1. Mayor Ed Murray’s housing affordability task force (the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda, HALA committee) is releasing its recommendations to the city council today. The recommendations will look much like the bombshell draft that was leaked last week (which, by the way, never did away with single family zoning altogether, but merely called for loosening the strict guidelines that lock a disproportionate 65 percent of the city into single family zones, a longstanding policy, historically tied to redlining according to HALA, that has stymied multifamily housing around boundary neighborhoods that straddle single and multifamily zones.)
The recommendations will change that by focusing new development in multifamily lowrise zones at the borders of the traditionally exclusive SFZ neighborhoods—and by expanding urban villages to sync up with transit—creating more legit multifamily turf around SFZs. It will also do away with non sequitur SFZs that currently exist in urban villages like in Crown Hill—again, by aligning multifamily developments near transit. The recommendations will also make it easier to build accessory dwelling units in SFZs. By loosening the development guidelines, the task force hopes create more housing supply.
The hot button issue that still wasn’t resolved when the draft was leaked last week, but is now worked out, is so-called linkage fees on developers. HALA will recommend forcing developers to pay a square footage fee on all new commercial development (as opposed to all residential development; this makes more “linkage” sense than the council’s original call for fees on residential development because it’s commercial development that’s driving the city’s yuppie job growth and red hot housing market.)
Council member Mike O’Brien, the author of the council’s original residential linkage fee, reportedly supports the HALA compromise, which also includes mandatory affordable housing in upzoned turf, whether the developer takes the upzone or not—like in the multifamily zones. This matches a policy passed by O’Brien himself last August mandating that developers build up to maximum heights in urban villages in order to maximize density. O'Brien is expected to be standing with the mayor at the HALA press conference today.
While urbanists will be hella happy with HALA’s recommendations—it also ratchets down parking requirements—lesser Seattle avengers like Seattle Displacement Coalition leader John Fox, along with city council members Nick Licata and Kshama Sawant are already criticizing the deal. (Isn’t it weird that the socialist council member is siding with the Ozzie and Harriet SFZ property class?) City Council candidate Jon Grant, a dissident HALA committee member, has already called for a press conference today, scheduled after Murray’s, where Fox, Licata, and Sawant will be at his side calling for an alternative proposal, presumably one that calls for rent control and more developer fees.
One neighborhood movement icon, though, former city council member Peter Steinbrueck, has reportedly been asked to help map out the urban village expansion plan.
Council members Sally Bagshaw, Tim Burgess, Bruce Harrell, and John Okamoto are reportedly lined up with O'Brien and the mayor as well. With Licata and Sawant still pushing rent control, that leaves SFZ stalwarts Jean Godden and Tom Rasmussen in another camp.
2. At 2PM today, the city council will vote on (and is expected to pass) legislation intended to clamp down on loose-cannon medical marijuana dispensaries in Seattle and eventually fold them into the budding and highly regulated recreational market. Coupled with recent changes in state law, medical marijuana as we’ve known it in Seattle will soon be no more.
This move pre-empts sweeping legislation passed by the State Senate and signed by Governor Jay Inslee back in April that eliminates Washington’s medical marijuana market entirely (the broader goal is to have one regulated weed market where all operations are playing by the same rules). Medical marijuana dispensaries will now have to obtain new state license from the new overlord of cannabis in Washington: the Liquor Control Board (which will be issued between now and July 1st 2016) if they want to stay in business. And they won’t be medical dispensaries any more, but rather recreational shops with a “medical endorsement,” who can sell medical cannabis products exempt from sales tax to qualified patients.
Originally proposed by Mayor Ed Murray’s office back in May, this local legislation (a combination of two ordinances and a resolution) will attempt to preemptively weed out the bad apple medical dispensaries, while providing a route to validation for law-abiding and in-it-for-the-long-haul operations. The legislation will require all pot shops (both medical and recreational, as well as growers and processors), to apply for a Title Six city business license by July 1st 2016, as well give the city Office of Administration and Finance the authority and specific criteria to effectively shutter current businesses that are violating the law or are not eligible or have not applied for the Title Six license.
“They're (medical dispensaries) just illegally competing with licensed and regulated businesses (recreational stores),” said John Schochet, City Attorney Pete Holmes’ Deputy Chief of Staff and marijuana wonk. “And that's not fair.”
The enforcement criteria breaks down into several tiers, which range from tier one (the worst): medical dispensaries that sell cannabis products to unauthorized persons (e.g people under 21, non-medical marijuana patients) or started up after January 1st 2013 (the date the statewide legalization initiative I-502 went into effect), to tier three, dispensaries selling bud untested for potency or located within 1000 feet of a school or playground.
There are some important footnotes. Only medical dispensaries that began doing business before January 1st 2013 will be allowed to operate without a Title 6 up until July 1st, while those who started after that will not be eligible for the exemption. Part of the thinking, according to David Mendoza (Mayor Murray’s marijuana policy wonk) and Schochet, is dispensaries that got off the ground before legalization and have been following the rules are more likely to behave.
Meanwhile the King County Prosecutor and Sheriff have been leading a much less nuanced crackdown on medical marijuana dispensaries in unincorporated areas of King County, starting with White Center (stern letters will be sent out before warrants and police battering rams, the Seattle Times Reports).
Mendoza told PubliCola that close to 100 medical marijuana dispensaries are currently open (though that number fluctuates) and around 50 businesses are expected to close due to the new measures brought by this legislation. He added that enforcement is expected to cost around $800,000, with the hiring of two new inspectors for Office of Finance and Administration, a DPD inspector, a city attorney.
The legislation will be voted on by full council later today.
3. The Coalition of Immigrants, Refugees and Communities of Color (CIRCC) held a city council candidate forum for Districts Two and Three (which collectively cover the Central District southeast through Rainier Beach) and the two at-large Positions Eight and Nine this weekend.
PubliCola's Josh Kelety was there tweeting—mostly the back and forth between District Three candidates Sawant and her main opponent, Urban League Leader Pamela Banks; he also noted District Three candidate Rod Hearne's faux pas—it was an Eritrean lunch not an Ethiopian lunch. There were also some fireworks in the Position Eight race where rent control advocate Grant said his opponents, incumbent Tim Burgess and musician John Roderick were siding with developers by not supporting rent control.
Josh Kelety contributed to this Fizz report.