Caffeinated News

1. File this one under Jolt: Yesterday’s big winners were advocates of high-speed broadband in underserved parts of Seattle, who won a hard-fought victory yesterday when the City Council eliminated rules that allowed a minority of neighborhood land owners to veto the placement of a utility box on publicly owned landing strips near their property.

The new rules the council adopted yesterday, which also encourage smaller boxes (utility boxes shorter than 36 inches are not subject to the same notice and permitting requirements as larger boxes), will allow companies like Centurylink to compete with Comcast for Internet service.

In Beacon Hill, a group of advocates known as Upping Technology for Underserved Neighborhoods (UPTUN) has spent years fighting for the changes, saying they will enable underserved neighborhoods to finally get access to high-speed Internet service from companies like Google, which passed on the opportunity to provide fiber service in Seattle thanks in part to the old, restrictive rules.  

2. The Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission has dismissed an ethics complaint against city officials for allegedly using their offices to support Prop. 1B (a city-backed measure to fund preschool slots) over Prop. 1A (a union-backed measure to mandate training and higher wages). The complaint, filed by supporters of Prop. 1A, also alleged that a fiscal analysis of Prop. 1A done by the city (though not made public) was biased.  (Casey covered the debate over Prop. 1A's costs.)

In response to both allegations, SEEC Executive Director Wayne Barnett said the complainants didn't provide enough evidence. 

"Public officials are free," Barnett writes, dismissing the first allegation, "to call people and encourage them to support or oppose ... a ballot measure. Only if that call is made from a City office or City telephone does it raise an issue ... and your complaint does not provide any evidence that these calls are being made using City facilities. This office does not investigate complaints absent some indicia of evidence..."

Similarly, re: the second allegation, Barnett writes: "For this office to investigate a legal memorandum solely on an allegation that it is 'biased' would establish a dangerous precedent ... Before undertaking such a dramatic step, I would want to see some evidence of wrongdoing." 

Barnett notes that the complainants say they are gathering city documents and urges them to submit them if they think it backs up their claim of bias, concluding: "and I will reevaluate this dismissal." 

3. Early city council entrant Tammy Morales, head of Urban Food Link, a food systems policy group, snagged an impressive endorsement in her bid for the 2nd District council seat (Southeast Seattle, where incumbents Bruce Harrell and Sally Clark live) this week: Estela Ortega, the high-profile executive director of civil rights group El Centro de la Raza.

With no pushback from the committee members, O'Brien made it clear that the developer fee proposal is cued up to sail through council at the next committee meeting.

Ortega is a valuable political ally who, after being a backer former mayor Mike McGinn, has quickly become a go-to for Mayor Ed Murray (she's on his new affordable housing advisory committee.)

El Centro de la Raza, a venerable 40-year-old group fighting for Latino rights, is located in Beacon Hill in the 2nd District.

4. Seattle City Council member Mike O'Brien held a second hearing on his "linkage fee" proposal—a plan to universalize (at least on developers) a fund to support affordable housing. The new "linkage fee" would replace the city's current lackluster "incentive zoning" program that only charges a developer fee in specific areas (downtown upzone hubs and around light rail development) and under specific circumstances (if the developers actually go for the upzone). 

The new fee would charge developers a fee on all new development in the upzoned hubs along with all multifamily and low-rise zones—basically extending the development charge to all new development. 

Land Use committee chair Mike O'Brien

Yesterday's testimony was kind of blasé, with the city's consultant dismissing, at O'Brien's prompting, the development lobby's complaint that the fee would simply trickle down to tenants in the form of rent increases. The consultant's rejoinder was that the landowner will eat the cost because the fee will be factored into the land value at a slight loss.

With no pushback from the committee members—why wouldn't a new cost trickle down just like other costs such as impact fees, property taxes, and utilities?, for example—O'Brien made it clear that the developer fee proposal is cued up to sail through council at the October 7 committee meeting.

Indeed, City Council member and committee member Nick Licata's main question was why the city couldn't implement the fee faster.