Tuesday, December 23, 2008

"...and to all a good night?" Only if you act now! Please urge the City Council not to use the variance process to weaken Seattle's Noise Ordinance by eliminating public meetings and most appeals and by going easier on public construction projects

In a pretty fair impersonation of Scrooge, Bad Santa, and the Grinch, three members of the City Council's Transportation Committee on Dec. 16 slipped us a lump of coal by expanding the variance process in a way that undermines Seattle's noise ordinance.

Hardly in the Christmas spirit, they approved the Mayor's proposals (Council Bill 116204) to (1) give public construction projects (which, like private construction, now use temporary variances of two weeks or less) their own permanent "forever" variance; (2) eliminate the "public meeting on due notice" that is currently required before the City acts on any variance of more than two weeks; and (3) eliminate the public's right to a Hearing Examiner ruling on whether a temporary variance was issued improperly. Expected to come to a full Council vote in mid-January, the proposals would be a historic setback to the public's right to peace and quiet.

Whoville's livability and Tiny Tim's health are at stake! A civic movement got Seattle's nationally recognized noise ordinance passed, and only a civic movement can save it. See below on the newly forming Quiet Alliance--but most urgently, please call and write all nine City Councilmembers. Background is below.

Noise at night carries furthest and is most intrusive. Disturbance of sleep is harmful--and is sometimes used for torture. For good reason, the noise ordinance (Seattle Municipal Code 25.08) strongly limits noise, especially at night. Adopted in 1978 by an enlightened Mayor and City Council, the ordinance expressly commits the Council to protect the people's "sleep and repose," and declares: "It is the policy of the City to minimize the exposure of citizens to the physiological and psychological dangers of excessive noise and to protect, promote, and preserve the public health, safety and welfare."

Noise controls will be a fraud if the City Council makes it easy for agencies and businesses to get variances that evade these controls. Restrictions on amplified noise after 10 p.m. that the Council added to the noise ordinance in 2007, and the Mayor and Council's good current proposal to reduce to 7 p.m. from the current 10 p.m. the evening hours when construction noise is allowed in residential areas--these controls are less than meet the eye because a temporary variance can set them aside, and they will be further diminished by eliminating the public's right to a Hearing Examiner ruling on whether such a variance was issued properly.

Administrative appeals to the Hearing Examiner were established to be inexpensive and citizen-friendly; eliminating them would leave citizens the unrealistic alternative of going to court, requiring a lawyer and great expense. The possibility of an administrative appeal keeps variances reasonable, and actual appeals force mid-course corrections when DPD issues variances too easily or without strong conditions. Without the public's right to appeal temporary variances to the Hearing Examiner, there will be no real check on DPD abuses.

The City Council must not accept the deeply flawed process that produced these proposals. The Mayor is also chair of Sound Transit, one of the agencies (along with WSDOT and the City's own SDOT) that most wants construction noise at night. Seattle's Department of Planning and Development (DPD) has been captured by these agencies and by businesses--all of whose noise it is supposed to regulate. Contrary to the well-balanced advisory committees, public hearings, and environmental impact statement that produced the 1978 noise ordinance, DPD cooked up the 2008 changes without hearings, did no EIS (which would carefully analyze who would suffer) and its "advisory committee" was private meetings with WSDOT, Sound Transit, and SDOT. Public interest advocates were excluded and not even notified of the changes being considered.

We can turn this around! Please urge City Councilmembers to do the following:

(1) Don't eliminate the required "public hearing on due notice" regarding proposed variances of more than two weeks. Do add a requirement for a "public hearing on due notice" for any proposal to grant more than two temporary variances (two weeks or less) at once to the same applicant.

(2) Don't eliminate the right to appeal temporary variances to the Hearing Examiner.

(3) Don't create a “major public project construction” variance. But if so, limit it to one year, with a new application, a public hearing on due notice, and a right of appeal to the Hearing Examiner for each yearly renewal.

(4) Urge the Council to send the proposal back to the Mayor, requesting that DPD provide it to those who have commented in the past on noise, conduct a series of public meetings, and consider public comments before making a recommendation, and before the City Council acts on the ordinance changes.

Scrooge, Bad Santa, and the Grinch did have a change of heart, so there's hope here for the Transportation Committee members (in fact, they say they're receptive to suggestions), and also that the other six Councilmembers will listen. Please sound off (quietly) to all! Below are the e-mail addresses and the voice mail numbers (individual messages are always more heeded than ones addressed to all Councilmembers in common). Faxes may be sent to (206) 684-8587, and the mail address is Seattle City Council, P.O. Box 34025, Seattle, WA 98124-4025.

nick.licata@seattle.gov 684-8803
richard.mciver@seattle.gov 684-8800

The above alert was prepared by Chris Leman, (206) 322-5463, mailto:cleman@oo.net, as an individual. Volunteers are Contact us to help the Quiet Coalition's organizing efforts or if you could create or host its web site. And please help by sharing this message with others, and soon. This issue affects everyone who values peace and quiet in Seattle.

Friday, December 19, 2008


Severe weather will limit attendance at the annual holiday party to those who can arrive on foot. All roads to Vivain’s home are impassable. If you need to take a car or bus to get there just forget it. If you can walk to Vivian’s you’re welcome to come.

We hope to be able to schedule a get-together on Friday, January 12, when the weather’s better, stay tuned.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


Vivian McLean and the
Seattle Community Council Federation
invite you to Our Holiday Party
December 19th at 7:00 P.M. at the home of
Vivian McLean, 3814 20th Ave SW

Bring and enjoy refreshments and meeting old and new friends and the warmth of West Seattle at its best


Driving Directions

Take the Delridge off ramp from the West Seattle Freeway,
Go south on Delridge Ave SW to the traffic light,
Then (left) east to 21st Ave SW,
North (left) to the street end,
East (left) to 20th Ave SW
Finally, south just a tad on the east (left) [even-numbered] side of the street.
It's the big white house with the Christmas lights on the porch .

Meeting Highlights - November 20, 2008

(Based on the editor's notes --- these are not official minutes)

President’s Report:
The Federation sent letters to the City
(a) Urging delay of its proposed long-term leasing of buildings in Magnuson Park, an action illegal under the Washington Shoreline Management Act;
(b) Opposing earmarking of $43 million for rebuilding Mercer Street as two-way street;
(c) Urging the mayor to reconsider his plan to evict the Nickelsville homeless encampment at the University Christian Church, NE 50th St and 15th Ave NE;
(d) Supporting funding for a comprehensive aquatics plan; and
(e) To preserve the trees at Ingraham High School.

Jail Siting:
Bellevue, Kirkland, Redmond, Seattle, and Shoreline formed a municipal jail planning coalition to evaluate six potential sites for a new regional jail, and hired a consultant at a cost of $380,000. Three of the sites are in Seattle (5th & Jefferson; 1600 W. Armory Way; and Highland Park Way S.W. and West Marginal Way S.W.); one in Bellevue, one in Shoreline, and one in-unincorporated King County. The group plans a series of public for in early December and scoping meetings for a draft environmental impact statement in early January (January 8th at 6 to 8:30 p.m. at City Hall). King County will continue to house felons. The jail would be planed for 445 jail beds. Its estimated cost is $ 220 million.
Real Change Executive Director Timothy Harris said the money could be better spent on alternative programs. Jailing offenders spoils the convict's future: a jail record reduces potential earnings by 18%; it makes loans for college difficult to obtain; it will deny public housing and food stamp allotments. Many are convicted for drug offenses and really ought to be receiving medical and psychological treatment. 85% of the people on welfare wind up in trouble with the law, and more active intervention and assistance at the first brush, would head off later offenses. Seattle citizens called for more emphasis on alternatives to jailing, and the City stipulated that the jail siting study consider alternative methods of punishment and rehabilitation as part of the study.

Voting Machines:
Our next election comes February 4th -- for King County Superintendent of elections and for schools in many districts. A plurality wins -- no run-offs. King County plans to conduct the election by mail with a few in-person voting places using touch screen voting.
Motion passed to ask King County and the Washington Secretary of State to provide a paper trail for all ballots from the time received by mail or cast until counted so that a recount by hand can verify them.

Children's Hospital master plan:
Laurelhurst will appeal to the Seattle Hearing Examiner the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for Children's Hospital Expansion. The EIS understates the impacts, failed to study alternatives, and erred in many other respects. Children's rejected the recommendation of the Citizens Advisory Committee ("CAC") to exclude the Hartmann site from the new major institutions boundary. The City also left testimony of witnesses in the neighborhood out of the record.
Rick Barrett testified at the Children's Citizens Advisory Committee in support of the position taken by the Laurelhurst Community Council. Our letters and testimony were not heeded.
Motion passed for the Federation to join in the appeal.

University Village Expansion:
QFC applied to the City to build a two-story garage with parking for 585 cars topped with 3 or 4 floors of market-rate apartments at the north end of its site; a 10,000 square foot food court; and a 21,000 square foot expansion of its store on the south along NE 45th St.
The Laurelhurst Community Council will write to the City Department of Planning and Development to ask that a declaration of significance be issued with environmental review of the project; that the City require that the QFC project be coordinated with the University Village's expansion; and that the traffic impacts for both projects be done or redone to consider the cumulative impacts of both.

City Council Elections:
Pundits speculate that three City Councilmembers may not seek re-election, leaving open seats on the City Council. So far half a dozen candidates are exploring a run for office.
Motion passed to send a letter to City officials in support of the request of the Lake Union Opportunity Alliance (LUOA) that the environmental impact statement for the South Lake Union upzone consider the alternative that LUOA proposed.

Initiative 409:
Albert Fong explained Initiative 409 and circulated it for signatures by those present. The concise description says: "This measure would require state and local agencies to cooperate in enforcing federal immigration laws and would require verifying immigration status of persons seeking employment, receiving driver's licenses, and receiving some public benefits."

Burien Annexation:
The mayor will try again for legislation that will provide a subsidy to Seattle in order that it may annex White Center/North Highline. A draft letter was circulated asking Seattle area legislators to reject the proposal.

Interim Tree Protection Ordinance, CB 116404 is coming up for hearing on December 15 at 5:30 p.m.

Incentive Zoning Proposal

The Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce, the Downtown Seattle Association, the Master Builders of King and Snohomish Counties, and a score of major developers wrote to the Mayor and the Seattle City Council recommending that the incentive zoning proposal be amended as follows
[This abstracts their letter with some of its text deleted but not changed; bullets are in the original. It is copied here so our members may know their views]

• Develop an incentive zoning policy framework by resolution, and establish specific incentive zoning requirements for each neighborhood through the legislative rezone process. One size does not fit all neighborhoods. When complete, the legislative rezones currently being considered by the City (and future rezones) may indeed result in different bonus height limits for each neighborhood. By establishing a single city-wide incentive zoning standard, the city would create a situation where it could cost more to develop in one neighborhood with lower height limits than another neighborhood with greater height limits. If a developer can elect to participate in the incentive zoning program in one neighborhood with 125-foot bonus height limits, why would they choose to develop in a neighborhood with 85 foot height limits if the incentive zoning requirements will have a greater impact on the profitability of a project in an 85 foot zone? By adopting a one size fits all approach, the City would be effectively creating an uneven playing field and favoring one neighborhood over another for future development.

• Limit program to Urban Centers and Urban Villages

• Focus incentive zoning requirements on heights 85 feet and above. Projects at heights between 45 and 85 feet present inherent construction challenges. Adding a costly incentive zoning requirement below 85 feet will only further discourage developers from using bonus heights to build more housing.

• Maintain fee in lieu option eliminating this option would definitely dissuade many developers from electing to take advantage of bonus heights and create the unintended consequence of more projects being developed at the base zoning heights. (The two projects under construction downtown that have taken advantage of the incentive zoning program have elected to exercise this option).

• Allow affordable housing credits to be transferred if a developer builds or provides extra, non-required affordable housing units, then the developer has "credits" that can be sold to another developer who needs the units.

• Include a sunset clause or a regular, mandatory review an incentive on paper must be one that also works in practice.

• The City should require an annual review of all incentive zoning policies to ensure that they are meeting their stated objectives.

• The review should be conducted by an outside, independent consultant and be informed by an oversight committee representing diverse interests.

• Base the performance fee off of "net" bonus area, not "gross" and include an annual review of the appropriate fee amount, not an automatic escalator.

• Basing the performance fee off of net bonus space would keep the policy consistent with downtown requirements.