Record rates of new residential construction continue to keep pace with rates of population and employment growth in Seattle

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Yes there’s a problem but it’s not a supply problem?

By John V. Fox and Carolee Colter, reprinted from Pacific Publishing newspapers

We hear a common refrain from developers that we’re not adding enough new housing to keep pace with soaring population and employment growth in Seattle. In common economic parlance we’re told that supply isn’t keeping up with demand. This notion is fully embraced by most Seattle Councilmembers and Mayor to legitimize citywide upzoning at the center of the “Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda” or HALA plan.

But how much truth is there to the claim? Since 2012 we’ve broken records for new residential construction and it’s generally kept pace or exceeded on an annual basis the increased number of households relocating to the city. There also is more than enough capacity under current zoning to easily accommodate future growth without the need for more upzones called for under HALA.

Since 2012, Seattle’s total population grew by 114,400 people, an 18.5 percent increase. However, since the average household size rose over the period from 2.06 to 2.12 persons, that translates into an additional 45,500 households over the period, only a 15.2 percent increase. While employment grew by 98,000 or about 20 percent, federal transportation data indicates only about 40% of all Seattle workers choose to live in the city, so that’s an increase of 10% in number of job holders seeking housing in Seattle since 2012.

By comparison, during the same period, counting units pending and soon to come on line, new residential construction grew by 18.8%. In fact, annual rates of new construction since 2012 are 2-3 times normal rates and show no sign of abating.

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Sources:  Family Size: http://www.seattle.gov/opcd/population-and-demographics/about-seattle  Job Growth: https://www.seattle.gov/Documents/Departments/OPCD/Demographics/OPCD_CitywideEmploymentReport.pdf Housing Growth http://seattlecitygis.maps.arcgis.com/apps/webappviewer/index.html?id=4a11cc47d3044e60ae8114b16b0e399d

Current zoning certainly hasn’t strangled growth despite developer complaints that too much of our city’s land area is ‘locked up’ by single-family zoning. Quite the contrary, we’re ‘overzoned’. In 2005 the city was assigned a new 20-year growth target Continue reading

Posted in Density, Displacement, Gentrification, Housing Preservation, Neighborhoods, Uncategorized

Neil Power’s friends in Seattle gather to celebrate a life well-lived

Some pictures and three videos of our service for Neil Powers here in Seattle October 6th

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Below Peter Steinbrueck, Port Commissioner and Neil’s former boss when Peter was a City Councilmember (the following five close-ups we’re taken by Sharon Lee):

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Below, current Seattle City Councilmember Lisa Herbold addressing attendees (video for most of Lisa’s presentation also is included further down)

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Below, David Okimoto, retired senior vice president of United Way and friend of Neil’s reads poem mid-way through the service

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Sarah Luthens, political activist and longtime friend of Neil’s, offers her thoughts and reflections

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John Fox reads tribute to Neil from Nicole Royle, one of Neil’s fellow journalism students from Toronto’s Centennial College

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Videos of service here: 

The Rev. David Bloom and longtime friend of Neil Powers leading the service, here reading a note of thanks from his brother and sister-in-law, Jim and Dorothy, who reside in Pennsylvania and could not attend the service

Lisa Herbold’s presentation for Neil’s service

Singer/songwriter/activist Jim Page and activist, singer, social worker Joe Martin (on harmonica) lead everyone in Joni Mitchell’s “Circle Game” to close the service

 

For Links to Further Tributes to Neil

Posted in Uncategorized

Neil Powers memorial services October 6th 3pm Seattle First Baptist Church – former aid to Peter Steinbrueck, GLBT activist, housing and homeless advocate, and good friend of mine

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It came as terrible shock to all of us who had the good fortune to know and work with Neil Powers, especially those of us who have maintained longstanding and close friendships with him.   Two weeks ago Neil Powers passed away of natural causes at the age of 63.  Since it was like him to keep details like this secret, it took some digging for us to discover his exact birth date, Feb 25th, 1955.

Services for Neil will be held Saturday October 6th, 3pm in the Social Hall of Seattle First Baptist Church, 1111 Harvard Avenue on First Hill.   

Born in Scranton Pennsylvania, Neil took his first job in Seattle in the mid-90’s (after living and working in Canada, a place he loved and spoke often about).  The job with a small non-profit involved outreach and providing assistance to homeless youth in the University District.  But he was hired away from that job in the late ’90’s and went to work as one of Seattle Councilmember Peter Steinbrueck’s legislative assistants until he stepped down in 2007.  Neil specialized in areas of Land Use, Housing, and Homelessness but maintained a deep grasp of city politics in general.

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Posted in Personal Essays, Uncategorized

Local environmentalists call Councilmember Rob Johnson’s tree preservation ordinance a ‘tree removal’ law

Public hearing on Johnson’s tree legislation is Wednesday September 5th 9:30AM in the Council Chambers; concerns raised that notice of hearing was not posted until day before Labor Day

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More of this if Rob Johnson’s new tree ‘preservation’ law is approved?

Longtime tree advocates and environmentalists headed by a group called TreePac has sent out a request to the larger community asking the public to join them at what may be the only public hearing on Councilmember Rob Johnson’s new tree ordinance.

The public hearing is set for Wednesday September 5th 9:30 AM in the Seattle City Council Chambers though advocates are asking their supporters  to show up at least as half hour early.  Concerns have been raised that Johnson did not announce the hearing until Friday, the day before the long Labor Day weekend and only after he was alerted by advocates it had not yet been posted.  Advocates say Johnson’s timing for the hearing and his failure to provide adequate notice highlights how rushed this process has been.

Councilmember Johnson’s also is holding the public hearing before completion of the environmental review process, a practice that community advocates say raises serious legal red flags.  He’s undertaking review, holding hearings, and bringing legislation to his committee even though comments are still being accepted for a Declaration of Non-Significance (DNS) so effectively it’s not yet issued for his proposal.  The State Environmental Protection Act (SEPA) requires a completed assessment before the City Council can commit to a course of action.

Also, provisions of his proposal remain blank and unknown to the public in at least two places so they cannot be expected to rationally comment on what is a moving target.  This too raises the question; how can a accurate assessment of the proposals impacts be completed?.

Tree advocates say they are considering filing an appeal to the hearing examiner.  They say the public and even other councilmembers are not being given a reasonable amount of time to review and understand the complexities and inadequacies of the tree legislation.  They’re also saying the city has failed to adequately assess significant impacts associated with Johnson’s proposal.

(Special note: In the wake of outcry from tree advocates and community groups, and we suspect upon advice from the City Attorney’s office, a day before the public hearing and and after this story was posted, Johnson said he would allow more time for consideration of his tree ordinance and acknowledged it was a work in progress.  He also said his committee would not be taking action on any tree proposal until next year.  The DNS, however, has not been withdrawn and advocates still are considering an appeal to the City Hearing Examiner. )

Any appeal of “Declaration of No Significant Impact” (DNS) for Johnson’s legislation (details at bottom of this post) must be filed no later than 5:00 p.m. September 13, 2018.  Advocates believe that “in the first place” completion of a far more thorough Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) should have been required – the only way they say these far-reaching impacts can be understood.

According to Steve Zemke, one of the leaders in TreePac, “On balance the proposed new ordinance’s emphasis is on making it easier for development to occur, not on protecting existing trees.” The new law removes existing restrictions barring removal of the larger older “heritage trees” including “tree groves” and “exceptional trees” that are “the oldest of their species in Seattle.” This prohibition is replaced with an obscure averaging formula allowing tree removal when aerial photos show added green above some set average for that area.

And Zemke says there are no provisions for improved enforcement of any of the restrictions that will remain.  Currently, he says enforcement is sorely lacking and Johnson’s proposal doesn’t address even that.  “Once a mature tree is taken down” according to Zemke and replaced by a 2 inch sapling (Johnson’s proposal allows replacement of old growth essentially with twigs), “the full benefits and functions of that tree will not be realized for the decades it takes to replace trees removed. During that time, the City would then suffer from the supercharged effects of climate change in the absence of this mature tree canopy.”

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Posted in City Hall, Density, Politics, Trees, parks, and open space, Upzoning

Seattle’s struggle between economics, environment  

Is it possible to be both pro-growth and still green? The answer is NO.

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(This story was originally posted Feb 2, 2010) in OUTSIDE CITY HALL

For decades, government and industry leaders and many who call themselves environmentalists have claimed we can have economic growth and still protect the natural world from destruction and pollution. In fact, some have claimed that without growth, we can’t provide that protection.

But with increased population and the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, it’s becoming all too clear that economic growth and the finite capacity of our planet are on a collision course.

According to Herman Daly, former economist of the World Bank’s environmental department, humanity is already at or past the point where the social and environmental costs of economic growth start canceling out the gains.

‘SMART GROWTH’?

The reality is that the economy can only keep growing by expanding its level of energy consumption, and energy consumption is the direct cause of catastrophic global warming.

No matter how efficient our technology becomes, the more the economy grows, the more we surpass any gains we can make through efficiency. And the faster the economy grows, the higher the rate at which we must “decarbonizes” – that is, replace fossil fuels with renewables or conservation.

The engines of growth also have not eradicated poverty. The gulf between rich and poor has grown exponentially in the last 30 years, nationally and globally.

Even with technological fixes, economic growth will only exacerbate shortages we already face, including over-fishing, over-logging and drawing down aquifers faster than they can recharge. In this sense, there is no such thing as “smart growth.”

The opposite of the growth economy is the “steady-state economy,” which emphasizes qualitative development in place of quantitative output.

Canadian economist Peter Victor, in his book “Managing Without Growth,” lays out how such a scenario could occur. It would take a stronger social safety net than we have now, a shorter workweek and tax policy that encourages certain kinds of investment (education, maintenance and repair) and discourages others (manufacturing some types of consumer goods).

SEATTLE’S POSITION

What does this mean for Seattle? When do we face up to the limits to growth? At what point do we say we’ve reached capacity – as a city and as a region?

While the local environmental movement is far from monolithic, nevertheless, in Seattle the organizations that we might look to for leadership on moving to a steady-state economy are all-too-often arrayed on the side of economic growth. In fact, groups like Futurewise, Transportation Choices, Sustainable Seattle and even the Sierra Club appear to have embraced the false promise of green growth – that we can have our cake and eat it, too.

When it comes to local land-use decisions, this is a philosophy that assumes continued accelerated, unstoppable levels of growth. There’s a “toothpaste effect,” they argue: If you squeeze it or restrict it in Seattle, it will just go elsewhere in the region. Thus, it is our task to make it more sustainable by cramming it into Seattle.

There’s something inherently contradictory if not downright anti-environment here. How can you promote runaway growth in Seattle and the urban core with all its negative environmental consequences (loss of existing low-cost housing, tree canopy, quiet spaces, green spaces and an urban scale that allows you to meet your neighbors), then argue we need to do it to preserve or enhance those same values somewhere else?

To rephrase a popular slogan, it’s “Think globally; destroy locally.”

MAKING IT WORK

In recent years, Seattle has absorbed record levels of growth. By adding still more on top of that, we are quickly overwhelming the capacity of our existing infrastructure, where the cost of improving it or adding new increments to it both in dollars and energy consumed will greatly outweigh the benefits.

We do not favor building new subdivisions in rural areas or more sprawl. On the contrary, we’re saying, let’s hold the line throughout the region.

We could start first by making the urban-growth boundary impenetrable. No more permits for developments in the four-county area outside that boundary. For the growth we do get inside the boundary, let’s move to a poly-centered approach that more evenly distributes it to smaller urban centers around the region. That will ensure optimal use of the currently underutilized infrastructure already in place out there.

But even with this approach, we think the day of reckoning still looms ahead of us, when we will need to learn to live with a steady-state economy.

CURBING GROWTH

Most people now understand that if you build more freeways, you bring more cars, which beget more freeways, which beget still more cars. By the same token, if you create systems to accommodate more growth, you’ll get more growth.

If all municipalities moved to curb growth, we’d get less growth. If Seattle moved to limit growth it would not necessarily squeeze it somewhere else at all. Perhaps, instead, it would provide the leadership the rest of the region needs to also limit it.

Unless we seek to manage and limit growth wherever and whenever it occurs on all fronts – locally, regionally, nationally, globally – we will lose our battle with global warming.

JOHN V. FOX and Carolee Colter are coordinators for the Seattle Displacement Coalition (google it), a low-income housing organization

Posted in Density, Politics, Transportation, Upzoning

The Showbox victory demonstrates the value of good old fashioned people power: our take on what happened

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While the City Council’s unanimous decision to add the Showbox to the Market Historic District was not permanent, the theater gets a 10-month reprieve and time to come up with a longterm fix

– But what about dozens of existing low cost and affordable apartment buildings; many are historic including three now under landmark review?

We have to chuckle about the Showbox victory.  We’ll get to why in a second.  While it’s not a done deal – it’s an important grassroots victory because it shows that developers and big business don’t always get their way and people power still can carry the day.  This was especially refreshing coming soon on the heels of the City Council’s sudden repeal of the office head tax – a near total capitulation to big business.

However, the Council’s decision to wrap the Market Historic District boundary around the Showbox will last only ten months and it’s not clear, when pressured by development interests, whether the Council has the gumption to come up with a longterm fix that saves the venue.  Again it’s people power that will determine the final outcome.

The developer, the Onni Group from Vancouver B. C., is seeking to build a 400′ tower on the site.  They’ve hired one of the state’s best land use attorneys (on the developer side) to represent their interest, Jack McCullough, who negotiated the HALA “Grand Bargain” that grants developers enormously lucrative upzones.  In return they’ll pay a nominal housing fee or include a handful of so-called “affordable units” in their projects priced hundreds of dollars a month above what truly low income people can afford.

Likely Mr. McCullough is busy right now prowling city hall to negotiate a similar lucrative arrangement for the Onni Group.  And, as in the case the Grand Bargain, no doubt he’s seeking the same kind of “win-win” arrangement – one that’s a clear win for his client but not necessarily for the community or one that saves the Showbox.

In many instances, conditions for compliance with historic preservation may require a developer to save only the facade – something that happened essentially on the site of the old Bathhouse and Public Pool on 2nd Avenue just north of Virginia Street (west side) circa 1995.  Or it may be nothing more than keeping a record of the old structure like a few pictures and artifacts of the old building in the lobby of the new structure.

One option Mr. McCullough might be seeking for his client could be allowing the developer to build up and over and around the Showbox venue saving at least some or all of the interior.  Councilmember Mosqueda’s recent comments suggests this is her idea of historic preservation.  There also are rumors out there suggesting McCullough is floating the idea of simply tearing down the old Showbox and replacing it with a brand new venue built into the new 400′ building.  (I wonder if this prospect could entice some “Save the Showbox” supporters like those in the music business – especially if the new venue offered space for bigger crowds.)

But back to what I’m chuckling about?  Well, it was not long ago that the council voted to raise heights where the Showbox is located to 400′ signaling their clear interest in a massive redevelopment on that site.   Oops. Now councilmembers appear to have flip-flopped (kind of like their flip-flop on the head tax only in reverse).  It serves to vividly demonstrate that in the end land use and housing policy rests on political bedrock and when it moves so does land use.

In the face of widespread outcry especially from a fairly powerful constituency – the music business and their fans, the city council suddenly gets religion – something that Continue reading

Posted in City Hall, Density, Gentrification, Housing Preservation, Neighborhoods, Upzoning

The Best solution?

Screenshot 2018-08-14 at 11.17.01 AM - EditedGeov Parrish wonders who Carmen Best will serve given that the police guild may have been the new police chief’s biggest ally in the selection process

  • Story by Geov Parrish – Journalist and Political Activist, Geov has been covering City Hall for two decades and is a former writer for both the Stranger and the Weekly.  He currently co-anchors with Maria Tomchick KEXP’s “Eat the Airwaves” has his own blog http://geov.org/gp/ ) and now writes for Outside City Hall

On July 17, Mayor Jenny Durkan nominated Interim Chief Carmen Best the new permanent chief of the Seattle Police Department, and on Monday, August 13th, her nomination was unanimously approved by Seattle City Council. But this was no ordinary passing of the torch to another SPD insider.

Best becomes the first African American woman to lead SPD – but only four days before Durkan selected her, she wasn’t even on Durkan’s list of finalists. The appointment of a new police chief in any large city is inherently a political process, especially when that department has a longstanding credible reputation for abusive use of force. But it’s hard to remember in Seattle’s history a process as publicly conflicted as Best’s selection.

After a long public process, on May 22nd, a 25-member search committee submitted five semifinalists to the mayor’s office for consideration: Best and four candidates from other cities. Only three days later, that list was whittled down to three finalists by five members of Durkan’s staff – cutting out Best and one other candidate.

At this stage and only a vague explanation that in order to “finish” the reform process, Durkan wanted to bring in an outside hire. The Mayor never even made clear who on her staff made this internal decision to remove Best and the other candidate. It took a Times reporter Steve Miletich to uncover their names. While former conservative councilmember Tim Burgess, headed the search committee, some suspect he may also have had something to do with it. He’s close to both Durkan and the Seattle Police Officer’s Guild (SPOG).

The exclusion of Best drew immediate, strong criticism from community groups that have been closely monitoring the contentious SPD reform process. They gave Best high marks, both as Interim chief and for her previous role as deputy chief in overseeing implementation of court-ordered reforms. They had a curious ally in SPOG, which blasted her exclusion as “biased and discriminatory,” a likely function of her popularity within the department.

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Posted in City Hall, police accountability, Politics, Protest, racial justice, Resistance