We've got a batch of big deal news items for this week's LIKES & DISLIKES—with this caveat: Rather than our usual thumbs up/thumbs down treatment, we're conflicted about what it all means.
Welcome to today's "On the one hand/but on the other hand" edition.
1. The Growth Management Hearings Board ruled against a pair of developers who had claimed that the city's new incentive zoning policy—increased fees (for building beyond height limits) that fund affordable housing—violated a city and state statute.
Wonky, but significant.
The developers' claims were the basis for their more sweeping federal case against the zoning policy ordinance which had the potential to undo a basic city approach to affordable housing.
Developers Greg Smith and Clise Properties argued in front of the GMHB that new incentive zoning policies didn't jibe with the city's own comprehensive plan because the rule increased fees without increasing incentives and it discouraged densisty (with the fees). If they'd won on those grounds in front of the board, it would have taken away the city's defense in federal court that it was allowed to tax development. The developers, taking their cue from a recent U.S. Supreme Court case—the Koontz ruling—argued that the city didn't meet the new burden of extracting money for permits.
The GMHB for Puget Sound—a trio of local appointees who adjudicate disagreements about the state's Growth Management Act, which governs Seattle's comprehensive plan—concluded in its August 19 ruling: "The Board finds Koontz failed to carry its burden of demonstrating inconsistency between the Ordinance [the new incentive zoning rules] and the comprehensive plan...there is no basis for an order of invalidity."
The GMHB board said the city was in line with the rules because they had not extended the program geographically nor had they formally contradicted the comp plan's push for density.
Why aren't we downright thrilled about big developers getting told to "Talk to the Hand"? Because A) The incentive zoning program actually hasn't produced much affordable housing, leading us to believe the city should stop banking on it and figure out a better way to raise money and B) we think it's problematic that we're taxing developers to do something we want them to do: Building density in urban centers.
It's more like trickle down econ, and one thing we're positive we DISLIKE is Ronald Reagan!
That said, building fancy apartments downtown is hardly the econ 101solution to affordable housing that developers and gung ho urbanists say it is; it's more like trickle down econ, and one thing we're positive we DISLIKE is Ronald Reagan!
Developers are no longer the perfect bogeymen they were in the 1980s and 1990s among today's more nuanced denominations of Seattle's progressives—some liberals still see them as evil fat cats while others see them as champions of density—but there is a fertile footnote for longtime Seattle news wonks in this story. Former Seattle City Council member Margaret Pageler, seen as a conservative during her tenure in the 90s and early 2000s, is on the Puget Sound GMHB and signed the developer smack down.
Pageler was first elected in 1991 after being a neighborhood activist who fought to cap the height of downtown skyscrapers, running a winning initiative, the CAP initiative in 1989.
2. As Cola readers are well aware, we not only LIKE the city's parklet program, we LOVE it. (In fact, Josh is hosting his own parklet, or micropark, next month on Park(ing) Day, a one-day deal when the city allows applicants to take over a parking spaces around the city and, Joni Mitchell-style, turn them into mini-parks. (Stay tuned for details on that.)
One of the parklet plans is sparking a debate at city hall, though. Nightlife and music industry bigwig David Meinert (let the comment thread begin!) is planning a parklet in a couple of parking spots outside his popular Capitol Hill diner and bar, Lost Lake.
Here's the policy brain teaser, though. Rather than the traditional design where parklets are, well, parks, Meinert's plan is to turn the space mostly into an extension of the sidewalk, which will jag off the main sidewalk path, bulb out into the street, and then sync back up with the regular sidewalk on the other end. The design gives Meinert more room to commandeer the current sidewalk for outdoor seating at Lost Lake. You see, parklets, explicitly intended to reclaim the public right of way for public use rather than commercial use, are prohibited from being de facto extensions of adjacent business; no table service, for example, is allowed at parklet tables. But in Meinert's savvy business scheme, he'd be taking advantage of the parklet deal to expand his outdoor seating without—as is also prohibited when designing traditional outdoor seating—blocking the sidewalk.
Meinert's plan also comes with some excellent amenities for the Lost Lake, Elliott Bay bookstore, Oddfellows restaurant strip—10th Ave. just south of Cal Anderson Park: He plans to move the grody dumpsters from the Comet off the sidewalk and house them, out of sight, in the parklet structure, add more bike racks (and motorcycle parking), and beautify the parklet (new sidewalk) with planters.
We've said before that the parklet program, especially in its precedent-setting pilot phase, should not be hijacked by businesses intent on using the public right of way for their bottom line. And Meinert could be establishing a slippery-slope example. However, his idea will surely energize (or to use the lingo "Activate") the street, making it one of the most ped friendly spots in town, particularly with the neat Candyland-style zig-zagged sidewalk.
The parklet program, especially in its precedent-setting pilot phase, should not be hijacked by businesses, but...
We're torn about this one in a good way. We're not sure if we like Meinert's idea or not, but we LOVE the debate.
3. We definitely LIKE the story we heard from a city hall insider that Mayor Ed Murray, evidently set on being Seattle's version of former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, reportedly tasked his new SDOT director Scott Kubly with coppying New York City's pedestrian innovation in Times Square. If you get a chance to visit NYC any time soon definitely check out the new addition to Times Square, where a section of Broadway has been closed to cars and turned into a ped mall with tables as astroturf ped paths.
Kubly, who's not from Seattle—he comes to us via Texas, D.C., and Chicago—apparently asked his top advisers to tell him where Seattle's Times Square was so he could set up a similar no car ped mall. Is it Pike/Pine? Is it Westlake Center? Is it on Beacon Ave by the new-ish Victrola coffee shop? Is it on Phinney Ridge? Is it in the emerging ped-friendly zone by Northgate? Is it south, in revitalized Columbia City?
We LIKE this idea. But we're TORN UP over all the possibilities.
4. Okay, no ambivalence on this one: We DISLIKE that SEIU 775, the labor union that powered the $15 minimum wage measure in SeaTac and the successful follow-up movement in Seattle, is evidently not interested in raising the minimum wage at the state level.
SEIU, a key player in the liberal coalition that's trying to win back the state senate for the Democrats so they can do things like pass a statewide minimum wage increase (not to mention stop the GOP from its top agenda items of scaling back workers' compensation and funding education by gutting social services) has endorsed state Sen. Andy Hill (R-45, Kirkland), the top Democratic target in the party's effort to nudge the Republicans out of power. Hill, the senate budget chair, is also the top GOP senator on the budget team, where he has steadfastly rejected house budget proposals to close $500,000 in corporate tax breaks.
SEIU 775 has endorsed GOP budget leader suburban-Seattle state Sen. Andy Hill.
By the way, this isn't one of those dual endorsements. SEIU has not endorsed Navy vet and Amazon manager Matt Isenhower, the Democrat who's running against Hill. Isenhower is counting on big money from Democratic allies to fund independent expenditures against Hill, going negative on things like Hill's party's opposition to raising the minimum wage.
The Democrats would certainly like to get help from SEIU 775, typically a big spender for progressives during election time. But given SEIU 775's Hill endorsement, Democrats shouldn't count on any money from the union in the crucial 45th.