Sunday, November 16, 2008

Federation October 23, 2008 Meeting Highlights (Based on the editor's notes --- these are not official minutes)

Consider this contrast: (a) The City is getting ready to pass an ordinance for "incentive zoning," a catch phrase for giving developers bonuses in height and bulk in building apartments and condos in exchange for providing some "affordable" (i.e. middle income) housing units; and (b) the Mayor is moving to oust the homeless encampment (Nickelsville) at the parking lot of University Christian Church. Read on!

Incentive Zoning: John Fox of the Seattle Displacement Coalition explained the proposal:
Developers would get greater density for apartments and condos if the developer agrees to lease 10-20% of the new units --- the exact figures have yet to be set --- at rents or sell condos at prices "affordable" for households earning 80% of area median income ("AMI"). Alternatively, the developer could "buy bulk" by paying between $15 and $18.94 per square foot for bonus square footage into a housing fund; commercial developers would pay an additional $ 3.25 per square foot toward childcare facilities.
The City calculates that the bonuses would increase a developer's return on investment by 15-20% for high-rise buildings and 1-2% with mid-rise structures. The program would use rent reporting --- no occupancy qualifications --- so that wealthier people could (experience shows they will) compete for the units. The "affordable units" need not be on site nor do the "buy bulk” replacements have to be in the neighborhood. The proposal was worked up a task force comprised of developers, save for one member. The City Council held a public hearing at 9:00 A.M., well attended by the developers and their employees. No more are planned. The AMI is now set at $81,400; 80% would be $65,120. . The formula multiplies gross pre-tax income by 30% and divides by 12 for a monthly rent. A developer could then charge $1384 for a 2 bedroom unit; $1230 for a one bedroom; and $1076 monthly for a studio unit. In fact, over 90% of the apartment units advertised in a free monthly apartment rental publication rent at less than those figures. 79% of the work force gross less than $ 65,120 annually ($32.56 per hour for a 2000 hours work year (50 weeks x 40 hours per week). 51.3% earn less than $ 42,200 annually ($21.10.
per hour). The $42,200 wage earner would have to pay over 30% of his pre--tax income to rent even a studio unit. Seattle's 2020 growth targets are already being exceeded in almost all neighborhoods.
The City claims "incentive zoning" won't increase "height and/or density limits in any neighborhood." However, common sense shouts out that the new buildings will be taller and bigger by the amount of the bonuses; that people will experience bigger and bulkier buildings on the ground; and that over a short time, those super-sized structures will set the standard for the neighborhood. It's de facto, haphazard up-zoning.
The Seattle Chamber of Commerce urged the City Council to cut the malarkey and do a direct up-zoning.

Nickelsville Homeless encampment: When Mayor Nickels evicted "Nickelsville" on a street end, the University Christian Church offered to host it for several months in its parking lot at NE 50th St and 15th Avenue NE. The encampment houses about 100 people in individual blue, green, and pink tents. Its rules forbid alcohol and drug use and disorderly conduct; it supplies its own Sanicans; and volunteers provide security. Residents sleep in sleeping bags over air mattresses on the ground. Some residents work seasonally, some are unskilled, depending on casual labor, some are transients, and some suffer with mental illness that renders them unemployable. The Mayor ordered the encampment closed by Halloween; he cites an agreement with a sponsor of another encampment several years ago that only one such site would be permitted at any one time. Another sponsor is hosting one elsewhere.
Motion passed to write to the Mayor urging the City to seek a declaratory judgment before evicting this encampment. The Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (RLUIPA) sets a high standard that a government must meet before impinging on the exercise of religious liberty. Helping the homeless is part of the church's religious mission. The City would therefore have to prove that it has a compelling interest in, and no less restrictive alternative to, closing the encampment; and if it fails, the City may be liable for damages and attorney's fees.

New $220,000,000 Jail? Real Change is urging the City Council to reconsider spending 4½ million dollars to plan for a new seven-acre municipal jail. It urges the City to invest in mental health and drug rehab services, diversion programs, home detention, group rehab houses, and other alternatives to lock-ups.
Motion passed to support Real Change's request and broaden the study to consider alternatives to detention and thereby reduce the size of the facility, cut the annual cost of jailing people, and get better results.
[Moderators Note: In recent days the movement to re-examine the need for a new jail is gathering steam. Here’s what the City Council, The King County Prosecutor, the City Attorney and the local media have very recently said:

Tim Burgess, Chair, Public Safety, Human Services & Education Committee said: (11/11/08)
The Council is also very likely to order a study of jail capacity needs in the future, including a review of the City's very successful jail diversion efforts that have led to a 40% reduction in jail bookings over the past 10 years. The Council wants to study additional alternatives to jail for low-level criminal behavior, such as minor drug offenses. I toured the region's jails this summer as part of my work on jail expansion plans and found two types of individuals incarcerated who didn't belong there—persons with mental health challenges and low-level drug offenders. Both of these groups deserve treatment services instead of jail.

Councilmember Nick Licata, a member of Tim’s Public Safety Committee says: (11/10/08)
In last week’s Council Budget Committee of the Whole, I presented a proposal that would help the City determine whether we truly need to build a new jail. I believe we need to examine the inevitability of needing a new seven-acre facility, estimated at $110 million to build and about $19 million a year to operate and proposed to a) either be sited in a Seattle neighborhood and operated by the City or b) sited in King County suburban city and jointly operated .

With the city's budget turning shaky, the last thing to spend money on should be a new jail. It's not a priority when people are hurting.
The Seattle City Council is weighing a good step toward investigating the necessity of a new jail. The council could withhold millions in facility funding for 2009 and 2010 until the city studies whether it might avert the need with new policies and programs on drug arrests.
Duty, not enthusiasm, has driven Mayor Greg Nickels' work on a jail. A mayoral adviser welcomed the idea of studying whether most drug offenders could be diverted -- safely and efficiently -- to social services before being jailed. A key would be King County funding enough services through a new mental health and substance abuse sales tax. The county and city have to make tough budget choices. If public safety can be preserved without a new jail, everyone will be happier.

The Stranger - Culture Clash by Dominic Holden (11/13/08):
In a testy letter to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, [City Attorney] Carr chastised the P-I's editorial board for suggesting that city leaders should consider "shift[ing resources] from the prosecution of low-level drug crimes into recovery programs" to handle the city's free-falling budget. That strategy, popular among Seattle progressives and several local lawmakers, saves money and has been shown to be more effective than incarceration.
King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg is diverting about 2,300 low-level drug cases away from prosecution and jail to help shave roughly $4 million from his budget, Satterberg, in contrast, has proposed sending thousands of drug-possession cases from King County Superior Court to the lower county district court, where, he says, most defendants "will not get jail." Because those defendants would no longer be eligible for drug court, a division of King County Superior Court, Satterberg's approach is actually more lax than the one advocated by the P-I's editorial board.

The Stranger - In The Hall by Erica C. Barnett (11/13/08):
The council may also hold off on spending the $82 million the mayor has requested to widen Mercer Street in South Lake Union, cut funding for pedestrian-safety programs, and put planning for a new city jail on hold until the council can determine whether changing the city's approach to drug crimes could make a new jail unnecessary.
In addition, 36th District Representative Mary Lou Dickerson, who came to our aid during the Northwest Hospital Incinerator battle more than a decade ago, and who represents the area that includes the proposed Interbay jail site, as well as the nearby Magnolia Community Club and the Queen Anne Community Council, both noted powerhouse community groups with plenty of clout, has expressed an interest in a legislative investigation of the proposed jail financing and siting scheme.

All said, it appears that what was proposed as an inevitable seven-acre blight in some unfortunate Seattle neighborhood may not get past the initial planning stage.]

Air Pollution: Motion passed to approve the letters in our September newsletter to government officials. These letters follow up recent studies pointing to higher risks of cancer due to airborne pollutants.

Budget priorities:
(a) The Mayor over estimated revenues and left it to the City Council to make cuts. One proposed cut would chop $300,000 for support of the City's senior centers. The economic downturn has especially hurt seniors, who must stretch their fixed incomes further and senior centers are more vital for them for meals, companionship, and helping each other.
(b) The Central Area Seniors have no lease for their center and need to get money to fix it up, but granting agencies won't consider their application until it gets a lease.
Motion passed to write letters opposing the budget cut (a) above, and ask for a lease and assistance to the Central Area Seniors.
(c) The City needs therapeutic pools for seniors and others afflicted with a variety of ailments. Children’s' Hospital has the only warm water therapy pool in Seattle and it is over-subscribed. The City's population over age 60 is now 15.6% of the population and will soon reach 20.4%. Moreover, the City needs more swimming pools for the general public. A growing percentage of Seattle youth never learn to swim. Private pools have long waiting lists, and the current public pools are crowded.
Motion passed authoring letters to appropriate government officials to ask that the next parks levy include therapeutic pools; that the City assess opening the former Officers' pool at Magnuson Park; and that it consider adding pools in the next parks levy.

Magnuson Park: The City Council passed ordinances authorizing long-term sweetheart leases at Sand Point and an amendment to its overlay ordinance to authorize the non-park uses. It is also negotiating with the Federal government to release the restriction of uses to park purposes. It is also seeking to change the ground rules to allow it to tear down buildings within the historic district and construct new faux buildings that would expand their footprint. Although the City had promised the United States in its environmental process preliminary to the acquisition that it would create a Sand Point Historic District, and represented that it was doing so, the City never followed through. Developers see this lapse as an opportunity and are moving in.
Motion passed to write to appropriate officials at the federal and state level nominating the district for designation, and to the City and its Landmarks Board for establishing a historic district; to urge the City to comply with the Landmarks Ordinance as if the district had been established as promised and represented; and to express dismay at the lapse.

University Village Expansion: University Village shopping center will expand by 26% and add a 900 space parking garage. Incredibly, DPD determined that it has no significant environmental impact. Moreover, it relied traffic studies done for the Children's Hospital expansion, which were inadequate.

Neighborhood blogs: The Seattle Channel has the video of the recent City Club/Library meeting on neighborhood blogs, a nascent but potent influential phenomena. Seattle is well represented; See The West Seattle blog, Pinehurst Community Blog, Miller Park Neighborhood Association blog, Capitol Hill Seattle, Central District News are outstanding examples of good neighborhood blogs. See the list of neighborhood blogs and websites (sometimes it’s hard to tell them apart) on the Federation blog

Noise ordinance appeal: Chris Leman presented his appeal on the amendments to the City noise ordinance that permit public works construction to exceed nighttime noise limits. The City determined that this would have no significant environmental impact. Chris called two witnesses: Dr. Ted Lane and the former mayor of Burien, an acoustical engineer. The City sought to block their testimony on procedural grounds and partially succeeded. The City Attorney's office has been a stickler on the rules, pouncing on the slightest deviation. Briefs are due soon.
[Editors Note: the Assistant City Attorney later moved to strike Chris' brief because it was filed one minute late! The motion was denied.]

Mercer Mess: Motion passed to send a letter of appreciation to Senator Mary Lou Dickerson (D-36) for opposing use of state money for the Mayor/Vulcan Development $220,000,000 proposal for a two-way Mercer Street, that would actually increase travel time through this corridor.

Save the Trees: Motion passed to send a comment letter to the City's Department of Community Development opposing the issuance of a permit on application #3009549 to cut a grove of trees on the Ingraham High School Campus. Last August, the Superior Court had issued a temporary injunction, and the School District then withdrew its application. The School district has now filed a new application very similar to the earlier one. There are alternate locations on the 28-acre site for the construction.

Goodwill site redevelopment: The hearing examiner made findings and recommendations in accord with the City's presentation and failed to discuss major points made by the community. The community will appeal to the City Council. The developer is asking for vacation of two acres of City streets and will pay eight million dollars in street vacation fees, but wants the City to apply all the money for project mitigation that the developer is required to do.
Motion passed to authorize two sets of letters:
(a) a letter to appropriate City officials to oppose applying the street vacation fees for mitigation. The developer on its own should pay those costs. There are other very important needs in the area that the money should be spent on. The developer's proposal in essence lets it get the street vacation for free.
(b) a letter to the City Council asking it not to accept the Hearing Examiner's recommendation. The Hearing Examiner did not follow all the criteria for a rezone. The Hearing Examiner picked out the portions of the record that support the City's presentation, but did not cite the record as a whole.
Residential Parking Zones. Motion passed to oppose imposing RPZs where they're not wanted by local residents and businesses.

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