Tuesday news roundup

A slow start to a short week.

The Stranger has the latest election news.

West Seattle Blog looks at the effort to extend Camp Second Chance.

KIRO reports that someone has been fielding a local survey on whether there is voter support for taxing Uber and Lyft rides to pay for the homelessness response.

The Seattle Times has a (shockingly biased, ill-informed, and fact-twisting) editorial arguing against MHA and loosening of rules on backyard cottages.



  1. If you’re going to attack the Seattle Times for a “shockingly biased, ill-informed, and fact-twisting editorial” can you please provide your readers with some specifics?

    1. I’d be happy to.

      The city is hardly “charging ahead” with “sweeping upzones.” The MHA process has crept along for years. MHA only affects urban villages and urban center, leaving the vast majority of the city’s single-family residential zones untouched.

      Saying that they are disregarding pleas of dozens of neighborhood and community groups is nonsense. There have been dozens and dozens of community meetings, public hearings, and other campaigns by the city to gather feedback, and lots of changes have been made — and continue to be made — in response to community feedback. That statement also avoids mention of all the people, including in those very same neighborhoods, who have urged the city to go ahead with the MHA upzones, or even to make them stronger and apply more widely. The response to MHA has hardly been one-sided as the Times editorial suggests.

      OK, that’s paragraph 2.

      The editorial says that the city doesn’t expect either MHA or the ADU ordinance to make Seattle affordable. This is a straw-man. Of course it doesn’t. There isn’t one magical solution that will make Seattle affordable. That’s why the city is trying to do several things at once that will all contribute in part to making things better. MHA will increase density in areas with high transit access, and pour money into building affordable housing. More ADUs will also increase the housing stock.

      Saying that the pending MHA legislation will extend the MHA program to “the rest of the city” is misleading. It extends it to urban villages and urban centers spread around the city, but again, it leaves the vast majority of single-family residential zoning untouched.

      The Seattle Times provides no evidence that MHA changes to development standards will “increase developer profits but diminish livability for existing residents.” That is an oft-repeated claim that doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

      The editorial says “Upzones are happening not just in urban villages, where high-density growth should occur, but also in single-family neighborhoods.” Misleading at best, and largely false. There are a handful of places where the urban village boundaries have been expanded a bit, and some places where the single-family zones immediately adjacent to an urban village have been upzoned to provide a gentler transition — though for the most part that transition happens within the boundaries of the urban village.

      The editorial says “the city has ample capacity for growth without upzones.” This is another anti-MHA talking point often trotted out that is also untrue. The existing unbuilt capacity on the books is indeed slightly larger than what HALA calls for, but to realize all of that would require tearing down and rebuilding nearly every building in urban villages and urban centers that is currently built to less than the full zoning capacity. That is literally the worst way to increase density, and would be a disaster for communities. A far better approach is to increase overall development capacity so that we can choose which buildings to retain as they are and which to expand or replace.

      It says “Seattle’s MHA fees are also more favorable to developers than what comparable cities collect.” I have been following MHA closely, and have seen no evidence of this. The law says that mandatory payments into an affordable-housing fund is a “government taking” and must be compensated for — which is what the added development capacity does. The city has studied to death the value of the development capacity being added through MHA, and varied it across different parts of the city because it is more valuable in places where development is constrained. That needs to be factored into comparisons with other cities, like NYC, where development capacity is highly constrained. You can’t just say “NYC requires 20% while Seattle only requires 5%.” Plus, you have to look at the cities, like San Francisco, which have imposed a much higher payment rate and it has severely suppressed new development. It’s a very tricky balance to find the right level that maximizes the amount of affordable housing funding raised while not suppressing development. I’m not sure the city has it exactly right, but it’s no giveaway to developers.

      The editorial misrepresents what the Council did last week in reviewing proposed amendments to the MHA zoning. Most of the changes reviewed were proposed by community members — not the Council or city staff. Many of them were, in fact, requests to reduce or remove upzones in or around urban villages. The ones that certainly won’t get further consideration are the ones that ask for bigger upzones, beyond what was studied in the EIS, because it would require re-doing the EIS to study their impacts. The exact kind of changes that the Times editorial (and some neighborhood groups) argue for are pretty much the only ones that COULD go forward from this point. We have yet to see which ones Council members will bring forward as formal amendments.

      Then it moves to the ADU legislation, which it says “would upzone nearly all single-family lots, allowing them to become rental properties with up to three units or more if lots are split.” This is wild-eyed scaremongering. Technically yes, an existing single-family home could have an attached ADU and a detached ADU added, and al three could be rented out. BUT: 1) there are very restrictive size limits on the ADUs and DADUs. 2) the lots won’t be split, and there is still a restriction on lot coverage. 3) if a new single-family house is built, you can’t add an ADU or DADU for two years, to prevent developers from tearing down an existing house and replacing it with 3 new units. 4) the ordinance actually reduces the development standards for single-family zones to prohibit “McMansions” and prevent overbuilding in residential neighborhoods. So in total, the ADU legislation works very hard to ensure that it won’t lead to massive teardowns to be replaced with triplexes.

      The editorial says “Pressing forward at this pace, over concerns of neighborhoods, calls into question the council’s commitment to meaningful public participation.” That is utter nonsense. This process has taken YEARS, and the Council is hearing concerns as well as calls to move forward. The public participation has been extensive in both the MHA and ADU bills. It refers to the process as “one size fits all” which ignores all the neighborhood hearings and feedback sessions that led to tailoring of the MHA program for each neighborhood.

      1. OK, thanks for that. It’s certainly clear where you’re coming from… You make some good observations, but I don’t see much point in spending the hour (or more) it would take to respond point by point.

        IMO you tend to ignore the failure of the City to honestly engage with many impacted communities. Yes, for “YEARS,” starting with the selection of the HALA committee in 2014. On all things HALA from the very start the City has been very dis-empowering of anyone not developer oriented (or addicted to growth, aka YIMBY).

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