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Seattle neighborhoods fight needed land use reform, density

Once the neighborhoods organized as a force for change, pushing City Hall for improvements. Now, they are the ultimate roadblock to remaking the city in healthier ways.
A Craftsman-style home in Wallingford.

A Craftsman-style home in Wallingford. brewbooks/Flickr

During a discussion about efforts to reform Seattle’s land use regulations, I was reminded of the taxonomy that divides the city’s most influential constituencies into four: labor, neighborhoods, developers, and environmentalists. Which power base is most powerful? Seattle’s neighborhoods are ascendant and they are abusing their power, shifting from fighting for things to fighting against them.

A proposed regulatory reform package has sparked controversy in the neighborhoods. The original proposal reduces parking requirements near areas that have high transit use and capacity. Reducing parking in these areas actually reduces the cost of housing by allowing developers to spend less parking spaces for cars where people don’t need them.

Second, the proposal allows for retail use in multi-family neighborhoods like those on parts of already dense areas like Capitol Hill. The low-rise zones in the proposal aren’t required to have retail, but could if there was demand. This part of the proposal makes these neighborhoods more walkable and lively by putting services and amenities near by.

Finally, the proposal would limit appeals to new development under the State Environmental Policy Act. Seattle’s law has requirements that aren’t needed under state law. Reducing appeals would lower costs for development, making it easier to build needed housing, which in turn would increase housing supply, and decrease price. Most appeals under SEPA fail anyway since projects always comply with legal requirements, making appeals a costly speed bump.

The proposals are, arguably, rather modest and would promote job creation, housing, and sustainable density, but hit a raw nerve among opponents of growth and neighborhood activists.

I was a neighborhood activist in the 1990s and served on the North Beacon Hill Community Council, the Greater Duwamish District Council, North Beacon and South Park planning committees, the Beacon Hill Chamber of Commerce, and numerous other committees and groups associated with neighborhood advocacy and planning.

Neighborhood planning in the '90s was not without controversy. Many neighbors were suspicious of the planning process. The Comprehensive Plan in those days was something of a revolutionary document: Seattle would grow, but it would preserve single-family neighborhoods by putting that growth, and tax dollars for neighborhood infrastructure, in so-called urban villages.

The urban village concept was criticized as a kind of vanguard of socialism by some, and regarded by others as too conservative. Nevertheless, the Urban Villages would host growth but receive the bulk of city planning and investment. The trade appealed to many Seattle neighborhood folks, pairing growth and density with sidewalks, streetlights, and parks. Growth would come, but the inconvenience would be off set by amenities.

A Saul Alinsky-style organizer, Jim Diers (who would eventually become the first director of the Office of Neighborhoods) built the template for neighborhood empowerment, encouraging disadvantaged neighbors to get involved, make noise, and ask for city dollars to follow what people in neighborhoods actually needed and wanted, not the fiat of planners in City Hall. The hybrid of planning and grassroots neighborhood activism was a brilliant innovation, wedding poor neighborhoods, Lesser Seattle, and Forward Thrust in a marriage of convenience and progress.

What happened? How did earnest, liberal, Birkenstock-wearing activists pushing for parks, play equipment, sidewalks, and kiosks turn into affluent, highly motivated saboteurs of new development, change, and density? Three things happened in the last two decades that shifted neighborhoods from the “what we want” caucus to the “what we won’t” lobby.

  • The Housing Market: The dominant housing type in Seattle is single-family, and the El Dorado of real estate is the Craftsman. In the rest of the country massive lending, building, and selling was going on, mostly of single-family homes. Not in Seattle, where there’s no room to build more single-family homes. Neighborhoods, composed mostly of single-family homeowners, began to see their assets appreciate.

Opposing more housing protects the hallowed single-family form with two bathrooms, a yard, and place to park. Scarcity of the Craftsman (or things like it) means they get more expensive, creating more wealth for their owners.


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Comments:

Posted Mon, May 21, 5:24 a.m. Inappropriate

Building developments with fewer parking spaces is only good if the apartments with no spaces are rented to people with no cars However, since people are likely to rent no parking space apartments assuming they can find parking on the street, the street parking will become a nightmare. There needs to be a way to assure that people who by apartments without parking also don't have cars. I'm not sure how that is done. Maybe landlords need to disclose to potential renters that on street parking won't be an option? Maybe there needs to be a more stringent parking permit system? But simple building large complexes with parking for only 60% of the units is a recipe for disaster.

Silenus

Posted Mon, May 21, 8:23 a.m. Inappropriate

With the RPZ process it would be pretty easy to limit street parking. If you live in a building without parking, then you aren't eligible for an RPZ permit.

talisker

Posted Mon, May 21, 7:49 a.m. Inappropriate

How DARE neighborhoods fight what Roger Valdez tells them they need! Don't they know who he is? He's read through Seattle's land use code and blogged about it, for God's sake!

BlueLight

Posted Mon, May 21, 9:31 a.m. Inappropriate

Helpful, thanks.

MissRuby

Posted Mon, May 21, 8:36 a.m. Inappropriate

All of this talk of density is really about the transfer of wealth from the middle class to the wealthy. We will all wind up being renters, paying the 1% for the privilege of living near a bus stop.

talisker

Posted Mon, May 21, 8:36 a.m. Inappropriate

I support TOD if it builds in significant mechanisms to produce an increase of affordable housing (at or below 50% median) and jobs for residents where the new construction is happening.

But Roger doesn't really talk about those things. He subscribes to a trickle-down theory of housing affordability-- as if developers in private industry really want to build affordable housing and end homelessness, and the only thing stopping them are elitist homeowners. His solution, the deregulation of land use code, would, by itself, do absolutely nothing to increase housing affordability, provide jobs to those who most need them, or address global warming in a substantive way. That's because housing developers seek to maximize profit by appealing to condo owners and high-end renters.

The majority of people's housing needs are not currently met by new development, especially in Seattle. Most rental housing is older housing stock. Developers need to be compelled-- in exchange for some kind of relaxing of regulations-- to devote some of their profits from new development into a fund that will offset the social costs of gentrification. And we need to require that jobs on new development partly contribute to a pathway out of poverty for people suffering some of the worst effects of our current Depression. Until we can talk about THAT, this talk about the evils of neighborhood plans for inhibiting "density" is still primarily greenwash.

Trevor

Posted Mon, May 21, 10:51 p.m. Inappropriate

Developers need to be compelled-- in exchange for some kind of relaxing of regulations-- to devote some of their profits from new development into a fund that will offset the social costs of gentrification. And we need to require that jobs on new development partly contribute to a pathway out of poverty for people suffering some of the worst effects of our current Depression. Until we can talk about THAT, this talk about the evils of neighborhood plans for inhibiting "density" is still primarily greenwash.

What utter crap. All your phony "progressive" solution will do is drive costs through the roof here. And once you've driven out every family and turned this city into San Francisco, you will piss and moan and wonder how it happened.

NotFan

Posted Mon, May 21, 8:46 a.m. Inappropriate

How did earnest, liberal, Birkenstock-wearing activists pushing for parks, play equipment, sidewalks, and kiosks turn into affluent, highly motivated saboteurs of new development, change, and density?

So disrespectful but that's Mr. Valdez's MO. He's right and everyone else is wrong.

westello

Posted Mon, May 21, 9:17 a.m. Inappropriate

I think that is a really selective history of the neighborhood movement, Roger. You might be right about higher density but wishing away cars has never worked. Has anyone done a census on cars in Seattle? from looking around my neighborhood I would guess the numbers are going up, not down.

kieth

Posted Mon, May 21, 10:53 p.m. Inappropriate

The percentage of people who own cars in Seattle is 84%, same as 10 years ago. That just outrages Roger, who despises Seattle with bitter passion -- and especially its comfortable single-family neighborhoods -- for it.

NotFan

Posted Mon, May 21, 9:40 a.m. Inappropriate

Poor little blulite. He's so good at attacking people, but oh so bad at making a point, any point at all. What's your point little blulite, besides personal attacks? One would think you have a vendetta. That's not ideas, that's revenge. Poor pointless blulite.

Posted Mon, May 21, 9:41 a.m. Inappropriate

What I continue to find remarkable about dialogs on "density" is their narrow scope. There seems to be a belief that growth is inevitable. After all, haven't all the tech companies just announced that they're hiring a gazillion more people. We have to put them *somewhere*.

But that's just it! Why can't these additional jobs go to areas that are desperate for growth: the Kitsap and Olympic peninsulas, east of the mountains, Skagit Valley? I don't understand the insistence on continuing to squeeze us into smaller and smaller spaces while there are communities who would truly benefit from and welcome the opportunities that come with growth. Tech companies continue to tell the rest of us how we can now be "more connected" without having to be in the same space, so why aren't they practicing what they preach?

At what point does Seattle or Redmond or Kirkland begin to ask what's possible for the region and not just themselves?

Posted Mon, May 21, 10:31 a.m. Inappropriate

Thank you, thank you, thank you, vannamocha! My position has long been to ask why we aren't challenging the underlying premise that growth is inevitable, when in fact it's only inevitable if we allow it? It's great to know someone else doesn't just accept that proposition blindly.

I also love that you imply the question why will we need tech companies to keep us "more connected" when, if the density crowd gets their way, we will be living literally on top of and surrounded by each other? I feel claustrophobic just thinking about that. Seattle already feels desperately overcrowded to me.

mspat

Posted Mon, May 21, 10:20 a.m. Inappropriate

Trevor, why should developers bear the full burden of solving the affordable housing shortage? That shortage is being driven by massive societal forces that society as a whole needs to be responsible for.

Seattle is becoming wealthier. People want to live here. Developers produce housing that people want. That housing costs too much to build to be affordable to a large portion of households on the lower end of the income spectrum. If we encumber development it will only make that problem worse and create a bigger affordability gap, while providing a very small amount of subsidized affordable housing. There just isn't that much extra developer profit to take.

Affordable housing is a problem that needs to be addressed by subsidy derived from society as a whole. But developers sure do make a convenient, crowd pleasing scapegoat, don't they Trevor?

Posted Mon, May 21, 10:54 a.m. Inappropriate

Developers "make a convenient, crowd pleasing scapegoat" because they are the ones who cut a fat hog from density and the "induced demand" for it that you have consistently pimped for.

You lot don't give a shit about the poor, or even the middle class.

ivan

Posted Tue, May 22, noon Inappropriate

Absolutely correct, Ivan. The Seattle "progressive" could accurately be characterized as the the spirit of Thorstein Veblen in action.

NotFan

Posted Mon, May 21, 11:01 a.m. Inappropriate

Dan, your own argument lends itself to the conclusion that market rate developers have a role to play in providing affordable housing. "That shortage is being driven by massive societal forces that society as a whole needs to be responsible for". The huge influx of their capital into a sub-market is one of these societal forces and should have a direct role in mitigating the effects.

The market failure creating the "drive till you qualify/afford rent" phenomenon can only be corrected if all parties pitch in; public and private. Currently the public sector is providing 10% of all affordable housing in Seattle. That's not enough. How much is the private market providing and for how long? My guess is its not enough and will certainly not be affordable for long enough.

Swanson

Posted Mon, May 21, 1:13 p.m. Inappropriate

"Affordable housing is a problem that needs to be addressed by subsidy derived from society as a whole."

Funny, I grew up poor in Seattle with an FHA backed loan as our only subsidy, as did most of the rest of us in those days. Even when jobs were scarce the numbers worked because ever since the invention of first the subway and then the car, the fashion was dispersement from points to areas. The math has not changed (there will always be fewer "points' than "areas"). Thus, encouraging, if not promoting, concentration must rationalize away the many problems with current "Points" competing so as to pile the greatest number into the fewest points.

The earliest proponents of New Urbanism did not consider walking a new invention dependent upon an ultra-urbanism in need of defying both math and geography. Google Duany and "dumb growth."

Additionally, we forget that the original Growth Management Act was accepted by people representing the entire state because of unprecedented effort to manage growth by sharing it. The main reason we forget, is that its focus has shifted over the years as developers figured out how to speak its language, all except the conflicting affordable housing part, which they decided to ignore, until, if ever, we catch on. Possibly it is now time to recall that "sharing growth" could not possibly be any harder than fashionable, affordable urban redevelopment NYC style here, there, and everywhere. That's old not new, and far from "smart."

afreeman

Posted Mon, May 21, 2:02 p.m. Inappropriate

I didn't say stop new construction. I said open up new construction with conditions so that some of the new profits from new development can be channeled into offsetting the costs of displacement. I'm not saying that displacement can be stopped completely. But it should be mitigated, just like poverty should be mitigated in a wealthy society. The easiest way to do that is to tax the profits of those who benefit from capitalist development-- tax polluters to pay for environmental restoration, tax developers to pay for the creation of non-profit managed affordable housing, etc.

But to mitigate gentrification requires that we acknowledge that it exists and that we can do something about it. Rarely do you or Roger do that. The reason I call pro "density" deregulation a form of greenwash, or call it trickle down affordability, is because it basically operates on the assumption that the free market knows what's best. If that were true, there wouldn't be an environmental crisis, because the social costs of economic development would be factored into the price of goods.

This is basic stuff. I'd be on your side if you could even throw me a bone. But instead instead you go straight to the aid of developers, arguing that their profits (not their operating costs, mind you) should not be taxed at all. I suspect you sincerely believe that any taxation on development will inhibit density. But it probably doesn't hurt that this kind of advocacy also positions you and Roger to receive money from developers to say that the free market will solve global warming for us.

Trevor

Posted Mon, May 21, 10:59 p.m. Inappropriate

Affordable housing is a problem that needs to be addressed by subsidy derived from society as a whole. But developers sure do make a convenient, crowd pleasing scapegoat, don't they Trevor?

Here's the plan. You harass small-time landlords with crap like Licata's universal apartment inspections. You drive housing costs through the roof. Then you tell developers they can do whatever they please, which they do. They tear down older buildings and put up new ones, with twice the rents, half the space, and none of the parking.

Then, like the good corrupt and conniving "progressive" hypocrite that you are, you express earnest alarm at the shortage of affordable housing that your policies intentionally created. So you push a property tax levy through, which adds yet more costs that filter into rents.

And when it's all over, you feast on the under the table payoffs you got all the way along, and tell us how "progressive" you are.

NotFan

Posted Tue, May 22, 12:28 a.m. Inappropriate

Why? Because they profit from that shortage, since they are a dominant part of the "massive societal forces". Developers produce housing that everyone wants but only the top 10% can afford, and unless we limit their ability (encumber them, if you wish) to make whatever profits they wish, they will NEVER produce anything other than high-profit housing. I've watched a number of City Hall fights about developer restrictions and in every single fight, developers threaten to leave Seattle if they don't get absolutely everything they want. But they never get everything they want, and they don't leave Seattle. Time to get a clue: they're not going to leave, so there's no point in continuing that charade. There absolutely is more developer profit to take, and the Council should show the cojones to take it.

sarah90

Posted Tue, May 22, 9:49 a.m. Inappropriate

sarah90 and Trevor, let me put it simply: You are arguing that to produce more affordable housing we should encumber the production of housing, thereby making it more expensive to produce. Can you not see the flaw in that logic?

It's like forcing organic farmers to sell below the cost of production because not everyone can afford organic food.

Yes, there is a lot of capital flowing into housing development right now. But that is the result of larger societal forces, not the cause.

And yes, there are cases when developer profits can be skimmed to help fund community benefits like affordable housing. But if we demand too much from that mechanism we will be shooting ourselves in the foot, not only in terms of affordability across the spectrum, but also in terms of building a more sustainable city. (By the way, Trevor, developer profits are already taxed, just like profits on any other business.)

A smarter solution is to find ways of subsidizing affordable housing that place the burden on the community as a whole, such as the the housing levy:

http://hugeasscity.com/2009/07/12/the-only-problem-with-the-proposed-seattle-housing-levy-is-that-it-isnt-big-enough/

And all of you who whine that my opinions are tainted because of my profession remind me of global warming denialists who claim that climate scientists are exaggerating their case so that they can win more funding.

Posted Tue, May 22, 12:07 p.m. Inappropriate

sarah90, would you please try at least once to make any sense? Your comments are just terrible, and this latest one might be the worst. Or maybe the best, because it puts the economic stupidity of the the Seattle "progressive" on display for anyone to see. You actually think that the city council can reduce housing costs by "taking" "more developer profit," and imagine that the costs won't get passed along one way or the other.

This sort of stupidity is almost unbelievable. I say "almost" because, after reading blogs like Crosscut, Seattle Transit, and the thankfully dead Publicola, I see just how lazy the Seattle "progressive" is. You study nothing, and observe even less. And then you pontificate on your emptiness.

If you and the other "progressives" weren't so aggressively stupid, not to mention utterly hateful toward the people who live in this city, you'd regard the existing housing stock as a resource to be protected. Yet neither you, nor the other phony-ass "progressives" either here or at city hall, ever mentions it.

Instead, "progressives" like Licata, that pathetic and corrupt gasbag, endeavor to harass small landlords, drive up costs, and give their money-shoveling developer friends a variety of payoffs for destroying what we have. It's loathsome by itself, but what's almost as bad is your aggressive refusal to see the nose on your collective faces.

Thank God I don't live in one of the neighborhoods you and your kind have targeted for destruction.

NotFan

Posted Mon, May 21, 10:48 a.m. Inappropriate

Have you stopped and read your piece, Roger? What you've written is at best elitist and at worst, Fascist. Our neighborhoods are "abusing their power"? You criticize politicians for speaking for their constituency? This is one of the most ridiculous positions you've taken.

I'm certainly no tea-partier but your little treatise of "Increasing density, the public be damned" is undemocratic and intolerant. Having government policy shoved down your throat without recourse is what Jim Diers and the Office of Neighborhoods fought to change twenty years ago. Now here comes Roger Valdez, who knows what's better for all Seattlites and he and his cronies are going to do the shoving all over again. Now I understand what the extreme right is all worked up about.

There is no reason why the City of Seattle has to accommodate all of the growth in King County or the region. Reducing parking does not reduce peoples need for personal transportation. A Light rail system doesn't succeed without Park and Ride lots. Yet someone at Fifth & Cherry thinks they do.

No, the pendulum has swung too far for the time being. Enough with the anti-car, pro-density campaign. If you're spending your efforts fighting the people and not City Hall it's time to stop and take stock. We can agree this is an important issue and opinion will swing back, in time. To impose things on the public now will only poison the issue and make that wait longer.

fred117

Posted Mon, May 21, 11:05 a.m. Inappropriate

I've read that the new Amazon development downtown will employ 30,000. What % of these workers will be able to afford living downtown or even in the closer neighborhoods? 5%? 10%? So most of these workers will live outside of Seattle and use cars or transit (and transit only if the jobs are 8-5 local time- isn't Amazon a web based 24/7 company?)

My point here is that forced density will not provide the utopia that Mr Valdez promises unless you also start to provide higher wage jobs, stop making transit decisions based on real estate projections and base these decisions on moving people in an easy affordable manner, and stop threatening to strip the neighborhood homeowners of autonomy and equity.

Eventually people and business will vote-- with there feet.

Posted Mon, May 21, 11:28 a.m. Inappropriate

Neighborhoods haven't changed their MO to any great degree. But since Diers left, the City has. Nickels lost because he tried a different approach, a more top down centralized approach to neighborhood engagement, and it failed.

People is Seattle have development fatigue, and are tired to be told to "love it or leave it" by the New Urbani$t True Believer$ when they say something about the small communities and civil institutions torn up by some speculator with a DPD rubber stamp in his pocket.

Lesser Seattle was a label given to the populist notion that not all change is good based on its self justification. Trash it all you want, but that populist element is not gone.

Godwin

Posted Tue, May 22, 6:26 p.m. Inappropriate

Just imagine: People might pour their life savings, not to mention their heart and soul, into where they live, only to have a corrupt wrecking crew come through. And when they object, you can count on the Roger Valezes of Seattle to call them too old, too white, and too rich.

The mayor? Bought and paid for. The city council? Same. The only way for Seattle citizens to handle this is to never, ever be lulled into trusting the corrupt "progressives" who warm the chairs in city government.

NotFan

Posted Mon, May 21, 12:47 p.m. Inappropriate

This is the Maple Leaf Community Council's position on increased density in the Northgate Urban Center. After reading it, explain to me again how neighborhoods are against density?

http://www.mapleleafcommunity.org/files/Northgate/2012-02-07_MLCC_Northgate-Area-Comments.pdf

Roger suffers from the delusion that any complaint against any project means the complainer is against ALL density. This makes for convenient labels for Roger, but actually is a lie.

For example, the MLCC is appealing a DPD decision that will remove affordable housing units from the Northgate Urban Center. DPD thinks it is OK for a developer to demolish 209 studio, 1BR, and 2BR units affordable at 50% AMI and replace them with less than 100 units in an overall 8-acre, 3,000+ unit development.

The MLCC does not disagree with the idea of an upzone here to 85 feet. Frankly, we think they ought to go to 125 feet under the 2009 DPD proposal. We do disagree with DPD's creation of a loophole in our housing codes to allow this loss of affordable housing.

Want a nice test? See which of the typical density advocates are against this proposal -- which goes against everything they say they are for (it is underbuilding and reduces affordable housing).

Roger isn't against it, proving he isn't a density advocate. He's a "let the developers do whatever the hell they want" advocate.

Why he continues to be provided a voice on Crosscut is beyond me. He's entitled to his opinions, but his articles are consistently factually wrong. David Brewster should have enough respect for what he is trying to create here to do something about it and turf Roger as a contributor. Facts are more important than page views and ad revenue, David.

David Miller
(for myself, not as a representative for MLCC)

ddmiller

Posted Mon, May 21, 11:01 p.m. Inappropriate

Prepare for Roger and his fellow "progressives" in the mayor's office and on the city council to add Maple Leaf (pop. 10,000) to the list of neighborhoods they hate.

NotFan

Posted Mon, May 21, 1:02 p.m. Inappropriate

Actually, Mr. Valdez, what I would like to know is what happened to the activists who got bought by developers? How did those people come to believe "market" solutions are the best? The first rule in economics is that there are no true or perfect markets. Market solutions will not bring affordable housing to Seattle, nor have they brought vibrant neighborhoods. Rather, I stare at cookie-cutter post WWII modernist style mid to high rise (and expensive) housing packed into urban villages that have years ago outgrown the promised small parks and other "amenities." So, I say we begin to look for those activists who got bought by developers and help them understand that market-based solutions in real estate are aberration to how people actually want to live and work in their hometowns.

The rest of us, the rest of the neighborhood activists who haven't been bought by developers, understand that a truly sustainable town requires each and every person to have a sense of place and ownership in their neighborhood. That is what makes neighborhood planning messy for developers, but in the end, it may actually create the vibrant town you are seeking. If people don't get loud, yell, flex their political muscle, you'll end up with a ghost town of those of us who actually care leaving...

One more thing, this piece is riddled with pretty bold assertions, such as SEPA appeals always lose. Back up some of these kinds of assertions with facts and examples. It may be helpful

KAM

Posted Mon, May 21, 1:14 p.m. Inappropriate

Valdez claims to have been a neighborhood advocate in the past, but it seems evident that he is no longer in touch with the reality of what is going on in many Seattle neighborhoods.

His argument that the neighborhoods have significant power is simply not true. Seattle's Mayor and City Council members are elected citywide and need to run citywide campaigns. This means that individual single-family neighborhoods have very limited impact; single-family neighborhoods would have more impact if they could band together, but the distances, differences, and usual lack of unifying issues keeps this from happening. Only when the city makes a proposal that will clearly have negative impacts on many neighborhoods, like the proposal to eliminate parking requirements near transit, do disparate neighborhoods seem to get together.

Valdez's arguments also seem to fail to account for the legal environment that shapes how Seattle approaches land use. Because Washington State Court decisions have determined that what is not prohibited in the Land Use Code is allowed, leaving very little discretion, developers are continually finding new ways to exploit loopholes in the Code. The July 2009 controversy over the 46-apartment "rooming house" permitted under the townhouse part of the Code, with just 6 parking spaces, is just one example (see SATTLE TIMES, July 23, 2009). When challenged, permit officials respond that their "hands are tied," because the Courts give them no discretion--if a project meets the letter of the Code, even if it violates the spirit or intent of the Code, they must issue a permit. As a result, neighborhoods are constantly "playing catch up" trying to close loopholes, as developers find new ways to push development, which always seems to mean added density. This is also why our Land Use Code is so complex--amny provisions are an attempt to reign in bad development practices.

At the same time, developers push Council to loosen the Code. Thus, we have proposals to eliminate parking requirements near transit. Developers, and some city officials, suggest that those who live near transit can do entirely without cars. This claim seems based on the idea that those who live near transit will use it for all travel, not just their daily commute. Such a claim may be valid for those who live and work in locations where transit provides convenient connections. But what about two-career couples where transit is convenient for one, but not the other? Or what about all the trips one may wish to take where transit is not very useful, particularly recreational trips that often require travel out of the city? It simply is not realistic to expect that all residents of these new developments will not have any cars. Residents may have fewer cars, but those with cars will simply be forced to park in nearby single-family neighborhoods.

Valdez recounts the history of Land Use Planning in the 1990s and the city;s response to the Growth Management Act. What Valdez does not make clear is that the city agreed to accept more density but to concentrate that development where it could be served by transit, so that existing single-family neighborhoods would be protected. This approach was embodied in the Comprehensive Plan and in the Code provisions that came from the Comp. Plan. No one should be surprised that neighborhoods object when the terms of that approach are altered in a way that forces spill-over parking into single-family neighborhoods.

The real "sleeper" in the proposal is the limitation on appeals under the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA). Valdez writes, "Reducing appeals would lower costs for development, making it easier to build...." Does anyone doubt that this proposal is just the "thin edge of the wedge"? Just about the only real protection Seattle neighborhoods have is litigation, or at least the threat of litigation. As Valdez points out, neighborhoods almost always lose; but this fact is simply a reflection of way the Courts have interpreted land use law--anything not clearly prohibited is allowed. Limiting appeals under SEPA is just a give-away with no benefit to the neighborhoods at all.

Finally, Valdez seems to claim that property-owners in Seattle's single-family neighborhoods are getting rich; the reality is that in most neighborhoods property values are still far below where they were in 2007.


Posted Mon, May 21, 2:11 p.m. Inappropriate

I'm afraid I still don't see how recreating the Warsaw Ghetto circa 1933 creates jobs. Especially in Seattle, where the occupants of the ground-floor retail spaces tend to be Quizno's, Edward Jones Investments, and nail salons. The jobs in those places don't pay nearly well enough for those folks to afford to live in the hellishly expensive anthills on the upper floors. That must be what light rail to the hinterlands is for, right?

orino

Posted Mon, May 21, 10:49 p.m. Inappropriate

What, you don't aspire to a one-bedroom rabbit hutch on Capitol Hill, located above a vibrant 24-hour tavern? Off with your head, swine!

NotFan

Posted Mon, May 21, 2:18 p.m. Inappropriate

Wow. What a distored and self-justifying op-ed here by Mr. Valdez.

In addition to the very pointed comments in response:

The GMA targets for Ballard have already been exceeded. And that was before the current mega apartment buildings that are under construction. Not to want more density in those areas that have already exceeded their targets is not evil.

I see he the company of Erica Barnett in making the unsubstantiated assumption that not requiring parking is going to make those housing units afforable.

What has gone wrong in Ballard, is not the density, it's how it was done. Replacing a single family house with cheap and badly designed quad to the curb is not most people's idea of "good" density, just the developers. Putting a duplex on those lots instead would have increased density, and kept the overflow of parking to a minimum.

And Capitol Hill somehow has a shortage of walkable retail that justifies this zoning change? Say again?

Marksp

Posted Mon, May 21, 10:45 p.m. Inappropriate

I couldn't figure out why they wanted to make a "park" out of the median on 14th Avenue. The stated rationale, to give the students at Ballard High School a better place to walk, is nuts. Then, the other day, as I drove up that purposely unrepaired street, it hit me: Lots of people park there, and the city and the Rogers despise automobiles.

There can be no other reason for them to want to do this. It's pretty remarkable that you'd have such well-placed people who hate this city so much that they'd plot to ruin the quality of life in what has so long been such a great neighborhood, but there ya have it. Roger not only hates Laurelhurt, Magnolia, Roosevelt, and Capitol Hill, but he hates Ballard.

And so does the City Council, and the mayor. Remarkable.

NotFan

Posted Mon, May 21, 4:31 p.m. Inappropriate

I am really pretty frustrated by how poorly organized and argued Roger Valdez's articles are. Crosscut should support a diversity of opinion but should require that articles are provide justification for sweeping statements. Where are the editors? Do they read and critique stuff before it is posted.

As one example, Roger writes "The proposals are, arguably, rather modest and would promote job creation, housing, and sustainable density, but hit a raw nerve among opponents of growth and neighborhood activists."

In a coherent article this would be followed by paragraphs that would describe why the proposal is modest, why it promotes job creation relative to business as usual (i.e, poorly conceived development or suburban sprawl creates construction jobs), why it promotes housing (I would have thought that once the streets are clogged with cars that cannot be parked anywhere else, you have effectively put a stop to new development) and why it is sustainable (whatever this means).

In this article this statement is used as a launching point for the author to describe his history of neighborhood involvement.

Posted Mon, May 21, 6:27 p.m. Inappropriate

Censorship warning to the Two Davids:

You can hate me. You can hate my ideas. You can hate my writing.

Please don't call for Crosscut to shut me up, however, because you don't like me, my writing, or my ideas.

You can even hate Crosscut.

But what we do in this forum is criticize, not call for the elimination of a voice because we disagree. That goes for you too.

Imagine if I called for banning your comments because I thought they were poorly argued.

Posted Mon, May 21, 9:23 p.m. Inappropriate

Good God, Roger, I hope you're on the take. If you're willing to be this much of a fool for free, then I truly pity you. Sell your integrity, and I can respect your cunning. After all, this is America, where we really only worship the Almighty Dollar. But never, ever just give it away.

Think about it, Roger. What is the worst insult one American can throw at another? That he's a crook? Nah. Half the CEOs of the Fortune 500 are crooks, and that doesn't keep 'em off the cover. That he's violent, or lazy? Nope. Mike Tyson and Michael Vick have been fully rehabilitated, along with dozens of hip-hop stars.

That he's merely middle class? Uh-uh. The middle class is worshipped, at least in theory, while its pockets are picked. That's he's a social climbing phony? Nope. Look at Martha Stewart, or Oprah, or Donald Trump.

Nope, the worst thing any American can be called is an idiot. You haven't been stupid enough to hand over your integrity for nothing, have you? Even Sarah Palin, she of the five separate fourth-rate colleges, wasn't that stupid.

NotFan

Posted Thu, May 24, 8:45 a.m. Inappropriate

I'm not calling for you to be removed from Crosscut's roster because I disagree with your ideas. Your articles are consistently factually incorrect. The only way you get away with it is (a)The long comment threads are good for pageview counts for those sites that care mnore about pageviews than integrity, and/or (b) The editors aren't so immersed in the horrifically complicated world of land use to recognize they are wrong.

I'm hoping David continues to keep Crosscut out of the (a) category, which he can do by getting rid of your articles.

ddmiller

Posted Mon, May 21, 9:18 p.m. Inappropriate

I'm glad Crosscut publishes Roger Valdez, in all of his putrid, arrogant, glory. He is the very epitome of the nasty, dictatorial, hypocritical, self-satisfied, inflated, empty, egotistical Seattle "progressive," posing as morally and intellectually superior to all of the little ants whom he condescends to "help."

The thing to remember is that Valdez is hardly alone. The City Council and the mayor listen to this freakish crap, and have been crafting policies and laws to implement it. That's because, just like Valdez, the "progressives" here absolutely despise this city and the people who live here. They hate the neighborhoods with a truly shocking passion.

And, most of all, the Council and the mayor know that the "New Urbanist" policies that people like Valdez advocate will line the pockets of the real estate developers who slip them money. We have the best public officials money can buy. That's all a McGinn or a Conlin or an O'Brien, or a Clark, a Bagshaw, a Burgess, a Godden, a Harrell, a Licata, or a Rasmussen have ever cared about.

You know, that's not necessarily that bad. I lived a long time in other cities that are just as corrupt as Seattle. I respect local corruption. What I will never respect, though, is the degree to which Seattle "progressives" actually seem to believe the b.s. they spout.

Be dirty. Be corrupt. Be clever about it. But please, "progressives," don't be stupid. At the very least, sell your souls.

NotFan

Posted Mon, May 21, 10:29 p.m. Inappropriate

Roger

Did you actually read what I wrote in criticism of your article. I specifically stated that Crosscut should support a diversity of opinion (I probably should have explicitly said "including yours") but in any good publications the editors should work with the writers to ensure that their articles are coherent and well reasoned. In your case a good editor would help you to organize your thoughts and challenge you to justify them so that instead of a series of unsupported assertions the reader would actually understood how you had reached your conclusions. Editing is not censorship and it is a lot less embarrassing to deal with a critical editor than have an article fall flat on its face. And where did "hate" come into this?

Posted Mon, May 21, 10:41 p.m. Inappropriate

Oh, please, don't make Roger "better." He is just fine the way he is. Keep his utter stupidity on display in its unreconstructed form. The worst thing that could happen to him is an editor who might make him sound smarter or less insane than he really is.

NotFan

Posted Tue, May 22, 7:40 a.m. Inappropriate

David if all you're saying is you don't like the structure of the post and you think it should have more editing, then is that really worth debating in the comments section here? I don't believe I've ever seen a sustained discussion on copy editing and the structure of post here or anywhere else. There's nothing wrong with that, but it is kind of beside the point. What do you think of the content?

Clearly, this is not a Masters Thesis. I can't run down every point and provide evidence to back it in 7 or 8 hundred words. If you are looking for journal articles on this topic they can be found, and certainly there are many things that are taken for granted here in the points I make. The point of this forum and this format is to hopefully produce thoughtful debate and discussion.

If bad writing and editing get in the way of that, that's something to work on. But I suspect that your problem is with the content, and I think my point is to focus on that. For example, if you don't think the proposals suggestions are modest then say so and make that argument. Other commenters can respond, fill out the discussion with their own ideas and evidence, and the reader can draw her own conclusions.

You're entitled to your opinion as I am to mine, no matter how poorly argued.

Posted Tue, May 22, 5:04 p.m. Inappropriate

Roger, what is your source of income?

NotFan

Posted Tue, May 22, 8:18 p.m. Inappropriate

Roger

It is perfectly reasonable for me to complain about the standard of writing in the comments section. You read them and so might the editors of crosscut who are the people who could take steps to improve the quality of what they publish.

Actually I agree with you that local neighborhood groups often have too much influence. Since they tend to be dominated by activists it is not clear how representative they are. However, the solution should be to make decisions democratically city wide and not skirt public opinion via obscure rules changes.

As to whether the proposal you advocate is modest or not, I am not sure what you even mean by "modest" since after making this statement you argue immediately it would lead to a quite a substantial change in development patterns and densification. That is not what most people would describe as a modest proposal and is in my view yet another example of your rather confusing or confused style of writing.

Posted Tue, May 22, 9:06 p.m. Inappropriate

Like so many Seattle "progressives," Roger is lying when characterizing the rule changes as modest. In fact, they are quite far reaching, and he knows it.

Now Roger, what's your source of income? You're described in your blurb as a researcher and writer. Who are your customers?

NotFan

Posted Mon, May 21, 10:45 p.m. Inappropriate

Crosscut should think twice about its "journalism" model.

Here we have Mr Valdez, who has had a significant hand in writing the proposed legislation (something he is too ashamed to announce up front, or more likely it would ruin the yarn he spins), spewing its virtues.

Then we have Mr Valdez criticizing those that disagree with his proposals using his Crosscut writer status.

Now we have Mr Valdez telling the Council buck up as it were, when in fact Council largely carries the water for Mr Valdez's constituency.

Failed fact check and opinion pieces were the hallmark of Publicola. Looks like the taint is over here in force now...

Perhaps, Mr Brewster, some news, i.e. facts, about this, rather than just allowing Mr Valdez to continue being the center of the universe.

Posted Tue, May 22, 12:02 a.m. Inappropriate

Hmm. Interesting. You mean that Roger isn't doing it out of the goodness of his "progressive" heart? Outstanding. I always appreciate and respect good old fashioned corruption and lack of integrity. But what about Crosscut? Are they getting a rake-off? Please don't tell me that they're dumb enough to actually accept any of this at face value. The plot thickens!

p.s.: Roger, what is your source of income?

NotFan

Posted Tue, May 22, 1:54 p.m. Inappropriate

Let's be clear, NotFan. Your continual use of "Progressive" does not lend to the conversation. And it would be good for you to leave that behind with Publicola's rotting corpse.

I consider myself a Progressive. And in fact I think some of the Regulatory Reform ideas are good - with targeted application. What the process has avoided is a public discussion of those ideas and how best to apply them. The current trajectory is to the benefit of the development community that proposed them and to the detriment of the neighborhoods where they would be applied.

I do not know the true motivations for Mr Valdez's actions, but please do not tarnish those of us with progressive values with your loose application of the term. Doing so only cheapens the conversation to the level that Mr Valdez and his pundit posse brings when they call engaged citizens "NIMBYs".

Posted Tue, May 22, 3:21 p.m. Inappropriate

The saving grace of America in general, and the American West in particular, was our (vanishing) tendency to call things by their real names. We didn't call them political eminences, we called them whores. Telling the truth is the best defense from them, and their tools.

I think Seattle's "progressives" are, by and large, a sick joke on progressivism, which once had an honorable tradition. Today, here, it has withered to a pack of insecure yuppies desperate to feel better about themselves. "Values?" Please.

"south_downtown," I see that you called Roger Valdez a pompous ass, so that's a start. But when I see someone call himself a "progressive" in Seattle, my initial reaction is similar to when I see phases like "world class" or "walkable neighborhood" or "vibrant city."

Those are almost always code for picking our pockets, telling us how we are supposed to live, or both. So you'll just have to live with my putting "progressive" in quotes. I am not against progressivism, but I am jaundiced as hell about how "progressive" is used in Seattle to justify stupidity, egotism, and corruption of all sorts.

NotFan

Posted Tue, May 22, 12:38 a.m. Inappropriate

Ironically, what Josh and Erica have written for Crosscut has been excellent (barring the first Constantine gossip piece), but the comments have deteriorated, mainly due to one particular person following them here. Since at least half the draw of blogs is the give-and-take of comments, that's a shame.

sarah90

Posted Tue, May 22, 11:51 a.m. Inappropriate

Poor sarah90, feeling dyspeptic again? I sympathize, but the cure involves more than belching through your keyboard. By the way, the only worthwhile thing they've done for this website was documenting Constantine's cheatin' heart. That was news and fact, as opposed to everything else they do.

NotFan

Posted Tue, May 22, 3:04 p.m. Inappropriate

Due to zoning (height, minimum setback restrictions, segregated residential, commercial and institutional use of the land), development charges (too low for low-density, too high for high-density), and property taxes (based on the value of the building primarily, rather than the value or size of the land), it is more profitable to build outward rather than upward. Building upward reduces the capital (labour, material, municipal), operational (heating, cooling), and maintenance costs of housing. Of particular concern to those afflicted by poverty is the fact that apartment dwelling units are taxed at a higher rate than all other types of dwelling units (due to being considered to be a business), in spite of the cost to provide municipal services being considerably lower per dwelling unit.

Most jurisdictions in Canada and the US has prioritized the automobile in deciding where to allocate transportation resources since WWII, through roads, highways, bridges and parking. This has undermined the more fiscally conservative modes of transportation, which the poor are particularly dependent on. Making it more profitable to build upward rather than outward will also reduce the average journey distance, making the more fiscally conservative modes of transportation more feasible.

By shifting road, highway and bridge funding toward public transit, the direct cost to consumer of public transit will be reduced, potentially to zero, resulting in considerable savings: no fare inspectors, no costs associated with printing, designing, distribution, sale of tickets or bus passes, reduced opportunity cost of current municipal buildings involved in fare payment (20% of public system systems expenditures is directly related to fare collection), faster boarding and exiting of public transit vehicles (reducing labour and fuel costs and number of vehicles in the fleet to serve a greater number of passengers), reduced congestion, reduced air and noise pollution, reduced collisions, increased number and safety of cyclists (reducing health care costs), reduced need to widen or lengthen roads, highways and bridges, and reduced deterioration of roads, highways and bridges.

dannyh

Posted Tue, May 22, 3:13 p.m. Inappropriate

dannyh, you are aware, no doubt, that the highway trust fund is financed by gasoline taxes, and that 16% of that money already gets diverted to mass transit. As a driver who doesn't use mass transit, I suggest taking mass transit's hand out of the gas tax till. You want something? Pay for it yourselves. Quite the novel concept for a "progressive" parasite, no?

By the way, you're wrong (yes, a "progressive" really can be wrong!) about the basis for property taxes. They are levied as a percentage of assessed value, which includes both the land and the structure. When the real estate boom turned to real estate bust, and assessments were cut, the reduced valuations were the result in reduced land values, not reduced structure values.

You see, the structure value component is based on replacement cost, which didn't budge during the crash. The fluctuation in real estate values was entirely due to changes in what buyers were willing to pay for the land, which was reflected in property tax assessments. Really, that's how it works. It's an arithmetic thing, which too many "progressives" don't understand.

Here's another one. You know that iPad you love so much? Or that shirt you're wearing that was made in China? It got here on a diesel-powered cargo ship. The world's fleet of diesel-powered cargo ships emit more carbon than all of the cars in Europe and North America, combined. So let's put a nice hefty tax on your iPad and your iPhone and everything else made in China and shipped across the ocean. And then double it for every "progressive" techie who thinks his poop doesn't stink.

And when we're through with that, then let's do a true carbon emissions assessment of all those farmer's markets. Carbon per organic carrot. How many carrots per car that transports them to the farmer's market? I bet you're not nearly as "eco" as ya think.

NotFan

Posted Wed, May 23, 10:04 a.m. Inappropriate

Ah ships burn "bunker #5 & 6" while technically it's a diesel fuel because it's a liquid, it's not the same stuff that's in a truck. And yes it's worse for the air. But a ship has greater fuel economy than a truck, ie it moves more stuff per emitted Carbon. But your point was to say, "it costs more in Carbon emissions to buy stuff made far away than locally is correct."

GaryP

Posted Tue, May 22, 5:03 p.m. Inappropriate

..

NotFan

Posted Tue, May 22, 11:40 p.m. Inappropriate

Once again I see Valdez creating more real discussion. His points are idiocy, at least in my view.

I believe vehicles = personal freedom and economic success for the majority. Mass transit only works for the few.

I also believe Ballard has been ruined with ugly, over-density. It will be a butt-ugly, crime-ridden slum in 15 years. Sell now and get out.

Posted Wed, May 30, 12:44 p.m. Inappropriate

Amen! The only edit I'd make is to add "or sooner" to your sentence "It will be a butt-ugly, crime-ridden slum in 15 years." I think it will be a lot sooner, actually. It's already butt-ugly...

mspat

Posted Wed, May 23, 3:20 a.m. Inappropriate

I am not a 'believer' about cars or not cars but rather think that those who would like to BUILD towns should GO SOMEWHERE with a blank slate. Now that the pro developer fake environmentalists have taken over Crosscut, I shall only drop in if alerted by friends. OH how low you have gone since Kent passed away.

AND I CANNOT READ THE DANG SECURITY WORDS. SO BYE BYE NEVER SEE YA AND WONT MISS YA.

Posted Wed, May 23, 5:12 a.m. Inappropriate

From the Seattle Times (today) on the "secret" committee who proposed zoning changes (chaired by Mr. Valdez):

http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2018264119_citygrowth23m.html

KAM

Posted Wed, May 23, 8:11 a.m. Inappropriate

Yup, looks like Roger sure got himself busted. He organized a means of evading open records laws by having McGinn's developer-stacked "advisory committee" route their "confidential" communications through private e-mail.

Any lawyers out there? Does Mr. Valdez go straight to jail and not pass Go or collect his $200, the fool? Roger, if you're going to be a corrupt "progressive," you really need more talent! Now please tell us: Who is paying you, and how much?

NotFan

Posted Fri, May 25, 4:08 a.m. Inappropriate

Increased density leads to more traffic, more congestion, more air pollution, more crime, you name it. That's why the suburbs began in the first place. And for the record, I'm an environmentalist, and MOST environmentalists who I know are ALSO STRONGLY OPPOSED to increased density with smart growth towers and mixed use. The Bay Area doesn't even have this requirement, unlike the Seattle area. In fact, they're even debating - right now - whether or not to increase density.

People don't like being around a lot of people, and they hate traffic. They prefer private bicycles and the personal automobile over collective forms of transportation such as buses and light rail. People love big homes and big lots. Yes, we should have buses, more bike paths, and more sidewalks, but the auto will always be #1 since most people shop at big box grocers.

Wendell Cox was in town 3 weeks ago explaing problems with "Smart growth." See - http://smartgrowthusa.wordpress.com/wendell-cox-seattle-smart-growth-light-rail-may-2012/

And if you smart growth folks keep pushing us nature lovers and gardeners further out, then we'll be contributing more CO2 than city dwellers with our 40 mile commutes from North Bend and Enumclaw.

Tom9

Posted Fri, May 25, 2:41 p.m. Inappropriate

Thanks for that link. The "affordable density" meme really irks me. I remember some developers getting tax breaks for agreeing to reserve a percentage of their crackerbox apartments for "low income" or "affordable" units. The definition of "affordable" was based on a projection of the "market rates" 5 or more years into the future. Their present rent was actually much higher than the current "market rate." They justified it by saying that in 5+ years that rent would be "affordable" in comparison. Yet there was no committment to not raise the rents in five years.

This is classic tail-wagging-the-dog. The current rents they got the tax breaks for, actually are an incentive to the rest of the market to raise rents to their level, and this is indeed occuring. And they got subsidized by the tax-payers to do it. This is smart-growth for the one percent.

Marksp

Posted Mon, May 28, 10:10 a.m. Inappropriate

I am not against density per se, but what I have seen in the three Seattle neighborhoods I have lived in doesn't make me sanguine about the prospect of even more of it. Why?

- Eliminating parking under the assumption that everyone will ride transit is ridiculous. Anyone who has ever lived in a city that has a good network can see that ours is far from equal to the task of getting all but a few people out of their cars.

- Apartment buildings from the 50's and 60's often had little courtyards where residents could have gardens and a place to be outdoors. When today's apartment developers tear these places down, they seek to squeeze every dime from every square foot upfront, gobbling up these precious spaces. They forget that even a little bit of green space goes a long way toward humanizing otherwise dreary buildings and making them more desirable for tenants or buyers.

- High density, mixed use-income developments like the recently built Rainier Vista aren't wearing very well. The new roofs are already covered with moss and the siding looks older than it should. In short, it does not look like the place was built to last. The mixed income idea is a good one but is it sustainable? If quality is low and the houses wear out faster than they should will people who can afford to move stay there?

luigia

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