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.


Making a Difference for Homelessness and Business + Community Events

April 23rd, 2018

Making a Difference for Homelessness and Business

(The op-ed below is also available at Westside Seattle)

Last year, over 3,400 people exited homelessness in Seattle. Lifting people out of homelessness is hard work that needs resources, compassionate case managers, and investments in temporary shelters and permanent housing. The work that the City and community have already done to address homelessness has impacted the lives of many. People like Alice were able to get back on their feet because of the investments the City has made in outreach, temporary shelter and permanent housing. Alice, a Native American woman, has lived 20 years on the streets of Ballard, her home. After 5 years of connections, outreach workers were able to connect Alice to the City’s sanctioned encampment program and eventually place her in affordable housing. Because of City investments, she now has keys to a Ballard apartment and has since started volunteering at a Ballard homeless services program. We want to help thousands like Alice, but our efforts have plateaued. The crisis continues to worsen due to rising rents, growing income inequality, and defunded mental health and opioid treatment services from the state and federal government. I hear from people all the time: we need more places for people. More tiny homes, more sanctioned encampments, more safe zones for vehicles, and definitely more housing. I couldn’t agree more. The question is: how do we build on our successes, and create a pipeline to shelter and housing, when our revenue options are limited? Last year, then-Councilmember Kirsten Harris-Talley and I proposed generating the necessary resources by asking those businesses that had benefited the most from our economic boom to contribute a few cents an hour for each employee to pay for housing, shelter, and services for those left behind. With consultation from the Progressive Revenue Task Force, that proposal has evolved at Council and now includes the following elements:

  • Exempt Seattle’s small and medium-sized businesses, only applying to those with at least $20 million or more annually in taxable gross receipts as measured under the City’s existing Business & Occupation tax;
  • Applies only to the City’s approximately 500 largest businesses (or approximately 3% of Seattle’s business owners);
  • Large businesses included will pay just about a quarter ($0.26) per hour per employee working in Seattle;
  • All nonprofit businesses in Seattle are exempt;
  • The employee hours tax will be replaced by a business payroll tax on January 1, 2021;
  • For those same approximately 500 largest businesses, the replacement business payroll tax will be calculated as 0.7 percent of all payroll related to work done in Seattle.

Seattle’s small businesses, about 97 percent of all businesses in the city, will not be taxed by this proposal. Just the opposite, this proposal does much of what many small businesses want to see in responding to the crisis – it creates more safe and appropriate places for people to go. I know how hard small business owners work to be successful; they are struggling under the same unequal economic forces that have exacerbated the homelessness crisis. Many small business owners take home less income than their workers to stay afloat, and still have to pay income taxes. Because of our unequal tax system, companies making the most revenue do not pay comparable income taxes. Amazon made $5 billion last year and paid zero federal income taxes. And while philanthropic efforts are appreciated, these efforts pale in comparison to a systemic and sustained approach addressing the inequities that our economic boom has created. This proposal is not meant to demonize high-grossing businesses, but rather to create more fairness in the system, and to fund the solutions that will benefit everybody, including businesses of all sizes. Helping people is not a zero-sum game. With this investment, we will jumps

tart a regional and sustained approach to homelessness that will make a difference for our unsheltered population, and our businesses.

North Seattle Town Hall: Progressive Tax on Business

Wednesday, May 2 6pm-8pm
Trinity United Methodist, Ballard 6512 23rd Ave NW, Seattle, Washington 98117

Please join Citywide Councilmembers Teresa (Position 8,) Lorena González (Position 9,) myself, and Progressive Revenue Taskforce Members for this North Seattle Town Hall. Following more than four months of deliberation, Council will be introducing legislation and a companion spending plan resolution outlining the details of a progressive tax on business, which would generate additional revenue necessary to further address homelessness and housing affordability in Seattle. The North Seattle Town Hall will include a presentation on the progressive tax and spending plan proposals as well as an opportunity for community members to provide questions and feedback. For individuals not able to attend the town hall, the event can be viewed on the Seattle Channel the following day. RSVP
here on Facebook for updates.

On the Bike with Mike


Look out for this new section of the newsletter to follow where I am in the community:

Ballard Farmer’s Market
Sunday, April 29
10am-12:30pm
Ballard Avenue NW between Vernon Place and 22nd Avenue

Staff and I will be at the Ballard Farmer’s Market on Sunday, April 29. Come with your questions, concerns, and feedback for us from 10am to 12:30pm. And from 12:30pm to 3pm, there will be a featured District 6 community organization! Stop by and say “hi”.

Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda’s Town Hall for the Domestic Worker Bill of Rights

Saturday, May 5  10am-11:30am Greenwood Library Main Meeting Room, 8016 Greenwood Ave N, Seattle, WA 98103

Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda will continue the listening series to hear what you would like to see as part of the Domestic Worker Bill of Rights. Their goal is to ensure that the people who take care of our kids as nannies, care for our elders as long-term care providers, and care for our homes as housekeepers, are extended the same common-sense labor protections that most other workers in Seattle have, and that employers can have their needs met, as well.

Join us, I’ll be there to listen as well!

Central Ballard Resident’s Association

May 10 7pm-9pm Merrill Gardens at Ballard 2418 NW 56th St, Seattle, WA 98107

I will be at the monthly general meeting for the Central Ballard Resident’s Association (CBRA). “Central Ballard Residents Association (CBRA) was formed in February of 2012 by Ballard residents to provide a public forum for discussion of community issues and to serve as a voice of Central Ballard with the community, government and other organizations. CBRA advocates on behalf of its members to promote a healthy, livable, walkable, and safe community in the neighborhood’s historic core.” More information can be found 

here.


Budget Update; Budget Investments in Homelessness Response; HOMES Tax Update; Encampment Removals Process; 2018 Investments in Reducing Congestion

December 1st, 2017

Budget Update

Last week, Council approved the City of Seattle’s 2018 budget. This year’s budget process was memorable for the urgent emphasis on our homelessness crisis, rigorous debate, and the bold actions taken by Council to fund solutions. In addition, as Chair of the Council’s Sustainability and Transportation Committee, I am proud to have sponsored a number of budget actions to support better transportation options and infrastructure in our growing City.

The complete list of Council amendments to the budget is available here, and you can find the Mayor’s initial proposed budget here.

Budget Investments in Homelessness Response

The Council passed a number of items that ensured that essential services already in place will not be rolled back, such as funding for emergency shelter serving over 230 survivors of domestic and sexual violence, maintaining existing permanent supportive housing services, ensuring two transitional housing programs for homeless foster youth do not close, sustaining support for a homeless child care program, and continued funding for homeless youth employment programs. In addition, I co-sponsored the following budget proposals that add to our homelessness response:

  • Funding for expansion of Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) to our North Precinct
  • Funding for the creation of a safe consumption site to ensure people have a safe place consume and receive treatment advice from trained nurses
  • Funding for a new homeless youth opportunity center in Capitol Hill
  • Support for tenant outreach and support services
  • Funding for two additional authorized encampments to provide people safe temporary places to be

Update on the HOMES Tax Proposal

Despite our 2018 investments, I believe we need to invest at a much larger scale to make a dent in the homelessness crisis we are facing. The problems around housing and homelessness have continued to grow at a pace faster than we can address due to rising rents, the opioid crisis, an underfunded state mental health system and defunding from the federal government.

Much of the success we’ve seen in transitioning people into housing has been due to additional low-barrier shelter options and permanent housing.  During this year’s budget, now-former Councilmember Kirsten Harris-Talley and I sponsored a proposal to create more immediate shelter spaces, as well as long-term affordable housing. We called it the HOMES proposal – Housing, Outreach, and Mass-Entry Shelter. The HOMES proposal would have businesses making more than $5 million in revenue a year pay 5 cents an hour per employee ($100/year for a full-time employee), exempting the smallest 90% of businesses in Seattle, and generating about $24 million in revenue annually. Through the City’s ability to bond against this new revenue in the future, starting in 2018 we could have begun to invest nearly $50 million each year in affordable housing, nearly doubling our Housing Levy.

Instead of passing that ongoing revenue source, last week the Council passed Resolution 31782.  This resolution requires the Council to assemble a task force that will develop recommendations for a dedicated progressive revenue source to support people experiencing or at high-risk for homelessness and to raise no less than $25 million a year. If you’d like to participate in this Progressive Revenue Task Force on Housing and Homelessness, you can apply HERE by Monday, December 4th. This task force will deliver recommendations by February 26, 2018, and the Council intends to take legislative action by March 26, 2018. While it is a little delayed, this commitment to pursue progressive revenue options is a huge win for those who have been waiting for something big and bold to address the city’s civil emergency on homelessness.

Encampment Removals Process

How we get people who are living outdoor into more stable living situations continues to be a struggle.  The city’s Navigation Team (a combination of police officers and outreach workers) has had some success in getting more people into shelter in the past year.  This is in part because we have put more resources into outreach and in part because we had a significant increase in good shelter options for people (Georgetown tiny-house village, Navigation Center and Compass First Hill shelters, and two new sanctioned tent encampments all opened up this year).  It is critical that as we move people experiencing homelessness we give them good shelter options to choose from.

To that end, in this budget cycle, we increased requirements about notice and reporting so that the council and the public has more clarity on when and where sweeps are happening and who is ending up in shelter and who simply moves to the next unsanctioned encampment.  We are also requiring recommendations on how to improve the outcomes in this system.

This system will continue to be a struggle until we get significantly more affordable housing options, continue to add good shelter options, and reduce the number of people entering homelessness.

2018 Investments in Reducing Congestion

I’m proud to support the Seattle Department of Transportation’s continued focus on creating a City where everyone can safely get around by foot, transit, or bike, when possible. These investments are critical to reducing congestion and creating a livable and sustainable city. A couple budget items I sponsored to further these goals include:

  • Funding for outreach and assistance to businesses to establish Pre-Tax Commuter Benefit programs.
    • The IRS allows employers to offer a tax-free transit subsidy up to $255 per employee per month for buses, light rail, ferry, water taxi, and vanpool. However, many businesses do not take advantage of this program due to perceived complexities in establishing and administering this program. Offering transit passes allows employers to save up to 9% on that spending in payroll taxes, and employees save between 25% and 40% on their commute expenses. These benefits also encourage transit use, which helps reduce traffic congestion and greenhouse gas emissions. We hope that with additional outreach and assistance, we can change that perception and get more people commuting by transit to work.
  • Funding to examine issues related to diversion and congestion on local streets due to tolling on SR-99.
    • WSDOT is bringing tolling to Seattle, with the opening of the new State Route 99 tunnel through downtown. That means that we are likely to experience diversion on our streets by people looking to avoid tolls. Early models indicate that this diversion could have a significant negative impact on congestion on city streets and be specifically detrimental to transit and freight travel times. The study would focus on the broader equity implications of congestion pricing in Seattle (particularly who is driving at what times) and explore options to minimize diversion so that transit service continues to operate reliably.

Thanks to all who engaged with our office over the last couple months. If you have further questions or comments about the budget, please don’t hesitate to reach out to my office at mike.obrien@seattle.gov, or 206-684-8800.

In Community,

Councilmember Mike O'Brien Signature

Councilmember Mike O’Brien


Focusing on Homelessness Solutions that Work

October 24th, 2017

As we close in on the two-year anniversary of our City’s mayor having declared a “civil emergency” around homelessness, Seattle’s housing crisis is still very visible across the city.  It’s obvious that we need more money for immediate fixes – like funding emergency shelters and diversion programs to keep people off the streets and out of jail – as well as long-term solutions like building additional housing units.

While the current Mayor’s budget includes some marginal investments, I’m afraid it sets us up for failure, because it doubles down on sweeps as a solution to the homeless crisis, literally almost doubling the amount we are spending this year to $2 million.

How about we invest in what works instead?

Earlier today Councilmember Kirsten Harris-Talley and I vocalized our support for an amendment to the Mayor’s 2018 budget which would effectively tax the top 10% grossing businesses in Seattle to fund more 24-hour homeless shelters, affordable housing, safe lots for people living in their vehicles, and an expansion of the nationally-recognized Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program. Watch my remarks here.

Councilmember Mike O'Brien discussing the HOMES proposal

Our Housing, Outreach, and Mass-Entry Shelter (HOMES) proposal creates immediate shelter and long-term housing options to address this crisis. We know that HOMES won’t fix every factor of homelessness in the city, but it’s a significant investment that supports successful strategies, and will make a difference.

The proposal asks that businesses making more than $5 million in revenue a year pay 5 cents an hour per employee ($100/year for a full-time employee). The proposal will exempt the smallest 90% of businesses in Seattle (those that gross less than $5 million a year) and is expected to generate $24 million annually. Most of that money will be directed to affordable housing solutions for people experiencing homelessness, and could help hundreds of people a year find shelter and housing.

We’ve created a lot of wealth in this City over the past few years, but that wealth has been concentrated at the top, and has exacerbated inequality.  That’s why we invite the businesses that are creating, and benefiting from, this City’s boom to alleviate the unintended consequences of their success, and to contribute to systemic changes in the city that can help all our residents thrive.

The proposal will be discussed over the course of the City’s budget process, with a final vote on the legislation anticipated on Monday, November 20th.

For more information about the HOMES proposal, please visit: http://www.seattle.gov/council/meet-the-council/mike-obrien/homes-proposal

 

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One Step Closer to Lowering Barriers for ADUs – We Want Your Input!

October 2nd, 2017

Housing affordability is one of the biggest issues we face in Seattle today. The City has identified a need for providing a mix of housing types at prices accessible to people at all levels of income for homeowners and renters alike. I believe lowering the barriers to creating accessory dwelling units (ADUs) is an important part of addressing affordability across the city. We’re beginning the environmental review process to analyze potential effects of encouraging more ADUs in Seattle, and we want your input.

Backyard cottages and in-law units can provide more affordable options for housing in neighborhoods where homes are often unaffordable to many people. ADUs are small, secondary dwelling units inside, attached to, or in the rear yard of a single-family house. A detached ADU (DADU), often called a “backyard cottage,” is a separate structure allowed in the rear yard of certain single-family-zoned lots. DADUs can be new structures or created through conversion of an existing structure, like a garage.

Seattle has relatively few backyard cottages right now. In May 2016, the Seattle City Council released a proposal to make it easier for homeowners to build backyard cottages and in-law units in Seattle and increase housing options for Seattle renters.

The initial analysis from the City’s Office of Planning and Community Development (OPCD) suggests that adding a backyard cottage on just five percent of eligible single-family lots could create about 4,000 new housing units.

Based on a decision from the City’s Hearing Examiner in December 2016, the City is preparing an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to review the potential environmental impacts of the proposal, which would:

  • allow an attached ADU and a backyard cottage on the same lot
  • remove the existing off-street parking and owner-occupancy requirements
  • change some development standards that regulate the size and location of backyard cottages

The EIS process includes several opportunities for community members to weigh in on the analysis, and I encourage you to do so. We will kick-off the EIS process with a 30-day scoping comment period beginning on October 2, 2017, and anticipate releasing the Draft EIS in spring 2018 and the Final EIS in summer 2018. The full timeline is available online.

Share your feedback!

The first phase of the EIS process is to determine the scope of the study, and the City wants your input on what to consider and analyze as we explore allowing more ADUs in Seattle’s neighborhoods.  During the scoping phase, you can help determine the alternatives the City will study, potential environmental impacts to consider, and possible measures to avoid or reduce the effects of the proposal.

DEADLINE:  Comments are due by 5:00 p.m. on November 1, 2017. You can share your input in several ways:

For more information, visit seattle.gov/council/ADU-EIS.

What is an EIS? An EIS is a tool to inform decision making about the positive and negative effects of a proposal. The proposal might be a project, like construction of a new building or road, or a new policy or plan that could affect the environment. Washington’s State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) requires Environmental Impact Statements so that the public, tribes, and other public agencies can help identify a proposal’s environmental impacts, as well as strategies for reducing or avoiding them. Decision-makers can then approve, modify, or deny the proposal as appropriate.


Seattle Committed to Paris and the Climate

June 22nd, 2017

After President Trump announced his intentions to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord earlier this month, Mayor Murray announced Seattle’s intention to meet or exceed Seattle’s target of the federal Clean Power Plan, joining with dozens of cities and several states in the effort. If the United States Government and Donald Trump aren’t going to take climate change seriously, then cities and states will come together at a sub-national level to step up.

Last week, I sponsored a Resolution that was unanimously adopted by Council to affirm our commitments to the Paris Climate Accord, including the potential to go beyond Seattle’s already ambitious Climate Action Plan, and also calls upon Puget Sound Energy to demonstrate leadership by rejecting fossil fuel infrastructure.

More than half the world’s population lives in urban areas. By 2050 cities will likely be bursting with almost 70% of the people on the planet. We also know that cities account almost 2/3 of energy-related greenhouse gas emissions. Cities can also be incubators for the solutions to climate change, and we must act now.

Seattle is no stranger to taking on local issues with regional – or national – significance.  So it makes sense that our city officials continue to tackle climate change head on by reducing pollution, improving aging infrastructure, and making walking, biking, and transit more attractive to residents, no matter who occupies the White House.

We embarked on this mission under Mayor Greg Nickels, when he led our city’s involvement in global agreements like the Kyoto Protocol of 1997 and tried to tackle these problems head on.  We continued that tradition last year when many local leaders and I had a chance to go to Paris to be a part of the global climate conference there.  It was incredible to see what cities are doing around the world to make meaningful strides towards ending our dependence on fossil fuels, and many of them were efforts we’re already undertaking in Seattle.

The most important thing we can do locally is to create viable alternatives for people to get around without the use of fossil fuels.  That’s where my passions for expanding transit access and improving bike and pedestrian infrastructure, making land use decisions to create denser cities, and ending our addiction to fossil fuels, come from. I am also firmly committed to our City’s Equity and Environment Initiative, which works to ensure that those most disproportionately experiencing the impacts of climate change – people of color, immigrants, refugees, people with low income and people with limited-English proficiency – can be the leading voices and beneficiaries in our efforts to fight climate change. We will continue and expand these efforts, no matter who occupies the White House.

We must also call upon other local leaders to step up their efforts if we are going to fill the gap in leadership at the federal level. In particular, Puget Sound Energy continues to rely on coal power, and is the owner of a plant that is the 3rd largest carbon polluter in the US. It is time for PSE to walk its talk and retire the entire Colstrip coal plant by 2025 and publicly commit to replacing the plant with 100% renewable energy and energy efficiency solutions.

We also call on state leaders to act on climate-related efforts and deny permits for all new fossil fuel infrastructure projects in Washington, including the proposed nation’s largest oil-by-rail terminal in Vancouver, WA.  I’m disappointed, and frankly outraged, that the final permits went through for the world’s largest methanol refinery in Kalama, WA. The expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure and the export of fossil fuels significantly undermines the goals enshrined in the Paris Agreement; it puts us backwards on the path towards saving the planet; and contradicts Inslee’s previous commitment to fulfill the Paris Climate Accords that he made just a couple weeks ago.

The future of the human race depends on decisions we make in the present, and in response to choices we’ve made in the past. In the absence of federal leadership, we have a moral imperative to take bold action the City, State, and Regional level to fight for our future existence.


Upcoming Office Hours and Legislative Updates

April 4th, 2017

Upcoming Office Hours

We are once again bringing City Hall to District 6 on Wednesday April 5! Please join me at the Ballard Public Library from 4:30-6:30pm. Bring your questions and concerns about your neighborhood. There is no official sign-up and one-on-one meetings will be available based on first-come, first-serve.

Greenlake Community Center

The Green Lake Community Center is a true “gem” of Seattle. While the building itself is showing signs of age, the community it continues to foster is as powerful as ever. I deeply value this community space and want to ensure it remains enjoyable and accessible for all the members of District 6 and the larger community. The Seattle Parks and Recreation Department has identified that the community center needs major capital improvements. It has been estimated that the necessary rebuild would cost more than $25 million. There has been much community conversation about achieving these improvements. In a Community Center Strategic Plan document last year, the Parks Department expressed concern about their ability to fund the rebuild and suggested exploring alternate arrangements including long term financing and partnering with non-profits. Some community members have expressed strong skepticism about a partnership and frustration that ongoing maintenance is falling behind. While I am open to exploring creative solutions, any plan will need broad community support to earn my backing. I look forward to working with the Parks Department and community members to find a financially sound and community supported plan to move forward.

Update on Backyard Cottage Legislation and Next Steps


In May of 2016, I released a proposal that would make it easier for more homeowners to build backyard cottages and mother-in-law units in Seattle, and provide more affordable housing options for Seattle renters.  This past December, we received a response from the Hearing Examiner that reversed the City’s SEPA determination of non-significance. After thorough examination of her response, we have decided to pursue a full environmental impact statement (EIS).  This process will likely take a year to complete. When the EIS is complete, we hope to bring legislation to committee by mid-2018.

Final Route Chosen for Burke-Gilman Missing Link

After more than 20 years of disputes, Seattle’s biking community and members of Ballard’s maritime industry have agreed on a route to complete the missing link of the Burke-Gilman Trail along Shilshole Avenue through Ballard. This route represents the interests of the thousands of people who have written comments, attended rallies, and publicly testified for the “Shilshole South” Alternative. The Final Environmental Impact Statement will be completed this Spring, with construction anticipated to start in 2018. While there is still the possibility of an appeal, the City does not anticipate further delays, and I will do everything I can to accelerate the timeline.



Update on Backyard Cottage Legislation & Next Steps

March 27th, 2017

Affordability in housing is one of the biggest issues we face in Seattle today. The City of Seattle has identified the need for more housing at prices accessible to people at all levels of income, both for homeowners and renters. In May of 2016, I released a proposal that would make it easier for more homeowners to build backyard cottages and mother-in-law units in Seattle, and provide more affordable housing options for Seattle renters.  The bill proposes a series of changes to make it more feasible for homeowners to build additional units.

Following the release, the Queen Anne Community Council appealed to the hearing examiner, challenging the City’s SEPA determination of non-significance. This past December we received the response from the Hearing Examiner that reversed the determination.  After thorough examination of her response, we have decided to pursue a full environmental impact statement (EIS).  This process will likely take a year to complete.  The full EIS will enable us to look deeply into the possible impacts of the proposed code changes and inform our proposal before we bring it to the Planning, Land Use and Zoning Committee.

There will be multiple opportunities for input during the EIS process.  We will keep you informed of these opportunities for public comment and encourage you to engage.  When the EIS is complete, we hope to bring legislation to committee by mid-2018.

I believe lowering the barriers to creating backyard cottages and in-law apartments is an important part of addressing affordability across the city, and am looking forward to continuing to pursue this legislation.

If you have further questions, please reach out to Susie Levy – susie.levy@seattle.gov or call our office at 206-684-8800.


10% Affordable Housing Requirement in the University District Rezone

February 16th, 2017

The Council is preparing to vote on the University District Rezone this coming Tuesday, February 21st.  This is the first legislation that will incorporate the Mandatory Housing Affordability legislation, which will require developers to contribute to affordable housing.  While we passed the framework legislation for commercial and residential buildings in 2015 and 2016, this will be the first legislation to implement it.  We have the opportunity to require that the tallest buildings, receiving the largest height increase, set aside 10% of new units for people making no more than 60% AMI.  I am currently unsure if we have the votes to make that happen.

The legislation is currently written to set aside 9% in the high-rise zones, and my proposal would make that a 10% set aside.  It is not a huge jump, but we believe it could create an additional 44-64 additional units over the next 10 years in the University District. It also sets the precedent for future rezones that we require significant housing contributions for significant height increases.

Thus far, the main arguments I have heard in opposition is that my proposed increase would make it infeasible to build in the U-District.  I don’t agree. The estimated costs per square foot for building high-rise construction in the U-District is $284-303/SF.  My amendment would raise that cost by $2.25/SF to $286-305/SF.  I don’t believe this difference will make or break a project.

For example, a new 300 unit high-rise residential building would need to set aside 27 units.  My amendment would require an additional 3 units be set aside for people making 60% AMI or less, bringing the total to 30 units.  Again, I don’t believe this is infeasible. But it does set a precedent.
MHA Table
When we finalized our MHA framework legislation that sets in place the nuts and bolts of the program, we made clear our intent to require greater set asides in areas with significant increased capacities and areas in the city with a high risk of displacement.  This is our chance to operationalize that intent and set the tone for future rezones.

If not now, when? The best way to ensure strong requirements is to incorporate this change into the bill this Tuesday.  If you feel strongly, the easiest way to communicate with council is to email council@seattle.gov.  


Seeking Justice for Greenwood Businesses Blown Apart by PSE

February 7th, 2017

Nearly one year ago an explosion rocked the Greenwood neighborhood early on the morning of March 9.  The Puget Sound Energy (PSE) gas line explosion traumatized the neighborhood and decimated local businesses. Recently I had the opportunity to stand with five area business owners who shared their stories about the devastating effects on the neighborhood, the crippling effects on their small businesses, and the burdensome bureaucracy that has stalled efforts around reimbursement to stabilize their financial outlook.

It’s staggering that no one paid with their lives in an explosion of this magnitude.  But the true cost is the profit lost by the community.  Together we walked through their shuttered or broken businesses which served as a painful reminder of the true cost of recovery and repair. It’s clear that many local businesses are still suffering from a blast that was the result of negligence.  Meanwhile, PSE has not offered any compensation to these individuals, and hasn’t changed their internal policies that would otherwise create safer conditions for all PSE customers and the surrounding community. If our local businesses continue to struggle or shutter all together under a non-response by PSE, then how can we be sure the company won’t be negligent again?  We need to know the that places we live and work are secure and being monitored; like bridges or oil trains, we defer to the experts to check all the natural gas lines, and determined that they are safe, and will not cause a devastating explosion like the one experienced in Greenwood.

Councilmember Mike O'Brien's Signature  

Media Mentions

Greenwood businesses still reeling from explosion seek ‘justice’ from PSE| KUOW

Take responsibility for explosion, Greenwood business owners tell PSE| My Northwest

PSE hasn’t tracked abandoned gas lines; businesses want utility to pay for Explosion| The Seattle Times

Businesses affected by last year’s natural gas explosion call Puget Sound Energy negligent and call for the utility to accept responsibility| PhinneyWood

Greenwood businesses affected by last year’s gas explosion want PSE to pay| Q13


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