Wednesday Jolt: 'Seattle Times' wins fight against density; everybody (except Brett Phillips) wins key endorsement

The day's winners and losers.
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Not coming to a neighborhood near you.

The day's winners and losers.

Today's Winner: 'The Seattle Times.'

Caving to pressure from homeowners who argued that the proposal would "ruin" their single-family neighborhoods and make them unsafe for families, Seattle City Council's land use committee voted this morning (Wednesday) to abandon, at least temporarily, a proposal to allow small commercial uses on the ground floor of low-rise buildings in urban centers (the densest residential areas of the city) and within a few blocks of light rail stations. 

Stripping out the upzone "would not have been my first preference, because I do believe that the changes that were proposed would have been positive and would have had a really modest impact," said committee chair Richard Conlin, the sponsor of the ordinance. "[But] clearly, that has not been a persuasive argument. … This [proposal] has raised so much controversy that I personally think we need to strip it out" of the legislation. Conlin said the council could reconsider that element of the proposal later, but added, "I don't have any particular plans about when this would be taken up again, if at all." 

Many of the commenters referred to two stories in today's Seattle Times a pearl-clutching, Page One story by Bob Young implying  that Mayor Mike McGinn and the council are in thrall to a secret cabal of developers who dictate city policy, and a fear-mongering companion piece by Lynn Thompson suggesting that new ground-level commercial uses in residential buildings could include everything from strip malls to fish-processing plants to strip clubs on quiet residential streets. (At today's meeting, one union representative also invoked the specter of Wal-Mart.)

Thompson's suggestions are particularly misleading, given that city regulations all but prohibit strip clubs in residential areas and that large-scale commercial uses, like fish processing, typically require more space than the regulations would provide (between 2,500 and 4,000 square feet, depending on the zone) and make more sense in parts of the city where real estate is cheaper, as opposed to the middle one of the city's most expensive residential neighborhoods. 

The stories were clearly effective. One speaker, quoting Thomas Jefferson's famous dictum that newspapers without government would be better than a government without newspapers, said, "I wasn't planning on talking, but I woke up this morning and i read the newspaper." Then he accused the council of colluding in secret to push through a pro-development agenda. 

Another said, "I don't know anything about what any of your plans were except for what I read in the paper this morning. I don't like this whole thing, from what little I know about it, and I think it needs to be re-thought entirely." 

In general, the opponents — and the commenters were almost all opponents — argued that the proposal would turn their beautiful, "family-friendly" neighborhood into an urban hellhole overrun with "strip malls without parking lots," corner "bodegas," and apartment dwellers (the horror). At one point, a group of opponents in the audience attempted to shout down a rare supporter of the proposal — Josh Brower, a member of the city's planning commission, which supported the ordinance on a split vote.

One woman went so far as to liken new apartment buildings to mosquitoes, mold, odor, and fungus destroying the basement of a lovely single-family home. "Think about the wet carpet in your living room." Imagine, she continued, "an invasion of apartment houses supplanting the once-beautiful mansions that dotted the landscape with sprawling lawns and children at play. … Would you like to live next to a popular pizza joint or tattoo parlor?" (Umm: Yes?) 

Another woman predicted that allowing ground-floor commercial would mean her toddler could no longer play on the sidewalk in front of her house. "Yes, this is 'Not In My Backyard,' " she said. 

Ultimately, the pressure was enough to convince even Councilmember Mike O'Brien, a supporter of the proposal, to support yanking the provisions. "I believe … a lot of the changes that are proposed in here are positive actions, but we also clearly heard from the community, specifically on Capitol Hill, that that feeling wasn't shared," he said, adding that he hoped the committee could revisit the issue after hearing more from residents.

The committee also decided to hold off on several other controversial aspects of the proposal, including a provision reducing the size of new buildings that trigger environmental review under the State Environmental Policy Act, and one (also the subject of a dubious recent front-page story in the Times) lifting the mandate that developers provide parking for new residential units. They'll take up those provisions, along with the rest of the ordinance, at their next meeting on June 13. 

Today's Loser: 36th District Candidate Brett Phillips

The King County Democrats were gracious enough to go with three of the main candidates in the race to replace retiring state Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson (D-36, Ballard) last night, endorsing: Race conscious Mike O'Brien aide Sahar Fathi; Progressive Majority leader Noel Frame; and Seattle Port Commissioner Gale Tarleton ... which means the other notable candidate in the race, green business advocate Brett Phillips, was seriously snubbed. I mean, if you're going to go with three of them...? (Evidently, Phillips decision at our candidate forum — saying he would accept the Stand for Children endorsement — hurt him with the Democratic crowd.)

However, Phillips did get the city's business lobby endorsement today. The Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy, CASE, endorsed Phillips and Tarleton today.

But before you pigeon hole Phillips as the conservative in the race, please note that he also got the lefty Washington State Labor Council endorsement earlier this month. Along with Frame.

  

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About the Authors & Contributors

Erica C. Barnett

Erica C. Barnett is the publisher and editor of The C Is for Crank.