1. Well, here's some disheartening news to start your week: The Seattle Times reports that rents are going up all over the city, often by $300 a month or more. The average rent at a newish Capitol Hill apartment building is $2,200. (That's about seven times what I paid for my first apartment back when the earth was new.)
The stats are alarming, but the Times' framing is a little off—they attribute rising rents to the fact that more people are "reconsidering whether they'll ever save enough money to buy a house" and deciding to rent instead, increasing demand for rental units and driving up prices.
In reality, Seattle's population has been made up of about 50 percent renters for decades. In an increasingly mobile society where real estate isn't always a great investment, that trend is likely to continue.
2. Is there a coal export bubble? That's the thesis put forward by Crosscut writer Michael Riordan, an environmentalist and opponent of the proposed Cherry Point coal terminal near Bellingham, which would handle 24 billion tons of coal bound for China every year.
Riordan argues that with coal prices "plummeting" globally, plans to send U.S. coal to Asia no longer make economic sense. With coal from Wyoming's Powder River Basin selling for just a few dollars per ton less than it costs to produce, there's now "little room for profit—and a great potential for loss—as the price drops."
The economic argument that coal is a losing venture for investors is one that other opponents, like the folks at Grist, have made as well—based on reports from the likes of Goldman Sachs, one of the big players in Cherry Point, which actually concluded the same thing themselves.
3. As the September 1 deadline for the illegal Nickelsville homeless encampment to leave city-owned land in West Seattle looms, the West Seattle Blog reports on city-funded efforts by the Union Gospel Mission to relocate the current campers and help them access services.
As of Friday, they report, 47 Nickelsville residents have relocated either to somewhere else in Seattle (transitional apartments or other housing) or moved out of state. The city plans to close Nickelsville down and sell the land to Food Lifeline, which supplies the city's food banks, for a new warehouse.
4. The Seattle Times reports that construction delays and change orders could leave the 520 bridge project $128 million deeper in the red, wiping out the project's $100 million cash reserve and bumping the overall funding shortfall for the bridge to $1.5 billion (the Seattle side of the bridge is currently unfunded).
The news prompted Vancouver state Sen. Don Benton (R-17) to write an op/ed for the Columbian arguing that legislators made the right decision when they failed to reach agreement on a transportation funding package this year; imagine, Benton writes, if your gas taxes went up just as you learned that the 520 bridge was over budget!
Doubling down on his opposition to the Portland-Vancouver Columbia River Crossing bridge, Benton continues, "Even if the CRC hadn't been included, I wouldn't have supported raising the gas tax. Why should I when, as the example of the SR 520 design error shows, there's no reason to think state government would be more responsible and efficient with new gas-tax dollars than it has with the revenue already being collected?"
Benton and his fellow senate Republicans are currently on a "listening tour" of the state, aimed, ostensibly, at finding out what Washington state residents want from a new transportation package. However, the "tour" comes with a list of very specific demands—among them, eliminating Sound Transit's current board, which is made up of 18 elected officials, and replacing it with a five-member board elected by geographic district.
5. A trifecta of items from today's (and this weekend's) New York Times:
• First, the Times reports that President Obama has named no more women to high-level positions in his administration than former President Bill Clinton did two decades ago, and, by some measures, has even fewer women in top positions than the Clinton administration. (Paging Mike McGinn.)
The piece is particularly timely given that Obama appears poised to appoint Larry Summers (the Harvard professor who said women are inherently inferior to men at math and science) as head of the Federal Reserve, passing over Fed vice chair Janet Yellen, who would be the first female Fed chair in history.
• Second (and speaking of powerful women), the paper profiles badass Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The 5-foot-tall, 80-year-old two-time cancer survivor tells the Times she has no plans to retire—and calling the current Court, whose recent decisions have struck at the heart of civil-rights, workplace-discrimination, and abortion law, "one of the most activist courts in history."
• Finally, the paper takes a long and generally glowing look at Amazon's plans for South Lake Union, where, they write, the company has "rejected the old model of the suburban company campus that is typical of Silicon Valley and the technology ring road around Boston." Or, they add, Microsoft, whose campus in Redmond epitomizes the suburban office-park model.