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.

April 8 – our third Workshop on the HALA MHA upzones – Understanding and Engaging in the Legislative and Legal Processes

The Seattle Neighborhood Coalition in conjunction with the City Neighborhood Council’s Neighborhood Planning and Land Use Committee are pleased to announce their third Workshop on the HALA Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA).

The goal for the third workshop is to educate participants in how the legislative and legal processes that will implement MHA work, and how to most effectively engage in those processes.

mha-city-map

Virtually all of the land in Urban Villages will be up-zoned as a result of MHA, along with all commercial land outside of Urban Villages.  MHA also up-zones certain land along transit routes.  And areas adjacent to Urban Villages may be up-zoned as part of an Urban Village expansion

This Workshop will help participants understand the following:

  •  How are zoning and land use and the development process defined in the Seattle Municipal Code
  •  What are the roles of the administration (the Mayor and departments) and Council in the legislative process
  •  How to effectively lobby the administration, departments and Council
  •  How does the State Environmental Protection Act (SEPA) and Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) work in the zoning and development processes
  •  What are land use appeals and interpretations and how are they used
  •  How do Public Records requests work and what can they tell us
  •  How do you track what is happening in the legislative process

At our first workshop on February 11 we covered how to organize around the issue.  At the second Workshop on March 11 (and 14) we covered the technical aspects of the MHA upzones and how to assess impacts to the neighborhood.  Video of those workshops and panel discussion will soon be available, and the supporting materials are here.

You can attend our third workshop even if you missed the first workshops.

Saturday  April 8th, 9:00 am in the Central Area   CLICK HERE –> REGISTER FOR SATURDAY WORKSHOP

Join us if you have interest in becoming more engaged in your community’s HALA upzoning process.

Please register using the link above if you plan to attend.  If you feel that others in your neighborhood are the right people to participate, please invite them.  If you have questions about the program, contact us by email reply.

Our speakers for this workshop are:

Ted Inkley, a retired lawyer, has lived on Phinney Ridge for more than 30 years. Ted spent 20 years of his legal career with the Seattle City Attorney’s office. He was head of the Criminal Division for eight years before he moved to the Civil Division. There he specialized in the law relating to public records and open-public meetings, and was head of the office’s Municipal Law section, which advised clients in a variety of areas and helped to develop City legislation. He has taught extensively on open-government issues.

Lisa Parriott was born and raised in the area and is a descendent of the first European settlers of Seattle.  After serving in the military, she returned to pursue her BSCE at the UW’s College of Engineering.  She is a licensed professional engineer with a 30+ year career in the marine, aviation, and transportation sectors. She recently began advocating for local community land use interests when exposed to a development project in her own neighborhood.  She will be sharing her group’s lessons learned from pursuing a code interpretation and LUPA legal case.

Seattle architect Martin Henry Kaplan, is Chair of the QACC and former Planning Commission member.  While serving on the Seattle Planning Commission, he helped author the current Backyard Cottage legislation.  He led the recent QACC appeal of the DADU/ADU Determination of Significance which questioned the City’s assessment of impacts related to the legislative changes.  They prevailed in the appeal and the City will undertake a full environmental impact assessment.

Alex Pedersen has been working hard for neighborhoods for the past 20 years in both the public and private sectors. Alex recently served as Legislative Aide to City Council Member Tim Burgess. For 10 years he was a senior analyst for financial institutions where he evaluated and closed over $700 million in construction and permanent financing for affordable multifamily housing and mixed-use projects. Alex served at HUD headquarters in Washington, DC during the Clinton Administration and as Chief of Staff for the President of the Oakland City Council before settling with his family in Seattle. Alex received his Masters of Government Administration from the University of Pennsylvania in 1994.

Toby Thaler has worked as a lawyer and policy analyst for environmental groups, Tribes, local governments, and others on forestry, fisheries, water quality, land use, and development issues for almost forty years. Toby became the first staff attorney at Washington Environmental Council in the mid-1990s, organizing volunteer lawyers to represent WEC and other NGOs in numerous cases, such as conservation of forest lands under the then new Growth Management Act, preventing inappropriate shoreline developments, and submitting amicus briefs in appellate cases of state-wide significance. From 1998 through 2006, he was staff attorney at the Washington Forest Law Center. Toby is presently a Natural Resource Law & Policy consultant, working with communities around the country on climate change adaptation, advocating for conservative forest management in Washington State, and helping move Seattle land use planning and development policies toward a sustainable future.

Bill Bradburd has led the Seattle Neighborhood Coalition since late 2011 when longtime leader Kent Kammerer passed away.  He is involved with his local community and district councils, and is a member of the Central Area land Use Review Committee.  He has been involved with pursuing the City on several land use issues over the last decade, and has used public records, appeals, interpretations and lobbying as means to shape public policy.  In 2015 he had an unsuccessful bid for Seattle City Council.

March 11 -our 2nd Workshop on HALA Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) – Understanding the details of the Proposed Zoning and Land Use Changes under MHA

The Seattle Neighborhood Coalition in conjunction with the City Neighborhood Council’s Neighborhood Planning and Land Use Committee are pleased to announce their second Workshop on the HALA Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA).   Two dates are planned.

The goal for the second workshop is to educate participants in how to do their own evaluation of the MHA changes to their neighborhood so that they can craft their own message and explain in detail how the changes will affect their community.

mha-city-map

Virtually all of the land in Urban Villages will be up-zoned as a result of MHA, along with all commercial land outside of Urban Villages.  MHA also up-zones certain land along transit routes.  And areas adjacent to Urban Villages may be up-zoned as part of an Urban Village expansion.

This Workshop will help participants understand the often confusing and sometimes misleading information coming from City Hall about how MHA will work and where it will apply.  The Workshop will help you comprehend:

  • the alphabet soup of MHA and how to read the proposed zoning maps for your neighborhood
  • what types of building forms and types of housing MHA will introduce
  • how the different land use zones are being changed by MHA (e.g. did you know some “ low rise” could be 60 feet?)
  • how MHA affordability is proposed to be achieved, how it may not achieve its stated goals, and how displacement may play out in your neighborhood

At our first workshop on January 11 we covered how to organize around the issue.  Video of that workshop and panel discussion will soon be available, and supporting materials are here.

You can attend our second workshop even if you missed the first workshop on organizing.  This second workshop on the details of MHA zoning will be offered twice:

  1. Saturday  March 11th, 9:00 am in the Central Area
  2. Register for Workshop 2 (Central Area)
  3. Tuesday, March 14th, 6.30 pm in room 370 of City Hall
  4. Register for Workshop 2 (Downtown)

Mark your calendar.  If you are not able to attend, or know someone that you think would be interested in knowing more about what MHA zoning changes mean for their community, please let them know about the workshop.

February 11 – Neighborhoods Workshop on HALA Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) Upzones

The Seattle Neighborhood Coalition is hosting a workshop on Saturday February 11 for community organizers who are trying to bring attention to HALA’s Mandatory Housing Affordability upzones and connect them to other neighborhoods in order to share tools and ideas to get the word out and to respond to what is happening.

We will have a panel discussion and Q&A covering:

  •  crafting a message
  •  organizational building
  •  getting ‘technical’ land use acumen
  •  inclusive outreach to underrepresented communities and renters
  •  partnerships
  •  communication tools

Some neighborhoods are well organized and have a variety of responses to working with the City, others are just getting started, and others are not engaged. This workshop will allow community members an initial chance to “become aware and share” and meet with other neighborhood leaders to make connections.

We want to empower communities to make their own choices on how to respond and understand what is happening related to the zoning changes that will affect them.

If you are interested in helping your community respond to the upzones and become more engaged in the process, please join us.

*** NOTE:  the meeting will start at 8:30am with networking and a coffee/light breakfast.  Panel discussion will start at 9am, followed by Q&A and breakout sessions.

January 14 – Backyard Cottages, SEPA, and Assessing Growth Impacts

While it may seem like so much happens around us that is beyond our control, Washington citizens have more tools than citizens in most of the US. Washington is one of only 16 states which has enacted environmental policy legislation based upon NEPA, the National Environmental Policy Act, initially passed in 1969.  And it is one of just 5 states which have made citizen review of development possible.

Recently the Queen Anne Community Council successfully appealed to the Seattle Hearing Examiner the City’s Determination of Non-significance of the impacts that could be caused by the proposed changes to rules regarding the productions of backyard cottages and mother-in-law units (DADU, ADU – Accessory Dwelling Units, Detached Accessory Dwelling Units) in Single Family zones.

Beginning in 1993, Washington State law allowed local governments to allow permitting of “accessory apartments” subject to certain local limitations (RCW 43.53A.215; RCW 36.70.677).  The City of Seattle initiated a pilot program in 2006 allowing DADUs on single-family zoned lots, and in 2010 adopted regulations which allowed either an ADU or a DADU on single family lots throughout the City.  By the City’s own count, as of December 2015, only 221 DADUs had been built. City code limited such units to a maximum size of 800 square feet of gross floor area.  Between 2012 and 2014, DADUs averaged 632 square feet, and were built at an average cost of $55,000.  Rents for these units were reported ranging from $650.00 – $1,800.00 per month.

In 2104 the City Council requested a report from the Department of Planning and Development regarding the status of such development and also analysis of policy changes which might increase housing through production of more ADUs and DADUs.  The Office of Planning and Construction Development [OPCD] determined, in its report of October 2015, that given existing land use codes, which limited such development to lots of 4,000 square feet or more, there were 75,000 single-family lots upon which DADUs could be built.  OPCD noted that with a reduction of the minimum lot size, to just 3,200 square feet, the City could permit another 7,000 units, on up to 82,000 single family lots.

Curiously, expansion of ADU/DADU options was one of the HALA recommendations, but did not make the cut from Mayor Murray on work items to be pursued.  However Councilmember Mike O’Brien, working with OPCD, prepared a draft ordinance which would, among other provisions:

  • allow both an ADU and a DADU on the same single-family 3,200 square foot lot;
  • allow an increase in floor area size of a DADU to 1,000 square feet (excluding garage/storage areas);
  • change the ownership requirement so that a 50% owner would only be required to occupy the property in the first year the DADU was built, and could be an absentee thereafter;
  • allowing an increase in the total amount of lot area which could be covered by residential structures to just over 46% for small lots;
  • allow an increase in the total rear yard space for a DADU which was up to 15 feet high;
  • and increasing total rear yard permissible coverage to 60% (as measured from the centerline of any abutting alley);
  • totally remove the existing requirement of on-site parking for any ADU/DADU within an urban center or urban village; and
  • ease restrictions on locations of building entrances, roof structures, increases on interior living spaces and “projections” from DADU structures.

OPCD prepared a SEPA environmental checklist, with limited acknowledgement of some potential impacts, such as from vacation rentals (not regulated), parking, and transportation, as well as public utilities were “negligible,” and thus issued its Determination of Non-Significance.

This issue had been watched carefully by many, including the Land Use Committee of the Queen Anne Community Counsel who appealed the decision to the Seattle Hearing Examiner arguing that the proposed ordinance could not go forward to the City Council for action until a full Environmental Impact Statement has been prepared.

After multiple days of testimony, and briefing which continued over a 6-week period, Seattle Hearing Examiner Sue Tanner issued an opinion on December 13 which found in favor of the QACC, and ordered that the City must complete the entire SEPA process.  That process will include the ability of citizens all over Seattle, and not just in Queen Anne, to review potential impacts of the proposed legislation and to offer official comment.

Our featured guest speaker is Seattle architect Martin Henry Kaplan, Chair of the QACC and former Planning Commission member.  While serving on the Seattle Planning Commission, he helped author the current Backyard Cottage legislation.

At our January meeting we will explore the history of Seattle’s decision to allow and encourage more intense development in Single-Family residential zones, the failure of OPCD to acknowledge the impacts of the proposed ADU/DADU legislation through the SEPA process, and the implications of the Hearing Examiner’s decision on future zoning decisions that could have significant environmental impacts.

Join us for what should be in informative conversation.

A native 3rd generation Seattleite, Marty Kaplan has been principal of honored Seattle-based architectural firm Martin Henry Kaplan, Architects AIA for over 30 years.  Besides practicing in many areas of the U.S., he has consistently contributed his time and expertise to local community service serving on boards such as AIA Seattle (5 yrs), the Intiman Theatre (10 yrs); Pike Place Market Historical Commission (6 yrs); Seattle Planning Commission (2005-2012); Blaine Co Idaho ARCH Community Housing Trust (4 yrs); Queen Anne Community Council and Land Use Review Committee-LURC (14 yrs), South Lake Union and Mercer St Stakeholders Group (11 yrs); Uptown UDF Stakeholder (7 yrs) and many others.  He ran for Seattle City Council in 2009.

[Special Notice:  Our February Meeting will include the SNC Annual meeting.  SNC is a Washington Non-Profit Corporation.]

December 10 – Seattle Times ‘FYI Guy’ Gene Balk

There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.  Or so sayeth Mark Twain.

Statistics is the science of analyzing and learning from data.   And Twain’s sarcasm was in regards to the erroneous interpretation of data, intentional or not.

Seattle has a new rock star of data interpretation: Gene Balk, the Seattle Times columnist, ”FYI Guy”.

Gene’s  columns began appearing a few years ago and initially were ‘lighter’ in character, looking at favorite brand of coffee or  ethnic origins of the Seattle Freeze or which neighborhood is the most vegetarian.

In the last couple of years however Gene has started paying greater attention to larger demographic and economic trends in the region.   Statistically speaking, Gene has become one of the most consistent chroniclers of growth and change in the Puget Sound region.

Whether the issue is density, gentrification, traffic congestion, property taxes, or the effect of Amazon on housing costs, it seems that Gene has studied it, and has something to say about it.

Join us for what should be an engaging conversation about Seattle and the region.

November 12 – Panel Discussion: Seattle journalists’ post-election analysis and tea-leaf reading

After a long and blustery election season it’s finally time for analysis of the election results and some examination of what lay ahead.

Locally we were given the chance to approve the largest public transportation initiative ever: the $54B Sound Transit 3 expansion.  We were also presented at the state level the option of the nation’s most progressive climate policy action.  And locally we had some of the most highly contentious legislative battles between lefty candidates in recent memory.

And with the national election over, what do the results mean for us and the region?

Finally, what are the predictions for Seattle in 2017?  Will we in the second year of our homelessness ‘state of emergency’ see progress?  Will HALA begin to deliver on its promises?  And what can we expect in the local Seattle election for Mayor, City Attorney and the two at-large City Council seats.

We are excited to be joined by esteemed local journalists Joe Copeland (Crosscut), Casey Jaywork (Seattle Weekly) and George Howland (Outside City Hall).

Joe Copeland is a writer and editor for Crosscut, primarily overseeing political coverage. He has worked for Crosscut since 2010. He was an editorial writer and editorial columnist for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer from 2002 until its closure in March 2009. His editorial writing included the higher education, environmental and political beats. Before joining the P-I, he worked at The Herald in Everett as editorial page editor, city editor and a reporter. He is the author of an e-book, “Peace Quest: The Survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.”

@CaseyJaywork is a reporter for Seattle Weekly, where he covers City Hall as well as homelessness, police reform, drug policy, and other issues that affect poor people. He was one of this year’s New Journalists of the Year for the local chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. He does not understand Instagram, and likes it that way.

George Howland Jr has been a Seattle-based journalist for 28 years. He was The Stranger’s first news editor and worked as news editor at Seattle Weekly under Knute Berger. He spent five years as a flack at City Hall (AKA his time in hell). Currently, he is an independent journalist under contract with Outside City Hall, the website of Seattle Displacement Coalition.

Join us for what should an insightful conversation.