Backyard Cottages Are Key to Building Inclusive, Multi-generational Neighborhoods

October 8th, 2018

I am pleased to share we are one step closer to legislation to lower the barriers to building backyard cottages and basement units in Seattle. The Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) has been published.  The EIS evaluates the potential environmental impacts of proposed changes to the City’s Land Use Code intended to remove barriers to the creation of accessory dwelling units (ADUs) in single-family zones (also known as backyard cottages or in-law apartments).

The results of the analysis indicate that all of the action alternatives would increase the production of ADUs and would reduce the number of teardowns of single-family homes citywide compared to the No Action alternative.  Here is a brief description of the EIS and Preferred Alternative.  The Preferred Alternative analyzed in the Final EIS represents the changes I intend to include in legislation, hopefully in early 2019.

Some key elements of my proposal will include:

  • Allowing two ADUs on one lot
  • Removing the off-street parking requirement
  • Allowing Detached ADUs (DADUs) on lots of at least 3,200 square feet
  • Removing the owner-occupancy requirement
  • Requiring one year of continuous ownership to establish a second ADU
  • Allowing DADUs of up to 1,000 square feet, the same size currently allowed for AADUs
  • Increasing DADU height limits by 1-2 feet, with flexibility for green building strategies
  • Providing flexibility for one-story DADUs accessible to people with disabilities or limited mobility, with limitations on tree removal
  • Establishing a new floor area ratio (FAR) standard that limits the maximum size of new single-family homes and encourages ADUs

The Environmental Impact Statement, which commenced in October 2017, represents the capstone on a multi-year effort to explore policy changes that would spur creation of ADUs.

Based on comments we received and the analysis that was conducted, we believe that backyard cottages will allow homeowners to increase the number and variety of housing choices in single-family zones. What’s more, the addition of ADUs will afford homeowners and renters alike a mix of housing types at prices accessible to people at a variety of incomes. This includes family members who want to age ‘in place’, or increase their income through a long-term rental.

Without an appeal to the EIS, we would plan to introduce legislation and take Council action in early 2019.  If the EIS is appealed, Council cannot take action and the timeline becomes more uncertain, depending on the complexity of the appeal and scheduling availability.

I am eager to move forward with legislation and have heard from hundreds of people over the last few years who are ready and waiting for us to move forward.

The Final EIS is available here on our project website and you can also view this piece is a piece published about the EIS in the Seattle Times.e same size currently allowed for AADUs

  • Increasing DADU height limits by 1-2 feet, with flexibility for green building strategies
  • Providing flexibility for one-story DADUs accessible to people with disabilities or limited mobility, with limitations on tree removal
  • Establishing a new floor area ratio (FAR) standard that limits the maximum size of new single-family homes and encourages ADUs



The Environmental Impact Statement, which commenced in October 2017, represents the capstone on a multi-year effort to explore policy changes that would spur creation of ADUs.


Based on comments we received and the analysis that was conducted, we believe that backyard cottages will allow homeowners to increase the number and variety of housing choices in single-family zones. What’s more, the addition of ADUs will afford homeowners and renters alike a mix of housing types at prices accessible to people at a variety of incomes. This includes family members who want to age ‘in place’, or increase their income through a long-term rental.


Without an appeal to the EIS, we would plan to introduce legislation and take Council action in early 2019.  If the EIS is appealed, Council cannot take action and the timeline becomes more uncertain, depending on the complexity of the appeal and scheduling availability.


I am eager to move forward with legislation and have heard from hundreds of people over the last few years who are ready and waiting for us to move forward.


The Final EIS is available here on our project website and you can also view this piece is a piece published about the EIS in the Seattle Times.

Transit Savings – How Employees and Employers Could Save Money

September 19th, 2018

Employees and employers could save money through pre-tax commuter benefits.

For many Seattle families, public transit costs are a major household expense. National data shows that transportation costs are the second highest household cost after housing, affecting cost-burdened households in Seattle.  But few people know they can set aside money for transit expenses through a pre-tax payroll deduction. That money can be used to commute via bus, rail, ferry, or water taxi.

Pre-tax commuter benefits save employees and employers money in the long run by allowing workers to allocate up to $255 for transit costs before taxes are applied. For a Seattle worker making between $38,700 to $82,500 per year and deducting $100 per month in pre-tax commuter benefits, that Seattle worker would save $356 a year in taxes.

Commuter benefits also save businesses money. By offering the pre-tax benefit, businesses save about 8% on payroll taxes because the commuter benefits are allocated before taxes are applied. In the example above, the business would save $92 per year for that one employee.

This is a rare opportunity to reduce taxes for both employees and employers, and the tax discount is significant enough that more people may be encouraged to take public transit, which in turn reduces our impact on the environment. The City of Seattle would be following other cities, including San Francisco, Berkeley, Washington D.C., Oakland and New York City.

So why do so few people take advantage of pre-tax commuter benefits, which are available for everyone in the country?  Often, it’s because employers and employees don’t know it’s available.

Since September of 2017, I’ve been working on a mechanism to require businesses to offer commuter benefits to their employees.  The first step in my work was to allocate funding in the 2018 City Budget for the non-profit Commute Seattle to conduct outreach to Seattle businesses and educate them on pre-tax commuter benefits. Commute Seattle is an organization available to all businesses to provide outreach, education and technical assistance on many transit issues including pre-tax commuter benefits. My office has also conducted extensive business outreach throughout the summer, including working with leaders from Mayor Durkan’s Small Business Advisory Council.

Through my Sustainability and Transportation Committee, I introduced a Commuter Benefit Ordinance (Council Bill 119329), which would require Seattle businesses with 20 or more employees to offer an option to use this pre-tax commuter benefit.

Businesses won’t go it alone, of course. They will receive advice and assistance from Commute Seattle. Based on feedback from members of the Small Business Advisory Council, I have decided to move the implementation date from July 2019 to January 2020 and the enforcement date from July 2020 to January 2021 to ensure businesses have ample time to successfully implement this ordinance.

The proposed Commuter Benefit Ordinance passed my committee on Sept. 18, 2018, and will be considered by the full City Council on Monday, October 1.

By allowing employees to reduce their commuting costs and lowering businesses tax liability, the Commuter Benefit Ordinance will save money and can help reduce congestion and carbon emissions.

How the Sweetened Beverage Tax Allows Families to Stretch their Food Dollars Further

September 7th, 2018

When I think of the sweetened beverage tax, I picture the face of Nora Jenkins.

Jenkins shops at the Columbia City Farmers’ Market every Wednesday and picks up her favorite vegetable – collard greens.

She receives SNAP assistance (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), but through a program called Fresh Bucks, she’s able to double the amount of money she spends on fresh fruits and vegetables. That’s because Fresh Bucks provide a dollar-for-dollar match to shoppers who make purchases with SNAP benefits at farmers markets, market stands and neighborhood grocery stores.

Fresh Bucks in Seattle is now primarily funded by the city’s Sweetened Beverage Tax.

When my Council colleagues and I passed the Sweetened Beverage Tax last year, we heard clearly from community members that it was important the money collected was reinvested back into the city’s lower income communities, communities of color, and communities with food deserts. Low-income communities and communities of color bear the burden of poor health outcomes in the city.  Communities of color have long been targets of the soda industry, leading to higher rates of consumption, and thus, are paying more of the tax.  For this tax to be fair, revenue must be reinvested into the health of these communities. The Council’s number one funding priority was resources for increasing food access, and expanding those opportunities for people in the food security gap.  

“There are 122,000 families in King County who work and earn a living wage, but struggle to put healthy food on the table. They’re not eligible for food benefits such as EBT or SNAP, and there aren’t many additional programs to help those families buy more fruits and vegetables. Next year, revenue from the Sweetened Beverage Tax will expand access to Fresh Bucks, allowing food insecure families to take advantage of our matching program at local farmers markets,” said Tanika Thompson, food access organizer for Got Green and member of the Food Access Coalition.

The legislation also established a Sweetened Beverage Tax Community Advisory Board (CAB). The board is made up of community members involved in grassroots solutions to food justice issues, and public health and education experts working with low income communities and communities of color. The CAB works collaboratively with the community to make recommendations on where money collected through the tax should go.

The Community Advisory Board will present their recommendations to my committee on Friday at 2:00 p.m.

In the first and second quarters of this year, the city collected $10.7 million through the Sweetened Beverage Tax. Mayor Durkan is expected to present her budget later this month, and it’s my hope to see her set a budget that is consistent with the board’s recommendations.

Jenkins said since she’s discovered the Fresh Bucks program six months ago through her church and Got Green, her health has improved. Jenkins has been able to decrease her medications because she’s eating healthier.

Nora Jenkins, right, being interviewed about Fresh Bucks.

“Food stamps only go so far and they only give you so much. Now with this program, I’m eating healthy. A lot of vegetables and fruits. My doctor is happy. My body is happy. And I’m very happy,” Jenkins said.

Fresh Bucks also helps our local farmers and their businesses. The program generated $1.5 million in business to local farmers since 2012. Clayton Burrows, Executive Director of Growing Washington, said the farmers market system in Seattle has done a wonderful job promoting and securing funding for Fresh Bucks.

“It gives people who might not be able to afford farm fresh food access, and this has been very rewarding to me. In our society food is really undervalued. When we buy cheap food, it’s harming the environment and our health because it’s often laced with chemicals. The Fresh Bucks program is a model for urban areas and a testament to the important work happening in Seattle,” Burrows said.

So far this year, we’ve also more than doubled Fresh Bucks usage compared to the same time last year. In addition, Fresh Bucks is expanding to invest further in community thanks to the Sweetened Beverage Tax. This year, Fresh Bucks has been able to:

  • Partner with 26 healthcare clinics are prescribing Fresh Bucks Rx (cash-value vouchers) to people in the food gap so they can buy more fruits and vegetables
  • Pilot partnerships with community-based organizations to distribute fruit and vegetable vouchers to people in the food gap
  • Increase the benefit available to SNAP customers by doubling their dollars for fresh produce purchases, and removed the limit on how much benefit they can earn
  • The Fresh Bucks program is about to launch in supermarkets, which will increase year-round access to the program and increase the number of retail sites where customers can use their Fresh Bucks to buy fruits and vegetables

I look forward to continuing to support these programs as they grow, to help ensure low-income families and families of color in Seattle have access to healthy food.


Safety and Costs of Bike Lanes

August 9th, 2018

Last week the city council passed Resolution #31826 committing the city to completing certain pieces of the downtown bike network in the next 18 months. I expect the City’s Department of Transportation to do their best work in identifying cost efficiencies as they finalize designs for these projects so that we can get the safety improvements as affordably as possible.  I will be continually monitoring their work to ensure this occurs.

I also recognize that certain improvements may come with significant costs because of the existing road design or other existing deficiencies that will need to be addressed.  In these instances, if the project is still the best solution to address safety needs, I will also support these projects. It is important that we not sacrifice the safety of some people simply to save money and we must also be aware that sometimes the cost of doing nothing can be significantly more than a safety investment.

This challenge has recently come to light as the city opened a couple of new protected bike lanes in downtown Seattle:

  • On 2nd Avenue, the city spent nearly $11 million to extend the existing protected bike lane from Pike St to Denny Ave.
  • On 7th Avenue the city spent $3.8 million to build a protected bike lane from Westlake to Pike Street.

A breakdown of some of the costs were detailed in the Seattle Times two months ago.

This has raised questions such as why some bike lanes cost as much as they do and what is the appropriate amount to invest in safety projects for various roadway users. I want to address both of these questions.

First, why are some safety projects so expensive? The context in which we make safety investments plays a huge role in how expensive the projects are. For decades our road system has been designed to move cars, often at the detriment of other road users, and the cost to retrofit that system can be expensive in some circumstances.  In the case of 2nd Avenue, to make that roadway function for all users required a complete upgrade to the traffic signal system that was decades old and in need of being replaced at some point regardless of this project. Forty percent of the project costs were to cover the signal replacement which was mostly to manage car traffic.  When safety projects require broader system upgrades that would ultimately be necessary regardless, it can make those safety projects look more expensive than they would otherwise be.

An alternative example to this are the safety investments made along Pike and Pine streets between 2ndt Ave and 7th Ave.  Because modern signal infrastructure was already in place and the existing curb infrastructure could accommodate the safety improvements, SDOT was able to install 7 blocks of protected bike lanes in 2017 for only $325,000.

Sometimes decisions that are not directly related to the safety improvement have a cost impact on the project.  For example, on Second Avenue, a decision was made to minimize the disruption to Pike Place Market during the summer months by not partially tearing up that road to determine the exact location of other infrastructure.  This was an intentional and well considered decision and it resulted in greater costs to the safety project.

The second question I field in my office is also a fair one: what is the appropriate amount to spend on safety improvements?  We need to be smart and thoughtful about what are the appropriate investments to make at this time, but it is also critical that we make significant strides to meeting our Vision Zero goals  to eliminate all traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2030.  We have a comprehensive strategy to achieve this goal that includes investment in roadway infrastructure to ensure safety for all road users. In some cases we can make low cost investments that deliver the necessary safety improvements, like we were able to do on Pike and Pine streets.  Other times there are significant costs to make the necessary safety improvements, such as was the case on 2nd Ave.

Above all, it is also important to recognize that there can be significant costs to not making necessary safety improvements.  In the case of 2nd Ave., a cyclists and new mother, Sher Kung, was struck and killed four years ago while biking. The city paid a $3.1 million settlement in that death, but the incalculable loss to her family and community goes far beyond dollars.

As we work to make investments so that all road users are safe, we need to be smart in finding the most cost-effective ways to deliver the necessary safety improvements and in some locations there will be projects where it will require significant investments to correct a design that is inherently dangerous.  To meet our Vision Zero goals, I will continue to support safety improvements for all users.

Creating a Connected, Protected Bicycle Lane Network in Downtown

July 18th, 2018

Riding a bike is proven to keep communities healthy, and to reduce climate pollution, and approximately 60% of Seattleites want to bike more than they do now.  But today we heard loud and clear that the lack of safe, connected routes is cited as the number one reason why they don’t. In recent years there have been a series of commitments made about specific investments downtown, but many projects have been postponed putting Seattle behind our targets on ridership.

During the meeting of Council’s Sustainability and Transportation Committee, which I chair, we introduced Resolution #31826 which memorializes the Seattle Center City Bike Network, and establishes an 18-month implementation schedule for creating a connected, protected bicycle lane network in downtown Seattle by the end of 2019.

I was joined by advocates from the Seattle Bike Advisory Board, Seattle Neighborhood Greenways, Cascade Bicycle Club and other people who ride bikes to express broad community support for a Bike Network that everyone can feel safe using.  Photos from today’s event are available online.

Together we reaffirmed our commitment to establishing a connected, protected bicycle lane network in downtown Seattle.  We also restated our commitment to achieve zero traffic fatalities and serious injuries by 2030.  

The goal with today’s resolution is to single out safe infrastructure downtown which is the start or end of many trips in this city, and oftentimes the reason why many folks can’t or don’t ride a bike.  Today’s resolution is also the culmination of a series of conversations with advocates and SDOT, and building on our bike master plan that represents a larger commitment to riders in Seattle.

Given what’s at stake, it’s too expensive not to make these critical investments in completing the bike network for all to utilize and enjoy.

Expanding LEAD to North Seattle

July 3rd, 2018

Less than seven years ago, the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program, or LEAD, was little more than a local experiment aimed at breaking the cycle of arrest and incarceration. Initially launched with private foundation funds, the $950,000-a-year, four-year pilot program offered carefully chosen participants individualized alternatives to arrest.

Today, LEAD is one of the City’s ‘crown jewels’ with a proven track record of reducing crime and disorder through targeted outreach and social services to individuals.  Last week, Council’s Human Services, Equitable Development and Renters’ Rights committee heard a briefing on the Council’s intentto extend the hugely successful program to North Seattle with some emphasis on people living inside vehicles.  While LEAD is not specifically a homeless program, many participants experience homelessness and the program increases public safety and health for the whole community.

LEAD provides a tool for Seattle Police officers to refer individuals engaged in low level drug and sex work offenses to an intensive social services intervention program in lieu of arrest and prosecution. The impetus forLEAD spawned in 2005when the Public Defenders Association (PDA) collaborated with the Seattle Police Department, King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office and the City of Seattle Attorney’s Office to address enforcement of disproportionately high numbers of Black people into incarceration.

Since its inception, community advocates have championed LEAD as a possible alternative to failed “tough on crime” policies plaguing North Seattle. In my district, and in neighboring districts of my colleaguesCouncilmember JohnsonandCouncilmember Juarezwe expect the LEAD expansion in North Seattle will allow police officers to connect people with social services instead of sending them to jail that can ensure more public safety. For people who live in their vehicles and others in North Seattle living in extreme poverty, this public safety program has the potential to reduce recidivism rates for individuals who commit low-level crimes.

The program cuts out the criminal-justice system and assigns voluntary participants to case workers, who can provide immediate help — a safe place to sleep or vehicular assistance to force compliance with parking laws, for instance — and longer-term services such as substance use treatment. Evergreen Treatment Services, a private nonprofit founded in 1973 with treatment facilities in Seattle and Olympia, was awarded the contract to develop and execute intervention plans for LEAD participants. In exchange for their participation, no criminal charges will be filed, even if someone later relapses.

According to the PDA,  there are presently approximately 350 active LEAD participants and an additional 2,000 people at any given time in Seattle who would be appropriate LEAD participants.  PDA has requested funding for a modest increase to allow a launch in 2018 in the North and South or Southwest Precincts, plus a plan to complete expansion over a period of 2-3 years, rather than take LEAD to scale citywide.

Despite widespread support for LEAD in North Seattle, there has been insufficient funding for case management and office space required to offer the program to new referrals in the North Precincts – until now. LEAD’s proven method of helping people in crisis on our streets is critical to our neighborhood stability.  Enthusiasm for LEAD has grown in neighborhoods like mine who are longing for a meaningful response to problems stemming from behavioral health needs and extreme poverty.

Changes to the Seattle Transportation Benefit District, and what it means for your commute

June 26th, 2018

On Monday, the Seattle City Council voted on  legislation that expands the uses of the voter-approved Seattle Transportation Benefit District (STBD), which has generated approximately $50 million each year to meet demand for transit since 2015.

You may remember voting for Proposition 1, creating the STBD, in 2014. We invested big time in public transportation, and got big results. Now, 64% of Seattle residents are within a 10-minute walk of 10-minute or better transit service, compared to 25 percent two years ago. In District 6, the City’s investments in King County Metro improved weekday peak service on the D Line and 5/5x. We added new morning and evening trips on the 15, 17, 18 and 28 routes. We improved reliability and frequency on the D Line, 5/5x, 17, 18, 28, 40 and 45 routes. About 31 percent of all STBD investments thus far have benefited routes serving Ballard and Crown Hill.

The legislation would do a couple of things:

First, it would allow for STBD dollars to provide free ORCA passes to all Seattle high school students and low-income middle schoolers.

I’m proud of the work my committee has done to expand the Youth ORCA Pilot Program. During the 2017-2018 school year, 3,000 ORCA cards were given to middle and high school students. That equated to 408,000 trips, which saved the average student $206 during the school year.

This new legislation would fund the expansion of ORCA passes to 19,000 students. I believe every young person should have access to transit, regardless of where they live, what their income level is or where they go to school. When students have free access to public transit, they can better attend school, social activities, and seek employment opportunities.

Second, the legislation allows us to use more Seattle Transportation Benefit District dollars to increase the frequency and reliability of our most-used bus routes.

As more people have shifted their commutes to public transit, we’ve seen an increase in the demand for transit service. Routes in Seattle continue to be in high-demand, with many bus aisles overcrowded with standing-only riders. Unfortunately, King County Metro, which services many of Seattle’s routes, aren’t able to add many more buses, and they can’t hire and train new drivers fast enough.

This legislation will address those growing pains. It will allow the city to invest in routes with 65 percent of stops in Seattle city limits, instead of 80 percent. This is important because it enables us to fund more routes coming from outside city limits, which also serves the outer limits of our City. The E Line is an example of a route we can now improve using STBD dollars, when we couldn’t before.

The legislation will also allow STBD dollars to be used for capital investments that help buses move faster. These investments could include transit-only lanes, queue jumps, transit signal priority, and other strategies. Capital investments could also be made to enhance the passenger experience, such as off-board fare payment and stop improvements.

For more information about these changes, you can see the Seattle Department of Transportation’s presentation to the Sustainability and Transportation Committee here.






My Vote on the Employee Hours Tax

June 14th, 2018

Earlier today, I voted to repeal the proposed employee hours tax on Seattle’s top-grossing 3 percent of businesses. While the need hasn’t changed in the months since we started this conversation, it’s clear that we need to come together for the common good of our city.

My vote is not something I take lightly. I truly believe that the next 6 months of this fight would have been incredibly damaging to this City. From what I’ve heard over the last few weeks, it seems that the majority of Seattle residents would prefer to take a step back and “hit the reset button” on this issue.

A contentious ballot measure would have set the City up for a months-long battle that was not clear would be successful, and would have further paralyzed our ability to move forward with any kind of plan.

To be clear, the original proposal did have a plan. The City Council was ready to invest in solutions that have shown the most success in helping folks out of homelessness.

For example, we know that our affordable housing investments are making a difference, and are rigorously scrutinized as seen in the Office of Housing’s 2017 Annual Investments report, where they reported awarding $93.44 million in 2017 to build and preserve 1,450 affordable homes in neighborhoods across Seattle. We also have been implementing the “Pathways Home” recommendations of Barb Poppe, and in last year’s budget revamped our investments with an RFP that focused on extended-hour shelters and permanent supportive housing. Last year, King County saw a 35 percent increase in exits from homelessness over 2016, and the system permanently housed 8,100 households in 2017. The proposed spending plan would have built on those investments and expert recommendations, with the vast majority of funding recommended to go towards housing.

Many people ask: If we have these demonstrated successes, why is homelessness growing? A large factor is our lack of affordable housing. Over the past 7 years, average rents have increased in Seattle by 42 percent, fueled by unprecedented population growth in high wage earners (Rent Jungle, EOI). The lack of affordable housing means that a large rent increase, eviction, the loss of a job, or change in a family situation is more likely to put someone out on the street than in years past.

The 2018 Point in Time Count of Persons Experiencing Homelessness  demonstrates that the vast majority of homeless individuals come from the Seattle/King County area. Approximately 52 percent of survey respondents reported living in Seattle immediately prior to their loss of housing. An additional 31 percent of survey respondents reported living in broader King County, while 11 percent lived in another Washington county prior to their loss of housing.

Given these factors that contribute to our homelessness crisis, the recent McKinsey Report, produced for the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, concluded that we need to dramatically increase our investments as a region in affordable housing.

I believed a proposal asking the top-grossing 3 percent of businesses to pay 14 cents an hour for every employee was a sensible down payment on addressing the broader regional homelessness needs in an environment where Washington State does not allow for income or capital gains taxes. And that it was particularly appropriate given that businesses received a 40 percent federal tax cut after the Federal Tax Bill passed in December 2017, which lowered the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent.

So I call upon the businesses and community leaders who led the charge against the employee hours tax to join in a productive conversation that will help address the concerns we all share.

In this conversation, I hope that they will recognize the efforts the City has made to support business growth, with hundreds of millions of dollars invested over the last few years in improvements to South Lake Union, significant investments in transit service to our job centers, and a city-wide rezoning effort, the need for which is fueled by the growth in the tech sector. Our investments also include a new Denny electricity substation, costing over $200 million, which will deliver highly reliable electricity service that high tech businesses need to operate in our City.

Similar to our partnerships with businesses on all these efforts, I believe large businesses can and should invest in affordable housing as an integral part of our City infrastructure that allows everyone to thrive. If the business community does not agree with investing in the Pathways Home strategy, I look forward to seeing their other ideas, which will perhaps be reflected in the Mayor’s proposed budget this Fall.

My door is always open to anyone who wants to engage in a solutions-oriented approach to this crisis. In the absence of the employee hours tax, I will start immediately working on ideas for alternative revenue streams to fund the necessary investments in housing and homeless services. I also expect the Mayor to play a leadership role in bringing the city together around a shared vision to reduce the crisis. In the meantime, I will continue to work on the policies and programs that I believe will help with the crisis. These policies and programs include: LEAD expansion to the North Precinct; establishing a Community Service Officer Program; ongoing work to support tenants’ rights, among other efforts.

As always, thank you for your continued engagement with my office.

A More Transparent, Efficient, and Equitable Street Vacation Policy

May 25th, 2018

This week, I am proud to share that we passed updated street and alley vacation polices, as well as a resolution defining and recognizing the value of Equitable Development Agreements (EDAs).

Street vacations allow property owners to petition City Council for private use of the public right of way. These decisions permanently change the right-of-way to private use, based on public benefit. Throughout my time on Council, I have wrestled with street and alley vacations, both at a policy level, and a project-by-project level.  I heard the call from many stakeholders that there is a need for a more streamlined, transparent and efficient process, as well as concerns that the process does not adequately address public benefits for a larger public. Over the past few years, I have worked to revise and improve our city’s street and alley vacation policies to help address concerns and better reflect the race and social equity values of our City.

In 2017, I convened a Street Vacation Workgroup that included design commission members, applicant representatives, neighborhood representatives, and social justice advocates. The topics of discussion include process efficiencies, community engagement best practices, and the definition of “public benefit,” to name a few. Out of this process, the work group shared a final report, which highlights key principles including expanding the definition of public benefit to include support for actions that would enhance our race and social equity objectives, require community engagement and considering the broader community beyond those in the immediate vicinity of a vacation, improving predictability, and clarifying the roles of design commission and Council.

Updated Street Vacation Policy  

Based on the recommendations as well as input from city staff across departments, we made some key changes to our policies.  These include:

  • Recognizing the City’s core goals of race and social equity;
  • Recognizing that street vacation impacts may be felt in an area broader than just the immediate neighborhood, and, highlighting the needs of those most at risk of displacement;
  • Requiring an early community outreach process and creating an early City Council forum;
  • Incorporating two new sections on the public trust doctrine and the City’s process for reviewing street vacations;
  • Acknowledging three new public trust functions of the right-of-way: free speech, right to assembly, and land use and urban form;
  • Providing additional guidance regarding analysis of impacts to the public trust functions of street vacations;
  • Establishing different processes depending on whether a project is a complex or a simple street vacation;
  • Clarifying the relationship between required steps in the land use review process and the street vacation review process;
  • Considering on- and off-site public benefits as equivalent;
  • Recognizing the option for additional factors in proposed public benefit package reviews, such an Equitable Development Agreement between the petitioner and community groups; and
  • Allowing for the long-term or permanent commitment to carry out a program as a public benefit.

In addition, we amended and clarified the role of the Seattle Design Commission in the review of vacation requests and established a subcommittee of the Commission tasked with helping evaluate pubic benefits proposals that incorporate non-design elements, such as affordable housing, funding for Equitable Development Initiative programs, or other programmatic efforts.  This subcommittee will include individuals with expertise in affordable housing, worker rights, and equitable community development.

I am hopeful that these new policies will help the Council as well as the Seattle Design Commission and SDOT, as we consider the impacts of vacating public right-of-way, which we are entrusted with, and if we move forward with a possible vacation, what the commensurate benefits should be, and who was at the table to help determine the outcomes.

Equitable Development Agreement Resolution:

Alongside the new street vacation policies, and with the support of community organizations and partners, we also passed a resolution recognizing the value of Equitable Development Agreements.  The resolution outlines how the agreements may be considered when Council evaluates community engagement processes and public benefit packages associated with street vacations and large development projects that are subject to review by the City Council.  An EDA is a third-party agreement between developers and community stakeholders, often referred to as community benefits agreements (CBAs), that are rooted in the self determination of communities who have been historically marginalized in our society or economy.  The resolution encourages the council the evaluate such agreements based on two key questions: Who are the equity stakeholders and what are the equity outcomes proposed?

Who are the equity stakeholders?

The resolution states: Racial and social equity requires centering the people who have been marginalized in decision-making and have been historically harmed by economic inequality, racial discrimination, or social exclusion. EDA stakeholders include organizations or institutions representing: low-income households; people of color, immigrants, refugees, and indigenous people; people experiencing homelessness; seniors and people with disabilities; people who need economic opportunity and face institutional barriers to good jobs, such as racism or sexism; low-wage workers impacted by a project in some way, either as current workers at another location or the future workforce at the project location, especially women and people of color; and LGBTQ people, especially those at risk of displacement from historically queer-friendly neighborhoods. EDAs are entered into by EDA stakeholders.

What are possible equity outcomes on an EDA?

  • Addresses historic and current racial and social injustice;
  • Advances self-determination and control of resources for marginalized groups;
  • Preserves community dignity and culture;
  • Creates economic equity, especially through increased community wealth, local
  • prosperity, and family-supporting jobs;
  • Fosters workplace dignity and democracy;
  • Prevents residential, commercial, and cultural displacement of communities;
  • Preserves and supports small, community-serving, and culturally-relevant businesses;
  • Creates equity outcomes that are proportionate to the scale of private wealth generation for the developer and investors;
  • Considers the role future property owners, tenants, subtenants, operators, contractors, or other entities who occupy the development will have in working towards equitable outcomes identified in the EDA; and
  • Results in a binding agreement between a developer or project owner and EDA stakeholders with lasting benefits.

What is next:

From this point forward, vacation petitions that come through the City will incorporate this new process, and we are hopeful there will be more opportunity for strong community input and equitable development agreements.  I believe we will see a more transparent process, early opportunities for input, a broader range of benefits that can be better tailored to address the most pressing needs – and benefits to developers – more predictable process, clearer timeline for decisions, clearer understanding of what is expected.  I hope these new policies and process can result in more clarity and transparency for all involved, and more equitable outcomes for Seattle.

Response to the Transportation Impacts of the Convention Center

May 4th, 2018

UPDATE 5/7/18 4:30pm:


Today, the Council approved the conditions for the street vacations required for the WSCC addition.   In light of my colleagues’ support for the buses coming out of the tunnel in March, I proposed an alternative amendment that would have created an additional million-dollar transportation mitigation fund, which SDOT could have utilized if bus transit times increased by one minute.  Unfortunately, this additional attempt at mitigation did not pass.  While I continue to have concerns about the transportation impacts, I ultimately voted in support of the street vacations. I am excited for the other community investments the project is making, and the stronger commitments they have made to priority hire and meeting our City’s WMBE goals. I will continue to work to ensure that SDOT is able to implement the needed transportation improvements in advance of next year, to avoid impacts to the transit system as much as possible.

This coming Monday, May 7th, the Council will vote on the street vacation approval for the expansion of the Washington State Convention Center.  The scope and scale of this street vacation and project are larger than any we have seen in downtown Seattle.  And the impacts will be significant.

To get to this stage of the project, significant commitments have been made to invest in local public benefits in exchange for the vacation.  I am grateful for the Community Package Coalition, who thoughtfully negotiated significant investments for affordable housing ($30 million), bike infrastructure, and open space improvements.  Our labor brothers and sisters have worked to ensure quality construction jobs, and union representation for the service workers in the future addition.  And, we have pushed the WSCC to strengthen their commitments to priority hire and contracting with WMBE businesses.

It is now the responsibility of the Council to ensure no additional harm is done to the approximately 262,000 people who commute daily to downtown Seattle.  To accommodate future light rail expansion, the existing transit tunnel will be closed for buses in September of 2019 so that Sound Transit can work on light rail expansion to Northgate in 2021.  These two years are being referred to as the “period of maximum constraint,” when our downtown city streets will be beyond capacity, with 40 additional buses rerouting to surface streets during peak commuter hours.  Relief will come when light rail expansion is opened.  Years of planning have gone into trying to mitigate the impacts on commuters and downtown residents, but we know that this time will be an incredible challenge.

The WSCC wants to remove buses from the tunnel six months earlier, in March 2019.  As part of their land purchase from King County, they negotiated this option, assuming they receive their permits by July 1st.  I am deeply concerned that the impacts of an additional six months of constraint will be a huge burden to everyone who rides transit to and from downtown from across the region.

In the legislation that I brought to Committee for approval of the vacation, I included a condition that would not allow the WSCC to remove the buses from the bus tunnel before the September 2019 deadline needed by Sound Transit. To be clear, this does not stop construction.  The WSCC construction plans already involve working around the buses for some months, and it is not clear that there would be a significant construction delay.

For more context, removing the buses in March 2019 will coincide with the Alaskan Way Viaduct demolition and the SR-99 tunnel opening.  Washington DOT will implement tolling on 99, and while we are not clear on the exact implications, it is estimated that 25% of the traffic will be diverted to downtown streets.  Given the concern, I requested our Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) respond to my questions:  What mitigation can they ensure will be in place by March 2019?  September 2019?  Can they ensure we mitigate the impacts of removing the buses early?

SDOT’s response could not have been clearer. They laid out exactly what mitigation they can confidently expect to accomplish by March 2019, the improvements that are dependent on state and county collaboration, as well as engineering challenges that they need to address. They concluded that they cannot ensure the mitigations will be completed by March 2019. I value SDOTs expertise, thoughtfulness, and honesty in articulating to us what is possible, and what is unlikely to be accomplished.

I believe the Council has the responsibility to ensure that we prioritize the needs of our transit riders, downtown residents, and workers over the convenience of the Convention Center’s construction schedule.

While some of my colleagues have said the outcomes of both scenarios are uncertain, I can guarantee you, there is no uncertainty that an additional six months of increased congestion, slower commutes, and overcapacity streets will be a decision we regret next March.  The consequences will be felt across the city and the region.

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