Morning Fizz

Rising Rents and Detaining Kayaktivists

Caffeinated news featuring city council member Mike O'Brien, the comprehensive plan, and historical context

By Josh Feit June 15, 2015

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1. Seattle city council member Mike O'Brien was detained by the U.S. Coast Guard this morning as he, along with about 50 other kayaktivists tried to block Shell Oil's Polar Pioneer rig from leaving Elliott Bay on its way to the Arctic to begin summer drilling.

O'Brien was one of 10 kayaktivists who was detained early this morning. KIRO TV has a report

And O'Brien explains his kayaktivism on his Facebook page.

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Council member Mike O’Brien protests Shell

Image: Josh Kelety

2. The more urban villages the better, according to a report on Seattle's comprehensive plan update in the Urbanist.

And that means—while one of the options, the Department of Planning and Development's fourth alternative, does increase the number of urban villages—there needs to be a fifth option, the Urbanist says. 

For those that haven't been following DPD's 2035 comp plan update, they've outlined four options for managing the new growth (120,000 new people expected in the next 20 years).

•Guiding growth throughout the city into “urban villages”—a term that includes “urban centers”  in Downtown, First Hill/Capitol Hill, Uptown, South Lake Union, the U District, and Northgate, “hub urban villages” around jumping neighborhood business districts in places such as Ballard, Fremont, and West Seattle Junction, and “residential hub villages” around lively, but smaller neighborhood business districts including Columbia City, Rainier Beach, Wallingford, and Upper Queen Anne. This is the strategy the city has followed for the past 20 years under the first comp plan established in 1994.

•Guiding growth mainly into the six “urban centers”...

•Guiding growth to urban villages that are near light rail (within a 10-minute walk shed), potentially adding a new urban village—to the current six—near a possible 130th Street light rail station...

•Guiding growth to urban villages near both light rail and major bus hubs. Options three and four, unlike the other two, add substantial development to Southeast Seattle—which turns out to be a mixed blessing because it also comes with the highest risk for displacement absent public investments for affordable housing...

The Urbanist calls the fourth option, which creates a batch of new urban villages (mostly in Southeast Seattle) "the clear winner," but says a fifth option is necessary to help offset a serious problem—the high likelihood of displacement.

However, there's a fine-tuned point in the post that shouldn't go overlooked: Calling the comp plan's second option (concentrating growth in a few high density urban centers) "the rising rents alternative," the post indicates that while adding development in Southeast Seattle is likely to cause gentrification, eschewing density in the neighborhoods and corralling it in the urban centers may actually be worse for rising rents—and therefore, a bigger cause of gentrification in the long term.

With that in mind, stay tuned for their upcoming post for a recommended fifth option.

3. Speaking of rising rents: The Puget Sound Business Journal had an interesting report on Friday that quotes longtime local rental market expert Mike Scott saying the media has been exaggerating the idea that rents are skyrocketing.

Putting things in historical context, Scott told the PSBJ:

The bottom line, Scott said, is that over the past 15 years rents rose just under 3.2 percent annually, while landlords saw real estate taxes increase 6.3 percent a year and utilities going up 5 percent a year. Scott said they are the two biggest operating costs investors face, accounting for 45 percent of total operating costs.

"Don't get us wrong," Scott said. "We do have a crisis. But it is not a crisis of skyrocketing rents. It is a crisis of skyrocketing hyperbole."



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