Josh Feit is off this week.
Today's caffeinated news features pushback on a plan to make private developers build affordable housing and tense relations between employees and management at the Space Needle:
1. Last Tuesday, mayor Ed Murray and Seattle City Council member Mike O’Brien rolled out legislation to bring to life one of the cornerstones of the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda committee’s 65 recommendations to address Seattle’s housing crisis: commercial developers will shoulder a per-square-foot linkage fee on all new projects, and all new residential development will have to set aside affordable, rent-restricted units for low-wage workforce housing. In return, residential developers will get an optional one-floor building height bonus. (I reported on this in more detail last week.) The legislation, presented by Murray and O'Brien alongside developers, affordable housing advocates, and low-wage workers, has the support of a slew of local social and economic justice groups such as the Tenants Union, Puget Sound Sage, and Working Washington.
To accommodate the height bonus (and the success of the mandatory inclusionary housing program) all commercial and multifamily areas in the city will be upzoned. However resistance is already brewing and will likely come to a boil at a public hearing this Wednesday evening at city hall where the council will hear comments on the HALA recommendations. John Fox, founder of the Seattle Displacement Coalition and avid fighter of new development, sent out an email to his coalition days after the legislation was unveiled condemning the proposal (saying the upzone would lead to the widespread loss of existing affordable housing stock) and demanding its immediate suspension until more money is extracted from developers in the form of impact fees. “It's as if O’Brien and the mayor are completely deaf to the outcry coming from our neighborhoods over the problems we're already facing due to the tsunami of growth washing across our neighborhoods,” Fox wrote, calling for people to speak out against the legislation at Wednesday’s event. (Quick fact-check: Both Murray and O'Brien aren't quite deaf to the development and density skeptics contingent, judging from the mayor's backing off on changes in single family neighborhoods and O'Brien cheerleading legislation density restrictions in low-rise zones and pod apartment regulations.)
Last week, O’Brien—who is ditching his signature blanket residential linkage fee in hopes of upholding HALA’s grand bargain—told PubliCola last week that once skeptical neighborhood activists see “maps” of where the upzoning will actually occur, they will be more receptive. “I think there’s been a lot of fear raised about converting all single family zones, and we need to try and set that aside and focus on where we’re going to be making actual zoning changes, which is going to be within the existing multifamily and commercial zones already within the urban villages and urban centers,” O’Brien said. He added that extensive neighborhood outreach regarding the upzone will be conducted over the next year, preempting the legislation’s anticipated implementation in 2017.
But while city council meetings pertaining to housing and land use tend to occur in the middle of the damn day, this hearing will take place, refreshingly for this nine-to-fiver, in the evening hours—starting at 5:30pm on Wednesday, September 9 in council chambers at city hall—potentially allowing for a broader range of perspectives to be represented in the discussion.
2. Yesterday, around 60 employees of the Space Needle and members of regional hospitality union Unite Here Local 8—which represents around 50,000 workers in the hospitality industry across Oregon and Washington—demonstrated (in fitting Labor Day fashion) outside the landmark at Seattle Center, amid the hustle and bustle of Bumbershoot music festival, protesting a new contract proposal from management, which they say doesn’t guarantee job security.
The Labor Day protest is the latest development in the ongoing tussle between Space Needle employees and their management, Space Needle LLC (the corporation which owns the structure), since the last contract between the two parties expired four years ago. The main point of contention has been including language in the contract that guarantees job security. “The biggest sticking point since the beginning has been subcontracting,” said Michael Hall, a Unite Here Local 8 spokesperson who's been a Space Needle elevator operator for the past eight years. Hall went on to claim that Space Needle management has recently started hiring seasonal Flex contract workers to do multiple jobs at higher pay rates than union employees.
The disagreement over subcontracting led to a tense standoff between employees and management. Unite Here Local 8 says that Space Needle workers were denied raises for over 1,100 days as a form of retaliation for their contract demands. In February of this year, a National Labor Relations Board panel found that the Space Needle corporation violated federal labor law by participating in activities intended to discourage union membership such as distributing letters to employees encouraging them to resign from the union. Over this past summer, management gave employees raises (retroactively since 2011 with scheduled future increases) and presented them with a new contract proposal, which the union turned down for not including language regarding subcontracting. “A raise today doesn’t matter if our jobs are gone in two months if we sign the contract,” Hall added. “That’s what we’re worried about.”
“The impasse is a result of Local 8’s attempt to write new language into the contract after stoking unfounded fears of job security despite decades of a stable bargaining relationship and long [employee] retention rates. The Space Needle hasn’t recently, isn’t currently, and doesn’t expect to explore subcontracting represented in food and beverage or elevator operator positions,” read a statement released in response to the protest attributed to the space needle management.
Space Needle employees at one point briefly occupied the intersection of Broad and John Streets, stopping traffic for about an hour. Seattle Police Department's on-site officers made no arrests.
Council member Kshama Sawant attended the protest, along with Jon Grant, former Tenants Union director and candidate for at-large Position Eight city council seat.