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    A towering controversy in the Rainier Valley

    Differing views about the virtues of density surround a City Council committee bill that would raise height limits around the Mount Baker light rail station.
    Traffic near the intersection of Rainier Avenue South and Martin Luther King Jr. Way.

    Traffic near the intersection of Rainier Avenue South and Martin Luther King Jr. Way. Photo: Bill Lucia

    125-foot-tall buildings may rise on this Lowe's site on Rainier Avenue South.

    125-foot-tall buildings may rise on this Lowe's site on Rainier Avenue South. Photo: Bill Lucia

    An artist's concept of a likely result around the Mount Baker light-rail station of proposed zoning changes in the North Rainier area (click to enlarge)

    An artist's concept of a likely result around the Mount Baker light-rail station of proposed zoning changes in the North Rainier area (click to enlarge) City of Seattle report

    Armed robbers stormed into Bux4Gold on a sunny Saturday afternoon in August 2011. Surveillance video shows one assailant holding the counter clerk at gunpoint while his accomplice smashes the pawnshop’s glass display cases with a hammer and empties jewelry into a bag. The men then drive away in a white minivan.

    When a man wielding a sharp metal stick barged into the shop last May demanding money, owner Patrick Kane drew his permitted handgun, handcuffed the would-be thief and called the cops.

    “I promised myself I wouldn’t let that happen to my business again,” Kane says.

    Kane’s shop is a few blocks north of the Mount Baker light rail station on Rainier Avenue South. It is nestled in a corridor of the Rainier Valley known for crime and heavy traffic. Bux4Gold also happens to be kitty corner to a Lowe’s Home Improvement store, which sits at the center of a hot button land-zoning proposal about to make its way through the City Council. (Lowe's shares a parcel of land with an Amazon order fulfillment center. The adjoining 3.8-acre parking lot is technically a different property.)

    The council’s Planning, Land Use and Sustainability Committee began discussing a bill in late November that would rezone 109 parcels of land across a 26-acre area in the North Rainier Valley. The zoning changes in the bill are part of the North Rainier Neighborhood Plan, which Department of Planning and Development crafted between 2009 and 2010. The plan is intended to provide a blueprint for making the area around the light rail station more walkable and more dense with housing and businesses.

    While the zoning bill is laden with details about facade requirements and sidewalk widths, the debate surrounding it mostly hinges on the prickly issue of how to increase the number of apartments and businesses around light rail stations — while preserving nearby single family neighborhoods. Residents in the North Rainier Valley and others involved in the planning process express a range of views about these topics that are, at times, starkly contrasted.

    Local residents are especially sensitive about the proposed increases to building height limits, which would presumably pave the way for large residential structures on the edge of adjacent — and more affluent — blocks of single family homes in the Mount Baker neighborhood. The maximum allowable height would go from 65 to 125 feet on the Lowe's site itself; height restrictions would also change from 65 to 85 feet in areas to the south and west of the store. The bill would also classify most of the rezoned land as "Seattle mixed," a zoning designation that allows for a variety of residential, commercial and light industrial uses. 

    Kane’s shop falls within the boundaries of an area that would be rezoned to allow 85-foot buildings. He did not know about the proposal, but said he’d welcome the changes and that more buildings would make the neighborhood safer. “If there’s more density, there’s going to be more phone calls and that’s what drives police,” he says, adding that one of his shop clerks has been mugged twice at the light rail station.

    “We would welcome taller buildings, more buildings, more businesses,” says Kane. “This could be another Ballard or Fremont depending on the type of buildings that are built.”

    The plan’s critics argue that tall buildings are out of character with the surrounding neighborhood, that more residents would exacerbate parking problems and that the city has not thoroughly consulted local citizens about the rezoning proposal. Community members who support easing the height restrictions argue that the current zoning wastes opportunities created by the light rail station, inhibits business growth and guarantees that the area will remain blighted and crime-ridden. Department of Planning and Development officials, meanwhile, contend that the neighborhood plan and the zoning changes have been discussed in over 50 public meetings dating back to 2009 and were influenced by that community input.

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    Posted Tue, Dec 10, 10:05 a.m. Inappropriate

    “Our development is driven by the developers, not by the people,” said 40-year Mount Baker resident Megan Cornish at the recent City Council committee meeting. “That’s why Seattleites are so furious.”

    Is that the Megan Cornish of the Freedom Socialist Party and Radical Women?

    At any rate — this part of town becoming like Fremont, Ballard, or South Lake Union? Stranger things have happened, but I have a hard time seeing this happening anytime soon. On the one hand, it does make sense to increase heights and density near light rail stations. On the other hand, it seems there's still room for increased heights and density in neighborhoods that actually want it, and that it would make sense to concentrate there first. Even when it comes to similar neighborhoods I'd put my money in Beacon Hill before Mt. Baker/North Rainier.

    Posted Tue, Dec 10, 10:52 a.m. Inappropriate

    We live on Beacon Hill and we need more development! Bring it on please. Currently I have to drive off the hill to do many things. I want to be able to walk to my activities. The quote from the local Chinese immigrant community is spot on:

    'several members of the local Chinese immigrant community stacked the red buildings on top of one another on the Lowe’s site. “They wanted to build a 200- or 300-foot structure and turn the surrounding area into parks,”'

    THis is exactly what we should do for the top of Beacon Hill.


    Posted Tue, Dec 10, 3:03 p.m. Inappropriate

    It would be nice, however, if this didn't displace the current residents. My aunt lives just outside the zone where parking is time-limited, so not right next to the station but easily within walking distance. Her rent is currently somewhere around $450. I would hate to see all such places torn down and rents double or even triple. (Yes, I know $450 is an anomaly probably even for Beacon Hill... but I really do not want to see $1,000+ studios push working-class folks ever southward.) Figure out how to do this and it's a win-win!

    Posted Tue, Dec 10, 4:01 p.m. Inappropriate

    Yes, but I see it as a supply and demand issue. If we continue to restrict development using height restrictions, rents will continue to increase.

    I suspect on-street parking is the real issue here. People get used to that and they don't want "those people" occupying "their" parking spots.


    Posted Tue, Dec 10, 5:08 p.m. Inappropriate

    Benjamin, there is no better way to increase rents than limit or delay supply. A steady stream of newer apartments nearby would tend to keep your aunt's rent low, not increase it, absent other developments.

    Posted Tue, Dec 10, 7:19 p.m. Inappropriate

    New construction to create density might displace some current residents. There is no way to keep the old and make room for the new.

    Creating more units to rent should mean more competition, and rents being lowered by that competition.

    $450 for a unit that isn't in a single family home in Seattle was rare, even in the late 1980's. Your aunt is living in a time machine ... good for her!

    Posted Tue, Dec 10, 7:43 p.m. Inappropriate

    My grandmother never would shop anywhere she couldn't drive and park by the door, or later, take a taxi that would deliver her in front of the doors.

    The elderly and frail are a huge part of the population of Beacon Hill and the Southend ... I hope that light rail, density and urban planning doesn't destroy their ability to get out and about.

    Walking, even 30 feet, simply isn't an option for a huge number of people.

    Posted Tue, Dec 10, 8:03 p.m. Inappropriate

    Tearing down $450/month apartments (or, for that matter $700-800 ones) to build new upscale $1200+ units isn't going to make housing more affordable at the lower end of the rent spectrum, no matter how many times the armchair planners at the Seattle Transit Blog and their ilk state that it will.

    The City promised that affordable housing preservation was going to be a central part of the so-called Urban Village plans when they set the framework for the most recent push to increase heights. How's that been working out?

    DPD's credibility is at about zero with anyone who has experienced how they stage manage their so-called processes as they set about implementing 20+ year old developer wish lists.

    Posted Wed, Dec 11, 11:19 a.m. Inappropriate

    What bubbleator said. Sure, more construction around the Beacon Hill station, as long as they don't knock down my aunt's building, is fine for her rent. But what's more likely to happen is they knock down her building. And yes, $450 was cheap even in the 1990s... in fact, her rent really hasn't been raised much in the 20 years she's been there.

    That having been said, you know the new units are not only not going to rent for $450: they're not going to rent for, say, $800 either. New construction is going to be more expensive than old buildings. When I left Roosevelt last year, my rent was around $800. I don't think I could rent a unit in one of the new buildings being put up for anywhere near that.

    The question remains: are working-class people going to still be able to afford to live in Beacon Hill, North Rainier, etc.? They certainly can't afford to live in Ballard or Fremont anymore. And I'm talking about real working-class people, not households with incomes over $100,000. (In the article recently published here about District 5, it was billed as containing Lake City, one of the last "working-class neighborhoods" in North Seattle. [Northgate might have gotten a mention too; or was it Bitter Lake?] I know four couples who live up there [I probably know more, but four come to mind at the moment] and all of them have a household income in the [low] six figures.)

    Posted Wed, Dec 11, 8:05 p.m. Inappropriate

    "They certainly can't afford to live in Ballard or Fremont anymore." [Benjamin Lukoff]

    Yes they can, but only in existing homes purchased before the latest run up to half million dollar and higher prices. Like more than 15 or 20 years ago. There are many such houses throughout the NW sector with "real" working owner occupants (and retirees) hanging on. A more accurate statement is "the certainly can't afford to move into Ballard or Fremont anymore."


    Posted Thu, Dec 12, 10:10 a.m. Inappropriate

    You're correct, of course, louploup, when you say the working class can afford to live in Ballard and Fremont... "but only in existing homes purchased before the latest run up to half million dollar and higher prices. Like more than 15 or 20 years ago. There are many such houses throughout the NW sector with 'real' working owner occupants (and retirees) hanging on."

    But, as you note, the last time this was possible was 15 years ago at the latest. These homeowners are getting older and will end up selling or passing away. If they sell, the same sort of person will not be able to take their place. If their property goes to their heirs, unless there's only one heir, it will probably have to be sold, unless one of the heirs has enough resources to buy the others out. So even though working-class folks might be able to live there now, this will soon be a thing of the past.

    Of course time can't stand still. The days when single-income families headed by government employees could afford to buy a decent house in Washington Park (my family, and some of my friends' families) are long, long gone. But I really don't like the idea of single-income families being completely priced out of the city, and I'm afraid that's the direction we're headed.

    Posted Thu, Dec 12, 1:46 p.m. Inappropriate

    What would you suggest that a "working class" couple can afford for a mortgage payment?

    If a school teacher and a police person are a couple, their earnings are higher than $80,000 per year, which would be $6600 per month. At 25% of income, that means they could have a mortgage payment (including taxes, insurance, principle and interest) of $1666 per month.

    $1666 per month allows this couple to purchase a condo or a home with a mortgage amount of $269,595 (at 4.5% interest, with $300 of the payment being for taxes and insurance).

    Let's assume they only have a 10% down payment, this means they could buy a home just about $300,000. On the north side of the ship canal, Seattle shows 79 houses and condominiums for sale. Interestingly, they aren't selling like hotcakes, the datasheet my broker gave me shows the average number of days for sale is 104 days, and the average square footage is a sizeable 921 square feet.

    I harken back to the days of my parents first home (for 9 years), which was 810 square feet, and housed 3 children and mom and dad.

    Housing in some areas is very expensive. But according to this report, someone could buy a condo that is 585 square feet, built in 1984, for only $80,000. That seems very, very affordable to me ...

    All this talk of unaffordability ... is it true or is it that people have too high of standards compared to 20, 30, 40 years ago? Is that rise in the lifestyle of people something the government should/should not subsidize?

    It's not like my family's housing in that dinky little house was hard for us for 9 years of my life.

    And Benjamin, even in the 1960's my working class dad couldn't have bought a home in Washington Park. It's always been a high end neighborhood.

    Posted Fri, Dec 13, 10:25 a.m. Inappropriate

    You put forth school teachers and police officers as examples of the working class. I was thinking more hotel workers and folks in that range.

    But let's take your example. You estimated a household income of $80,000, which you calculated meant they could afford a $1,666/mo mortgage, or a $300,000 house. (You assumed they had a 10% down payment, or $30,000. But I'm looking at an article right now saying that median net worth in 2010 was $77,300. That doesn't appear to be exclusive of home equity or retirement funds, although it doesn't specify regarding the latter. I've heard elsewhere that median net worth exclusive of home equity is hovering around $10,000.

    I guess what I'm saying is: where is the $30,000 down payment supposed to come from? How do you save for that down payment and save for retirement? Plainly, a lot of people are not able to.

    But, again, let's take your $300,000 house. You say there are 79 houses and condos for sale in that range north of the Ship Canal, and say the average square footage is a "sizeable" 921 square feet.

    How are you supposed to raise a family in 921 square feet? Oh, it's certainly possible — my father grew up in a family of seven, including siblings and parents, in a small rowhouse in Philadelphia — but it's far from ideal. And before you say that working class folks shouldn't expect to have an ideal situation, perhaps — but my point is it's far from what they used to be able to get, too. (Sounds like you grew up in a similarly cramped situation.)

    "All this talk of unaffordability ... is it true or is it that people have too high of standards compared to 20, 30, 40 years ago? Is that rise in the lifestyle of people something the government should/should not subsidize? It's not like my family's housing in that dinky little house was hard for us for 9 years of my life."

    I don't know. Maybe they do, maybe they don't. And I'm not saying anything about government subsidies. I just don't want Seattle to turn into a bifurcated society. It's more that than anything else — not absolute square footage.

    "And Benjamin, even in the 1960's my working class dad couldn't have bought a home in Washington Park. It's always been a high end neighborhood."

    No, I never said a working class family could buy in Washington Park, but in the late 1960s and early 1970s, a one-income family headed by a UW humanities professor could buy a house there, and a one-income family headed by a state lawyer could buy a house a half-block north. I'm not saying this is something that should have been preserved, or that it is something that people in that situation deserve, or anything like that... but it's a good illustration of how things have changed. Nowadays the people in that neighborhood are two-income families, where both parents are physicians.

    One of my friend's grandfathers used to live on Capitol Hill, near Lake View. He did skilled manual labor. Not going to happen today.

    Again, not necessarily something that should be expected.. but it's obvious that people are being pushed further and further away. That's fine and natural... up to a point.

    Posted Tue, Dec 17, 11:34 p.m. Inappropriate

    One for one replacement at original lower rents, temporary housing costs, right of return. For residents and small businesses. We need to be serious about displacement.

    Posted Tue, Dec 10, 7:51 p.m. Inappropriate

    Are you kidding, Benjamin? Beacon Hill before Mt. Baker/North Rainier for density?

    I see it the total opposite. Put that density in the vally, where the most traffic comes thru. Beacon Hill is more of a quiet neighborhood, and density would be very difficult to move traffic needs to and thru.

    Posted Wed, Dec 11, 11:20 a.m. Inappropriate

    I thought density was supposed to go where transit went through, not cars. At least that's what they've been telling us.

    Posted Thu, Dec 12, 1:28 p.m. Inappropriate

    Density should go where people have existing services, including roads for cars. Beacon Hill doesn't adjoin nearly as many neighborhoods as the central district. And, density should go where people want it to go.

    Beacon Hill already has to deal with the freeway and Boeing Field, as well as very difficult access for vehicles moving to and fro.

    Posted Tue, Dec 10, 10:35 a.m. Inappropriate

    Make the area safe and people will come in droves. There's no reason that this area couldn't be filled with people and interesting shops and restaurants. It's very close to downtown and has very easy access to I-90 and I-5. I think it's a no brainer to change the zoning here to encourage density.


    Posted Tue, Dec 10, 7:34 p.m. Inappropriate

    Downtown isn't safe, yet seemingly people go there in droves.

    Maybe the city doesn't need police after all.

    Posted Wed, Dec 11, 11:21 a.m. Inappropriate

    Downtown's safe enough. Has everyone who says it isn't just moved here recently, and therefore doesn't remember the 1980s?

    Posted Wed, Dec 11, 7:53 p.m. Inappropriate

    Downtown is not safer than "in the 1980's". It's also far dirtier today, with more vagrancy and people living in the streets.

    It wasn't perfect in the 1980's, but the world after dark downtown Seattle today is so scary that even King County Sheriff John Urquharts' wife won't go downtown to meet him after work.

    From a September 2013 Crosscut article "This month, King County Sheriff John Urquhart may have brought crime back to the forefront of public debate. During a Seattle City Council committee hearing regarding crime in Seattle, the Sheriff said his wife is now afraid to come downtown and meet him after work:

    “This is the wife of a sheriff of King County who’s afraid. This is not good,” Urquhart said to the Seattle City Council’s Public Safety Committee."

    I well remember the 1980's downtown. Actually, quite fun. With parking available at reasonable prices,or even free.

    Posted Thu, Dec 12, 10:12 a.m. Inappropriate

    I guess our experiences have been different.

    Posted Thu, Dec 12, 1:53 p.m. Inappropriate

    Benjamin, of course our experiences in the 1980's with downtown Seattle are different.

    You were a young child, I was in my late 20's/early 30's. Seattle had lots of downtown crime, but it is worse today.

    Posted Fri, Dec 13, 10:03 a.m. Inappropriate

    I'm not as young as I look, but it's true... I ended the decade at 14, and though I spent quite a bit of time on Capitol Hill and in the U District as a teen, not nearly as much Downtown.

    Posted Tue, Dec 10, 10:42 a.m. Inappropriate

    Let them build 40 storey buildings. Why are the rich residents of Mt. Baker trying to preserve what amounts to a bombed out slum? I live very close to this area and would be much more inclined to visit and shop there. Currently it is overrun with criminals and cars.


    Posted Tue, Dec 10, 3:04 p.m. Inappropriate

    "Bombed-out slum"? You've never been to North Philadelphia, I take it... As for the Mt. Baker residents' motives, I'm not sure. I can't see preferring what's currently there to what's proposed... you'd think it'd raise their property values even higher.

    Posted Tue, Dec 10, 3:54 p.m. Inappropriate

    Yeah I might have been exagerating a bit! I hope Stewart Lumber never has to move and Remo's and Pacific Fish.


    Posted Tue, Dec 10, 7:37 p.m. Inappropriate

    I do like the cars just fine. Light rail will never replace the need for cars or buses.

    Posted Tue, Dec 10, 5:17 p.m. Inappropriate

    In the 1990's, the Chamber, SEED and many local residents fought hard to get light rail. The objective was not gentrification but to provide local people, many of whom could not afford cars, better access to jobs through good transportation. At the time, Metro was incredibly slow. The negative Save Our Valley reaction came after the we won the day but is all anyone remembers. Those of us who fought for light rail clearly understood that real density was a part of the bargain. The only reason why we are still talking about this is that city council members and mayors have failed to support ridership through density, irresponsibly wasting some of our huge investment in infrastructure. No city can afford to provide light rail for lightly populated single family neighborhoods. And no single family neighborhoods are threatened by the current proposals. Many of us expected, and are disappointed not to see, much higher density zoning around the new stations - more like what you see in Vancouver, B.C.

    Posted Tue, Dec 10, 7:54 p.m. Inappropriate

    And as many or more fought surface light rail through the Valley because they knew they were both getting shortchanged on the rail mode and also because it was going to gentrify them and/or their neighbors out of the neighborhood. And it's not like the RTA told everyone in Roosevelt and the Rainier Valley that 10+ story towers were part of the deal if you voted for light rail, either.

    As someone who has participated in the sort of "neighborhood" planning efforts DPD has been stage managing on behalf of their developer clients over the last few years, their claims to have incorporated community concerns ring hollow, to say the least.

    Posted Wed, Dec 11, 12:09 p.m. Inappropriate

    "city council members and mayors have failed to support ridership through density"

    The devil is in the abstracts!
    a) Professionals to and from highly gainful employment and other adventures;
    b) 24 hour use by the transit dependent, e.g., the users who made SE's network of transit routes highest use in the city long before light rail entered the scene.

    Density?: a) residents per acre b) units per acre, c) increased land values, d) costly non-combustible towers, e) equally dense, but much more affordable wood-frame

    I agree that elected officials, as well as those with the best of intentions who elect them, are easily confused by abstractions used to mask contradictions in the extreme. I disagree that the confusion has kept elected officials from acting before exposing the confusion, seeking meaningful participation in clarifying objectives, investigating in greater detail and sharing findings widely, and then revisiting objectives and the most likely means to effective action(s). It's a hard job, for sure. A lot of the time it is even hard to tell confuser from confusee.


    Posted Tue, Dec 10, 7:14 p.m. Inappropriate

    Light rail never notified the city, nor the neighborhoods that they might "need" 130 foot tall electric towers running thru single family streets (not arterials).

    Imagine a 130' tall electric tower next to your one story rambler built in 1955. Now imagine that same 130' tall tower next to your 2-story 30' home built in 2013.

    Nothing says to hell with the neighborhood like a nice 130' metal tower in a quiet residential street. Nothing about this light rail system has been intelligent.

    I am not against density. But the light rail needs to keep their 130' towers along their rail lines, or along the freeway itself. Nothing else can sustain the overpowering effect of a GIANT 130' tower pulling wires overhead.

    Posted Tue, Dec 10, 7:57 p.m. Inappropriate

    Not everyone is sold on the virtues of adding more density

    Those are the savvy people.

    Density is a code word in developer circles. Roughly translated it means "Huge profits for us, and externalizing social costs onto the neighbors who have owned homes there for long periods of time."

    Want a non-developer perspective on density? Read this clear-eyed piece:


    Everybody gets what light rail is around here, right? Sound Transit is a reverse Robin Hood, confiscating grossly excessive sales taxes and car tab taxes so that a handful of rich urban property speculators can get immeasurably richer. Wright Runstad, Kemper Development Company and Wallace Properties got their government head friends to absolutely hammer the lower middle class around here for decades with grossly excessive taxing so that light rail would benefit their parcels. No place else in the country finances light rail like that. We're special though -- we have government heads who tax like sociopaths.


    Posted Wed, Dec 11, 12:37 a.m. Inappropriate

    The Mt. Baker Station up-zone is an important step for achieving more equitable transit oriented development near light rail. Sound Progress www.soundprogress.org reports on the perspective voiced by the South CORE alliance which represents multiracial and ethnic communities rooted in South Seattle and South King County who believe that in order for transit oriented development to result in racial justice, social equity must be at the center of all planning decisions.

    They assert that "Passing this rezone is only the first step to building an equitable transit-oriented neighborhood. While the proposed rezone sets the boundaries for how North Rainier/Mount Baker will develop, the North Rainier/Mt. Baker area needs a significant amount of investment beyond zoning before our City’s vision for a thriving, and diverse community can be realized.”

    Read here for more information: http://soundprogress.wordpress.com/2013/12/05/south-cores-take-on-the-mt-baker-rezone-proposal/

    Posted Wed, Dec 11, 7:30 a.m. Inappropriate

    I'm pretty sure this up-zone wouldn't amount to a hill of beans in terms of bringing equity and social justice to the multiracial and ethnic communities rooted in the Rainier Valley, Julie. Just sayin' . . ..

    So Julie: In light of these groups' declaration that "social equity must be at the center of all planning decisions", what do they say about the excessive regressive taxing that Sound Transit employs? No other bus and train services provider in the country hammers the most economically-vulnerable communities with anything like the heavy sales taxes and car tab taxes Sound Transit uses as the security for its bonds. Heck, most light rail gets built up without that kind of taxing and without new long term muni bonds! Now I know "social equity" didn't enter into the minds of Sound Transit's financial architects for even a nanosecond . . . so what do these groups you reference think of that feature of what's going on "in the 'hood"?


    Posted Wed, Dec 11, 9:27 a.m. Inappropriate

    Talk to me, Julie.

    Sound Transit's aberrant, abusive financing plan hammers people of color disproportionately heavily. Young families of modest means, the elderly, immigrants, the disabled . . . these are the demographics that are targeted by the exceedingly heavy transit taxing here for the greatest financial impacts.

    I get you are a paid spokesperson for racial minority groups. What is the reason those groups – and you – keep your heads buried in the sand about how the abusive taxing in the name of transit does far more harm than good to the communities of color in Seattle?

    It's not like light rail has been good for the minority communities near its lines. The data from the King County assessor’s office show residential properties within a couple of blocks of light rail stations have not risen due to light rail. Indeed, they've done worse than elsewhere in the city. Here are three residences within four blocks of the Othello St. light rail station; those properties’ values now only are at about the same level as they were in 2005, which is three years before light rail began operating there:

    4421 S FRONTENAC ST -- it is worth less than in 2004

    4609 S ORCHARD ST-- it is worth less than in 2005

    4614 S GARDEN ST -- it is worth less than in 2005

    In contrast, residential property values in other parts of the region that are nowhere near light rail stations have done far better than that over the same period.

    Large commercial property developers get even richer when light rail like this is paid for by excessive regressive sales taxes that target individuals and families. THAT is who Sound Transit exists to benefit, not disadvantaged minority groups. Who misled you about that fact?

    Maybe you are stuck in some kind of analytic rut that runs along these lines: “Trickle down economics is valid, because Ronald Reagan said so.” Is that where you are coming from?

    Sound Transit has taken thousands of private properties using its condemnation powers. Those now are off the county tax rolls, causing increases in everybody's property taxes. What is the hidden property tax cost of Sound Transit's activities to the average homeowner around here? That's another way it is bad for these people you say you represent.

    Somebody needs to talk some sense to you. This up-zone planned for near Franklin High School isn't going to do diddly-squat to improve the lives of 99% of the multiethnic and racially diverse groups you represent.


    Posted Tue, Dec 17, 10:13 a.m. Inappropriate

    You can't judge actual property value by tax assessments. The assessments are lagging behind by 3 years or so. If you look at the arc of the assessments overlaid on the arc of actual comps for the last 10 years you'll likely find they look similar, except the comps would peak sooner, fall sooner, and would be at least 10% higher than the assessments at the peaks and the valleys.

    Posted Tue, Dec 17, 11:26 a.m. Inappropriate

    Post a link to that graph you're referencing. Let's see if your "3-year lag" story is supported by data from the subject locale.


    Posted Wed, Dec 11, 7:54 p.m. Inappropriate

    Julie, are you really this naïve?

    Posted Wed, Dec 11, 1:08 p.m. Inappropriate


    I agree with you that a regressive taxing system is an unfair burden on low income families. But thanks to Tim Eyman, Sound Transit does not have a politically viable progressive or even a flat impact revenue tool available to it. Does that mean we should deep six light rail? No. Does it mean that we shouldn't make equity around light rail a priority? No. Does that mean we shouldn't make the investments necessary to ensure that residents are not displaced as the cost of living goes up near light rail stations? No. Does that mean that this up-zone is a net loss for low income families and people of color? No.

    The second largest household budget expense low income families face is transportation (second to housing of course.) Car dependence is extremely expensive for low wage workers, especially those with poor or no credit history. The used car industry employ predatory lending practices to put people with little disposable income into total lemons.

    Living close to rapid transit is one of the best ways to save on transportation costs. However, low income and communities of color already present in the Rainier Valley DO face displacement due to gentrification and other destabilizing economic factors (like stagnant wages, foreclosures, high percentage of renters etc.)

    Regarding your "analysis" of housing prices near Othello: A few things to note. 1. King County property tax assessments are not market analysis. The market appraisal value of MY home near Othello is nearly $100,000 above what King County has assessed my land value for tax purposes. Looking at King County assessments only gets you so far. You need to look at other factors, which leads me to 2. Rents have gone up, and a large portion of RV residents are renters, not owners. 3. Foreclosures have been high in the Valley (3 foreclosures on my block in the last 2 years.) 4. Mt. Baker Station is not Othello Station; these are very, very different neighborhoods and the process of gentrification and displacement varies from one neighborhood to the next. Othello station faces different challenges when it comes to small business development for example.

    I'm sure your concern for low income and communities of color is sincere, but those directly affected by these policies can and do speak for themselves. South CORE is one way they are doing just that. The point is that they have examined the same information and have reached a different conclusion over what is in their best interest. I'm simply calling attention to that fact.

    Please also understand that I am not excusing developers!!! Of course they are only in it to make money. The question is whether or not the policies will keep them in line.

    Posted Wed, Dec 11, 2:10 p.m. Inappropriate

    But thanks to Tim Eyman, Sound Transit does not have a politically viable progressive or even a flat impact revenue tool available to it.

    You can't be serious. You are 100% wrong about all that.

    Sound Transit is a municipality that has progressive revenue sources available to it now. Sound Transit's revenue options were provided to it by the democrats who sponsored its enabling legislation in 1992. Its board had, and still has, the options of using a payroll tax, revenue bonds, LID assessments, federal and state grants, fare revenues, and other non-regressive revenue sources. Those unaccountable political appointees on that board thumbed their noses at those. Instead, they selected sales taxes and car tab taxes as the primary revenue sources – unlike any of the peers. Then they pledged grossly excessive amounts of those taxes as security for general obligation bonds – again, an aberrant financing practice none of the peers use.

    The state legislature could have seen to it that light rail was financed properly, but the democrats in control preferred imposing heavy regressive taxes, for a number of reasons. That is the cold, hard truth.

    Eyman had absolutely NOTHING to do with Sound Transit's revenue options or financing practices, ever. How could you possibly be so misinformed about that? You just threw all your credibility out the window.

    You asked a string of random questions, and answered them all in the negative. You seem to think light rail is causing displacement. There's a difference between correlation and causation. The Rainier Valley may be getting whiter, but that phenomenon is not caused by light rail. The flaw with your simplistic causal analysis on that point is shown by how residential property values haven't increased near the line more than elsewhere, and in fact property values proximate to stations have not increased as much as in other areas far from the line.

    Let me ask you a couple of germane questions. Should those minority groups you represent advocate for a more fair financing structure for light rail? Yes they should. Can the members of all those minority groups you represent impact Sound Transit's financing policies or practices via political means? The answer to that is NO, because Sound Transit was structured by the democrats from the outset as an unaccountable oligarchy. People can not control the composition of its board, or the policies that board sets, by ANY political means. THAT is a huge problem all those minority groups should address. Advocating for this upzone that won't help 99% of their memberships is a waste of time and resources.

    1. King County property tax assessments are not market analysis.

    Actually, they are. The King County Assessor's office establishes a value for all properties, and for residences it is based on comparable sales. That is by definition a market value. This is from the assessor's office website:

    “How do you determine the value of real estate?

    “Each year, our accredited appraisers assess your property at its full market value using one or all of three approaches: Market (comparable sales), Cost (reproduction or replacement cost, less depreciation) or Income (income or capitalization of economic rents).”

    Two more points:

    – The fact that you see high foreclosure rates near light rail stations shows there is a lack of demand for those properties, underscoring how light rail is not helping those neighborhoods.

    – Rents have been increasing all over the region. That's not unique to the Rainier Valley, it is not due to “gentrification”, and it is not caused by light rail. Further, rents in the Rainier Valley may well drop soon as all the new apartments scheduled to come on line in the city over the next two years attract tenants and the employment situation deteriorates with the anticipated Boeing “77x” assembly work starting up elsewhere. Rent fluctuations – even upward ones – don't justify rezones like this one.


    Posted Sat, Dec 14, 11:32 p.m. Inappropriate

    "Eyman had absolutely NOTHING to do with Sound Transit's revenue options or financing practices, ever."

    Incorrect or incorrect because of hyperbole.

    ST issued bonds supported by the MVET as security in 1999. I-695 passed the same year and King County Superior Court did not uphold ST's rights to use the MVET until early 2000. I776 (Eyman again) passed in 2002, and the WA Supreme Court ruling that upheld ST's rights to use the MVET didn't come until 2006.

    Tell me how that amounts to "NOTHING to do with ST's revenue options... ever."


    Posted Sun, Dec 15, 9 a.m. Inappropriate

    @ nullbull: Neither of those two initiatives either expanded or reduced Sound Transit's revenue options or financing practices. All Sound Transit's revenue options came from the state legislature via that 1992 enabling legislation, and all its financing practices were established by its unaccountable board.

    What about those realities is confusing to you?


    Posted Sun, Dec 15, 8:46 p.m. Inappropriate

    I'm confused why there was a specific suit about whether or not ST could continue to use the MVET (one of their funding options, as you say) to support bonds immediately after 695 if 695 had no effect on Sound Transit's revenue options.

    Did neither Eyman's initiatives affect them, and then they filed suit BOTH TIMES because... they don't understand the law as well as you?


    Posted Sun, Dec 15, 8:46 p.m. Inappropriate

    I'm confused why there was a specific suit about whether or not ST could continue to use the MVET (one of their funding options, as you say) to support bonds immediately after 695 if 695 had no effect on Sound Transit's revenue options.

    Did neither Eyman's initiatives affect them, and then they filed suit BOTH TIMES because... they don't understand the law as well as you?


    Posted Mon, Dec 16, 9:21 a.m. Inappropriate

    Your confusion on those points would be clarified if you read those two opinions.


    Posted Wed, Dec 11, 8:49 p.m. Inappropriate


    Just FYI I'm not speaking here as paid spokesperson, nor am I representing or speaking on behalf of anyone except myself. I'm a resident of the Rainier Valley who has an opinion and I'm sharing it. I also happen to be the editor of a blog for an organization that is researching gentrification and displacement in the Rainier Valley, and I've learned a lot from our exceptional team of researchers.

    I'm grateful for our polite conversation. I'm glad you are not one of those annoying commentators who bait, goad and put down others for the sheer enjoyment of being snarky and superior. I'm especially impressed that you don't personalize your comments toward others or imply that they are naive or stupid if they don't agree with you.

    It has been truly pleasant to discuss this issue with you, but unfortunately our conversation is now at an end.

    Posted Thu, Dec 12, 1:31 p.m. Inappropriate

    A little closed minded, Julie. Being open to a full community discussion is exactly what your blog should do.

    Posted Fri, Dec 13, 5:35 p.m. Inappropriate

    It's sad and pathetic and darkly humorous to see the "progressives" wonder why housing is unaffordable in Seattle.


    Posted Sat, Dec 14, 11:38 p.m. Inappropriate

    I live in the Rainier Valley, I grew up in Seattle, and I hope we get development. Candidly, I think most or all of the resistance comes from people who got a slice of Seattle a long time ago (like when I was growing up or soon after), and expect the city to stand still to preserve their way of life for them. Judging by the still-robust demand for the massive number of additional units that we're seeing go in all over the city, I think we've already stood still too long. The current development boom is fueled by a lot of things, but chief among them is the legacy of saying no to anything that looked truly urban for 20 years.


    Posted Sun, Dec 15, 6:02 p.m. Inappropriate

    Muggings by thugs have been too commonplace in the Rainier Valley since the early 1980's when I lived there.

    The article quotes a business person who feels growth is necessary. I agree. While it doesn't have to be 125' buildings, why not? A few of them would be terrific.

    Having a 2103 business owner tell us that one of his shop clerks has been mugged TWICE at the light rail station is very discouraging news. “If there’s more density, there’s going to be more phone calls and that’s what drives police,” he says, adding that one of his shop clerks has been mugged twice at the light rail station.

    Seattle does need growth in all areas. Equalize the areas by allowing all to grow. The Rainier Valley has this nice, new light rail ... where no way in hell will I allow my family members to go given this business owners comment about his clerk being mugged twice there.

    We moved from the area in about 1985 over to Greenlake because of crime. It's not gotten better in nearly 30 years. That's crazy.

    Posted Sun, Dec 15, 8:55 p.m. Inappropriate

    common1sense - you clearly haven't bothered to come back nor educate yourself about crime in the Rainier Valley. It's been 30 years, try testing your "knowledge" of the area again, maybe?

    Regardless of your laughably outdated knowledge of the area, I think that more development will be a good thing. Put more people there, more eyes on the street, etc. Muggings are bad. 2 are hardly cause for calling an entire quadrant of the city a place you wouldn't allow your family to go. I allow my family with 2 small children to LIVE here. We feel very safe. We have a great block, great neighbors, and a great community.


    Posted Tue, Dec 17, 8:25 p.m. Inappropriate

    Laughably outdated? Just go online to the Seattle police website and check out crime statistics. The Rainier Valley crime rate has soared, and much of it is still violent, and far too many random gun deaths with innocent victims.

    Don't think muggings at the light rail station won't result in a stabbing or gunshot death.

    There certainly are some very safe blocks and streets. The crime mostly is along MLK, and Rainier Way. Union seems to never go out of style as a high crime, high gunshot street, depending on which block you're on.

    Do you let your kids walk up into the business districts alone? Do any of you walk there? My crazy 8 ball says "not bloody likely".

    We do agree however: more development will be a good thing. Put more people, and more eyes on the street - that will help. The light rail adds an element of convenience, and an element of dangerous situations. Would you allow your children to walk to the light rail alone?

    Posted Mon, Dec 16, 12:18 p.m. Inappropriate

    dont take my lowes.

    and if you have to, make sure to put it somewhere nearby. residents need access to a large hardware store.

    Posted Tue, Dec 17, 8:27 p.m. Inappropriate

    Lowe's should be one of the main streetside anchor retailers, with businesses and condos built above it. Mixed use towers will plenty of parking, and the place will fill up quickly.

    Posted Mon, Dec 16, 12:20 p.m. Inappropriate

    also, that area, nestled between the two "peaks" of mount baker and beacon hill, already has the WORST traffic in all the valley. that much development is going to turn it into the worst traffic in all the city. there just arent any other arterial options than Rainier and MLK. not everyone is going to take public transit.

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