Morning Fizz

The Final Word of the Year from the Year's Biggest Winner

Calling herself an urbanist, brand new at-large city council member Lorena González gets last say on the G-word, growth.

By Josh Feit December 31, 2015

Let’s end the year this way. With a quote from Lorena González, the brand new at-large city council member who won with 78 percent of the vote, getting more votes than anyone else this year.

I asked her what she made of this year’s historic election.

In my race for sure and in the other races of course, I think the big takeaway, and what I see as one of my mandates is dealing with growth and density. I clearly ran against an opponent who…he was not excited about the growth in our city. There are things in the growth in our city that I’m not excited about. Gentrification is something I’m not excited about. Displacement of communities of color and immigrants—not something I’m excited about. As a byproduct of our growth.

But I think the resounding success that I had and a lot of other urbanist candidates had is a clear indication that the voters of Seattle are eager to see our city move forward with some practical solutions to deal with the growing pains that we are currently experiencing. I really see it as people are excited about the growth that we’re experiencing, but also are looking to elect people that to govern the issue in a way that is still equitable and in a way that we can continue to have shared prosperity in our city. And that was my big takeaway from my race in particular and from the election in general.

Our problems aren’t siloed. Our problems bleed from district to district. From District Five to District Four to District Three to District Two. When we’re talking about traffic congestion, that’s not a problem that’s unique to one district. But it’s a problem that is relevant to all of us.

If González thought dealing with growth was the biggest issue of the 2015 election, what did she think of the biggest related story this year—the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda recommendations? Particularly, what’d she make of Kshama Sawant’s demands during election season for candidates to support charging developers the highest across-the-board fee for all development versus the mayor’s call for a grand bargain between the city and developers that trades upzones for fees on commercial development?

And of course, what did she make of the great 65 percent question. (Note: While only 57 percent of the city is zoned for single family zones, another 8 percent fills out those neighborhoods with exclusive open green space.)

 Here’s what González said:

Are we trying to trying to create more affordable housing or are we just trying to punish developers. I think that charging the highest fee possible, the blanket linkage fee, is a solution to bop developers over the head, but it is not the policy solution to increase the affordable housing stock in our city. I’ve seen the math. I’ve seen the numbers. And the reality is. Whether you like economics or not. Whether you like capitalism or not. There is a balance between creating an incentive to build housing and a disincentive to build housing. And in my view, the commercial linkage fee and not going with the residential linkage fee is the best solution. Setting the fee at a place where we are maximizing the amount of affordable housing that is going to be produced from that linkage fee is the trick. And we can’t go over that limit without sacrificing the building of affordable housing. And I am not willing to sacrifice creating hundreds of affordable housing units for the sole purpose of punishing a capitalistic developer.

When I look at urban cities like us, Portland, their single family home zoning is significantly smaller than ours. And cities like Boston, significantly smaller areas are zoned as single family. And that is a result of not only understanding the history of why have single family zoned homes, but also a reflection of a clear policy that was changed to address a clear need. The next step is to evaluate whether a portion of the single family zones need to be reduced to create more space for a reasonable projection of growth for our city. I want to make sure that we preserve some parts of our city to be single family because that’s an important part of any city, but I question whether 65 percent is the right threshold…whether that’s the floor. And to me, I believe 65 percent is the floor.

We have to stay committed to tying that affordbality piece to zoning. Upzoning tied to affordability is the best way to create affordable housing.  


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