How city wastes light rail in SE Seattle

Commentary: Does anyone responsible for guiding Southeast Seattle's transit-oriented renaissance have a clue what's going on there?
The spiffy Station at Othello Park apartments...

The spiffy Station at Othello Park apartments...

...and a view of the train from the other side of the street.

...and a view of the train from the other side of the street. Eric Scigliano

While the sidewalk beside the train station becomes a dead zone...

While the sidewalk beside the train station becomes a dead zone...

....station-side businesses turn to face the other way.

....station-side businesses turn to face the other way. Eric Scigliano

Good thing it's not an ugly parking lot.

Good thing it's not an ugly parking lot. Eric Scigliano

It might not be obvious what bowties, vacant lots and urban transit have to do with each other. But they all coalesced in a coincidence of recent events that shed new light on what is, for me, a too-familiar subject: Southeast Seattle, and just what a misunderstood, often mistreated misfit it is within the broader city of Seattle.

First, the bowties. An ebullient gent who always wears them, name of Charlie Staadecker, marched into the Crosscut office to break pizza with editors and explain why, after a lifetime in business, he should become Seattle’s mayor in order to (you guessed it) “give something back.” Well, City Hall once had its “Streetcar Charlie” (Councilman Charles M. Carroll), why not a Bowtie Charlie? With a difference: Bowtie Charlie would surely never be indicted for corrupt gambling ties, as Streetcar Charlie was. (The charges were dismissed.)

The session soon took a slightly surreal turn. Staadecker got off on the wrong foot with one attendee, Beacon Lights blogger and City Living columnist Craig Thompson. “You look skeptical,” Staadecker said earnestly, like a salesman tugging the line. Thompson, feeling challenged, recounted his civic awards and other neighborhood bona fides and recited a familiar factoid, that the Rainier Valley’s 98118 (where I live) is “the most diverse zip code in the United States.” And he suggested, more than skeptically, that Staadecker and a lot of other folks around town didn’t know anything about the neighborhood.

Staadecker didn’t help that impression when he started talking about “Southeast Asia — I mean, Southeast Seattle.” But he recovered by showing he did know where Columbia City is (the one showpiece Southeast neighborhood everyone knows about, and where they’ll likely assume you live if you’re down here) and used it to illustrate his politics of collaboration and conciliation: He recalled the lethal, predawn March 22 raid on a Columbia City home by a Bellevue Police SWAT team. Seattle police, who accompanied the raid, should have gone door to door, said Staadecker, and explained to neighbors what was going on so they wouldn’t feel frightened or confused. That presumes the police could and would give a coherent, forthright explanation of what they were doing, which they haven’t done since. And  it’s not clear that residents in a city with a dismal recent history of police over-reaction, who’d just watched suburban ninja cops gun down a guy who was trying to drive away and then (according to one neighbor’s account) stand around chatting over coffee and donuts, would feel relieved at having more cops knocking on their doors.

That evening I attended a much larger forum in the heart of the Valley — a public meeting at the New Holly Gathering Place, the meeting hall for the mixed-income community that replaced the old Holly Park projects. It was convened by the Othello Station Community Advisory Team, which assists the City of Seattle and its partner agencies in their struggle to build a showpiece TOD (transit-oriented development) community around the Othello light-rail station. It too soon took on an air of unreality, making me wonder if the officials who are supposedly guiding a glorious revival of the Othello junction and rest of the Rainier Valley have any better idea what’s going on down there than Charlie Staadecker.

The session's hosts promised to answer two questions: “What’s going on with the vacant and underused land around Othello Station?” and “How can the community help attract new development and jobs to the area?” The answers from the representatives of various civic, transit, housing and development agencies sitting on the stage boiled down, for the first question: Not much. And for the second: Trust us.

The billions of public dollars spent to build the Link rail line and transform the drab old Rainier Vista and Holly Park projects into leafy, attractive new-urbanist villages were supposed to make the MLK corridor a magnet for private investment. But so far it ain’t happening; just one market-rate project, the spiffy 351-unit Station at Othello Park apartments at the southeast corner of Othello Street and MLK Way, opened, bravely, two years ago. Othello Station, as everyone calls it, jumped out ahead of the market, then struggled to get tenants and reportedly began accepting subsidized vouchers from the Seattle Housing Authority, leading some paying full freight to complain about living in a "ghetto"; class and racial lines aren't easily effaced. (Othello Partners, the developer, hasn't returned calls for comment.)

Like what you just read? Support high quality local journalism. Become a member of Crosscut today!


Posted Tue, May 21, 7:42 a.m. Inappropriate

"Sound Transit representative Rachel Smith, evincing her agency’s characteristic solicitude for the neighborhood, shot down the whole idea: “We want to focus on selling our lots, not waste energy on temporary uses.”

I'm guessing she doesn't live in the neighborhood.

Posted Tue, May 21, 2:12 p.m. Inappropriate

Telling them to sell only to certain groups is called STEERING.

Posted Tue, May 21, 8:45 a.m. Inappropriate

Fascinating and full of hard truths! It suggests just how hard it is to do transit-oriented development in a city with way too many conflicting agendas about how to do it. Since TOD is one of the key remaining arguments for the huge cost of light rail, and yet it seems almost impossible to make happen (at least in the first decade or so), what does this do to the case for expanding Sound Transit?

Posted Tue, May 21, 9:21 a.m. Inappropriate

Light Rail?
"If we build it, they will come", or so the message has been since 1993, just 20 years ago.
Well, we did, and despite a decade of firm plans, construction and now almost 4 years of operation, not a lot has changed as far as density along MLK is concerned, and that was the big selling point to meander through the neighborhood in the middle of the road.
Even after the trains began running in 2009, ridership for each of the MLK stops haas grown from about 1,000 to 1,500 boarding per day, which isn't a huge increase over the buses it replaced.
So, "Where's the Beef"

Posted Tue, May 21, 11:42 a.m. Inappropriate

TOD is hard (particularly in a housing and commercial real estate recession), and this article points out some of the reasons why (though other commenters rightfully point out that the situation is not as bad as the author makes it seem). But your smear of light rail in general is off-base. Link has doubled its ridership since it opened and continues to add riders quickly, many of them from Southeast Seattle. In short, while the pace of development near stations is frustrating, light rail as a whole is a success.


Posted Sun, May 26, 1:12 p.m. Inappropriate

Doubling ridership from 1 to 2 isn't the comparison to be making.

Compare the cost per rider mile for light rail to buses.

Buses are really all we can afford. We're all out of champagne.

Posted Tue, May 21, 12:15 p.m. Inappropriate

light rail as a whole is a success.

It is a dismal failure in terms of projected ridership (the 2001 fed grant application projected that by 2016 there would be 44,000 daily boardings on the Westlake Center-to-Tukwila route), traffic congestion reduction (in the second sentence of the 2006 "Pierce County v. State" opinion the justices note how Sound Transit was formed to reduce traffic congestion in the Puget Sound area), and TOD development.

What metric are you using to judge it a "success"?

Do you have ANY idea about the magnitude of the massive tax costs of the financing plan? The plan to sell about $7.5 billion of new bonds will require that municipality to confiscate regressive tax revenues of $85 billion or so through 2055 just to secure the bonds. That is FAR more taxing than required for any reasonable or budgeted capital or operations costs over that period.

No peer bus/train services provider abuses its local population financially that way. Indeed, plenty of successful urban train system agencies impose little or no new direct taxing. In the places where new taxes are imposed for transit they include taxes targeting individuals renting cars, local employers, etc. The 1.8% sales tax rate imposed for transit here -- on top of the already-high stacked sales taxes -- is unconscionable.

The financing plan the unaccountable political appointees comprising Sound Transit's board are designing is abusive, punishing to the individuals and families around here with the least economic clout, and in no way is justified by any benefits those buses or trains provide the public at large.

Sure, spot upzones near stations eventually will allow a handful of multi-family developers to get richer. Some urban property speculators can make money off light rail, as can the financiers, several hundred lawyers, multi-national engineering and construction firms, and the Japanese railset manufacturer. For them Sound Transit is a success. Do you get paid by one of them, or a PR firm one of them hires? That's what your vapid posting suggests.


Posted Wed, May 22, 7:56 a.m. Inappropriate

The biggest hard truth, David, is that Link light rail opened in 2009 in the depths of the Great Recession. When Sound Transit launched the Westlake-to-Airport route in 2001, nobody expected that the good fiscal conservatives in the other Washington (Geo. W. and his Republican Congress) would lead this nation into economic collapse. The state of the economy and the long recovery have had their effects.

Posted Wed, May 22, 9:35 a.m. Inappropriate

That's not even the beginning of an argument. Pick up your game. If you are going to try making excuses for Sound Transit start by not conflating temporal correlation with causation. Oh, and use facts.

Go ahead and try producing evidence that there is a causal relationship between ANYTHING George Bush or "his" congress did and ANYTHING relating to Sound Transit's policies, practices, community impacts, costs to the public, failure to provide substantial and meaningful results in terms of overall transportation needs of the region, etc.


Posted Tue, May 21, 8:55 a.m. Inappropriate

I just went on a transit oriented development tour this past week that featured stops in Beacon Hill (site of planned El Centro De La Raza mixed-use development) and Othello. We had representatives from many of the same groups as mentioned in this article (DPD, Homesite) plus the Othello Partners developer, and Puget Sound Sage.

During the portion of the tour focused on market-rate development the Othello Partners representative had some interesting information. Take it with a grain of salt obviously (and also note that I am not a reporter, so this is all based on memory), but it has a lot of relevancy for this article.

He said that Othello Station did not fill as slowly as rumored (though the retail portion remains a challenge), but that they did have to lower their expectations for rent a little bit. They benefited from building at a very affordable time in the market, and were able to absorb the decreased rent.

Apparently their experience was not too negative, as they want to develop one of the immediately adjacent sites. He admitted that it has been tough to secure the right financing package because of the location, and they have had to scale down the initial vision of having something that was essentially a mirror image of Othello Station, and probably won't have as much retail space.


Posted Tue, May 21, 12:32 p.m. Inappropriate

Another interesting tid-bit relating to information gleamed from the tour. The Othello Partners representative stated that they built 0.75 parking stalls per residential unit in the project (there was no zoning requirement for parking), compared to a more typical 1:1 ratio on a non-downtown development.

They peg the actual demand (based on a observed use) at about 0.65 stalls/residence. We asked if in future TOD projects if they would decrease the amount of parking provided, he said absolutely since it costs about $30,000/stall to build.


Posted Tue, May 21, 10:12 a.m. Inappropriate

Good article. I think you may be expecting too much, given the economic realities of the city right now. Most of the country is still in a nasty recession (around 8% unemployment). Seattle, on the other hand, is booming (around 6% unemployment). The biggest contributor to that boom is technology. Almost all of this is happening in an area between SODO and the UW (along with the east side). Meanwhile, Boeing is moving jobs elsewhere and laying people off. So, not only is it much easier to get a job in software versus manufacturing, you are way more likely to get that job in another part of town (UW, Fremont, South Lake Union, Pioneer Square, etc.).

Eventually this growth will flow to the south. It wouldn't surprise me at all if someone decides to locate their budding software company across the street from the Othello Station (sounds like a dream location to me).

Likewise, manufacturing and shipping is slowly getting back on its feet. This will increase the number of jobs in this end of town as well (industry growth is cyclical, and right now software is booming).

If the city (or county) really wants to speed things up, they can put money into Rainier Beach High School. Throughout segregation, Garfield High School remained a top notch school. Even when it was overwhelmingly made up of poor and minority students, it was full of very high achieving students and an excellent staff. I can't help but think that the revitalization of the area around Franklin occurred right around the time they remodeled the school. Franklin is an excellent high school, and most people in the neighborhood know this. Unfortunately, This isn't the case with Rainier Beach.

Rainier Beach is a good school, but people don't know that. The first thing that comes to mind when people talk about the school is that they have a good basketball program. This is good (a strong sports program is very important) but it unfortunately reinforces racial stereotypes. If it was up to me, I would sink a lot of money into a music program for the school. This was a cornerstone of Garfield's success. Add in a great chess program and you can completely change the reputation of the school. For all I know, good things like this are happening there, but I'm just unaware. This is a big problem. The Seattle Public Schools are world class, but they rarely toot their own horn. This leaves ignorant folks (especially those who come from cities that have woefully underfunded their city schools) to assume the worst. This creates a negative and unjustified cycle.


Posted Tue, May 21, 10:15 a.m. Inappropriate

Sound Transit agreed to compare transit conditions both 'Before and 2 years After', as a condition of Federal funding of the light rail project. The study is still only in draft form after nearly 4 years of operation, costing 2/3 million dollars to answer 5 basic questions on cost, ridership, etc. You can read the draft here courtesy of PITF.;%20Study%20Final%20Report%202012_07_24%20draft.pdf
This is a good place to start understanding how MLK has shown resistance to change.

Posted Tue, May 21, 10:21 a.m. Inappropriate

bad URL. Try this:
page down one, click on purple Hot Links box
two page downs gets you there.

Posted Tue, May 21, 10:16 p.m. Inappropriate

Or for the Before and After study of Link Light rail use this address:


Posted Thu, May 23, 12:40 p.m. Inappropriate

ST has kicked the 'Before & After analysis' can down the road. There's no incentive to make it public or final because it documents Sound Transit's sorry life, contains little good news and plenty of embarrassment for them and everyone involved in their rail projects.

Posted Tue, May 21, 10:40 a.m. Inappropriate

What incredibly lazy reporting and editing.

What about the 124 filled new units at Harbor's "Urban Greenhouse" in Columbia City? Or the 193 new market-rate units to begin construction at Columbia Plaza this summer? Or the 250-270 units Wolf Co. has penciled to build at the Zion Prep site? Or the 57 units Artspace is building adjacent to Mt. Baker Station. How about the 307 units the City just OK'd across from Mt. Baker Station behind the QFC?

That's more than 800 new market-rate units within a five-minute walk a train station.

Or do those not count as TOD because it's not far enough south? As these projects move forward and fill, it may start to make sense for developers to continue moving south.


Posted Tue, May 21, 2:15 p.m. Inappropriate

And why are the ones currently built having such a high percentage of Section 8 housing vouchers?

So, it's ok to bulk up one small geographic area around light rail with low-income people? Isn't that illegal "steering".

The reverse of red-lining - it's a "let's bring 'em in here" 2013 version of red-lining.

Sort of makes me feel all warm and fuzzy. Except it makes me want to puke.

Posted Wed, May 22, 1:13 a.m. Inappropriate

The Harbor and Columbia Plaza projects are at least as much CCOD - Columbia City-oriented development - as TOD. They're sited at the opposite end of the CC commercial district from the Alaska Street rail station, on traffic-clogged, transit-challenged Rainier Ave. rather than Linked-up MLK Way. The attractions are obvious: the restored historic district, great little shops, arguably the best bars and music clubs in Seattle, rare multiracial community spirit. All these took shape before and/or in spite of rail development. With a big boost, to be sure, from preservation tax breaks, public grants, and city policies - since abandoned - limiting more subsidized-housing and social-service projects.
The Artspace project, fine as it is, is hardly market-driven. Artspace gets support from the likes of the Ford and Kresge foundations.
And yes, longitude does matter to the moneybags. All these are well to the north and a world away from Othello Stret and Rainier Beach.

Posted Thu, May 23, 12:29 p.m. Inappropriate

Eric -

I think you meant "latitude" instead?

I was surprised you didn't mention the 10-year property tax exemption program the city started in 1998 for eleven selected 'target areas' (seven along ST's light rail line approved by voters just two years earlier.) While Othello Partners may have jumped on that bandwagon, few apparently followed.

In my opinion, TOD is nothing more than a marketing 'catch-phrase' that captures the eye of federal grant-makers at HUD, DOT and EPA who have combined to push a 'sustainable, livable communities' initiative. It just sucks up money employing an army of planner-types but otherwise doesn't perform -- just like ST LINK's ridership which needs to grow 9% annually to meet its 2020 projection. see (That just ain't gonna happen, folks.)

Posted Sun, May 26, 1:19 p.m. Inappropriate

There is no viable way to 'empower a sustainable, liveable community'.

Without all incomes, including housing levels, it's not a community.

We've already seen how impossible it is for planners and bureacrats to create a full community that people actually will support with their discretionary and housing dollars.

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

Great piece, Eric. I hope you will continue to add on this subject. While it is true that the economy has a lot to do with all the vacant storefronts, the city's land use and parking policies have had much more to do with the continuing ghetto atmosphere along the surface rail area. And the further south one heads on the MLK section of light rail, the worse things get.

Ridership on Link could be significantly higher if the city would revoke, or at least rework, it's policies on parking near the stations. As if anyone hadn't noticed, Metro isn't able to service the light rail stations as effectively as orginally hoped for. If you need to take a bus to reach light rail, the time-saving ability to use transit is completely lost when the buses only come near your home every 30-45 minutes.

Street parking near the Rainier Beach/Henderson station was removed for many blocks. The bus stop for one of the major southbound routes is 1/4 mile from the Link station, in front of an auto junkyard and in the dark. And, in another sad twist of fate, the crime rate in Rainier Beach is bad enough that the SE Crime Prevention Council routinely warns transit riders to hide their electronics and to walk in pairs, and to move seats on the trains if they feel threatened. That would be most every day.

A few simple, if temporary, kinks can be made. Besides the plethora of social service agencies, the Rainier Valley is awash in churches -- most of which have empty parking lots at least 5 days a week. These churches could rent out their lots as park & rides, which would help them and create additional revenue (the city taxes parking, no? simple legislative fix perhaps to address the church's profit taking).

The city, county and Sound Transit need to get over their failed attempt at social engineering and to deny gentrification. Why would anyone want to keep a blighted area blighted? Because you are afraid of a few people screaming about gentrification? Puh-leeze. Examine the exodus of middle class African American families to Kent; of Asians to Federal Way and Bellevue. Of Latinos to Crossroads. Then talk to us about how minority families desire to stay in blighted neighborhoods.

West Seattle and Ballard exploded with development alongside the "new" monorail's Green Line, killed by Sound Transit/Greg Nickels and duped voters in 2005. But developers went "all in" in 2003 and 04 before the big flop, and the gloriously dense neighborhoods are thriving with residents, small and medium businesses, and heavy transit usage. Similarly, South Lake Union is booming along with the SLUT.

So let's address some new realities. Let's force some changes. Let's let private investors do what government has failed to do in Rainier Valley these past, sad 50 years.

Posted Tue, May 21, 1:58 p.m. Inappropriate

The large amount of new TOD in Ballard and W. Seattle is all along bus routes -- there is no light rail there, nor is any planned. With just proves that there is no need for stupidly expensive rail, when buses generate much more TOD than Central Link light rail. And buses cost a fraction of what light rail costs to build.

The development in Ballard and W. Seattle has nothing whatsoever to do with the Green Line monorail plans, other than the properties which were bought by the monorail authority and then sold to developers, which gave them some large lots to develop that otherwise might not have been available.


Posted Wed, May 22, 2 p.m. Inappropriate

Lincoln, you are grossly incorrect. The amount of land that monorail stations required was minimal, and several of the "station" lots contain the same businesses. The old Ballard Denny's is a notable exception. Developers began snatching up land all along the Green Line beginning in 2003. Metro didn't expand transit in that corridor whatsoever until last year, with great hiccups on the launch of the new Rapid Ride. In West Seattle, the new developments begat even more development, particularly once important neighborhood assets like Trader Joes (old Huling Brothers lot, not a monorail station) went in.

Posted Sun, May 26, 6:52 p.m. Inappropriate

Yes. I visited Seattle some time back and wanted to try it out. I started in the South end a little after 9:00AM and could not find parking. The parking lot was tiny and full. I kept following the stops North. The lots were still full. Most aggravating was the 2 hour parking in the Valley around the stops. So I had to pop into town, checking my watch the whole time, and pop back out.

Tourist dollars not spent.

Posted Tue, May 21, 10:59 a.m. Inappropriate

I concur with the writer. I've had reason to be in that neighborhood several times in the last year and can say that Station at Othello apartment building the only nice appearing building nearby. It looks like it was dropped by accident from somewhere else. The other businesses reflect their age and probably the precarious nature of their existence with poorly maintained facades, etc. The parking lot of the woebegone Safeway is a mess, and the pictures that accompany this article don't do justice to the huge barreness of the main intersection area. And, I don't find the cookie cutter 4 and 8 packs nearby attractive, either.

Furthermore, I don't really find anything much attractive along the whole train route, at least not a few months ago, which was the last time I drove it. I hate the big needles or claws or whatever they are that line the tracks, and I didn't see any businesses attractive enough to entice me to park and visit. Maybe those who live in the area have a different experience, but for me, my travels in the area only served to validate my opinion that train mania is a wasteful way to throw our money around, and provides nothing that buses couldn't provide at presumably a much smaller price.


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

The ugly truth: red-lining, circa 2013.

No way can we continue to throw money into light rail with this kind of brain-dead planning and total lack of healthy results.

Posted Tue, May 21, 11:22 a.m. Inappropriate

Of course, the lenders (or self funded developers) do not want to finance where WE invested incredible tax dollars for growth and density and it is disgusting. Small developers can't get a break. Office of Economic Development doesn't seem to pay much attention to small businesses either. There are lots all over town that are zoned and even permitted, but if not on Cap Hill or Ballard fergettaboutit.

I'd suggest putting a choke on the 'hot' areas to force options limited to those places that actually WANT and NEED more density, especially near light rail. And, yes housing must have offerings for a healthy mix of incomes. And yes, people in single family homes will see their land values rise to the point where the taxes or landlords will push them out. The question is, will those folks be able to still live in the community? One for one replacement, with the addition of market rate housing, is something we have not done --- even with the large HUD projects.

I think the land values already have risen by a huge factor near light rail in South Seattle, but land owners are sitting on the properties. I need to find the report, I believe by the PSRC.

I predict it will take about 10 years, but I'd sure like to have the heat lowered on Ballard and other areas with more limited transit options.

What is 'pencil out' anyway? Isn't that being defined by the same big finance jerks that put the world economy into a crash? I NEVER hear a percentage. Remember that buildings have a long long life and an apartment building will pay off for a landlord over time. I see no need to be held hostage or to pay some vig for more affordable housing, the city should just lay out the parameters and define where they build. In comparison to other cities, we demand very very little.

Posted Tue, May 21, 2:19 p.m. Inappropriate

A lot of what you ask for is illegal, as well as inappropriate.

If I can't make my financial investment "pencil out", then I am out.

It's still my right.

Posted Tue, May 21, 4:35 p.m. Inappropriate

It's one's choice to build or not. But, without actual numbers, 'pencil out' is not a meaningful phrase.

Posted Tue, May 21, 2:37 p.m. Inappropriate

I think the land values already have risen by a huge factor near light rail in South Seattle, but land owners are sitting on the properties.

Stop lying, scumbag.

Single family residential properties are the predominant type of property, by a wide margin, near light rail stations. The ones near those stations have not performed nearly as well as s.f.d. properties in every other part of the city over the past eight years.

Not only can the author Eric Scigliano back me up on this from his own observations, you can prove it to yourself by looking at the county assessor’s data (using iMap). Take a look at how the values have changed for any number of the properties near the Othello Street station. Those properties’ values now are at about the same level as they were in 2006, which is three years before light rail was operating.

These are three properties within four blocks of the Othello St. light rail station:

4421 S FRONTENAC ST -- it is worth less than in 2006

4609 S ORCHARD ST-- it is worth less than in 2006

4614 S GARDEN ST -- it is worth the same as in 2006

The actual figures from the assessor's office show home values near those stations have not increased much, if at all.

My property -- along with most everyone else's in this city -- is worth more now than in 2006. Luckily it is nowhere near a light rail station.

Moreover, as this story points out, commercial property isn't doing that well near light rail stations either (absent spot upzones anyway -- and those are just gifts to urban property speculators).


Posted Tue, May 21, 4:30 p.m. Inappropriate

"Stop lying, scumbag". Thanks for that, Crossrip.

Those who claim property values are soaring (gentrifying) ARE lying. But the lies support their agenda, so they keep on lying.

The evidence is in the low rents. You cannot claim soaring property values, and then talk about how real estate investments 'don't pencil'. Are these sleazy non-profit developers stupid, or do they think WE are? Obviously, they believe they can say --with a straight face-- that property values are soaring, which justifies them buying-up more land, and then wail loudly about how low the rents are and failure of commercial development.

Ignore the greedy and self-interested non-profit housing developers. They are responsible for skewing rents, concentrating poverty in 9811 AND in the re-segregation of races in just 13 of the city's census tracts.

According to the census bureau 2010 census, Asian & Hispanic populations are being re-concentrated in Seattle. Seattle makes the Census Bureau's "Top 50 Most-Segregated Cities" list. Seattle didn't make this list before light rail. Post-light rail --and with the expansion of subsidized housing here-- Seattle now holds the dubious ranking of 'most-segregated'. Nice, huh? Why don't just keep listening to the developers. Soon 98118 will be the largest ghetto on the west coast.

Posted Tue, May 21, 4:54 p.m. Inappropriate

"I think the land values already have risen by a huge factor near light rail in South Seattle, but land owners are sitting on the properties."

The comment above is code for the ever-present threat of eminent domain. Greg Nickels, and several members of the City Council, along with ALL the non-profit housing developers have attempted to impose a special 'eminent domain district' in 98118. In fact, they've made three attempts to create a special district in 98118 where residents don't enjoy the same property rights as white, middle-class neighborhoods.

City leaders and housing developers want the ability to condemn a property through eminent domain, then force the owner to sell to make room for more shoddy 'affordable' housing. Right now, only SHA has the legislative authority to condemn property through eminent domain.

Can you imagine what Laurelhurst or Magnolia residents might say if city leaders complained to them that 'you're just sitting on your property --and enjoying the appreciation!'

There's a real double-standard in City Hall. City housing policy isn't just racist, it's beyond racist.

Posted Wed, May 22, 7:35 a.m. Inappropriate

Hey SS, Greg Nickels has been out of office for nearly 4 years. Wake up! This is 2013, and nobody has been promoting eminent domain since Nickels' deservedly failed effort.

Posted Tue, May 21, 5:13 p.m. Inappropriate

I said land -- not property. The value of the land on those addresses you list has risen. Land values in many other single family and many multifamily neighborhoods have fallen, while the improvements value has fallen less or stabilized.

7100 42ND AVE S
7100 43RD AVE S
7132 43RD AVE S

And before you come back at me and scream liar again - I understand how the land value increases on those properties I just listed is very much a function of zoning and upzoning right near the light rail stations.

It just seems cattywampus to me. I would think the goal is to have a nice neighborhood where more people can utilize the light rail without displacing current residents.

Posted Tue, May 21, 5:46 p.m. Inappropriate

"I'd suggest putting a choke on the 'hot' areas to force options limited to those places that actually WANT and NEED more density, especially near light rail."

Please check your facts. SE Seattle is already one of the densest of Seattle's neighborhoods. Light Rail has done zero to help mobility. Many seem oblivious to the fact that the train only has four stops in the Rainier Valley. And, the train goes to the airport, not to the jobs at Southcenter. The train is underutilized because it is fixed rail --from point A to point B. SE residents rarely find fixed rail useful.

In terms of density, Ballard and West Seattle could use more. So could Magnolia and Green Lake and Laurelhurst. Please don't suggest that more density is needed in the poorest and most crowded section of the city, 98118. SE has already met or exceeded it's 2024 Growth Management Density goals. Other neighborhoods have not.

Light Rail is no reason to increase density, unless you're a sleazy politician or a poverty pimp that relies upon publicly-funded housing for your paycheck.

What SE needs is more middle-class residents to help balance the skewed poverty demographic. Then, SE needs commercial & retail business development. To add more residents without commercial growth is a recipe for a slum. SE is 2/3rd's of the way to slum right now. More housing density will be the final nail in the coffin of 98118.

Posted Wed, May 22, 12:42 a.m. Inappropriate

Yup, commercial and retail development. That's what we want where I live, too.

Posted Tue, May 21, 12:09 p.m. Inappropriate

The one thing that is certain is that Seattle finally has a rail link to its airport (SeaTac). So there is a real and economical alternative to the $ 50.00 cab rides and the convoluted and time consuming bus alternatives of the past. The benefit to the Rainier Valley suffered with the recession and quite a few people that purchased homes in the new developments ended up “underwater”. Over time, however, this should right itself.


Posted Tue, May 21, 2:01 p.m. Inappropriate

The express bus from downtown Seattle to the airport took 30 minutes. Central Link light rail takes 40 minutes.


Posted Wed, May 22, 7:42 a.m. Inappropriate

The Rt. 194 bus took 30 minutes when the freeway wasn't congested. During other hours of the day, it was a roll of the dice.

Link light rail has 2.4 times the number of trips to the airport than the 194 ever did. The long waits for the bus have been reduced to mere minutes.

Posted Tue, May 21, 1:52 p.m. Inappropriate

Thank you for your spot-on article concerning growth and development in southeast Seattle. Not only did you seem to get the facts right, but your observations about the ever present quandaries as to what is desired seem entirely accurate.

"What was it you wanted," asked the singer in the song.
Rarely do we move smartly toward something but we battle over it for years (I-90, Sound Transit, etc) and then we say "this is not what I wanted, this is not my beautiful future." Was there ever a clear vision? No. Was anybody entrusted to invent one? No. To implement one? No.

To quote a former county elected: we really don't do this community economic development well. Let's leave it to the private sector.


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

To paraphrase Yogi Bera:

If developers don't want to build TOD along the Central Link light rail line, you can't stop them.


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

Of course they don't want to build along the Central Link light rail line - what the city wants to mandate will not pencil out.

Let them build what they believe will pencil out, and at lease something would come in to slow down the decending staircase of blight.

Posted Tue, May 21, 9:58 p.m. Inappropriate

But TOD, like the city wants built along the Link light rail line, does apparently pencil out in Ballard and W. Seattle on bus routes.

So, what is the point of building insanely expensive light rail lines?


Posted Tue, May 21, 2:07 p.m. Inappropriate

Well between Tony To's false statements and the City planners stupidity as well as earnest yet stupid Mayoral candidates, SE Seattle may as well secede and merge with Renton. They'd do a LOT better.

Seattle Stupid reigns again.

Quit forcing an unnatural planning path, or get used to urban blight such as shown in these photos.

Logical money got up and left a long time ago, and it's not because of the population here, it's because of the morons of City planning and City elected combined with the total morons who are allowed to run light rail into the proverbial ground.

Blight never was such a massive part of Seattle until the advent of "Public Policy" and the official State/City/County wars against cars.

Seattle is well on it's way to be a city of worker tech bees and poor people who can't scrape enough together to move out. The very wealthy live on the water, or in high rises, or on the Eastside, but mingle not.

Posted Tue, May 21, 2:39 p.m. Inappropriate

I wholeheartedly concern with your comment -- "Quit forcing an unnatural planning path ..." I haven't heard a better comment for the direction the elected officials, SDPD and Office of Housing is taking this City in. A primary recent example is the upzoning of SLU for Paul Allen and Amazon without the requirement of providing low income housing -- oh the developers had to pay into the Office of Housing fund but it's not going to be located in the new high tech, highly polished neighborhood. The new Broadmoor. I wonder how long it will be before Paul Allen realizes the "New Mercer Mess" isn't what he envisioned and he asks the city to lid it for a park -- aah, yes, remember the Commons.


Posted Tue, May 21, 2:40 p.m. Inappropriate

That word should have been concur, not concern.


Posted Tue, May 21, 4:03 p.m. Inappropriate

City leaders aren't stupid, they're brilliant. Seattle leaders spout diversity, but then enact the most racist city planning policies with the help of the non-profit housing cabal. They get Tony To and the other public housing agencies to dominate all the local neighborhood councils. They vote in favor of more subsidized housing (because the local residents won't vote to support the city's agenda). In return, the city (and state and Federal government) shower funding on Tony To's HomeSite agency, among others. The residents of SE Seattle are left out, ignored, and dismissed. Red-lining? Yes. Steering? Absolutely. Racist? Without a doubt. Nobody wants SE Seattle to succeed --except the people who live there. The city and Tony To make too much money from the poverty industry they've created in 98118. Hey, and poverty pays really, really well.

What 98118 needs is an investigation by the HUD Inspector General. Somebody needs to drop into 98118 and see how agencies like HomeSight are spending public tax dollars.

Posted Tue, May 21, 5:24 p.m. Inappropriate

Posted Tue, May 21, 5:35 p.m. Inappropriate

The Puget Sound Regional Council is comprised of political has-been's and some political wanna-be's. These are politicians from around the region who seek the umbrella shield of the PSRC in order to advance unpopular city planning projects which have previously been rejected by individual cities. The PSRC lends credibility to planning and projects that cannot stand on their own merit. The PSRC famously weighed-in on the Third Runway at Sea-Tac, forcing the bad plan ahead toward approval. Good planning would have created a new regional airport in Lewis County or Snohomish County.

Now, the PSRC is taking aim at privately owned land around light rail station areas. There's a lot of potential around station areas ---not for residents, but for developers. That's because the Sound Transit Link Light Rail isn't really a train. Although it has round steel wheels and passengers, it's not a train. It's a rolling pot of federal dollars --endless federal dollars. Where the train goes, so do numerous pots of public tax dollars. Those who follow the train are pimps. They pimp the train for money and they pimp the neighborhoods of southeast Seattle. They are called "Poverty Pimps".

If the PSRC is promoting transit-oriented development, you can bet there are some politicians and their developer buddies that are going to get rich.

Posted Tue, May 21, 7:41 p.m. Inappropriate

PSRC doesn't represent anything normal. This group should be disbanded, and quickly.

Thanks, Norge. I think the more people start realizing that we are being force fed something that simply will not work the better.

More people need to voice their opposition to these ultra expensive, and unnatural planning paths. They simply are not working, and will never work.

Southeast Stakeholder, while I think 98118 is being seriously screwed, I don't believe an investigation by the HUD Inspector General will result in any meaningful results. Their own salaries (and BONUSES) are too dependent on work in zip codes such as 98118.

Red lining is illegal whether you are Sound Transit, City of Seattle or even HUD, and this BS reverse red lining should be too. You cannot pack 'em in all the same place, provide the worlds most expensive train to nowhere, and pretend that this is appropriate at any level.

It's gross.

Posted Tue, May 21, 11:12 p.m. Inappropriate

"Red lining is illegal whether you are Sound Transit, City of Seattle or even HUD, and this BS reverse red lining should be too. You cannot pack 'em in all the same place, provide the worlds most expensive train to nowhere, and pretend that this is appropriate at any level."

I couldn't have said it better, 'common1sense'. Thanks for that.

Of course, you are correct on all point. However this has been the city's agenda since 2000 --when Greg Nickels was Mayor. The City Council has adopted the Nickels bully, top-down style of governance since Nickels was tossed out.

I don't see any change in city policy so long as people continue to re-elect Bruce Harrell, Sally Clark, Tom Rasmussen, Tim Burgess, and Richard Conlin... These people are among the highest-paid City Council's in the United States. Can you imagine? They can't budget, they can't fix roads, and they act contrary to the public will. Neighborhoods are suffering and Seattle's famous quality of life is slipping away.

Some fresh faces --with democratic tendencies is what Seattle cries out for.

Posted Wed, May 22, 1:38 p.m. Inappropriate

Southeast Stakeholder, I moved away from Seattle, but still work in Seattle often. I can't vote here, but you can.

Better candidates are the complete answer. Run for office, or find someone you can support, and support them financially.

The Seattle City Council is vastly overpaid, and underqualified. Peter Principal at work, and this is the voters fault.

All things change, and even the Seattle political climate can change. It just needs some major pushing.

Posted Wed, May 22, 9:06 a.m. Inappropriate

From a planning perspective, the light rail on grade in the middle of the street on MLK is a real blight and a barrier that disrupts the value of the main street completely. This is why I shudder when the Planning Commission talks about "transit communities". Yikes.

Perhaps the east - west cross street, S Othello St could be reinvented as the main street and the light rail route could become a sideshow instead of the main event. I grew up in a beautiful bucolic town in NJ along the train tracks into NYC. The train crossed the main street perpendicularly, not parallel. I think this is key. From my on-site observations at Othello, I think reorienting to S Othello St is very do-able.

Additionally, for decreases in crime, charming blocks with high density residential uses that come right down to the street level should mingle aggressively with commercial, not cookie cutter stack and pack mixed use everywhere. If you look at the patterns of older cities you see that the marketplace and main street have their place, but that family friendly tight neighborhoods form more easily when the residential touches the sidewalk realm. Additionally the streetscape should be very humane and welcoming.

Concentrating poverty into isolated monocultures is a bad idea in my opinion. If the idea is to herd "work force" and low income folks to this neighborhood as a reservation type of solution, I oppose that. In terms of creating a jobs center, a bit more gentrification would need to occur. Gentrification can be a great influence in a high poverty / high crime neighborhood - it can delete the problems of a monoculture. It just needs a lid on it which means keep things diversified - don't replace one monoculture with another. Non-profit REITs would go along way to getting middle-class affordable commercial space and housing there.

I spent a few hours talking to the folks at The Othello Neighborhood Association a number of months ago. I sensed that they were in agreement with the direction I'd want to go.

Also, in terms of creating a jobs center... light rail costs $200M a mile. It seems somewhere in the equation, we could more proactively partner with others to build jobs centers. Not retail or low paying service junk, but real well-paying jobs centers.

Posted Wed, May 22, 11:08 a.m. Inappropriate

Everyone needs to remember that the government heads around here decided they knew better than what planning staff was telling them:

Former City Councilwoman Jane Noland said she had no faith in the planning department's studies that indicated a negligible economic benefit from light rail. She said she was convinced from riding transit in other cities that new stations would provide a hub for new development.;=rail16m

Jane Noland was wrong about that, and she was foolish to disregard what the planning staff was telling her.

The government heads wanted the heavy taxing powers and zero accountability that Sound Transit offered, so they spun a tale about how it would create a boom of TOD around the stations. Now what they are doing in light of how wrong they were is 1) handing out spot upzones (to bribe favored private investors to build), and 2) both selling properties to non-profits and directing SHA spending along MLK Jr. Way. Those activities show the public some building is going on proximate to the light rail line, and they create the illusion of success.


Posted Wed, May 22, 9:58 p.m. Inappropriate

Oh Crosscut. How soon political nicknames are forgotten. "Streetcar" Charlie Carroll I remember as a kind man who served on the Seattle City Council after once having been a bus driver, an honorable line of work. It was "FAIRCATCH" Charlie Carroll – Charles O Carroll the UW football star and Republican Prosecuting Attorney – who was linked to corruption and gambling interests. Those were, I believe, nicknames awarded by the late, great Ed Donahoe who wrote for the Teamster newspaper to make it clear who he was skewering at the moment. They were two, very different gents: "Streetcar" Charlie, a working guy, and "Faircatch" (reference to Ed's view of C. O. Carroll's football wimpy-ness) Charlie, who held county-wide power over criminal prosecutions and who also had the ear of Seattle's power elite in the 1950s and '60s.

Posted Wed, May 22, 10:12 p.m. Inappropriate

Oh dear. That would be "whom" Ed was skewering. And he did. Those were the days.

Posted Thu, May 23, 11:43 a.m. Inappropriate

Response to Eric Scigliano article in Crosscut entitled How City Wastes Light Rail in Southeast Seattle RESPONSE BY MONA LEE

This article creates a devastating view of my neighborhood reminiscent of the tornado that hit Moore, Oklahoma.

The Othello neighborhood is a place I walk about in every day and find in many ways attractive. I wonder if Scigliano ever buys lunch at the taco bus and takes it across the street to sit on the bench above Othello Park looking out at its view of Mount Rainier. I wonder if he ever walks up the Chief Sealth Trail, climbs the little path above where the trail crosses Holly Park Drive and looks out at the Cascade Mountains to the East and the Olympics to the west.

My daughter told me that because she had me for a Mom, she tends to see the glass half full instead of half empty. I don’t know. When I walk up to the corner of MLK and Othello Street, the main attraction for me is the light rail station resembling an Asian garden. It isn’t the Station at Othello Park housing development although that helps by echoing some of the beauty of the Station. The dancing ladies in front and all the art work in the station area, by the way, were built by Sound Transit. The train pulling into the station is cheerful an picturesque, not eerie as Mr. Scigliano sees it. No one could call it “blight.”

As for the half-full glass, I just wish the business owners along MLK would pull the weeds, bark the planting strips, pick up the trash in front of their stores and orient their businesses toward the sidewalk in front instead of the ugly parking lots in back. I wish a high tech firm, community college, hospital or some clean employer would purchase the big vacant lot from SHA and build something nice. No, Mr. Scigliano I don’t want a big parking lot there.

We had beautiful visions for Othello. You can glimpse them in the Othello Neighborhood Design Guidelines which are on the City’s web site. There were developers eager to build there. Ask P.J. Santos of the former Opus Northwest. Ask Steve Rauf and Mike Hlastala of the former Othello Partners. Neither the City of Seattle nor Sound Transit could have foreseen the Great Recession. No one did. The forum May 13 at New Holly was our neighborhood’s effort to take a deep breath and try to pick up the pieces. But the Seattle city government is no more to blame for the recession than the Moore city government is to blame for the tornado.


Posted Thu, May 23, 1:28 p.m. Inappropriate

Neither the City of Seattle nor Sound Transit could have foreseen the Great Recession. No one did.

No idea what the point you are trying to make here is, Mona.

Are you suggesting the only economic climate in which light rail here could be a success is if there is a continually-roaring real estate appreciation environment (such as we had in the mid-1990’s, when the Sound Transit light rail buildout was planned)? That would mean Sound Transit is doomed to be a failure.

Also, the “Great Recession” isn’t the reason so many lots near Sound Transit’s light rail stations remain undeveloped, contain boarded up storefronts, and are home to nail shops and other bottom-of-the-pile tenants. For example, there has been a boom in apartment construction in this city since the recession ended four years ago. That rapid buildup has taken place in areas far away from light rail stations though, such as in SLU, Ballard, West Seattle, along Madison Street, Belltown, Lower Queen Anne, etc.

At this time Sound Transit and some private entities own lots of property suitable for commercial and residential development along MLK Way, and there is not a strong market for those properties. There were several bills in Olympia this year trying to address this problem by authorizing Sound Transit to sell properties to low-income groups at less than market value as a way of unloading those wasting parcels. Here’s one of those bills:

That’s not how it was supposed to be. Light rail was supposed to cause a boom in private construction around train stations, and big property value increases, the way light rail in other regions functions. That’s what the proponents argued:

Rail, unlike bus systems, opens up all sorts of additional development opportunities (that's another way of saying, "Yes, even more jobs"). Portland's experience is that $6 billion in development occurred within walking distance of MAX light rail stations since 1980. There are similar findings in Dallas and San Diego, where property values around the light rail stations jumped by double-digits.

Why hasn’t it worked out that way here, as the boosters expected? One possible reason is that not many people around here want to live near a train station. Another possible reason is that developers consider Sound Transit’s train lines and stations to be negative environmental features. Clearly businesses are not rushing in to build near any of the stations along MLK Way, even though the large employers around here have been bringing in record profits over the past couple of years.


Posted Thu, May 23, 7:31 p.m. Inappropriate

Lack of parking and already-filthy looking transit centers are certainly a problem for developers who depend on making a profit.

Posted Thu, May 23, 7:37 p.m. Inappropriate

Oh my goodness, it's Pollyanna. Mona Lee, do you walk after dark in your neighborhood? I wouldn't recommend it.

The recession didn't cause the blight issues. Those were caused by Sound Transit and City of Seattle bad decisions.

Posted Thu, May 23, 1:04 p.m. Inappropriate

If ever a term was misused here in Puget Sound it's "mass transit". The only mass involved is the weight of the buses and trains because there's no mass of people choking the system. The squanderment of money into the various massless transit projects within King County is money that should have been directed to something truly worthy, like education or a good brew pub.


Posted Thu, May 23, 7:33 p.m. Inappropriate

A good brew pub ... put one at every transit station and maybe I'd change my mind about Sound Transit exhoribitant costs.

But it really does have to be really good.

Posted Thu, May 23, 9:31 p.m. Inappropriate

I figure with a good brew pub, teaching math would be a snap. Just think about it, percentages, volumes, monetary values, etc. Botany would be included, hops and wheat. Chemistry, the list is endless. Overall the good citizens of King County would be better served if schools were moved into brew pubs. Nothing like alcohol to enhance the learning skills of American youth. I see the truth of it everyday I shave.


Posted Mon, Jun 3, 12:18 a.m. Inappropriate

Common1sense and Djinn, you may be pleased to hear a brewpub--and a good one--recently opened down here in SE. It's called Spinnaker Bay, and its Scottish ale would rip the kilt off that stuff they make in the Market. It's also a real third-place neighborhood meeting ground, the kind of joint Orcas Landing started out to be before its publican acted wacky and drove the customers away. It supports STEM education by posting the ABW/alcohol by weight of all its brews on the chalkboard (and charging for them accordingly). And it's just half a mile from the light rail line.
Of course, it's also a mile or more from any rail station, on Rainier Ave in Hillman City. As you might expect, light rail had nothing to with it or the other good things that are starting to happen around there.

Posted Thu, May 23, 11:55 p.m. Inappropriate

I find it amazing that people are still pushing this boondoggle as positive in any fashion. MANY of us who weren't listened to suggested that light rail needed to connect more populated areas like Ballard, GreenLake, UW, and even the East side FIRST. Build to areas that were more affluent first and get ridership high. Promote the success of rail to those areas, that would transport workers from the outer neighborhoods that contained higher percentages of downtown workers, and NOT be a glorified fast taxi from the airport. WE weren't listened to at all, and instead are now left with the mess of transit that noone uses. At the very least at this point, they need to build several large parking garages along the far southern end of the current line, and allow commuters to travel to those garages, and take transit the rest of the way in. Eliminate the transit stops through the ghetto, and make Light Rail be an express service for South King county commuters to get to downtown in under 10-15 minutes. Enough is enough.

Posted Sun, May 26, 10:04 a.m. Inappropriate

Oh, holy goodness, not light rail near Greenlake! At least not in my lifetime. I consider myself greatly blessed that I am outside whatever urban village boundary was drawn, and therefore at least a few blocks from the ugly 4 & 8 packs that have, as predicted, choked the streets with cars because no one appears to want to use the teensy garages. Every day I am grateful that for now my quality of life is safe from this blight going up everywhere. If rail is the reason this is allowed, that gives me just one more reason to oppose it!


Posted Sun, May 26, 1:09 p.m. Inappropriate

The ugly 4 and 6-packs have invaded the top of Phinney, what makes you think Greenlake will be exempt?

Posted Sat, May 25, 8:50 a.m. Inappropriate

Let a geriatric voice be heard! I am eyeing the S. Rainier transit station as a place to settle when my car is no longer an option. The young adults who populated this city in 1973, when I arrived, are now getting older, so your demographic has changed. We are not going away, and we are not dying. We like it here, and we are healthier! And we need affordable housing on our dwindling pensions, and ways to get around.

There's an artist's loft building going up on S. Rainier at its intersection with MLK Way. Next to the transit! This is attractive to a person like me. You need people like me in diverse neighborhoods to "gentrify" the place. Your light rail will be a boon to seniors. We don't like bus stops much, especially at night. Especially near low-income clusters.

Someday you're going to be "old". Sooner than you think!


Posted Sun, May 26, 11:22 a.m. Inappropriate

The title alone shows the sense of entitlement of the author. It's well known that South Seattle is predominantly populated by people of color. The argument that the city has wasted money on light rail in South Seattle is veiled racism.

There should be demands that private investors develop the area according to specific guidelines intended to maintain diversity. It is common knowledge that private developers receive all sorts of kickbacks from city, state, and federal governments--subsidies that are paid for with the tax dollars of every citizen--the Vietnamese restaurant owner, the Ethiopian hair salon owner--everybody. But instead, all communities of color get is urban blight, food deserts, drugs introduced into their communities. The list is endless.

Meanwhile, predominantly white communities are subsidized by the city with bank redlining practices to prevent people of color from moving in, inflated property values, and private development. Wake up white people and start interrogating your own racist perceptions of communities of color and private development. You are part of the problem, not the solution.


Posted Sun, May 26, 1:05 p.m. Inappropriate

Deb, you've missed the point. The reverse redlining going on in South Seattle isn't veiled racism, it's stark and unveiled racism.

Grouping all the low income people into one geographic area is wrong.
The solution is not to demand anything more from private developers, but to demand better from elected and bureaucratic leaders.

Posted Sun, May 26, 1:08 p.m. Inappropriate

PS bank redlining practices are illegal. Government redlining practices should be too.

Login or register to add your voice to the conversation.

Join Crosscut now!
Subscribe to our Newsletter

Follow Us »