Extra Fizz: Murray's Grand Bargain Gets Reality Check in Wallingford and Another Democrat for Charters in Olympia

Upzone faces stiff resistance at neighborhood meeting and charter fix passes in Olympia.

By Josh Feit January 21, 2016

Thanks to the (long-awaited) Pramila Jayapal news monopolizing this morning's Fizz (she's running for U.S. representative Jim McDermott's open seat), I didn't have a chance to get to some other good Fizz. 

1. With two Democrats joining the Republicans (and one Republican joining the Democrats), the Republican-controlled state senate passed a bill yesterday that saved initiative 1240, the pro-charter schools measure voters approved in 2012.

The Washington state supreme court had tossed the initiative last year, ruling that public money couldn’t go to charter schools. The ruling threatened the state’s eight existing charter schools with closure. The bill’s sponsors, state senator Steve Litzow (R-41, Mercer Island) and Mark Mullet (D-5, Issaquah) rewired the funding source to state lottery revenues; those dollars aren’t restricted to traditional schools.

The two Democrats who voted for the bill were longtime “ed reform” and charter supporter state senator Steve Hobbs (D-44, Lake Stevens), and also the Democratic cosponsor Mullet, obviously.

However, one other Democrat, state senator Cyrus Habib (D-48, Kirkland) tells me he would have voted for the bill. Habib was absent yesterday; he had “an emergency dental appointment in the morning and my dad’s chemotherapy appointment in the afternoon."

Habib’s yes vote comes with an important caveat. “I would have voted to allow these schools to keep operating,” he tells me, “as well as for the proposed provision connecting this issue to the timely McCleary implementation.”

Habib is referring to an amendment to the charter bill proposed by state senator David Frockt (D-46, North Seattle), which made the charter fix contingent on passing a budget that meets the state supreme court’s McCleary mandate to fully fund public schools.

The legislature, which has put an additional $2.5 billion in aggregate into the now $18.2 billion K-12 schools budget over the last three sessions toward meeting the court order, is still about $5 billion short on teachers' salaries. It is also relying on about $3.6 billion per biennium in local levies which violates the court’s rule that the state is responsible for the K-12 tab. And the court is holding the state in contempt until they man up.

Frockt’s McCleary amendment—a bit ironic given that the Democrats were deriding GOP statements late last year that insisted on tying a McCleary fix to a charter fix—failed along partisan lines. (It's just as ironic that the Republicans balked at the connection this time.)

I asked Habib—given his big footnote about tying the charters fix to McCleary—if he would have voted for the charter bill even after the GOP killed Frockt’s amendment. He said: “I would have been a yes.”

2. The mayor's plans to implement his grand bargain for affordable housing—the deal between developers and affordable housing advocates that expands and upzones urban villages around the city in exchange for making developers who benefit from the upzones pay per-square-footage fees—got a reality check at last night's Wallingford community council meeting.

Screen shot 2016 01 21 at 1.37.21 pm ncvsle

An estimated 150 neighbors showed up to denounce Murray's plan for two hours after being summoned by a handout condemning the mayor's plan because, the editorialized flyer warned, it  "intends to" :

Change all single-family zoning within Urban Villages to multi-family zoning, greatly increase the allowed heights and size in multi-family zones and in commercial zones, push out locally-owned small businesses that cannot afford the higher rents in new mid-rise mixed-use buildings, Accelerate demolition of existing affordable housing, Replace affordable housing with 'top-dollar' houses and apartments, Increase rents for non-subsidized apartments, Increase the parking shortage, [and] Create new legal 'loopholes' for developers...

New District Four council member Rob Johnson, who expressed strong support for the upzone deal during the election (and has been a longtime supporter of uzpones and density) was there last night (Wallingford is in District Four.) He was not asked to speak. 

I have a message in to both Johnson and the mayor's office to get their reaction to what was evidently a shock to affordable housing advocates, social justice nonprofits, labor groups, and urbanists who have been organizing (or, uh, at least setting up websites, posting on Facebook and writing editorials) in support of the deal for months.

Editorializing myself here. While single-family zones within urban villages will be changed to multifamily zones, that's always been the vision of the city's growth plan. And while it's also true that zoning will be changed to give developers an extra floor of height, developers will also pay into an affordable housing fund. And certainly, the "parking shortage is going to increase." But with 120,000 new people moving here in the next 20 years how could it be otherwise? In the mean time, housing prices will increase too unless the city changes its zoning rules to build more units to accommodate the growth. And the answer to the parking crunch isn't requiring minimum parking with new development in urban villages, it's expanding urban villages so people aren't dependent on cars.

As for "pushing out locally owned small businesses that cannot afford the higher rents" and "accelerating demolition of existing affordable housing," I'll let the mayor, who just cued up popular bipartisan legislation in Olympia giving property tax breaks to landlords that preserve 25 percent of their buildings for affordable housing at 60 percent of the area median income, address that.

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