talk: