November 11 – Activism Today – Kirsten Harris-Talley and Andre Taylor

There is clearly a renaissance of activism in Seattle right now.  Neighborhood activists are organized with informed and active councils such as Wallingford, Rainier Beach, and Crown Hill, as well as in land use-focused groups like the Queen Anne and Central Area LURCs (Land Use Review Committees).

Sadly this comes at a time when neighborhoods continue to lose influence and voice at City Hall and in elections.  And despite localized neighborhood activity, and the appearance of citywide groups like Seattle Fair Growth, neighborhood voice has been lost with the demise of the Seattle Community Council Federation and the City’s backing away from the District Council system and resultant disintegration of the City Neighborhood Council.

At the same time, there are also many groups that are actively working to shift power and advocate for the interests of historically marginalized populations such as the Black Lives Matter movement and Nikkita Oliver’s People’s Party.

Other groups are powerful advocates for special interests often at odds with neighborhood interests, such as Seattle Subway, The Urbanist, the YIMBY movement, City Builders, etc.   These groups are all active, with engaged membership.  They talk regularly through social networks.  They influence Council.  They make endorsements.   And they are fighting for what they believe the City should be like.

Finally there are groups that are issues based and are successfully changing the conversation in the city, such as the Transit Riders Union who have pushed for a city income tax and head tax to address homelessness, and Housing Now! that is pushing for more publicly financed housing.

In the past year we have examined organizing and activities by neighborhood groups and the challenges they face.  This month we will look closer at organizing and activity that is happening by groups outside of neighborhood councils.

At our November 11th meeting we will be joined by two noteworthy Seattle activists:

  • Kirsten Harris-Talley is currently serving as the interim at-large City Council member filling in for Tim Burgess who took over as interim Mayor.
  • Andre Taylor is founder of Not This Time which is focused on reducing fatalities of people at the hands of the police and improving relations between communities and the police.

Kirsten has for more than fifteen years been as a facilitator and community advocate, and has been involved with successful campaigns such as #BlockTheBunker and #NoNewYouthJail.   Kirsten served as program director for the Progress Alliance, an organization funding the infrastructure of progressive social and political change in Washington State. She is also a founding board member of Surge Northwest, a nonprofit which advances community engagement, education, and policy advocacy for racial and reproductive justice. Kirsten earned her associate degree from The School of Arts Institute of Chicago. She later received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Washington. Kirsten lives in the Rainier Valley – Hillman City neighborhood.

On Monday November 13th Council will vote on legislation supported by Harris-Talley that would put an end to the ineffective and inhumane sweeps of homeless encampments where they are not unsafe or in conflict with other public use. The Housing, Outreach, and Mass-Entry Shelter (H.O.M.E.S.) tax would apply to businesses with gross revenue in excess of $5 million per year (about 90% of Seattle businesses are not affected). This proposal would bring in about $50M annually for permanent low income housing and related homeless services.

On the issue of police reform, several actions have started.  Most notable are the Black Lives Matter movement and the Department of Justice intervention.

After SPD’s Ian Birk shot John T. Williams in the back in 2010, attention to the problems with state law heightened.  The elderly Native American woodcarver Williams, who was hard of hearing, was shot to death by Birk just seven seconds after the officer arrived on the scene.  The shooting was universally condemned, and Birk resigned just hours after SPD issued a scathing report.  But King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg concluded that proving Birk was acting with “malice” was impossible:  by state law, an officer is protected from prosecution if they acted in “good faith” and without “malice.” These standards are considered impossible to meet legally because they require a jury to assess the officer’s state of mind.

Since his brother Che was shot by police in Feb 2016, Andre Taylor has worked tirelessly for police reform.  His first effort, Initiative I-873 in 2016 failed to garner enough signatures, but was the first in the nation attempt to address police reform directly by ballot.

I-940 attempts to address the language in state law that makes it virtually impossible to prosecute a police officer for willfully shooting someone.  It also requires police training in violence de-escalation and mental health, requires first aid be provided, and independent investigations.

I-940 is on track to get to the ballot, and has garnered support from political leaders around the state.

Join us for what promises to be an interesting conversation with two leading and effective activists in Seattle.

More info here.

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October 14 – City Council Candidates Debate Neighborhood Issues

On October 14th we are hosting a debate between the candidates for the two at-large City Council seats.  The debate will be moderated by Emmy award-winning political analyst CR Douglas.

Running for Position 8 (the seat held by retiring Council member, and now interim-Mayor, Tim Burgess) are labor organizer Teresa Mosqueda and housing advocate Jon Grant.

Running for Position 9 are neighborhood activist and small business owner Pat Murakami, and the incumbent, Lorena Gonzalez – who has declined to participate in this debate.

NOTE: The debate will begin promptly at 9:15

Saturday, October 14
Doors open at 8:30 for breakfast and networking
Central Area Senior Center
500 30th Ave S

September 9 – A one-sided mayoral debate, and, the last gasp of Design Review?

Video of Cary Moon at the SNC, Sept 9, 2017

The SNC had hoped for a debate between mayoral candidates Cary Moon and Jenny Durkan.  Unfortunately Ms Durkan apparently could not arrange her morning to debate Ms Moon on the issues important to Seattle’s neighborhoods.   Instead Cary Moon will take the podium alone to speak with us.

At our July candidates forum, Ms Moon asserted that she was a believer in “people powered planning” and it is “tragic that we have drifted away from that over the last two decades.”   She called for a renewal of the neighborhood planning process that would allow “neighborhoods to take authority for guiding the future of their neighborhood as they see fit” and “empowering neighborhoods to guide their growth”.

Much of what followed from Ms Moon resonated with the interests of neighborhoods in terms of the challenges they face today: gentrification, growth pains, rising housing costs, and declining livability.

The SNC urges a careful consideration of how Ms Moon and MS Durkan responded to the issues put to them at their previous visits with the SNC.  Ms Moon demonstrated a far better understanding of the issues affecting neighborhoods and how to address them.  We hope that a second chance to talk with Ms Moon will confirm that as well as allow us to look at a broader range of issues than those addressed during our candidate interviews in June and July.

Meanwhile, emerging from the smoke and heat of late summer, is a significant change to the Design Review program.  Ostensibly meant to improve public engagement in the process and to speed the time it takes for projects to go through design review, the changes will reduce further the number of projects going through design review – largely multifamily projects in lowrise zones (which is where complaints about design are already heard).  In the past decade, there have been 829 multifamily permits issued that required design review.  This was a mere 2.3% of all construction permits in that period.

The current Design Review process is by most accounts broken and in need of overhaul.  The question is does the proposal on the table do that?

Threshold changes seem to reduce projects that go through Design Review and at the same time remove “streamlined” reviews making some projects go through a more extensive process.  The enhanced outreach proposal is also faulty, and appears to make neither developers or community interests happy.  It is also unclear whether the changes would actually provide much throughput improvement for projects, with the real problem of delays around design review simply being with under-staffing at DCI.

To help make sense of what the proposed changes are and where there is room for improvement we will be joined by Deb Barker (chair of Morgan Community Association), Jeff Floor (architect, Central Area Land Use review Committee), and Martin Kaplan (architect, and member of the Queen Anne LURCs (Land Use Review Committees).

City Council is moving rapidly to legislate these changes in the next month, so understanding of the issue and active engagement now is crucial to making the much needed changes to the Design Review program to ensure that quality projects are built in our neighborhoods.

 

 

Aug 12 – Panel Discussion on Election Results

[meeting video here]

The Seattle August primary election has turned out to be one of the more interesting mayoral elections in recent memory.  There was slightly higher primary voter turnout, likely because of the 21 candidates vying for the mayoral slot being vacated by Ed Murray (not running for re-election because of allegations of sexual impropriety with minors decades ago) and a lot of energy in attracting young voters, largely from the Nikkita Oliver campaign.

But at this point the top two candidates have not yet been certified.   Jennny Durkan leads with Cary Moon several hundred votes above Nikita Oliver, though it is not looking good for Oliver.

The SNC (along with Seattle Fair Growth, Vanishing Seattle, and the City Neighborhood Council) hosted two meetings (June, July) to allow extensive conversation with what it considered the top 6 likely mayoral candidates – a top tier that had been repeated in other forums much to the chagrin of the other 15 candidates.  Video of our meetings with all the mayoral candidates can be seen here.  And here is video of SNC interviews with Durkan, Moon and Oliver.

To the SNC and neighborhood activists, the issues for the primary and general election run broad and deep. The City is facing many big challenges, from a rapidly increasing homeless population because of stratospheric housing costs (despite being a year into a state of emergency), backlash against explosive growth (with more construction cranes than New York, Boston and Washington, D.C. combined), crippling traffic, on-going police accountability problems, and continuing displacement of long term and lower income residents.

Long ignored issues raised by neighborhoods, such as development impact fees, gentrification, rising property taxes, and neighborhood voice in the planning process, were on the lips of many, but not all, candidates.

Analysis of the primary results varies widely.

One of our panelists saw this election another negative turning point for the beleaguered neighborhoods, as candidates with an overt support for community voice did not fair well.

But political strategist and campaign consultant John Wyble feels that the an anti-establishment sentiment can be a factor moving forward, making Jenny Durkan (who is Ed Murray’s “stay the course” candidate and a steadfast supporter the HALA “Grand Bargain” to upzone large swaths of the city – which the SNC has strongly criticized) vulnerable.

Nikkita Oliver understood neighborhood concern over Murray and O’Brien’s “Grand Bargain” and unfettered growth throughout the city and its implications for displacement, which made her attractive to both some neighborhood activists and those at risk for displacement, and her transformational messaging resonated with younger voters. But she did not get her message out to the average voter and that clearly was not enough with the large field candidates.

Nonetheless, Oliver and her supporters can still be a factor in a “fundamental paradigm shift in the developer-friendly city policies that have helped create and exacerbate this [housing affordability] crisis.”

Another of our panelists posits it this way:

“If you like how things are going in Seattle – a booming economy and population, construction everywhere – vote Durkan. If you think Seattle needs a corrective to inadequate infrastructure investment, traffic gridlock, overflowing schools, a city government that shuts out the concerns of many of its residents, and policies whose affordability “solution” is simply to force any household that doesn’t have a six-figure income to leave town – vote Moon.”

Will there be an urbanist/neighborhoods coalition formed to beat Durkan?  That is to say, is Moon a “true” urbanist (as opposed to the free-market and YIMBY ideologues) and be able to meld the concerns of the SNC (grassroots planning and neighborhood concerns over concurrency and quality of life) into her strategy to manage the city?  And will this message resonate with marginalized communities and those most at risk of displacement?

To help us review the results of the election and give insight into these issues and how they affect the races, we are joined by a panel of journalists/analysts that have been following the election:

Our moderator will be Alex Pedersen (4 to Explore), former legislative aide to Tim Burgess (who is retiring his at-large Council position 8 seat resulting in an exciting race between housing advocate Jon Grant and labor organizer Teresa Mosqueda ).

Come join us for what should be an interesting post-mortem of the August 1st Primary, and provide insights into how the races will play out in the November 7 General Election, and the issues that matter most to voters will come to the fore.

July 8 – Mayoral Candidate Forum #2

[Video of our meetings with the mayoral candidates can be seen here]

The SNC is pleased to present its second program dedicated to extended meetings with Seattle Mayoral candidates.  At each of the June and July meetings we will have one hour sessions with 3 candidates.  The candidates will make opening and closing statements, respond to a few fixed questions from the SNC and our co-sponsoring organizations (Vanishing Seattle, Seattle fair Growth, and the City Neighborhood Council), and respond to audience questions.

On July 8 we will meet with:

NOTE that the July 8 meeting will start at 8:30 am at the central Area Senior Center for breakfast and networking.  The first candidate interview will start at 9am.

In June we met with Jessyn Farrell, Jenny Durkan, and Nikkita Oliver.  After the July meeting, video of all candidate interviews will be posted.

Please join us at the Central Area Senior Center for what has been an informative and extended discussion with the candidates.   RSVP for the event!

 

June 10 and July 8 – Mayoral Candidates

[Video of our meetings with the mayoral candidates can be seen here]

The SNC is pleased to have two programs dedicated to extended meetings with Seattle Mayoral candidates.  At each of the June and July meetings we will have one hour sessions with 3 candidates.  The candidates will make opening and closing statements, respond to a few fixed questions from the SNC, then respond to audience questions.

June 10

July 8

NOTE that the June 10 meeting will start at 1pm and be at a different location (Black Zone at 23rd Ave S and South Jackson St) than our regular meeting time and location.  More details forthcoming…

May 13 – King County Assessor John Wilson

Taxes are going up, and it’s important to understand why, and it’s also important that we begin discussing some of the problems that are emerging with our property tax system.”
— John Wilson, King County Assessor,

In the last two years, Seattle property taxes have risen almost 22 percent.   Just last year homeowners on average saw their property tax bill go up by $600.

It may be hard to believe (or remember) but Tim Eyman’s I-747 in 2001 to limit property tax growth to 1% per year was in response to rapidly rising property taxes.  That initiative won in a landslide but was overturned a few years later by the courts only to be quickly reinstated legislatively by a Democratic-controlled Olympia.

Of course local governments have been hamstrung by this draconian imposition, and even rural areas that overwhelmingly support such conservative measures are hurting because of it.

But the 1% cap doesn’t apply to new construction, and that is something we have in spades in Seattle and King County.

So the share of Seattle’s tax revenues coming from King County assessed property taxes continue to rise not only from both from an increased property tax base, and its 1% annual kicker, but from an increasing array of voter approved property tax levies.

In the last decade alone voter approved levies have more than doubled to in order to meet a growing list of services and amenities demanded by Seattle citizens that require additional funding.  These include:

  • parks facilities and some operations,
  • roads improvements,
  • expanding light rail,
  • repairing the downtown seawall,
  • preschool education and local school support,
  • low income housing,
  • Pike Place Market, and
  • the Library system.

Just recently Mayor Murray had proposed seeking voter approval for another property tax increase – this time to garner additional monies to address the swelling homelessness problem.  But that was quickly dropped for a sales tax increase at the County level.   But that tax won’t take place until 2018 while the homeless crisis festers even larger a year and a half into the declared ‘state of emergency’.

Murray has stated that Seattle property taxes are the lowest in the area and among many cities, but in reality are right in the middle of a wide range of County tax rates.  But what matters more are home valuations to which the local tax rate applies.  And as we know, home prices in Seattle are skyrocketing because explosive tech job growth is far outpacing our already frantic housing development clip.   Many people know someone anecdotally whose property taxes have doubled over the last several years.

Murray also says that people are willing to be taxed more.    He is now proposing a soda sales tax to fund service for low income and vulnerable children.  But to many, his choice to use property taxes and sales taxes are regressive taxing mechanisms that hit lower and fixed income people the hardest.

But consensus is that the use of levies is starting to fatigue many voters.  King County Assessor John Wilson has called attention to this as an “unsustainable way to fund government”.   “At some point, are we placing at risk one or more critical public services by a levy failure because we asked once too often” says Wilson.

Seattle citizens, most of the City Council (and the Seattle Neighborhood Coalition) have urged the use of development impact fees to help bolster City coffers (to support transportation infrastructure, parks, schools and fire services) as allowed under State law and used by all surrounding municipalities.   The Seattle Displacement Coalition has estimated an impact fee for transportation infrastructure alone assessed at rates comparable to surrounding municipalities would have generated well over $300M between 2005 and 2014. City Council last year sought this avenue of revenue, but Mayor Ed Murray has buried that effort in one of his departments.

Another tax incongruity is the Multi Family Tax Exemption (MFTE), which demands 20% of a project be affordable units for a period of 12 years.  Affordability varies by unit size (from 65% AMI for a studio to 3BR units at 85% AMI).  There are currently about 30,000 ‘rent controlled’ units citywide in the program.  The Office of Housing claims that those units in 2017 are projected to save renters $19M in rent (relative to average market rents) – at a cost of $29M of tax burden shifted to homeowners (the average home owner  paying $11 more per year in property tax to support the program).   More importantly, a significant amount of tax revenue is lost to all layers of government through these tax breaks to for-profit developers.  The Seattle Displacement Coalition has estimated this to be $54M in lost revenue to Seattle over the next 12 years.   This program is so attractive to developers, the number of MFTE units targeted to be produce by HALA has already been exceeded just a couple of years into the 10 year HALA program.

The SNC is pleased to be joined this month by King County Assessor John Wilson.   John will talk with us about these topics as well as cover basics of how property taxes are assessed, whether HALA MHA upzones will affect your property tax bill, and various ideas on how to move to a more stable and equitable property tax system.

Join us for what should be an informative conversation.  Details here.