Saturday, February 25, 2006

Zoned Out - who wins and who loses in downtown

The debate over the Seattle’s downtown density plan by Mayor Greg Nickels heated up this week, after more than 120 people attended a forum at the Gethsemane Lutheran Church on Thursday, hosted by Real Change, the Seattle Alliance for Good Jobs and Housing for Everyone (SAGE), Seattle Human Services Coalition, Transportation Choices Coalition, and Meals Partnership Coalition, called – Zoned Out: Who wins and who loses in the new downtown plan.

The forum was kicked-off by an interactive trivia game facilitated by Joshua Heim, from Meals Partnership Coalition called, “Wait, wait – don’t evict me.” If attendees answered questions correctly, they received a t-shirt provided by Real Change saying, “Developers stole my city, and all I got was this lousy t-shirt.”

Four City Council Members attended the forum, including Peter Steinbrueck, Jean Godden, David Della, and new appointee, Sally Clark, along with a hodge-podge of housing activists, low-income renters, journalists, union organizers, and other concerned citizens.

The mayor’s new plan is meant to be an environmental friendly plan to thwart sprawl, and bring high paying office jobs, and new residents downtown by building more densely situated, and taller buildings with open green space. On it’s face, it looks like great urban planning, but it’s social ramifications fall well short.

Housing advocates want $20 per square foot sold by developers to be diverted to an affordable housing bonus for new residential buildings. The current plan is slated at $10.

Power brokers say if ten more dollars are added to the plan for housing, developers will go elsewhere.

Council Member Steinbrueck disagrees, saying, "The decision was determined behind closed doors with no public involvement, no input, no council, no staff, nobody. I didn’t even know these meetings where going on,” said Steinbrueck. “It’s like walking into a permit office, and deciding what I’m going to pay for my permit.”

After inquiring about profit margins with the developers Steinbrueck in his own words said, “the developers responded with it’s none of your f*@#ing business what we make downtown.”

It’s at that point that Steinbrueck commissioned a new study for the plan. The difference between the mayor’s, and Steinbrueck's plan is 1.6%. The mayor’s plan for $10 a square foot going towards affordable housing would cut into the developers pockets by 1%, compared to the new plan for $20, at 2.6% “Is that going to drive developers away? I don’t think so,” says Steinbrueck. “That’s pocket change.”

Condos downtown are currnetly being sold from $500, to $2100 per square foot.

Sharon Lee, the Executive Director of the Low Income Housing Institute, who also spoke at the forum said, “It’s an outrage that it’s another year with no more money for the 10-year plan to end homelessness, no more money for housing in South Lake Union, housing in the International District, and housing in Pioneer Square. These are all downtown neighborhoods crying out for affordable housing.” Lee encouraged people to not only look at the density plan itself, but to look at the city budget for significant resources for low-income housing.

Tim Allen, a security officer living in low-income housing talked to the audience about his experience of living and working in downtown for more than 19-years, and being forced to move out of the downtown that he loves.

Allen's presentation highlighted the irony of being a security officer working to protect the very office buildings, and condominiums that have priced him out of the market.

Transportation/environmental/labor impacts of the new plan:

Fearing a ripple of sprawl in surrounding areas - many believe the new plan; minus adequate public transportation would be a nightmare.Critics argue that if we’re not careful we may find ourselves looking more like Atlanta, or Los Angeles, than the utopia sought.

According to the mayor’s website “by 2024 it is projected that this area will produce 50,000 new jobs, and over 22,000 new housing units.” Due to an archaic transportation system people who can’t afford to live in downtown will have to drive - thus attributing to sprawl, and more pollution.

One of the questioned posed during the “Wait, wait – don’t evict me” was if you take the bus from a location in the suburbs, and work at a job downtown at 5:30AM - when would you have to leave to be on-time? The answer was the night before, with more than 2 hours of idle time before your shift even starts the next morning. Thousands of workers already face this dilemma.

In a joint press release with former Vice President, Al Gore on February 16, Nickels said, “We have a lot to be proud of in Seattle. But we have a lot of work left to do. We will continue to show the world that we can power a city without toasting the planet. The time to act is now."

Never-mind, the mayor axed an extensive monorail plan last year, and now wants to build a tunnel for cars marked in the billions to replace of the Alaskan Viaduct due to traffic congestion.

Could Oregonians feel the ripples of more growth in Seattle? The answer is yes.

Seattle dumps around 900 million tons of garbage in landfills out of state in Arlington, Oregon, a town 140 miles east of Portland on the Columbia River.

According to Brent Stav, Senior Public Relations Specialist with the Seattle Public Utilities, commercial office space and restaurants account for the cities leading waste provider at 40%, meanwhile apartments, condos, and single occupancies, which will be the majority of the 22,000 new housing units, yield the least in recycling – with only 25% of those individuals recycling at all.

The City of Seattle currently recycles around 40% of all the waste produced. San Francisco recycles more than 60% of its waste, while Portland is at 54%. While the city may be ahead of the curve, it’s far from being the leader in the fight against global warming as claimed by the mayor.

More so, Seattle is a union town, but many fear the 50,000 projected jobs will not come with fair-wages, and health care. Union leaders are asking the city to step up to the plate, and require construction companies, and developers to hire at a fair wage. Not to mention thousands of service industry jobs that will be created to fulfill the influx of high-paid office workers in the new plan. Union organizers are ready to pounce.

Council Member Steinbrueck, followed Sally Clark, who was less than inspiring at Thursdays event. “We are putting a human face on the issues we are discussing,” says the council member. “This issue is not about a city for tall, it’s about a city for all," pointing to the banner behind him saying, “A Downtown For All.”

The sky is the limit; it's whose sky that has become the question.


Jana said...

Did someone say gridlock, as in Mayor Gridlock?

JM said...

Your story brings up some great points. I didn't know our garbage went to Oregon.

This is the press release from the mayor's office. It's nice that Seattle is leading the way, but I do agree we have to find a way to benefit everyone.


SUBJECT:   Gore and Nickels to unveil next steps in fight against global warming

2/16/2006  3:00:00 PM
Martin McOmber  (206) 684-8358

Gore and Nickels to unveil next steps in fight against global warming
Recommendations will help Seattle meet Kyoto goals to cut greenhouse gasses

SEATTLE - Former Vice President Al Gore will join Mayor Greg Nickels next month to announce a series of recommendations that will shape the city of Seattle’s efforts to sharply reduce Seattle’s contributions to global warming pollution.

The announcement of Gore’s participation comes on the first anniversary of the mayor’s challenge to cities across the country to join with Seattle in pledging to meet, or beat, the emissions-reducing goals of the Kyoto Protocol. To date, 204 cities and counting, have signed on to Nickels’s Climate Protection Agreement.

Next month’s announcement will cap the work of the Mayor’s Green Ribbon Commission on Climate Protection, which was appointed a year ago to develop recommendations for how Seattle as a community can meet the Kyoto target.

“We have a lot to be proud of in Seattle,” Nickels said. “But we have a lot of work left to do. We will continue to show the world that we can power a city without toasting the planet. That we can fuel our economy without fouling the air. And that we can protect the environment for generations to come by making positive changes today.”

“We are facing a true planetary emergency,” Gore said, “but we can solve it if we make the right choices. I applaud Seattle’s leadership and am excited to join Mayor Nickels as he unveils his successful strategies for climate protection.”

Gore is one of the nation’s leading voices on climate disruption. His documentary film on global warming, “An Inconvenient Truth,” recently premiered at the Sundance Film Festival to rave reviews.

The exact date of the Green Ribbon Commission announcement will be released soon.

While the federal government has squandered the year since Kyoto took effect without taking meaningful steps to address the growing threat of global warming, Seattle has emerged as a national leader in the effort to cut greenhouse gas emissions and protect our environment.

Nickels’s U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement challenge sparked a grassroots effort that has garnered international attention and has underscored the growing consensus that action is needed now to slow global warming.

In Seattle, the past year has seen tremendous progress in city government’s efforts to cut emissions. Nickels announced today that the city of Seattle’s fleet has cut the use of fossil fuels by 12 percent since 1999, largely by converting to hybrid vehicles and using biodiesel in many of its heavy trucks.

“These changes have cut greenhouse gas emissions by about 2,400 tons - the same as taking more than 500 cars off the road for a year,” Nickels said.

The mayor launched the “Clean, Green Fleet Plan” in 2003, which included downsizing the city’s fleet, replacing older compact sedans with more fuel-efficient gas-electric hybrid cars, and discouraging the purchase of new SUVs. In addition, new trucks come equipped with technology that automatically turns off the engine while idling, to avoid unnecessary pollution, fuel consumption, and cost.

Another impressive milestone was reached in November, when Seattle City Light became the first major electric utility in the nation to achieve zero net greenhouse gas emissions. As part of that effort, some cruise ships docking at Seattle’s waterfront now get electric power from City Light so they can cut their engines and reduce emissions. And the privately owned garbage trucks contracted by the city, have switched to cleaner-burning biodiesel and ultra-low sulfur fuels to help protect the climate and reduce pollution.

Other key actions the city is taking include efforts to reduce the city’s use of paper by 30 percent, encourage neighborhood-based climate protection projects through the Neighborhood Matching Fund Program, and increase the use of climate-friendly materials such as slag cement in city projects. Seattle has also developed one of the strongest green building programs in the nation.

“The time to act is now,” Nickels said. “In the absence of leadership on the national level, it is up to us to lead by example here in Seattle. We must take the steps necessary to address this fundamental threat to our environment, our economy and our way of life.”

Visit the mayor’s web site at Get the mayor’s inside view on efforts to promote transportation, public safety, economic opportunity and healthy communities by signing up for The Nickels Newsletter at

P said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Great piece, but I would have to disagree with you the environmental impact. The mayor is doing everything he can to create alternative programs from composting programs in residential neighborhoods, to pushing companies to use bio-diesel fuels in automobiles. That's more than most Mayor's can say.

Jana said...

Gridlock, gridlock, gridlock!!!

JM said...

Downtown Zoning and Livability Plan
Public Hearing on Councilmember Steinbrueck's downtown proposals to be held: March 7, 2006

City Council Chambers, City Hall, 2nd Floor
600 Fourth Avenue, between Cherry and James Streets

View official Public Hearing Notice Each speaker will have two minutes, first come, first served
(As of now, the legislation associated with this public hearing has not been referred to the Council and is pending.)

You can check out his proposed changes at this link as well -

JM said...

The link ran over. Go to this link, and look at Downtown Zoning and Livability Plan in the left hand column.

Dan Newth said...

Good job Israel. You stirred things up just the way you like. I am jealous though, you got a threatening reply. Did you post that one yourself?
Keep the faith.

Israel Bayer said...

Thanks Dan, and sorry P I deleted your comment from above. If it would have pertained to the blog - like, your blog sucks because... and you are a... than I probably would have been forced to leave it.

Scott Arthur Edwards said...

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Simon Langer said...

Hi, I was just wandering the blogosphere and here I am at your blog. I enjoy the style of how this all works.

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