Thursday, May 31, 2012


May 31, 2012

Mayor and City Council
601 Fifth Avenue
Seattle, WA 98124

School District should reinstate the Community Nights in Schools program before Council approves Res. 31385, the “City of Seattle and Seattle School District Partnership Agreement”

To the Mayor and City Council—

Please do not approve Res. 31385, the “City of Seattle and Seattle School District Partnership Agreement,” until the District reinstates the Community Nights in Schools program. 

Under this program, the School District has for more than a decade provided civic groups with low-cost access, through a simplified application process, for their meetings and other events after school hours.   This enhanced access is required by the February 2000 agreement between the City Council and the School District which approved construction of the current District headquarters in an industrial zone.  Unfortunately, on May 2, 2012 the District unilaterally canceled the Community Nights in Schools program, without prior notice to or consultation with Seattle officials.  Scheduling for meetings in the fall is already being sacrificed.  

Without the Community Nights in Schools Program, the City provides huge benefits to the District while receiving very little in return (other than what we all hope is the best possible school system).  The School District receives free and exclusive use of many Parks Department facilities (sports fields, playgrounds, swimming pools, tennis courts, community centers, etc.); it also receives millions of dollars from the City’s Families and Education levies.  The Community Nights in Schools program begins to even this imbalance by providing civic groups access to schools after hours. 

On May 2, the day that School District canceled the Community Nights in Schools program, we wrote urging that the Mayor and City Council work for a quick District reversal of its cancellation, so that the program continues and is strengthened.  That is for fairness, but since May 2, we have become aware that it is also for obligation:  the program is required by the February 2000 agreement that the School District signed with the City Council. 
With community centers, libraries, and other public facilities increasingly unavailable for evening meetings, the Community Nights in Schools program is essential for sustaining volunteer groups and civic life.  Information on it can be found on the Seattle Parks Department web site by clicking here.  A copy of the application and instructions can be found by clicking here.  Under the program, public meeting rooms in the evening in 47 public schools are available to community councils, educational groups, public service groups, and other non-commercial organizations for a flat fee of $15, with no handling fee and no requirement for liability insurance. 

If the School District’s termination of the Community Nights in Schools program is allowed to stand, community groups will need to go through the District’s costly and cumbersome rental process (found by clicking here).  The rental rates are considerably higher, and there is a $15 processing fee and a requirement for liability insurance.  The requirement for liability insurance, alone, ensures that hundreds of community groups will no longer be allowed to use school facilities if the Community Nights at Schools program is discontinued.    

With the School District planning soon to ask the voters for more than $1 billion in capital and operating funds, its provision of simple and affordable evening space for community meetings is an important gesture of good faith and a reminder of how schools foster democracy and participation.  Res. 31385’s draft Partnership Agreement requires that the “City and District shall each act in good faith.”  When the District unilaterally canceled the Community Nights in Schools program, was it acting in good faith?  We suggest reinstating the program now to establish good faith before the Partnership Agreement is approved. 

Please preserve and improve the Community Nights in Schools program as essential for civic engagement and partnership with the schools.   SCCF designates its treasurer, Chris Leman (, 206-322-5463) as its representative on this issue. 

Jeannie Hale, President
3425 West Laurelhurst Drive NE
Seattle, Washington  98105
206-525-5135 / fax 206-525-9631

cc:  Seattle School Board and Superintendent

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Minutes for April 24, 2012


Minutes for April 24, 2012

Meeting called to order at 7:04 PM.

Speaker: Mike Podowski, DPD, walked us through a  handout on the proposed land use code changes in the new Regulatory Reform.  This document outlines the changes in parking requirements; exemption of larger buildings from SEPA notice and appeal; allows commercial businesses in residential zones; releases many existing buildings from currently required street level retail; lengthens temporary use permits to 18 months (often used for parking lot and construction storage) from the current 6 months and eliminates the citizen right to appeal; and  expands accessory dwelling units. 
Mr. Podoswki's explained that the Regulation round table wanted to be consistent with existing goals but create new opportunities.  The presentation was continually interrupted by questions as follows:
When asked, Mr. P defined Mid-rise buildings as 3-7 stories. (Topic 1)
One question asked about traffic analysis as a recent First Hill development found the traffic analysis was based on very old date.  (Bruce Bowden on Seneca Tower)
Chris Leman expressed concern that no appeal process is available if SEPA is not involved.
Podowski said that there can be an administrative appeal.  Jeannie Hale pointed out that means going straight to Superior Court at 4 times the expense.
Mike P said there are only 30-40 appeals per year and Chris Leman asked why go to so much trouble to do this if so few appeals.
Bill Bradburd asked "What is the objection to SEPA?" but this was not answered.  Bill also expressed concern that a store like Safeway could get 1000 cars a day and if parking is restricted,
it impacts neighborhoods.
Oliver Osborne (Capitol Hill) expressed a concern that there was no transparency and citizen involvement in this process.  He also asked about illuminated sigs.
The answer is that illuminated signs are allowed in the neighborhood stores but not in home businesses.  Jeannie Hale told of a distracting blinking illuminated sign in her neighborhood.
Bill Bradburd said that small neighborhoods cannot afford to litigate.
Chris Leman said this process began over a year ago and the package is presented to the City Council two months ago with no citizen input and the public is just now hearing about it. 
A concern was expressed that some small retail businesses might be pushed out.
When asked about the temporary permits, Mike P. mentioned a small coffee shop and bike repair in a temporary shelter at Othello and MLK.
Chris Leman countered with the fact that most of the temporary permits (34) are for construction storage and parking lots.
Bill Bradburd wanted to know who created the Round Table but Mike P. did not know.  He had to leave at that point as he had a prior engagement.
President's Report: Jeannie reported that Laurelhurst CC and the Federation had challenged the proposal to allow essential facilities to be placed anywhere regardless of existing codes, even the Shoreline Management Act restrictions.  The proposal allowed waiver of development regulations and siting of these undefined facilities in all zones, including residential zones. Aside from SR520, this could include facilities such as crisis centers and drug treatment centers. The city had not complied with the public records request when first requested. 
The hearing examiner dismissed the appeal on April 10 on "standing" grounds.  The Municipal Court has a liberal standing rule for these matters.  A DNS is subject to appeal to the Hearing Examiner by "any interested person." An interested person is defined in the SMC (25.05.755) as "any individual, partnership, corporation, association, or public or private organization of any character, significantly affected by or interested in proceedings before an agency, and shall include any party in a contested case."
The ruling would make it difficult, if not impossible, for the Federation or any community group to file appeals to the hearing examiner in the future.  The ruling has very broad implications. 
Laurelhurst CC, co-appellant in the Hearing Examiner appeal, will be appealing the Hearing Examiner decision.  The Federation needs to decide if it would like to be a petitioner on the LUPA petition to be filed in Superior Court.  

MOTION: Chris Leman moved that the Federation be a co-appellant with the Laurelhurst CC in appealing this ruling.  Bill Bradburd offered the second. VOTE: unanimous.

Greg Hill told of an appeal by Wallingford CC and nearby neighbors opposed to a Skanska development in the neighborhood  The Hearing examiner tossed out the appeal by the neighbors for "lack of standing".  Chris Leman told of another important case involving the Roanoke Reef.  MOTION : Chris moved that a letter should be written to the City Council about the distorted hearing examiner process. Second: Kathryn Keller.  VOTE: Unanimous.
Discussion about the Skanska project: a Brooks shoe facility that is supposed to be a "living building".
 Living Buildings
A “living building” is the next generation of “green building,” made of sustainable materials and using only as much energy and resources as it is able to generate on-site. The pilot project will allow up to 12 unique “living buildings” to be developed in Seattle over the next three years. Seattle’s land use code doesn’t currently allow for the unique characteristics required to meet living building standards, so the City Council gave the Department of Planning & Development the authority to grant developers the flexibility they need to meet project requirement.
MOTION:   Chris Leman moved to authorize a letter regarding the "living building" ordinance and how it is being implemented.  Second: Kathryn Keller .  Vote: Unanimous
Greg Hill presented the following concerns about the new reform:  Commercial zones: originally we had street car lines which are now bus lines.  Businesses developed along these lines.  Northgate was originally like this but now a covered mall.   Visibility and synergy are critical to business.  There has been a common resource: street parking.  The RPZ happened to allow residents to have access to parking.  In Vancouver, BC, parking is a science.  Small businesses must have on street parking. Under the new plan, in multi-family zones parking will be for commercial. In mixed use zoning, commercial must be on the ground floor.
Greg mentioned that Seattle was a leader in the years 89-90 in getting bankers to do the loans for developers. They have a 12 month horizon; can rent 4 units month and all units in a year but parking is a harder sell; it takes 2 years to rent parking space.  Developers have to work harder to rent the commercial spaces.  Greg feels that all the neighborhood plans are wiped out with these new regs.  SEPA thresholds: if we are to become denser, we need a more fine grained code not a looser one.
MOTION: Chris Leman moved that we authorize a second letter  to address regulatory reforms as defined here in the meeting.  Second: Rick Barrett. Vote: unanimous.
Bill Bradburd said we must educate the City council members.  He had met with Wayne Barnett, who encouraged him to file an ethics complaint on the Roosevelt issue.  Greg suggested walking and talking to commercial businesses.   Oliver Osborne commented on the presentation; said it was great and we need to get it out to all communities.  Jeannie Hale said we should set up meetings with City Council members; it is to be decided May 9. Bruce Bowden said it  needs more public hearings.
Eviction issue: Ted Jonssen is being forced out of his work/living space after almost 50 years.  Ted's story and challenges with the City and the UW are detailed in his document which is filed with the notes.
MOTION made by Colleen McAleer to authorize the Federation to write letters to both the City and the UW urging he be allowed to stay as long as he wanted.  Second: Rick Barrett.  Vote: Unanimous.
Colleen McAleer showed pictures of what are being called "sentinels" that beam rainbow lights to be placed along the proposed 520 bridge.
MOTION made by Kathryn Keller to authorize letters to WDOT and the Citizen Design Commission. Second: Rick Barrett. Discussion: Chris Leman questioned about designing of walls.  Colleen answered No; the state has run out of money after adding a lid for the Eastside and there is no money left for the Montlake lid.  VOTE: unanimous.
Bruce Bowden announced that Citizens Rethink Yesler would invite 6 City Council members to the co-sponsored forum in middle to late June.
Chris Leman, treasurer, reported $4100.17 in the treasury. 
MOTION made to approve minutes by Kathryn Keller; second Rick Barrett.  Vote: unanimous.
Meeting adjourned at 9 PM.

Outside City Hall: density does not bring affordability - only higher housing costs, homelessness and displacement

Outside City Hall: density does not bring affordability - only higher housing costs, homelessness and displacement
There's been a lot of blogging and news articles of late on the topic of density and how much Seattleites are willing to and should accept.  Contrary to the image some are pushing of marauding neighbors with pitchforks stymieing all growth, recent data obtained from City Hall indicates otherwise.  In just seven years, 2005-2011, the city has reached 73 percent of its 20-year (2024) regionally set residential growth target. (More about this report,  click here.) In fact, we are approaching or exceeding record levels of new construction in many of our neighborhoods.  Construction cranes dominate Seattle's skyline like "War of the Worlds" aliens.  And like the movie, those cranes and the bulldozers clawing away in their shadow are altering our landscape just about as effectively. 
Seattle's urban streams, open space, tree canopy, human scale, and diverse physical form is under siege to redevelopment and more is on the way in the wake of the pell-mell push for regulatory reform, master permitting, upzones, and "pedestrian friendly" development (a misnomer if there ever was one).  Somehow though, it's not enough for the pro-density crowd who say we need still more growth in order to "save the environment".  Effectively, they're telling us that we must destroy our urban village (here in Seattle) in order to save the "global village" (everywhere else but Seattle).  This is rank hypocrisy as we've described in several previous columns. Excessive densities concentrated in Seattle (as opposed to a "poly-centered" approach to regional growth) is not sound environmental policy.  More of our views on this are here: City Hall July 2010:  A response to a recent Publicola column pushing still more highrise office  and here: (scroll down to Feb 2010 article: from Feb 1, 2011 Edition of North  )
For our most recent column however (reprinted below from the last issue of City Living Pacific Publishing neighborhood papers), we're focusing on another canard that pro-density forces have factored into the debate - the claim that by simply unleashing the market, adding unlimited densities, it will produce more affordable housing.  This isn't a new argument. It rears its head every decade or so, and then soon it's dismissed by all but the most zealous developers and freshman economics majors. 
Development interests never could get much traction making this "trickle down" argument by themselves because it's so shamelessly self serving.  But now that density has a "higher purpose"- to save the environment - the affordable housing we're gonna get is the icing on the cake.  Effectively they've teamed up the "pseudo-enviro's" (who some say are really one and the same) and together they're advancing the affordability argument to bolster their pro-density agenda. Our column reprinted below takes aim at this aspect of their case.   (This intro by John V. Fox alone)
Outside City Hall Column Begins here by Carolee Colter and John V. Fox (May 2012 City Living):
Econ 101 textbooks offer a simple equation: More supply drives down prices. The pro-density argument to legitimize runaway growth here in Seattle is that increasing the supply of market-rate units will lower housing prices and guarantee a larger stock of affordable housing. 
That’s the theory. But what does empirical experience in Seattle tell us? 
For the last 35 years, since Seattle came out of its mid-1970s economic bust, periods of accelerated residential development have always directly coincided with more demolition of low-income housing, higher rents, lower vacancy rates, longer waiting lists for subsidized housing, increasing levels of homelessness and higher housing costs for all Seattleites. Each successive wave of growth leaves in its wake a growing divide between rich and poor, white and non-white in our city.
So how does the simple economic maxim of “more supply lowers prices” get turned completely on its ear? In a built-up urban environment, there’s less and less vacant land over time, and the consequence of new development means removal of the existing supply of lower-density housing. Housing that’s older, non-debt-supported and affordable gives way to new, more expensive housing.
 Following the numbers
Here are some real numbers from the Department of Planning and Development (DPD) and updated through March 2012, which highlight our point. Since 2005, more than 5,000 units of housing have been torn down to make way for new residential construction. Conservatively, 3,000 of those 5,000 units that were lost served the city’s poorest renters. (Our surveys over the years of tenants in buildings facing the wrecking ball indicate that anywhere from 60 to 80 percent of these units were low-income rentals.) 
As for the new units that replaced this lost housing, they’re priced hundreds of dollars above what most low-income people could afford — or even what the average wage earner or tenant in Seattle could afford. 
Most new construction might provide, for example, a studio for $1,100 a month or $1,500 for a one-bedroom. The average Seattle wage earner makes about $43,000 a year and, to spend no more than 30 percent of income on housing, needs a rental at $1,075 a month. The average tenant earns around $39,000 and needs a rental below $975.
Those with incomes below 40 percent of the median, who need a rental below $700 to $800 a month, face a conspicuous shortfall. According to the King County Housing Benchmarks report, in Seattle, there are 40,000 households whose income falls below that threshold, but only 10,000 units at rents affordable to this group. In all of King County, there are some 70,000 households whose incomes are below 30 percent of area median but only 300 (you read that right) rentals affordable to that group. Consequently, there’s a long waiting list for subsidized housing. 
More housing development coincides with more demolition of existing low-income housing. The expensive stuff that gets built adds to our total supply. In fact, since 2005, Seattle has built more than 35,000 new units and reached over 70 percent of its 20-year growth targets. 
But even at this level of growth, the increased inventory has not reduced prices — in fact, it’s just the opposite. Prices fall when development rates fall, when the number of demolitions falls. Vacancy rates fall at these times, as well. So does homelessness. So do the waiting lists for public housing
New construction (and upzones designed to stimulate higher rates of new construction) also has the effect of driving up surrounding property values, and the resulting higher taxes get passed on in the form of higher rents. This encourages a more rapid turnover of surrounding properties — buying and selling and refinancing of existing units — which also serves to drive rents up on surrounding properties. 
 Saving lower-priced rentals
No matter how much new construction we see in Seattle, it’s never enough to offset rising demand accompanying the influx of newcomers attracted to work in those shiny, new downtown and South Lake Union office towers. And we only recently upzoned downtown for another 17 million square feet of office space to ensure an influx of new workers who will raise demand even more.
If our concern really is affordable housing, our local government should intervene to slow growth down, rather than stoking the flames of rapid growth through upzones. 
And what growth does occur should be preceded with mechanisms that prevent removal of existing, lower-priced units and that promote in-fill over demolition. 
And when this cannot be done, let’s require developers to replace one-for-one what they remove, at comparable price. 
More proactively, our city should acquire and purchase existing, lower-priced rentals before they are lost to the wrecking ball or before speculation drives rents above low-income thresholds, and transferring these buildings to nonprofit ownership, cooperatives and land trusts. Slowing growth down and reducing speculative pressure on existing units gives government more time to do this.
Simply unleashing the forces of the market by promoting more density through upzoning has only led to more displacement, higher housing costs and more inequality and human suffering in our community. And those — especially elected officials — who promote added density and rely on the myth of supply-and-demand to justify it, are guilty of abetting these trends.
(to reach us, email us at Seattle Displacement CoalitionJ-Fox <>or call 206-632-0668 or check out our website)