MHA legislation passes out of committee after showdown over amendments (UPDATED)

It took about fours hours, but the Council worked its way through all of the proposed amendments to the city-wide MHA legislation and passed it out of committee this afternoon (and evening).

Here’s how it played out.

Council members Mosqueda (lectern), Gonzalez (far left), and Johnson (far right) hold a press conference on the MHA legislation, with supporters of the bill.

As I have described before, the MHA legislation has been to-date the clearest example of the impact of the switch to district-based Council positions. Several of the district-based Council members offered amendments on behalf of their constituents and fought hard for them. On the other hand, the two city-wide Council members, Gonzalez and Mosqueda were strong advocates for holding the line against amendments that would reduce upzones or exempt areas from the MHA program altogether. District-based Council members also frequently found themselves caught between a rock and a hard place, generally agreeing with the principled approach of Gonzalez and Mosqueda but sympathizing with their district-based colleagues (and in some cases outright horse-trading their support for each other’s amendments). Juarez and Sawant were the exceptions: both vacillated between the two sides on individual issues.

A further complication was that Council member O’Brien was absent, leaving the Council tied 4-4 on some amendments (which is equivalent to a “fail” for the amendment in question), and unable to personally advocate for his amendments. Johnson spoke on his behalf for some, and a few were postponed to a future meeting.

Here is how some of the bigger and more controversial issues fared:

  • The “clawback” amendment (B-6) passed by a 5-3 vote. It is intended to handle the case where a future court finds the MHA requirements to be unlawful; if that happens, it invalidates states the Council’s intent to invalidate the corresponding upzones (revoking the additional development capacity meant to compensate developers for the MHA requirements). Advocates argued that it was important that developers not get all the benefits without paying for them, and that the city retain its negotiating power; opponents argued that the upzoning alone is an important and beneficial part of the bill and deserves to stand on its own even if the MHA program is invalidated.
  • The suite of amendments for Crown Hill passed 5-3 after a long debate, with Gonzalez, Mosqueda and Juarez voting “no.” Advocates supported the good-faith negotiation with the community that led to the compromise. On the other side, Mosqueda and Juarez argued that it was an equity issue since it would put renters along 15th Avenue where she said there is more noise and pollution. Gonzalez stuck to her guns in wanting to maximize upzones to the extent that the FEIS study limits allowed them to.
  • The suite of amendments for West Seattle Junction passed 5-2-1 after a similarly long debate. Gonzalez recused herself since she owns a condo in the area under consideration. Largely the Council members recognized that the placement of the future light rail station — which could vary across a 7-block range — is critical, and bought into the notion of passing upzones to RSL that would activate the MHA program now, while waiting for the Office of Planning and Community Development to run a community planning process to  propose further transit-oriented development upzones. But Mosqueda argued fervently that “people love West Seattle Junction” and that the Council should maximize development and density there to allow as many people as possible to live there.
  • An amendment to remove the newly-designated Ravenna-Cowen Historical District from the Roosevelt Urban Village (4-4b) passed unanimously. All the Council members deferred to past precedent of leaving official historic districts untouched, though Johnson said that in this case he did it “with a heavy heart” because it is so close to the future Roosevelt light-rail station. But on the flip side, the Council voted unanimously to reject an amendment (6-18) to exclude an area near the Fremont troll from MHA upzoning; advocates had argued that there were homes in the area that could qualify for historic landmark designation, but Council members saw that as a dangerous slippery slope that could set a precedent for how neighborhood groups could avoid future upzones.
  •  An amendment to pull back the boundary of an expansion to the Roosevelt Urban Village (4-19) also failed, as did attempts to reduce upzones in Westwood-Highland Park to preserve views (1-10) and to wait until a major thoroughfare is rebuilt (1-11), and a similar attempt in the Morgan Junction Urban village (1-8) that Council member Herbold had negotiated with the neighborhood.

Despite their differences over individual amendments, in the end the Council unanimously passed the legislation out of committee. It will be up for final approval at the full City Council meeting on March 18th. Expect a few last-minute amendments to be considered at that meeting before the Council votes, including on O’Brien’s amendments reducing upzones for parts of the Wallingford urban village (4-14, 4-15, and 4-17) UPDATE: a spokesperson for Council member Johnson said that 4-14, 4-15, and 4-17 were pulled by Johnson because he had heard more opposition from the community than support, and he has no plans to bring them up again.

The Council will also have a final version of its companion resolution to approve at that meeting. Council member Herbold’s ordinance on displacement mitigation might also be ready to go by then.