Tomorrow afternoon the Council will take up final approval of Amazon’s request for vacation of an alley in order to build a new office tower adjacent to its South Lake Union campus.
When this bill moved through committee last month, it generated controversy. Requests for vacation of public property, such as alleys, require commensurate public benefits to be provided in return. The current trend for meeting that requirement is through “privately owned public spaces” or POPS. Most often this takes the form of landscaped public walkways through or adjacent to the building.
But public accessways are fair game for protesters and other forms of free speech exercise — including those that criticize the owner of the POPS. Amazon has been known to actively discourage, and in some cases shut down, protests in POPS near its buildings. Former Council member Nick Licata raised this as an issue last month when Amazon’s request came up in committee and attempted to amend the approval requiring Amazon to provide stronger protections for free speech on the property; Council member Rasmussen (with the support of Council members Bagshaw and Burgess) argued that in fairness to Amazon, the requirements for approval of a vacation must be known at the time of submission and shouldn’t be adjusted on a case-by-case basis. The discussion ended with the request passing out of committee with a divided report.
Seattle Weekly reports that much has happened since then, and Council members Burgess, Gonzalez and Herbold are re-offering Licata’s amendment tomorrow to add in the protections for free speech. Apparently Amazon has no objection, and Herbold (who worked on Licata’s staff) and Gonzalez insisted on it in order to support the bill. I would expect Council members Bagshaw and Harrell to support both the amendment and the amended bill, which gives them a majority; it will probably also satisfy O’Brien’s past concerns (O’Brien claims to have been harassed by Amazon security while sitting in a POPS outside one of their buildings). There are no reports on Johnson’s or Juarez’s views, but it seems unlikely that they would take a stand against the bill at this point. That leaves Sawant who is the most likely to vote “no” on principle against big business, though with her mostly-allies Herbold and O’Brien voting in favor she may choose to save her energy (and political capital) for a future battle.
This is the first example of coalition-building and compromise in the new City Council. For all the complaints about Burgess being too conservative for Seattle, over and over again he emerges as the one who quietly works behind the scenes to broker compromises that move things forward. Council member Sawant should take note.