Morning Fizz

Morning Fizz: The Worst Thing We Could Do

Caffeinated news and gossip featuring downzones, pot markets, bus cuts, and fundraisers.

January 23, 2014

1. Smart Growth Seattle, the group that initially formed to promote development
on small ("substandard") single-family lots and later broadened its focus to promote microhousing, or "aPodments," wrote a letter this week to the city council's new land use committee chair, Mike O'Brien, urging him not to support changes to the city's zoning code that would effectively downzone the city's low-rise-3 (LR-3) zones, ending a 2010 provision that allows developers to build apartment buildings as tall as five stories under certain circumstances. 

Some neighborhood activists have objected to the rules, which allow developers to "bundle" several height bonuses such as one that allows more height on the tall side of sloped lots, on the grounds that they block out sunlight and destroy the character of neighborhoods dominated by single-family houses. 

Smart Growth Seattle's letter addresses that issue, arguing that "in most cases what some neighbors are calling a floor is actually a basement." More generally, they argue that rolling back the 2010 rules "would amount to a down zone and an elimination of additional housing choices for people moving to Seattle."

2. Some things to watch for in Olympia today:

• State Rep. Jessyn Farrell (D-46, N. Seattle) will unveil legislation to increase the state minimum wage to $12.

• The house health care committee will hold an executive session (a vote) on a medical marijuana bill sponsored by Rep. Eileen Cody (D-34, W. Seattle) that medical marijuana advocates don't like because it tries to bring the medical pot market into the new recreational marijuana market. Medical pot advocates believe the bill will limit patients' access to medical marijuana (the medical pot advocates acknowledge their market needs more regulation, but want to keep the markets separate).

• The state senate will hear two tenants' rights bills from state Sens. Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-36, Ballard) and David Frockt (D-46, N. Seattle). The first would allow tenants to go through a single financial, rental, and criminal history screening, which would be valid for up to 30 days, when they're looking for a new apartment, instead of paying a separate fee every time they apply.

The second would require landlords to give tenants 90 days' notice of rent increases, instead of the current 30 days. The senate's financial institutions, housing, and insurance committee, still headed up by pro-tenants rights Democratic Sen. Steve Hobbs (D-44, Lake Stevens), will hear both bills at 1:30 this afternoon.

3. In a statement yesterday, socialist city council member Kshama Sawant decried the possibility that Metro bus service could be cut by up to 17 percent. But she also had harsh words for King County Executive Dow Constantine's proposed "Plan B"—a Transportation Benefit District (TBD) that would impose a flat vehicle license fee of $60 and a sales-tax increase of 0.1 percent. Both the flat fee and the sales tax are regressive, meaning they fall disproportionately on lower-income county residents. 

"For six years we have gone to Olympia, urging them to give us a more progressive tax to fund our roads and transit, but they've failed to step up. So now we have a choice: cut our bus service or keep our buses running."

“Seattle and King County have an obligation to find progressive and permanent sources of funding to ensure cuts are averted, fares are reduced, and that Metro service is expanded with new priority given to chronically under-served neighborhoods,” Sawant said. 

Constantine no doubt understands the criticism—when he announced the TBD, he expressed regret at having to propose a regressive tax hike and fee.

However, he also pointed out that the state legislature gave him no choice. By refusing to allow the county to increase the motor-vehicle excise tax (which is indexed to the value of a car, making it less regressive than a flat fee), the legislature put the county in an unenviable position: Put the VLF and sales tax on the ballot, or cut Metro service. 

We have a call out to Constantine to get his response to Sawant's statement, but April Putney, the campaign manager for Move King County Now, the group campaigning to pass Constantine's proposal at the April 22 ballot, told Fizz: "For six years we have gone to Olympia, urging them to give us a more progressive tax to fund our roads and transit, but they've failed to step up. So now we have a choice: cut our bus service or keep our buses running by passing a TBD. We believe the worst thing we could do is cut our bus service. And that's why our campaign is committed to making our only tool, the TBD, better through a new reduced rate fare for low-income riders and including a rebate for low-income car owners."

In concert with his TBD announcement, Constantine also unveiled a low-income fare program—a $1.50 fare for people making up to 200 percent of the poverty rate, $47,500 for a family of four. Metro estimates 15 to 22 percent of its current riders would qualify, which doesn't, obviously, account for new riders who would be enticed by the lower fares.

Putney adds: "If there are other specific ideas, we'd love to hear them. Stopping 17 percent bus cuts and keeping 30,000 cars off our already clogged streets should be something we all can work toghether on."

4. Former Mayor Mike McGinn held a well-attended fundraiser at Spitfire in Belltown last night to retire his $20,000 2013 campaign debt. No surprise, his longtime political ally, City Council member Mike O'Brien, was there, but also in the house: City Council member Sally Bagshaw (who also gave McGinn a shout out at her swearing in ceremony this year) and King County Council member Joe McDermott. 


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