Housing density bill passes WA House on day one of 2024 session

a photo of two homes under construction side by side

Two houses under construction in a Seattle neighborhood, photographed Aug. 2, 2014. (Ted S. Warren/AP)

State lawmakers are wasting no time getting going on their 2024 housing agenda.

On Monday, the first day of the 2024 legislative session, the House of Representatives voted 94-4 to pass House Bill 1245, which would allow single-family parcels to be divided into two lots to incentivize the development of more and smaller single-family homes.

“Washington is producing the fewest housing units per household of any state because we are hampered by restrictive zoning laws and an antiquated Growth Management Act,” said lead sponsor Rep. Andrew Barkis, R-Olympia, in an emailed statement after the bill’s passage Monday. “This bill would remove unnecessary barriers to provide Washingtonians more homeownership opportunities and the ability to develop their own property.”

The bill aims to allow for denser development within existing single-family neighborhoods. And because the houses will be smaller by necessity, the hope is that they will be sold for less than the typical large single-family home built today.

Barkis also said that “lot splitting could be a major source of affordable housing for young professionals, seniors and everyone in between.”

A nearly identical version of the bill passed out of the House in 2023, but died in Senate committee without receiving a vote.

If it passes this year, Washington property owners in any residential zone that allows single-family units would be allowed to split a lot and sell it for construction of a second unit. The bill stipulates that each lot could be no smaller than 1,500 feet and must be at least 40% the size of the original lot.

For many cities this would be a marked change. Existing zoning laws, which vary by city, set minimum lot sizes for single-family homes. The longtime standard in Seattle, for example, was one unit per a minimum of 5,000 square feet in single-family zones.

The impact would be muted in Seattle because single-family homeowners can already build two accessory dwelling units on any residential lot — one attached to the main house and one free-standing. Accessory dwelling units can be sold to individual owners in Seattle through condominium agreements.

But even for Seattle, there could be benefits. In its analysis of the 2023 version of the bill, the think tank Sightline said that lot splitting would allow for simpler ownership and easier mortgage financing than backyard cottage condo setups.

More generally, Sightline said, lot splitting would help create starter homes, provide lower-priced entry points to amenity-rich single-family neighborhoods, disincentivize demolition of older homes for construction of McMansions and more.

Lot splitting is just one of many housing bills lawmakers hope to tackle in the short 60-day session. Others include rent stabilization, increasing density near transit and finding a new dedicated revenue source for subsidized affordable housing construction.

HB1245 now heads to the Senate for consideration.

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Nirvana bassist runs for president to establish WA centrist party

A person with a moustache smiles in front of a backdrop that has the logo of the Grammy awards.

Krist Novoselić at the Pre-Grammy Gala on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023, at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP)

Krist Novoselić, the former bassist for Nirvana, is playing several shows through July 27 with his newest band  – the Bona Fide Band – to gather signatures to get on the presidential ballot. But Novoselić says the nomination is just a means to an end – to gain official recognition for a new centrist political party in Washington.

If the party gathers 1,000 signatures from registered voters, Novoselić will be on the November ballot as the nominee for the Cascade Party of Washington, but he says he is not campaigning to beat the front-runners President Joe Biden or former President Donald Trump. Instead, the Cascade Party of Washington says that nominating a candidate for president is the only way in this state that it can be recognized as a “bona fide political party,” enabling it to coordinate with and support candidates directly, which a political action committee cannot do.

The Cascade Party says it has petitioned the Secretary of State to remove the requirement of running a candidate for president for official recognition, but it will play by the rules in the meantime and nominate Novoselić by gathering signatures at the shows – which qualify as official conventions under state rules. People can also sign the petition online via the party website. The deadline to hold the conventions is July 27. Upcoming show dates will be July 18 to 27 in cities including Vancouver, Cathlamet, Tacoma, Yakima, Spokane, Richland and Walla Walla. The Cascade Party of Washington states that it represents those “tired of the polarized fringes dominating our politics,” and its platform includes greater urban density, funding law enforcement, a “market-driven transition” to renewable energy and more.

WA Supreme Court lets high-capacity ammo ban stand for now

guns on a wall

Guns for rent at Bellevue Indoor Gun Range on Monday, Aug. 22, 2022. The Washington Supreme Court ruled that Washington’s ban on high-capacity magazines may remain in effect for now. (Amanda Snyder/ Cascade PBS)

Washington’s ban on high-capacity magazines for semi-automatic weapons will stay in effect, at least for now, the Washington Supreme Court ruled on Monday.

The decision, written by Chief Justice Steven Gonzalez, acknowledges the Second Amendment concerns of the petitioners against the 2022 state law, but also notes that many other courts have upheld the constitutionality of high-capacity ammunition bans.

The Supreme Court decided the ban would remain in effect until it can hear arguments on the case in the state’s appeal of the lower court ruling. That hearing could potentially happen this fall.

The decision involves a September 2023 lawsuit by Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson against Gator’s Custom Guns in Kelso alleging the store had offered more than 11,400 high-capacity magazines for sale since the state ban went into effect in July 2022.

Cowlitz Superior Court judge Gary Bashor ruled in April that Washington’s ban on magazines with more than 10 rounds of ammunition violated the state and U.S. Constitutions. Ferguson filed the successful motion to the state Supreme Court for a temporary stay of ruling. Monday’s ruling solidified that temporary stay.

More than 400 new housing units will be built near the Link Light Rail Mount Baker station, including affordable housing. The City of Seattle Office of Housing announced a partnership with Mercy Housing Northwest and El Centro de la Raza to develop these new housing units to “promote community-centered development” in the neighborhood, according to a press release. 

After the pandemic, residents proposed to transform the areas around the station by using them for art, music and other community events to deter crime. 

The University of Washington transferred this property, including the former UW Laundry site, to the city in June 2020. The redevelopment will include affordable housing, child care and an early-learning research facility. The child care center will serve 160 students and provide job training for early-learning educators. The city budgeted $5 million for the project, which will receive additional funding from partners. 

Mercy Housing Northwest and El Centro de la Raza’s plans call for a total of 431 new homes at 2901 27th Ave. S.; 2700 S. Winthrop St.; and 26th Avenue South and South Forest Street. 

About a third these homes are reserved for families earning at or below 30% of the Area Median Income, which currently is $45,200 for a family of four. More than half of the development will be for family-sized homes. The city says this is part of the One Seattle strategy for inclusive and sustainable communities.

The two organizations will receive city funding from the Seattle Housing Levy, the JumpStart/Payroll Expense Tax and the Mandatory Housing Affordability program for the first phase of the project. 

PBS News Hour reports that former President Donald Trump’s campaign said in a statement that he was “fine” after being whisked off the stage at a rally in Butler, Pennsylvania, after apparent gunshots rang through the crowd. 

Video of the incident quickly spread on social media Saturday afternoon, showing Trump grabbing his ear before falling to the ground and being surrounded by Secret Service agents. He later arose with blood on the side of his face before being escorted off stage.  

Check the PBS News Hour homepage for the latest live updates on this developing story, or follow them on X

What’s back, on hold six weeks after Seattle library cyberattack?

A sign on a shelf asks patrons to keep their books, CDs and DVDs because the library cannot currently check them back in.

Because employees of the Central Library have had to manually check in books when they are returned, the library is asking patrons to hold onto their physical books, CDs and DVDs until the system is running again. (Caroline Walker Evans for Cascade PBS) 

Six weeks after a ransomware attack at Seattle Public Library took out many services, wi-fi and printing are now available again at all branches, and the Peak Picks program for popular titles is  expected to make a comeback next week. 

But it could be several more weeks before patrons will be able to return books or place them on hold, according to the library’s blog.

Not everything at the library has yet been restored following  the attack that impacted services over Memorial Day weekend. The library is expecting most of its services to be restored in the next five to seven weeks, according to its blog. The public computers, which many patrons use for job searches and homework, are expected to come back online in mid-to-late August. 

While patrons have access to E-books, audio books and physical items, they can place holds on or return only E-books and audio books. The ability to place physical items on hold could be available in late July or August, according to the library, and they have asked patrons to hold on to the physical books they have borrowed. There is no estimated date for when the library will start accepting returns.                               

All digital services were restored and are now available for use, including the library website, streaming services like Hoopla and Kanopy, Museum Pass, Seattle Room Digital Collections, online newspapers and magazines, and learning tools for students and adults like tutoring and homework help. 

Despite the ransomware attack, the library has continued to hold in-person events such as  author signings, family story times and more. All locations and spaces, like meeting rooms or study spaces, are still open during normal business hours. New patrons can sign up for new library cards in person, but they won’t be able to sign up online until late July or early August. 

Staff are able to answer questions in person or through phone and email. The library hopes to restore the online chat on Monday, July 15. 

New Spokane Police chief Kevin Hall
Kevin Hall will serve as Spokane’s new police chief after spending three decades with the Tucson Police Department. (Photo courtesy of the City of Spokane)

Spokane Mayor Lisa Brown named Kevin Hall as chief of police, the latest in a number of new hires since she entered office earlier this year.

Hall, who will oversee the police department for the second-largest city in the state, comes to Spokane from Arizona, where he spent more than three decades with the Tucson Police Department. Most recently, he served as the department’s assistant chief of police.

Former chief Craig Meidl left the Spokane Police Department at the end of last year and is currently working as interim chief for the Richland Police Department. Assistant Police Chief Justin Lundgren has been serving as interim chief since early this year.

A start date for Hall is to be determined, but city officials said they expect him to start before Sept. 1.

The police chief selection committee included a cross-section of city leaders, advocates, business owners and industry leaders, including Dave Dunkin, president of the Spokane Police Guild; Spokane City Councilmembers Michael Cathcart and Paul Dillon; and Dr. Luis Manriquez, assistant clinical professor at Washington State University’s Floyd College of Medicine.

Hall was selected from a group of four finalists, which included Tom Worthy, police chief in The Dalles, Ore.; Matthew Murray, who recently served as chief of police in Yakima; and Col. Kathleen Lanier from the Memphis Police Department.

With Hall’s selection, Mayor Brown, who defeated former Mayor Nadine Woodward last year, has filled the last significant vacancy in her leadership team. Most recently, in April, Brown appointed Julie O’Berg as chief of the Spokane Fire Department, a position she had held on an interim basis for several months.

In an interview with Cascade PBS earlier this year, Brown said that she was searching for a police chief who was a good communicator and open to innovative practices from around the U.S. and tackling the city’s ongoing budget deficit.

Earlier this month, Brown declared a state of emergency to address the city’s opioid crisis. Among the strategies to combat the crisis is to work with law enforcement at all levels to deal with the ongoing drug market in the corridor of Second and Division streets.

Along with announcing the selection of Hall as police chief, the Spokane City Council also announced they would seek volunteer committee members to provide feedback for and against a community safety ballot measure that would increase the sales tax by 0.1%, with exemptions for food, prescription drugs and other necessities. The city estimates the new tax will raise $6.5 million in revenue annually. Among their plans for the money are upgrades and replacements to fire equipment, a relaunch of the city’s neighborhood resource officer program, and the expansion of its capacity to respond to extreme weather conditions. Brown had announced the sales tax proposal earlier in the week.

Burn ban issued for Washington forest lands through Sept. 30

Smoke from wildfire at the Washington state Capitol

In this Sept. 12, 2020, file photo, smoke from wildfires in Oregon and California create hazy skies above the Washington state Capitol in Olympia. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

The Washington Department of Resources has implemented a statewide burn ban for state forest lands in response to dry summer weather conditions that increase wildfire danger.

The state agency is implementing the ban in response to dry summer weather conditions that increase wildfire danger statewide. The DNR is looking to reduce potential wildfire ignition as firefighters respond to several fires already raging across the state. Much of the state, which has been experiencing a heat wave in recent days, is under high, very high or extreme fire danger.

Under the ban, which began Wednesday afternoon, outdoor burning will be prohibited on any forest lands under DNR fire protection through Sept. 30. This includes campfires and charcoal briquettes. Depending on fire conditions, the DNR may extend or shorten the ban period.

The DNR ban does not include burning on private land or on local, state or federal park lands. But local bans may be in effect. The Washington Department of Ecology keeps track of some other burn bans, and local fire agencies issue others. For example, King County is under a Stage 1 Burn Ban, which means residents cannot burn yard debris, but recreational fires are OK. King County restrictions do not usually impact cities like Seattle, which has its own regulations and bans.

The Washington Supreme Court on Wednesday unanimously dismissed a challenge to a Lacey law targeting homeless people living in recreational vehicles.

The plaintiff in the case, Jack Potter, left the Lacey City Hall parking lot in 2019 under threat of impound after the city passed an ordinance that prohibited RVs and other large vehicles from parking on city streets or parking lots for more than four hours. He relocated his trailer to Olympia.

The decision comes days after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that cities may ban homeless people from sleeping outdoors even if they do not first offer shelter. Cities have already begun proposing stricter anti-camping laws in the days since the ruling.

Attorneys for the Northwest Justice Project, the ACLU and the National Homelessness Law Center portrayed the Thurston County suburb’s law as part of a wave of anti-homeless ordinances seeking to “banish” homeless people from the city. 

A federal district court judge sided with the city of Lacey in 2021. Potter then appealed to the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which asked the Washington Supreme Court to decide.

The Washington court’s ruling in the RV case concerned narrower legal questions than the Grants Pass homeless camping decision.

Potter’s challenge invoked a “right to travel” under the Washington Constitution, which he argued included a right to remain in place. Lawyers for the city defended the law as being within the city’s legal authority to regulate parking and said it applies equally to everyone.

The justices found Potter’s argument unpersuasive, writing that the right to travel does not confer a right to reside in a particular manner and does not protect “his preferred method of residing in Lacey: by siting his 23-foot trailer on a public street in violation of generally applicable parking ordinances.”

The state has fined The Home Depot $1.6 million for selling illegal hydrofluorocarbon products after two years of trying to get the corporation to comply with the law, the state Ecology Department announced Thursday.

The Legislature passed laws in 2019 and 2021 to phase out the use of hydrofluorocarbon products or HFCs. They are used mostly for refrigeration and air conditioning and can leak into the air if the equipment is damaged. According to Ecology, HFCs have hundreds of times the global warming impact of carbon dioxide.

One of the new state restrictions banned the sale of R-134a canisters at retail stores beginning in July 2021. R-134a is an HFC refrigerant used in automotive air conditioning systems with a global warming potential 1,430 times that of carbon dioxide, the news release said. Vehicle manufacturers had already begun phasing out the use of R-134a.

However, the Home Depot’s website continued to sell equipment with R-134a refrigerants through at least September 2023, according to Ecology. The Home Depot informed Ecology that it sold 1,058 units of the prohibited products in Washington between April 12, 2022, and Sept. 5, 2023, the state news release said.

“Restricting HFC products and equipment is key to achieving the state’s statutory greenhouse gas emission limits and ultimately getting to net zero by 2050,” said Joel Creswell, head of the Ecology Department’s Climate Pollution Reduction Program, in the news release. “HFCs safely sealed inside air-conditioning systems can be recovered, recycled and reused, but when they leak out, they become a major contributor to climate change.”

A 2008 state law that sets Washington’s carbon-reduction targets of 45 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, 70 percent by 2040 and 95 percent by 2050. 

WA Supreme Court says state can have a say in local evictions

Washington's Supreme Court Building

Washington’s Supreme Court Building. (Jovelle Tamayo for Cascade PBS)

The Washington Supreme Court ruled last week that Attorney General Bob Ferguson can continue pursuing a lawsuit against the city of Sunnyside.

Cities across the state have implemented a crime-free rental housing program in which landlords, tenants and law enforcement work together to reduce crime and improve the quality of life in rental properties.

In its 2020 lawsuit, the state claims that Sunnyside, in Yakima County, abused the program by forcing tenants out of their homes over unsubstantiated claims of crime or nuisance without a court order. The lawsuit said dozens of residents were forced out of their homes with little or no notice. The majority of the 43 alleged unlawful evictions between 2014 and 2019 involved Latino residents, women or families with children.

The state claimed that through unlawful evictions, the city’s law enforcement officers did not comply with provisions of the U.S. and state constitutions, the federal Fair Housing Act and the Washington Law Against Discrimination.

Yakima County Superior Court granted a summary judgment, agreeing with the city of Sunnyside that the state lacked the authority to pursue legal action for a variety of reasons, including that the city could not be subject to liability under the state’s Rental Landlord Tenant Act and that the attorney general is not authorized to enforce the private rights of a small number of individuals.

The Washington Supreme Court reversed that summary judgment. The court ruled that the state has an “interest in protecting the health, safety, and well-being of its residents, including holding government actors accountable against allegations of discrimination and violations of constitutional rights.” It also ruled that the state’s claims address matters of public concern, including the lawful operation of crime-free rental housing programs, protection of Washingtonians’ civil rights and prevention of police misconduct.

While the Supreme Court reversed the summary judgment, it let stand the Court’s dismissal of the state’s claim that the city of Sunnyside violated the Resident-Landlord Tenant Act. The Supreme Court sent the case back to the Yakima court for further proceedings.