Seattle’s struggle between economics, environment  

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


(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.


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.

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Posted in Density, Politics, Transportation, Trees, parks, and open space, Upzoning

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


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 ) 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

Appeal of the City’s Grand Bargain and “HALA” upzone will continue into September: the 29 participating housing and neighborhood groups seek donations to complete their effort

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29-member SCALE Coalition appeal continues

This may be the longest running and most voluminous appeal ever brought before the City Hearing Examiner given number of affected neighborhoods challenging the plan;  as one activist said “even if the city wins and it gets to the council before the budget process, how can the Council thoughtfully review hundreds of zoning changes, many neighborhood specific, and then vote on all that before the budget process or even before next year?”

The appeal to the City Hearings Examiner of the City’s massive city-wide upzone plan, dubbed the “Grand Bargain” continues down at City Hall.  Now testimony from the city and 29 appealing groups is slated to continue into September given the number of issues that are being raised by all parties.

One of the advocates participating in the appeal says he believes it won’t be possible for the City Council to vote on the HALA plan before they begin review of next year’s budget – at least not without sacrificing due process and any thoughtful review of many dozens of specific land use changes accompanying the plan.   However, Councilmember Rob Johnson in charge of the Council’s review, is zealously pro-upzone and shows signs of seeking to rush through a vote on the plan even if there is no time for thoughtful deliberation.  It’s unprecedended for a Councilmember to authorize hearings on a plan still under environmental review and pending before the hearing examiner – something Rob Johnson already has done.

While the City has called it the “mandatory housing affordability” plan and it’s been dubbed “the grand bargain”, housing and neighborhood groups from across the city are calling it the grand sell-out.  In return for setting aside only 3-11 percent of their new units at affordable levels (renting at 60 percent of area median and not truly affordable to most low and very low income households), developers would receive the benefit of massive upzones worth tens of millions in additional development capacity.

The appealing groups say the number of so called affordable units ‘set-aside’ by developers would amount to only a small fraction of all the exising affordable housing we would lose in Seattle as a result of the additional development allowed under the HALA upzone plan.  And these groups have charged that the City ignored it’s own policies requiring their plan be reviewed for its race, equity, and social justice impacts, displacement effects and a host of other environmental impacts affecting all Seattle neighborhoods.

The group calls itself the Seattle Coalition for Affordability, Livability and Equity (SCALE). They are asking the hearing examiner to require the city to go back to the drawing boards and complete a more accurate and detailed assessment of impacts as is required under state environmental law.

If the hearing examiner rules in favor of the appeal it would set back a council vote on HALA plan well into next year.  And given that 2019 is an election year for seven councilmembers, it’s unclear whether the Council would even want to take up HALA at all next year and risk considerable backlash from voters already reeling from too much growth.

To help SCALE continue its legal battle, they’re asking you to go to this link below and follow the steps on how you can donate to their effort.  Without more help it, they may have to cut short their attorney’s efforts.


Posted in Uncategorized

“It’s not socialists who run city hall”: crowd hears four veteran journalists look back on Seattle’s long history of corporate welfare

Screenshot 2018-08-15 at 6.39.12 PM - Edited

Left to right Juan Bocanegra, George Howland, Maria Tomchick, Mark Worth, Geov Parrish

Journalists discuss stories they’ve covered dating back to the 90’s involving corporate dominance at City Hall: repeal of the office head tax is “more of the same”

Two weeks ago a panel of four journalists told a crowd of about 50 citizen advocates about their long history of covering corporate welfare at City Hall in Seattle.  The forum held at University Methodist Church was sponsored by the Seattle Displacement Coalition’s news site Outside City Hall and the independent radio station  KODX-LP 96.9 Seattle.

For about two hours, journalists George Howland, Mark Worth, Maria Tomchick and Geov Parrish swapped stories of past boondoggles they’d covered while working for various publications around Seattle over the years and how that compares and informs an understanding of today’s political landscape.  They also put to rest the hilarious myth, always hysterically tossed out by big business (and their surrogates) when their power is even slightly threatened – that somehow City Hall has been “overrun by commies and socialists”The event was moderated by longtime racial and economic justice advocate Juan Bocanegra.  A video of this event can be viewed here courtesy of Mike McCormich and KODX 96.9:

Here’s a quick rundown of our panelists and a few high lights or should I say low lights:

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Posted in City Hall, Media, Politics

For 3rd year in a row, Outside City Hall joins over 30 local news outlets with coverage of the homeless issue

We offer five stories by authors with years of direct experience working with the homeless and fighting the forces and policy decisions that cause the problem

Homeless Article #1 (15) - Edited

Today, as we did last year and year before that, Outside City Hall is participating in area wide news media coverage of our region’s homeless crisisSpecial thanks to Crosscut, KUOW, Seattle PI, and Seattle Times for pulling it together this year.   

What follows are five original-content stories (filled with relevant photos from Seattle) covering critical aspects of the homeless crisis.  The authors have decades of experience not just covering or following the homeless crisis but assisting the homeless directly and participating actively in trying to overcome the conditions and forces at work in our community that give rise to this problem.   

For our previous coverage on this topic, it can be found here  and for today’s stories at other outlets, go to

And here they are: 

Posted in Uncategorized

The Aesthetic Problem: “much more often people become homeless due to systemic failures not individual choices”


Geov Parrish, in this story, traces the rise of homelessness back to conscious choices of local leaders 

* Expect to see more stories from Geov for Outside City in the coming weeks.  The veteran columnist and reporter has covered City Hall for over two decades (for the Stranger, Weekly, In These Times, and “Eat the State” to name just a few) especially on topics related to racial and economic justice issues, low income housing, homelessness, elections, and our neighborhoods 

Twenty years ago, homeless advocates went back and forth endlessly with Seattle’s city council over a proposal to build an “Urban Rest Stop” – a facility, to be sited in the old Glen Hotel on Third Avenue, that the homeless could use for bathrooms, showers, storage lockers, and the like. The proposal was fiercely opposed by the Downtown Seattle Association, which argued that the homeless already had plenty of places to pee downtown – and released a helpful list of 100 or so downtown businesses that generously made their bathrooms available to paying customers.

Names have changed and the budgets have grown, but the sensibilities of city leaders (and the Downtown Seattle Association) have not. Seattle’s homelessness situation is far more dire now than the emergency situation that already festered two decades ago, evidence enough that the city’s approach to homelessness (remember the “Ten Year Plan to End Homelessness”?) hasn’t worked.

In essence, that approach has been to throw money at programs meant to “fix” bad individual choices, and meanwhile try to make our city’s homeless residents simply go away – or, failing that, to render them as invisible as possible. The city has consistently funded far fewer shelter beds than the demand warranted. Familiar providers like SHARE/WHEEL ROOTS, and Nickelsville originally began as organic community Continue reading

Posted in Affordable Housing, City Hall, Displacement, Homelessness, Uncategorized