1. I’m currently submerged in the Designing Cities conference, an annual conference that’s put on by the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO.) This year’s conference is in Seattle, one of the 52 member cities in an organization of DOTS (transportation departments) around the world that have been coming together since 2012 to strategize on the multimodal, ped-friendly, green cities agenda.
Yesterday’s lunch keynote speaker, Tamika Butler, the executive director of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, sought to expand the brains of the predominantly white city planning world with a more comprehensive definition for fostering safe public spaces; safety is a main watchword of DOTs, and, in fact, kicks off every SDOT presentation on their mission statement slide.
Butler, a young African American woman, included slides of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice et al, in her presentation, titled “Planning While Back,” to alert the room that creating safe public spaces meant more than just building curb bulbs and protected bike lanes.
She was calling for an interdisciplinary approach that meshed, police work, for example, with DOT work. She cited Portland’s call to expand “Vision Zero”—the current mantra around eliminating pedestrian deaths on streets—to include “Zero Profiling” in traffic stops that unfairly target African Americans.
(By the way, behind closed doors and among themselves, these folks are not shy about using the word NIMBY. At an afternoon panel yesterday titled "Transportation: Creating a Place," an official from Leicester, UK...pronounced Lester...delighted in ways to create "distraction for the NIMBYs" as the other panelists and roomful of planners sighed in agreement. The distraction in Leicester, apparently, was the body of Richard the III.)
2. Following up on her pledge at last Saturday's Capitol Hill Housing renters' summit, Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant passed legislation out of her energy and environment committee yesterday that caps the move-in fees that landlords can charge new tenants.
Specifically, the legislation caps nonrefundable move-in fees (namely, background checks) at 10 percent of first month’s rent while also saying the total cost of a tenant's security deposit plus the move-in fee may not exceed first month's rent. Additionally, landlords must offer tenants a six-month plan to pay the security deposit, the move-in fees, and last month's rent.
Sawant handed out fliers that gave a concrete example of the proposal’s impact: Under current law, moving into an $1,800 apartment could hit a new tenant with a first month’s payment of $5,600 ($1,800 rent plus $1,500 security deposit, plus $500 in move-in fees, plus $1,800 in last month’s rent.) With the new restrictions, including the 10 percent cap on move-in fees, the total cap on move-in plus security deposit fees, and the payment plan option, a tenant could pay nearly 60 percent less at $2,400.
By the way, and sorry if I’m late to this, but at the summit, Sawant also flagged a concept I hadn’t heard about before: “Vacancy Decontrol.” During the audience Q&A at Saturday's Capitol Hill renters' summit, during a brief discussion of Sawant’s signature, but seemingly Quixotic, demand for rent control, state senator Jamie Pedersen (D-43, Capitol Hill) forcefully came out against rent control (props for standing up to the lefty peer pressure in a crowd of Capitol Hill renters.) Pedersen cited the traditional notion that rent control has infamously failed to hold rents down in New York City and San Francisco.
Sawant responded (and this was the fresh concept) by pointing out that rent control only works if the policy is coupled with “vacancy decontrol.” Vacancy Decontrol prevents landlords from raising rents (beyond a reasonable increase, say keyed to inflation) for apartments that come open in rent control buildings.
I asked Sawant if vacancy decontrol would run into the same problems at the state level (state law prohibits rent control.) She said it would, but argued that the standard line against rent control failed to acknowledge that the absence of concomitant vacancy decontrol blurred the debate.
3. Mayor Murray released his budget proposal yesterday. And while the headlines (and Fizz) focused on the dramatic issues of race, police accountability, and homelessness as they played out in his budget, Murray did propose a big line item for the Seattle Department of Transportation: Money for the $166 million “Center City Connector”—a downtown streetcar that would run between 7th and Virginia, head west toward the waterfront along Stewart and then run south through downtown along 1st, and finally, turn East at Jackson up to 6th, linking the current South Lake Union Streetcar with the First Hill Streetcar.
This year’s biennium budget request for the project, which would come on line in 2020, is $21 million from the commercial parking tax.
The remaining money would come from a $75 million federal grant (already secured), $30 million in utility work that doesn’t impact the general fund, $16 million from regional funds and work already done, plus another $24 million in the 2019/2020 budget.
Cars would run every five minutes between SLU and the ID and would increase ridership, SDOT says, from the 6,000 daily riders on today’s SLU and First Hill lines to 24,000.