Morning Fizz

To Gregoire's Surprise, Sawant Takes Credit

Council race endorsements, land use changes, and Sawant grandstanding?

By Josh Feit October 20, 2015

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 1. District Four (U District, Wallingford, Wedgwood) candidate Michael Maddux picked up some left wing endorsements of his own yesterday—city council veteran Nick Licata, the Seattle teachers union, and the community organizing group Washington Community Action Network.

Yesterday's Fizz noted that Maddux's opponent Rob Johnson had scored an endorsement from the hotel employees and restaurant employees union, Unite HERE Local 8.

2. The city's Department of Planning and Development (DPD) held a community meeting at the Miller Community Center on Capitol Hill last night to (get yelled at) present the proposed 2035 comprehensive plan—the blueprint for managing the city's growth over the next 20 years when Seattle is expected grow by 120,000 residents.

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The 2035 plan, which ultimately goes to the city council next spring for approval, nudges growth near public transit hubs (a change from the previous comp plan drawn up in 1995 that more generically nudged growth into "urban villages," neighborhoods that feature a mix of housing and employment. There's overlap between those two designations, which introduces a controversial element: The proposal expands the boundaries of existing urban villages in 11 neighborhoods (and creates a brand new one in North Seattle at Northeast 130th Street) by observing "10-minute walk sheds"—hubs that make sure pedestrians are always within 10-minutes of a transit stop.

The expansion in places such as Crown Hill, Roosevelt, 23rd and Jackson, North Beacon Hill, Othello, and West Seattle Junction, makes single family homeowners nervous. And mad. That anger was on display last night as longtime neighborhood activist Chris Leman heckled DPD deputy director Nathan Torgelson during DPD's presentation, shouting out that "developers" controlled the city's process. During the Q&A, Leman gave a speech about how the new comp plan would jeopardize neighborhood zoning "to suit the mayor's—developer's—plan for bigger buildings" as his accompanying hand out put it. 

DPD staff was able to straighten out one canard; an audience member asked if it was true "as I heard on the news" that the mayor's housing affordability plan only locked developers into a 10 year commitment to provide affordable housing. DPD staff assured them that developers were locked into a 50 year commitment.

And not all the comments discouraged growth. A comment left on one of the easels around the room for feedback actually pointed out how DPD may be limiting growth. The comment, written on butcher paper  in green magic marker, called BS on the "concurrency" catch-22 that only allows growth where there's already transit—a chicken and egg trick that both discourages density and transit.

The comment noted: "If we only expand urban village boundaries near light rail and rapid transit stations, and we only put those high capacity transit investments in dense neighborhoods, are we condemning large swaths of the city to never get the density that would facilitate high capacity transit investment?"

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The comment, penned by a local affordable housing advocate, concluded: "Could we create a new urban village designation for neighborhoods that don't yet have great transit, to build towards becoming a place that warrants more transit investment?"

3. Seattle port commissioner Courtney Gregoire was surprised yesterday when city council member Kshama Sawant took credit for making sure that as part of a deal between the port and the city to fund "heavy haul" road improvements for truckers, the port had agreed, per Sawant and Mike O'Brien's minority report issued just two weeks ago, Sawant said, to also upgrade restroom facilities for teamsters port workers. 

Sawant said yesterday: "When this special permit for a heavy haul network came up in committee, we voted no because the Teamsters pointed out that there are significant workers rights issues that need to be addressed...the lack of access to bathrooms is one of them, and a really urgent one. I want everyone in the public to know how impactful taking your vote seriously [as an elected official] can be, because after this minority report was issued there was some movement from the port commissioners who wanted [the heavy haul legislation to pass] and they began to show a willingness for the first time in my experience to do something about the long-needed bathrooms."

Not true says Gregoire, the port commissioner who worked on the heavy haul legislation with the city. "We were never contacted by council member Sawant, and I didn't read the minority report," she told Fizz. "The port has been working on this issue [bathrooms] for months with the mayor and city to upgrade the facilities."

Indeed, a June 2015 SDOT study, "The Terminal 18 Bathroom Facility Study"—done in concert with the state's department of commerce, outlined the workers needs and Gregoire says the port and the mayor's office and the Teamsters have already been working to implement the recommendations "for four months."

I have a call in to the Teamsters.

UPDATE: Mayor Murray was also surprised Sawant took credit. He told Fizz:

[I'm] surprised by Council member Sawant taking credit for the restroom issue at the Port. I was clear with the Port that making progress on the issue was contingent on reaching agreement. I had no idea that the council member cared about the issue, since unlike other council members, with the exception of one meeting this year she has not met with me.

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