Isn't It Weird That

Isn't It Weird That ...

A weird thing we noticed about Whole Foods, Hedreen, and the mayor.

By Erica C. Barnett September 11, 2013

Isn't It Weird That ... 

Mayor Mike McGinn used his bully pulpit to object to a street vacation (essentially, the sale of a public street to a private developer) for a proposed Whole Foods in West Seattle because the libertarian-led grocery giant is non-union, but has remained silent on a policy that gives expedited permits to a downtown convention center hotel being built by Richard Hedreen? 

Hedreen is resolutely anti-union; he has refused to promise union leaders with the hotel workers' union, UNITE HERE Local 8, that he'll pay workers a living wage at his hotel; currently, according to UNITE HERE, the median non-union hotel worker makes just $23,000 a year, often without affordable health benefits. The developer went so far as to threaten to cancel the project if UNITE HERE continued agitating for a union workforce.

Under a program called Priority Green Facilitated Permits, developers who meet certain environmental standards known as District 2030—including reduced energy use, lower water use, and lowered carbon emissions from cars and freight—developers can get preferential treatment from the city's Department of Planning and Development, including "better inter-departmental coordination with set meetings and milestones," reduced permit times, and a single point of contact at DPD.

McGinn's mayoral office spokesman, Aaron Pickus, says there's no contradiction in McGinn's Woody Guthrie opposition to Whole Foods (he said the city was supposed to consider things like economic development—e.g., whether a grocery store was union—in deciding whether to grant street vacations) and his silence on Hedreen's equally (or more) lax wage and union policy.

Pickus says that unlike the alley vacation process, the mayor has no ability to weigh in on DPD's green incentive program. 

"While the mayor has concerns about this particular developer’s practices regarding living wage jobs and benefits, that is a discussion that is not covered by the 2030 District agreement," Pickus says.

"District 2030 is a public private partnership that sets strict environmental requirements to provide incentives for developers. An application to this program is not subject to the Mayor's discretion."

Okay. But neither are alley vacations. McGinn was just offering his own recommendation on the Whole Foods project—as we reported earlier this summer, the Seattle Department of Transportation is working for the city council, not the mayor, when it makes recommendations on whether the council should grant a vacation. (The mayor's office disputes this, and says SDOT, as part of the executive branch, always works for them.) 

Meanwhile, PubliCola hears that DPD has reassigned one of its planners, at Hedreen's request, to help expedite the hotel project; we have a call out to DPD about that.

And here's the even weirder part: UNITE HERE has gone all in for McGinn, raising $50,000 (from the national union HQ in New York) for an independent expenditure campaign on his behalf. Hedreen, meanwhile, has contributed $10,000 to an IE for Murray. So you might (if you were a cynic) expect to hear McGinn rail against Hedreen the way he did against Whole Foods. 

UNITE HERE Local 8 president Erik Van Rossum said the group supports McGinn because he has "consistently supported good quality jobs and responsible economic growth. Time and again when hotel housekeepers, cooks, dishwashers, servers and stadium concession workers need a strong voice at City Hall, Mayor McGinn is there."

The union's spokeswoman, Jasmine Marwaha, says that with "a large mixed-use project like the 9th and Stewart hotel, especially one that has such an unprecedented scale for a private hotel developer, I imagine there are hundreds of permitting decisions that are made to get the project off the ground. Neighborhood residents and city stakeholders are continuing to provide public comment on the project, and we hope that all concerns will be addressed to make the project the best possible for Seattle."

DPD spokesman Bryan Stevens says Whole Foods, for its part, did not apply for the expedited green-permitting process. He says "The green building goals for this pilot are high and not easily achieved.  Grocery stores are big energy users so it would be even more challenging for them to meet the reduced energy target." 

Isn't It Weird That ... 

Although the chemical industry has now poured an astonishing $12 million into the campaign against the GMO labeling initative, I-522 (in addition to the $4.6 million Monsanto put toward the "No" campaign yesterday, Dupont just contributed $3.2 million and Dow Agrosciences pledged an additional $562,000), the pro-labeling campaign is polling higher than ever? The "Yes" campaign has raised just $3.5 million; according to a new Elway poll, voters support labeling genetically modified foods by a margin of three to one.

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