Morning Fizz

Assessing the Comprehensive Plan and Advocating for Transit

Caffeinated News featuring the comp plan, light rail, and more.

By Josh Feit January 29, 2015


Caffeinated News

1. The first order of business in today's Morning Fizz is to direct your attention to yesterday's Afternoon Jolt: In case you missed it, veteran progressive city council member Nick Licata, the chair of the Seattle City Employees Retirement System (SCERS, the city pension fund), is evidently fed up with SCERS' reluctance to take the city council's and the board's interest in divestment from fossil fuels seriously. He is making a formal motion at today's noon meeting to divest the fund from fossil fuel stocks.

And here's a follow-up on that: Licata has also invited financial whiz Bevis Longstreth to testify. In an email to SCERS executive director Ken Nakatsu yesterday afternoon notifying everyone of his divestment motion, Licata added this note:

Bevis Longstreth will be among the individuals giving public testimony tomorrow.  Mr. Longstreth is the author of Modern Investment Management & the Prudent Man Rule. He is a former Commissioner of the SEC, a former member of the Board of Governors of the American Stock Exchange, a former director of INVESCO, and a former trustee of College Retirement Equities Fund. He has also served on the Pension Finance Committee of The World Bank.  He will be calling in to give his public testimony so if you can be sure to have a phone in the room, I’d greatly appreciate it.

Also in yesterday's Afternoon Jolt: We had the exact opposite news from the day's earlier jaw dropper (at least for urbanists and bike advocates) that the Cascade Bicycle Club may be dropping its 501(c)(4) status; without 501(c)(4) status, the CBC's ability to lobby (endorse candidates, work on candidate campaigns, and spend money on candidates and campaigns) will end. Seattle Bike Blog had the scoop on that.

The 180? Another key alternative transportation advocacy group, however, Transportation Choices Coalition, has been looking at creating a 501(c)(4), precisely, says their policy director Andrew Austin, so they can up the ante on their political advocacy. 

All the more reason now.

2. At a packed meeting at city hall's Bertha Knight Landes room last night, former Seattle city council member Peter Steinbrueck presented his consulting firm's findings about the city's 20-year comprehensive plan (1994-2014). The "Comp Plan," put in place by city hall 20 years ago, is the policy blueprint that governs Seattle's growth; the Department of Planning and Development is currently working on Seattle 2035, the comp plan for the next 20 years.

Steinbrueck's data crunch assessed the the "Urban Village" model, the central principle of the first Comp Plan that directed growth to 30 population hubs including the U. District, Downtown, West Seattle Junction, Ballard, Lake City, Highlad Park, Rainier Beach, North Beacon Hill, Eastlake, and Aurora Licton Springs.  (DPD is considering other approaches now such as nudging growth along transit lines, though the urban village approach is also very much in the mix.)

Some of the findings:

Transit use increased in all the urban hub and residential urban villages.

(There are separate slides for Downtown and the U. District, which are considered "urban center" urban villages, where ridership was also up; though in downtown the ridership didn't grow as fast as the population, ie: boardings overall went up, but boardings per capita went down.)

Of the eight "hub" and/or "residential" urban villages that Steinbrueck studied, only Eastlake saw a small deline. Rainer Beach, Ballard, Westwood Highland Park and West Seattle Junction in particular had sharp ridership increases.

Steinbrueck's powerpoint recommendation: "To meet future growth demand we will need to significantly increase bus ridership service hours and routes, BRT, and possibly intra-city light rail throughout the city, and especially in Urban Centers, Villages, and heavy transportation corridors."

Steinbrueck's off-the-cuff recommendation: “Without these we will have absolute gridlock."

The slide that drew the biggest reaction from the crowd? This one tracking the city's uneven distribution of infrastructure investments. Steinbrueck did say that the "big disparity" may have been partially explained by a lack of data. 

Another takeaway: Steinbrueck pointed out that job growth fell far short of the estimations made back in 1994. The job market was projected to grow by between 131,400 to 146,600. But coming in at 56,594,  the city only reached 38 percent of 20-year growth target. Flagging, the "jobs/housing imbalance" (meeting 1994's housing prediction of 50,000 to 60,000 with "crystal ball accuracy," 60,524 new households were created in the last 20 years), Steinbrueck's research found that approximately 60 percent of the city’s residents work outside Seattle.

Steinbrueck said the numbers would increase the regional demand for tranist.

3. Speaking of regional demand for transit. Another packed meeting came earlier in the day when the house transportation committee held a hearing on a Democratic bill to give Sound Transit about $15 billion in new taxing authority for extending light rail.

New polling shows support (and not just in Seattle) for the idea. Not only are voters evidently hungry for transit, but perhaps the GOP mantra that voters are overburdened with taxes—a rap repeated by testimony from the conservative Washington Policy Center yesterday—has been debunked by the data which shows a dramatic decline in taxes as a proportion of personal income in Washington state.

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and Seattle City Council member Mike O'Brien testified in favor of the package, alluding to the future goals of Sound Transit, with the best zingers of the day. 

Rep. Ed Orcutt (R-20, Kalama): So, you currently have taxing authority, and you have pretty well used that up. So your asking for more taxing authority. How much will you be able to get done with this new taxing authority? Will you be able to get all of it done or should we expect you will be back here in 5 to 10 years asking for more taxing authority? If so, how much?
Mayor Murray:  What we’re doing is not saying we haven’t gotten it done or we didn’t do it because we didn’t have enough money, what we’re doing is following the enacting legislation that told us when we finished a piece to come back and ask for the next piece. It’s going to take some time to build out this system considering how far we are behind other metropolitan regions
Rep. Orcutt: Thank you for that clarification, but is there going to be another proposal? Is that part of the whole plan?
Mayor Murray: We’re talking about Sound Transit 3, about the next segment of this?
Rep. Orcutt: Is there an ST4? An ST5?
Mayor Murray: I sure hope so.

And then there was this from O'Brien: "If we get the authority we are asking for, we can complete the original vision, get all the way to Tacoma, all the way to Everett, all the way to Redmond and some more connectivity in the city of Seattle. But I also think it’s true that as we add more transit, we find people want even more. There are other places that will want to ask for it, and we’ll have to deal with that when we get there. But, it’s a great problem to have.

Here's a list of all the legislators in the Sound Transit (the Regional Transit Authority) district. The bolded legislators are on the house and senate, transportation committees.


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