House Speaker Frank Chopp Made Me Do It
1. Frank made me do it.
That was basically the explanation from two progressive Democrats, who, in succession yesterday, voted against their own amendment and then their own legislation.
Speaker of the house Frank Chopp (D-43, Wallingford) opposes a bill backed by Seattle progressives that would give a tax break to property owners who set aside 25 percent of units for affordable workforce housing. Chopp, a longtime advocate for affordable housing, doesn’t disagree with creating the housing, but he opposes giving a tax break to private developers. Last week, he rewrote the bill, which came over from the senate on a 36-13 vote with every Seattle senator, including progressive leaders like state senator Pramila Jayapal (D-37, Southeast Seattle) and Bob Hasegawa (D-11, Beacon Hill)—voting yes. Chopp changed the bill so the tax break could only go to nonprofit developers.
The bill’s original proponents say limiting the policy to nonprofits would decimate the goal; the city estimates the original bill would create 3,000 to 4,000 units, while limiting it to nonprofits—who already develop affordable housing— would add zero units. In yesterday’s house finance committee, house Democrats set out to amend the bill back to its original version. Representative Chris Reykdal (D-22, Tumwater) queued up an amendment that would have replaced Chopp’s version with the original legislation, a house companion to the senate version that had been sponsored by Seattle freshman state representative Noel Frame (D-36, Ballard).
However, speaker Chopp showed up to lobby his caucus members, and according to Reykdal “made it very clear the bill would not come up for a vote on the floor and would be held in committee.” Reykdal, who believes “as a matter of policy we’ve gotta have forprofit developers in, to make affordable housing work," agreed to pull his amendment, nonetheless.
Republicans, who also supported the original bill (Republican senator Joe Fain, R-47, Kent, had cosponsored the bill with Seattle liberal senator David Frockt, D-46, North Seattle, on the senate side), had already cued up an identical amendment to Reykdal’s. However, Democrats control the committee, and Reykdal and Frame herself, along with the rest of the Democrats, voted against the GOP amendment. Next: they voted to send Chopp’s version through.
“Chopp and [Democratic house majority leader representative] Pat Sullivan walked over and [the Democrats] agreed to Chopp’s version,” Republican representative Drew Stokesbary (R-31, Auburn), who sponsored the GOP amendment, groused.
“What you saw today were my colleagues and I coming together around a strategy to keep the bill moving forward,” Frame told me. Reykdal agreed, saying he and Frame simply want to keep the bill in play with the hope that it can still be amended back to its original version with 10 days to go in the session.
“Every damn Seattle [senate] Democrat voted for the bill the way it was, and my job is to make it clear we have the Democratic votes on the floor of the house to pass that version. That’s the kind of pressure we owe our speaker,” Reykdal concluded (a bit ironically given he just caved to pressure from Chopp.)
The bill is a central piece of mayor Ed Murray’s housing affordability and livability agenda—and a coalition of lefty social justice groups and (gasp!) developers that support HALA, sent Chopp a letter yesterday urging him to pass the original bill.
The letter comes with this convincing rejoinder to Chopp:
Limiting the property tax exemption to only nonprofit building owners, instead of allowing all property owners to use the program, means no regulated affordable housing units will be created. This is because nonprofit housing owners already utilize funding sources that mandate affordability for 40‐50 years. The PTE was specifically created as a tool to bring for‐profit existing housing stock, particularly older, naturally affordable units into a city’s regulated affordable housing stock.
2. City council member Lisa Herbold is proposing legislation today that will deny the Seattle Department of Transportation’s $1.4 million request to buy out the Pronto bike share nonprofit; the nonprofit is broke and, dedicated to adding bike sharing to Seattle’s transportation system, SDOT wants to buy the bike share infrastructure from Pronto and then bid it out to a contractor to revive and expand it.
Herbold tells me, “I can see that bike sharing could be a key piece [of our transportation network], but not one that the city should fund.” She reasons that voters were just asked to approve a hefty $930 million transportation levy and now the city needs be mindful of spending more public money on transportation. Her alternative plan for the money SDOT wants? Spend it on the bike master plan or “in particular, [the] safe routes to schools [plan]”—transit programs the public already signed off on.
Herbold says rather than socializing bike sharing, a private sector company, much like Car2Go in the car sharing world, should take it on.
However, freshman council member and transit advocate Rob Johnson (along with transportation committee chair Mike O'Brien), supports SDOT’s request and says private sector bike sharing companies wouldn’t fulfill the city’s equity goals; Johsnon sees bike sharing as a tool for “first mile, last mile” commute trips that connect transit hubs to neighborhoods, with a particular focus on serving low-income commuters.
Johnson, the former director of Transportation Choices Coalition, tells me: “Acquisition allows us to determine what we want the system to look like. Is our goal a system designed for…. equity? Lisa's plan assures us that we will get a system only designed for tourists, I'd like a system that works for all Seattleites.”
Johnson is coming to today’s transportation committee vote armed with maps that show how for-profit systems in New York City, San Francisco, and Miami Beach “serve limited geographic areas, and are geared towards tourists—not residents of the city.”
A map of New York City’s bike share system (which is privately owned) stops dead at 86th St. as the Upper West Side, for example, transitions into Harlem.
Herbold points out, though, that Car2Go serves her South Park low-income neighborhood in West Seattle, noting that the city has leverage over the company because it controls the parking spots around town. Similarly, she says, SDOT controls right of way for bike sharing docks.
Herbold concedes, though, that she doesn't appear to have the votes to stall SDOT's plan. The vote is scheduled for today at 2 in the transportation committee.
3. Transgender community leader Danni Askini made it official today, announcing she's running for the open 43rd District state house seat; incumbent state representative Brady Walkinshaw (D-43, Capitol Hill) is giving up the seat to run for U.S. congress.
Askini rose to prominence as the founder of the Gender Justice League, a group she started in 2012 that has focused on fighting hate crimes against the LGBTQ community and most recently successfully blocked GOP legislation to prevent transgender people from using the bathroom that matches their gender.
Askini would be the first trans person elected to office in Washington state. Askini enters a crowded field which already includes, among others, longtime affordable housing advocate Nicole Macri and gay rights activist and consultant Thomas Pitchford.