Morning Fizz

Despite Press Conference Kumbaya, O'Brien Not Exactly on Board with HALA

Caffeinated news featuring new math, powerful women, and rent control

By Josh Feit July 21, 2015

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1. Even though Mayor Ed Murray trotted out council member Mike O’Brien at the big housing affordability press conference last week, identifying O’Brien as the chair of a new special council committee that’s expected to shepherd Murray’s recommendations through, O’Brien has told me that he’s not all in on the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) committee recs.

O'Brien, of course, was key to Murray's optics last week because O'Brien had been pushing a different affordable housing proposal for months—a blanket "linkage" fee on all new development to pay for affordable housing. The mayor's proposal replaced that with a fee on commercial development only, plus a mandate that developers include affordable housing in all new development in exchange for an across-the-board upzone.

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Murray’s proposal also included a headline grabbing challenge to Seattle’s sacred single family neighborhoods. While O’Brien told me he supports "in principle" tinkering around the edges of SFZs (rezoning about six percent of SFZs around transit corridors, urban villages, and SFZ/multi-family borders)—though he still wants to evaluate the specifics of each rezone—he also told me that allowing the possibility of tearing down an existing house for new duplex or triplex construction in the remaining 94 percent of the SFZs “would be taking it further than I’m willing to go—or I think the city is willing to go.”

O’Brien also laid down a serious prerequisite. He says he only agreed to sign off on the mayor’s grand bargain  if his own independent analysis confirmed the mayor’s staff analysis that the new proposal bested O'Brien's in terms of housing production.

O'Brien's original linkage fee proposed charging five percent per square foot (on average, over the different zones in the program), for about $546 million for 5,660 units over ten years for a mix of incomes ranging from 30 percent to 80 percent of AMI, according to the city. The new proposal, the mandatory inclusionary zoning program and the commercial linkage fee combo, will raise $541 million and produce 6,043 units, the city says, at 60 percent of the median income. O'Brien says that seems to "provide more housing at deeper affordability."

But O’Brien says he told the mayor he’s bringing in his original linkage fee consultant (Rick Jacobus) to review the new math. “It’s not that I don’t trust folks doing these numbers [the mayor’s staff], but things have been moving really fast. We have our [own] experts that helped work up the linkage fee. They’ll review the numbers for the council and tell us if, in fact, the assumptions the models are showing—‘this was 5,000 units, now you get 6,000.’—are right. I’m on board—with the caveat that I’m going to review these.”

O’Brien says the numbers will be reviewed by an August 10 council meeting.

O’Brien concluded: “I’ve known from day one that the committee the mayor appointed did not have fair representation from neighborhoods. What I told everyone was, if you’re going to do anything on there that affects neighborhoods, just know that you don’t just get to roll out a recommendation and it’s going to be blessed. It’s gotta come through a council process.”

Editorializing here, but the it's odd to say that committee members who pushed the idea of remaking SFZs (the committee vote was 21-1), like Sightline's Alan Durning, don't represent neighborhoods. Durning owns a single family home in Ballard.

2. NARAL Pro-Choice Washington issued its endorsements in the city council races yesterday; and yes, choice is a local issue—health and social services, intertwined with women’s services, are funded at the local level.

NARAL interviewed all the candidates to see which ones were the strongest advocates ("champions") for reproductive rights and to gauge which ones have a handle on feminist issues like intersectionality. Here’s what they decided.

District 1: Dual: Brianna Thomas, Shannon Braddock

District 2: Dual: Tammy Morales, Bruce Harrell

District 3: No endorsement

District 4: Dual: Jean Godden, Michael Maddux

District 5: Dual: Mercedes Elizalde, Halei Watkins

District 6: Mike O'Brien

District 7: Sally Bagshaw

Position 8: No endorsement

Position 9: Lorena Gonzalez


No endorsement (?) in Central Seattle’s District Three where not only are two power house, high profile women running—incumbent Kshama Sawant and Urban League leader Pamela Banks—but women’s commission activist Morgan Beach and gay rights leader Rod Hearne are also in the mix. The reason, according to NARAL, is that all four candidates totally got it and a four-way endorsement would have seemed meaningless.

The no endorsement isn’t as surprising in the at-large Position Eight race where a pack of white guys is running, including council incumbent Tim Burgess, who once worked for a consulting firm that had a contract with the conservative anti-choice, anti-gay group, Concerned Women of America. (Burgess himself says he didn’t work on the account.) According to NARAL, all the Position Eight candidates were pro-choice, but none of them emerged as champions on the issue.

And more than noteworthy: It’s newsworthy that Michael Maddux scored a dual endorsement with Jean Godden in U. District-to-Sand Point’s District Four. Not only has incumbent Godden been playing the gender card in her race against a bunch of dudes, but this also boosts Maddux hopes as the progressive alternative to Rob Johnson who got a mixed blessing this week—an $80,000 independent expenditure TV ad promoting his candidacy (a plus) from conservative business interests (a negative.)

 3. There was Kshama Sawant campaign rally disguised as a rent control debate last night at Town Hall. Check out PubliCola's tweets.

Also be sure to check out Erica C. Barnett's tweets—where she notes that Sawant was sounding, no big surprise, very much like Danny Westeneat when it comes to HALA.

4. In case you missed it, Josh Kelety posted an in-depth story yesterday afternoon looking at the debate over the HALA committee's (and the mayor's) assertion that single family zoning is tied to racism.


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