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 1. The city council’s planning and land use committee is taking up an amendment to mayor Ed Murray’s grand bargain this morning. The goal of the amendment, sponsored by Lisa Herbold and Mike O’Brien, is to account for displacement of existing affordable housing. Herbold and O’Brien are concerned that while Murray’s affordable housing deal trades upzones for production of new affordable housing units (or payment toward an affordable housing fund to fund for those units), the creation of affordable units could be a wash if upzones simultaneously displace existing affordable units. These units, known as naturally occurring affordable units, aren’t the subsidized or rent restricted units mandated in Murray’s plan, but rather, units that are already affordable within the free market. In order to ensure there’s no net loss, Herbold and O’Brien want to increase the fees per square footage to make it commensurate with future displacement of those existing units.

However, green urbanist group Sightline warns that increasing the fee will upend the equation on the other end, discouraging the creation of new rent restricted units in the first place. In a letter to Herbold yesterday, Sightline’s executive director Alan Durning (who helped craft the original grand bargain as part of Murray’s housing affordability task force) and Sightline housing policy researcher Dan Bertolet, wrote:

Because your amendment proposes to increase the payment and performance amounts without granting any commensurate additional development capacity, the likely outcome would be a drop in production of both market-rate and affordable units, putting the city’s HALA goals further out of reach.

Durning and Bertolet also disagree with Herbold’s premise that upzones will cause displacement in the first place. They write: “new housing helps preserve the low rents of naturally occurring affordable housing and therefore decreases displacement at the neighborhood scale.”

Herbold and Bertolet have been going back and forth off line trading competing studies about the impact that upzones and development have on housing;

Durning and Bertolet got the last word yesterday:

Regarding the displacement study from UC Berkeley (link) that council member Herbold cited as evidence to counter our arguments, that study actually corroborated the findings we cited from California Legislative Analyst’s Office: 

"Consistent with the LAO Report, we find that new market-rate units built from 2000 to 2013 significantly predict a reduction in the displacement indicator from 2000 to 2013.”

The additional contribution made by the UC Berkeley analysis is that compared to market-rate units, subsidized units have a more than two times stronger effect on reducing displacement.

The city’s own analysis in the U. District found that an upzone would displace existing affordable units, but it also found that failing to upzone would displace even more units.

Ultimately, though, Herbold may get the last word. Planning committee chair council member Rob Johnson says he supports Herbold’s effort and her amendment is likely to get voted out of committee today.

2. Here's a quick follow up to the regional data from the Puget Sound Regional Council about the increase (nearly double over the past five years) in traffic delays. The Puget Sound Regional Council data, as I reported yesterday, said four percent of the jump in traffic delays were accounted for in HOV lanes.

PSRC spokesman Craig Helmann flags that four percent stat as evidence that the HOV system was breaking down, noting: “What is more surprising is that in 2010, these lanes were experiencing very little delay.”

Cars in HOV lanes are supposed to move at 45 miles per hour or faster 90 percent of the time in rush hour, however, WSDOT’s latest data shows that 10 out of 14 HOV corridors are not meeting this goal. “One of the reason’s the HOV lane delay has come up,” Helmann tells me, “is its direct impact of transit operations [buses] and their ability to meet their schedules.”

Indeed, the chair of PSRC's transportation policy board, city council member Rob Johnson, has requested more details on the HOV delays. “Judging the number of cars and buses that are delayed [which is what the PSRC’s numbers account for], doesn’t get at the number of people affected,” Johnson says. “We are underestimating the number of people who are delayed in HOV lanes by the way we are measuring HOV lanes.”

His point: The idea that just four percent of the 37.2 thousand hours of delays (an increase from 19.1 in 2010) are in HOV lanes, while the rest are in SOV lanes, skews any focus on potential fixes toward SOV lanes rather than towards more people [traveling on buses and tripling up in carpools], which Johnson says would be “more efficient and much more corrective.”    

3. It looks like city council member Mike O’Brien’s landmark legislation to give for-hire drivers, such as Uber drivers, the right to unionize is being delayed.

An update on the ordinance from the city’s Finance and Administrative Services director Fred Podesta (also the new quasi deputy mayor) and from mayor Murray policy staffer David Mendoza, scheduled for this Wednesday’s governance committee, indicates that there’s a hang up over union elections concerning who actually gets to vote and how long that vote would last.

For example, should part-time Uber drivers get to vote (would they want to pay union dues?) and with such high turnover in the industry, should drivers who might not be around in a couple of months be able to vote?

A slide from the upcoming presentation to committee notes:

“The division of opinion indicates tension between the ordinance’s goal of a qualifying driver having a significant stake in the for-hire industry and the individual qualifying driver’s goal of every person affected having a voice,” and concludes: “Based on implementation work completed and lack of clear direction in stakeholder feedback received to date, FAS believes additional outreach, particularly to drivers, needs to be completed. To do this work, FAS requires more time and seeks an extension of the current commencement date of September 19.”  

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