Morning Fizz

Over Objections from O'Brien and Sawant, Council Approves Vulcan Deal

Caffeinated news featuring a $500,000 waiver for Vulcan, a new candidate, and a surprise in the Fifth District

By Josh Feit February 24, 2015

Caffeinated News

1. Only Kshama Sawant joined Mike O'Brien in opposing a $500,000 waiver for Vulcan yesterday during a full council vote. O'Brien had been the lone 'No' vote in the transportation committee on the deal two weeks ago arguing against what he saw as legislation that would turn a public street into a "corporate park."

The deal allows Vulcan to forgo the half-a-million permitting fee and another half million in standard street work in exchange for turning Eighth Ave North in South Lake Union between Thomas and Harrison Streets in front of their two planned office buildings (where the code now calls for residential buildings) into a pedestrian friendly street. The design is similar to Bell Street Park in Belltown where peds and cars mix. Supporters of the deal point out that Vulcan is spending $2.1 million of its own money on the upgrade, so the city is actually coming out ahead.

Sawant saw it differently. She said it was important to "sift through the sales pitch" because the deal reminded her of "an infomercial telling us that if you pick up the phone today you can save a million dollars on a new woonerf [the term for ped-friendly streets that's being proposed]." She explained: "But just like those infomercials, the question is not how much we will be saving as they are saying, but it is what we will be spending. And do we think this woonerf is worth the cost? At the end of the day...the city is paying a half a million dollars to build a woonerf instead of a regular side street. We all know why Vulcan has offered this. It is not out of some philanthropic desire to beautify Seattle. If it was, then they would be putting this money into the streets in the poorest neighborhoods [instead of in South Lake Union]. They're offering to do this because it will elevate their property values for the building they're working on."

Sawant said it was important to "sift through the sales pitch" because the deal reminded her of "an infomercial telling us that
if you pick up the phone today you can save a
million dollars.

(That point dovetailed with O'Brien's objection that the street would, much like the supposedly public park on Terry a few blocks east in front of Amazon, be transformed into a de facto park private park for the corporate tenants.)

"If they were willing to do this without a half a million dollar subsidy than we would look at this differently," Sawant said. "But those half a million dollars are city funds, and I think there are many better uses for a half a million dollars like sidewalks in neglected neighborhoods." 

The Low Income Housing Institute testified in favor of the bill pointing out that there is nearby low-income housing and the residents would reap the benefit of the nearby street park. Sawant addressed her traditional allies from LIHI stating: "I've looked at the two options, with and without the woonerf, and even without it, it will be a beautiful street." Here again, she was seconding O'Brien's larger philosophical objection that Vulcan's blueprint may actually isolate the street from the general public. For example, there's no retail on the ground floor in their design. 

Council member Nick Licata, typically an antagonist of corporate subsidies, voted for Vulcan's plan because he felt the woonerf was significantly different from the standard street, that the money equation favored the city (and he noted that the the council wouldn't control the purse strings on the half a million anyway, SDOT would), and because he passed an amendment designating the street as a "festival street" which creates the expectation that there will be street fairs, music shows, art festivals, and similar community celebrations "requiring activity," Licata said, "other than having cars go through it, that will activiate that area."

Plaza Roberto Maestas

O'Brien, citing another new festival street across from the Beacon Hill light rail station in front of El Centro de la Raza's planned mixed-use housing development Plaza Roberto Maestas, said, "I really like that concept," but used the festival street idea to circle back to his critique: "That [the Centro de la Raza development] is going to be a residential development by a community-based organization on the street. It'd be great to see if a business could activate it too the same way. I'm skeptical about that." O'Brien has reason to be skeptical about Vulcan's affinity for pedestrians. Another aspect of the design? Because their development is grandfathered in under code that predates then new neighborhood plan, Vulcan is building 900 parking spaces at the site, 500 more than current zoning currently allows.

The deal, supported by the local community council, passed 6 to 2 (Sally Bagshaw wasn't there) with supporter Jean Godden calling O'Brien disingenuous for supporting Licata's festival street amendment while voting against the final legislation.

Licata, speaking after Godden, said he "appreciated all the support on the amendment no matter how you vote. So, thank you."

2. Justin Simmons, a former president of the Church Council of Greater Seattle and the lefty Metropolitan Democratic Club of Seattle, told the organizers of an upcoming (March 11) Broadview Community Council Fifth District council candidate forum, that he may be running for the North Seattle seat.

"I will be sure to let you know if I will be announcing my candidacy in the next couple of days," Simmons wrote in an email to the Broadview group on Friday. "Meanwhile, if you haven't thrown your support to someone already, please wait."

Thesre are already six candidates in crowded field including another former church council leader, Sandy Brown, who was endorsed by Sally Bagshaw yesterdy, LIHI staffer Mercedes Elizalde, and Planned Parenthood staffer Halei Watkins. 

3. Speaking of city council candidates, Transportation Choices Coalition director Rob Johnson, running in the Fourth District—the U District east to Sand Point—is nearly even with longtime incumbent Jean Godden in fundraising.

While Godden has raised more money overall, $39,000 to Johnson's $24,000, Johnson has nearly as much money in the bank. Johnson has $16,000 cash on hand to Godden's $18,000. Godden has a five month headstart on Johnson.

Democratic party activist Michael Maddux has raised about $7,000, campaign finance records show, with about $3,000 cash on hand.


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