(WSB video of the entire hearing, unedited)
By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
At Wednesday night’s public hearing about the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Housing Affordability and Livability Act’s Mandatory Housing Affordability component, the most common comment was “give us more time to read, analyze, and react to it.”
The decision on that would have to be made by Seattle Office of Planning and Community Development director Sam Assefa, his staff said at meeting’s end, by which time he was not in sight, though he had given the introduction. OPCD’s Geoff Wendlandt offered that they weren’t likely to extend the July 23 deadline.
There also were several complaints that the hearing was not being broadcast by Seattle Channel (prompting a few people to ask us afterward where they would find our video).
37 people commented in almost an hour and a half. That was preceded by the classic open-house setup, with summaries on walls and easels around the room, listing points you otherwise would have to pull out of the 462-page DEIS, toplines of the alternatives it looked at, which propose different paces and types of rezoning and growth.
Toplines of what was said:
*OPCD director Assefa began. He started by taking “a step back” to explain the reasoning behind Mandatory Housing Affordability – the city’s growth, which he said is expected to continue “for the foreseeable future,” mirroring a nationwide trend for Baby Boomers and Millennials to gravitate toward “center cities.”
*Wendlandt spoke next, offering guidance on making “an effective comment,” also noting that written comments “carry the exact same weight” as whatever is said tonight – with the comment deaadline coming up July 23rd. And he points out upcoming milestones – final EIS in the fall, then a proposal to the City Council which he says will resemble the “preferred alternative” identified in the final EIS.
At 6:43 pm – commenting began. Again, what you read below are not full summaries or transcripts, just highlights of what we heard – watch the video to see/hear everything. (Also, the names below are our best try at what we heard – a few West Seattleites we recognized, a few from elsewhere in the city who we were aware of, some others whose first names were our best guess. If you want to claim your remarks, e-mail us your full name at email@example.com.)
Ira says he’s concerned about parking, and reads that “parking demand will be higher … significant adverse impacts are expected.” He says it’s difficult to understand why limiting parking spaces in new developments would be “mitigation.”
Alex says HALA is a group.
Deb says there is a better way to generate affordable housing. She’s from the Crown Hill Urban Village. They request that the development currently in the permitting process in all urban villages be included in the EIS. They say Alternative 3 doesn’t have the infrastructure to support it.
Radna is also from Crown Hill. Her concerns include pedestrian mobility and safety on streets without sidewalks. She also calls for more time for online public comment.
Maryann says she’s here “to give a face to those being displaced.” She breaks down, saying that she’s been in the same building for 27 years and has fear for the future.
Megan Burkler is a single mom who rents a home and lives in panic that her rent’s going to go up. She too is from the Crown Hill UV. “We want to stay in the city limits… we want to stay here.” She says displacement “is already happening.” The Draft EIS findings indicate her community will suffer more displacement – and she wants the final EIS to take that into account.
Derek, also from the Crown Hill UV. He is concerned about the need for larger, family-sized housing.
Berit says she’s from Morgan Junction and is here because of something she read in June, saying this wouldn’t have a significant negative impact on quality of life – she wants to know “whose definition of quality of life? … I would like to be asked my ideas of quality of life.” She also notes that a house near her on California sold and then a week later, we posted on WSB that one unit would be replaced by seven.
The next person says the review phase needs to be 90 days, and that it’s more than an 800-page EIS, being released at the start of summer, it also refers to the 2035 Comprehensive Plan, so that’s even more reading that needs to be done. She says she is flabbergasted because the EIS basically says that service providers “will figure out something.” She also mentions that it alludes to some West Seattle schools inaccurately.
Ben from Welcoming Wallingford says that a 45-dayscomment period is long enough and that he supports the goal of providing more housing and less displacement.
Marguerite holds up “a guide to housing options” – she says she is having trouble understanding this and wonders how anything around here can be considered “affordable.” Overall, “this is scaring the heck out of me.”
Philip says “the comment period on this EIS is entirely inadequate” and that he’s “barely gotten into one section of it” – he says there also should be another oral-comment period. He believes the alternatives aren’t meaningful alternatives and says single-family housing isn’t always “single family” – his family rented rooms to people all the time.
Bonnie calls for more time to comment. Her neighborhood has tried to form a study group to look at it together. She favors Alternative 1, saying that there’s already capacity in Seattle for 224,000 more housing units.”The upzones are a giveaway in the Grand Bargain” and alleges “backroom deals” were made.
“Seattle is the hottest housing market in the country- we don’t need to incentivize market-rate housing.”
Next person says it’s “critical” to get more time for commenting. He criticizes the fact the DEIS only has two “action alternatives.” He also says they’re contrary to neighborhood plans. And he echoes an earlier commenter’s call for consideration of projects already in the pipeline. He also notes that 90 percent of recently built units are “luxury.”
Next person said the document should take into account more factors such as potential loss of views and sunlight – “that can all be simulated.” She says it should include factors that are part of neighborhood plans, and note that the alternative with new height proposals is against neighborhood plan.
Deb Barker of Morgan Junction asks for at least 45 more days to analyze, since new heights are proposed for parts of the UV. This was not developed with significant neighborhood participation – and how will the city reconcile the fact that both alternatives are in conflict with the existing neighborhood plan? The two alternatives propose “tall and taller,” she says, “with no guarantee that our area will ever see affordable housing.” She personally supports Alt 1 (no action).
Brooke Best is next. She is here for Historic Seattle. The organization “shares the city’s concern about the lack of affordable housing.” It suggests historic preservation and affordability intersect because, for example, older buildings offer affordable spaces, more affordable rental space than taller new development, hidden density – as seen in many other cities’ neighborhoods, “the missing middle” that can “achieve surprisingly high densities.” The historic-resources analysis in the DEIS is “woefully inadequate,” she says.
Next, Velma from Brighton says she’s lived there more than 50 years, a place for her children to grow up and be safe. “Now we are a modern neighborhood, changing rapidly, sometimes I think it might be too rapid.” She says they fought for light rail to be underground but it’s been at the surface with “many accidents and loss of lives.” She fears the upzoning may lead to displacement. “We agree with progress,” but sees a “high risk of many developments” so she would like to see the Othello neighborhood taken to Alt 3, with the least risk of displacement.
Toby Thaler says this hearing is just because it was required by the process and notes that no city councilmembers are here. HALA MHA “gives a large gift” to developers and the DEIS “has not actually supported how it will improve affordable housing” for middle-class people. Livability wasn’t addressed; “neighborhood planning was abandoned for a focus-group process” that could not replace “authentic community engagement” among other things. He says the DEIS’s analysis is “deficient in numerous areas” and he also calls for an extension of the comment time period and for all comments to be printed, with responses.
A Puget Sound SAGE representative says they support MHA in principle but that it won’t solve affordable housing problems without addressing displacement. She says there’s already been a lot of displacement of communities of color in the south end from light rail, and says the document does not address enough of this and will uphold systemic and institutionalized racism. The Draft EIS doesn’t adequately address the impacts of cultural displacement, she adds. Puget Sound SAGE is sending a letter with more details, she says, adding that critical racial-equity pieces are missing as things stand now.
A second Puget Sound SAGE rep says they are still working on their analysis but have already seen a few gaps – limiting growth will not necessarily minimize displacement risk; a growth framework that says either we grow high-displacement-risk areas or we don’t, is too limited; they call for another alternative that looks at more options.
Amanda Sawyer from JuNO says that she also supports more time to evaluate and comment. And she takes issue with what’s suggested as mitigation, noting that for example, the Design Review process is suggested as a pathway for that, but it’s being changed and many projects won’t be included any more. She wonders if the mitigation suggestions are even grounded in reality. “Please come up with real mitigation solutions – real people live in these urban villages.”
Susan says she lives on a street that is proposed for upzoning half to LR-2 and there’s already nowhere left for anyone to park. Many on her block are renters, more than half people of color, she says, and they are likely to be displaced. She says there’s a transitional greenbelt of backyards in her neighborhood that will disappear and be replaced with 40-foot-high buildings. The DEIS needs to more accurately reflect what’s faced by streets like hers.
Jennifer Scarlett from South Park says “we’ve never gotten notice that we’re being rezoned, and we’ve never had a HALA meeting … The Hispanic community is having a meeting tonight to organize because they just found out – so we need to extend the comment period.” She says use of the Tenant Relocation Ordinance for displacement mitigation is not right as many don’t qualify. She also brings up the Design Review changes, and the fact that lowrise projects will no longer qualify. She also wants to know why there’s 11 percent MHA requirement on her South Park property when South Lake Union has only 2 percent required.
That drew applause.
Another person from South Park says it has not grown because of “our environmental impacts there … surrounded by industrial toxicity and have lost lots of homes … we really shouldn’t be planned for … the problem is, we’re going to be losing our single-family zoning with this proposal … that is what has protected us all these years, and we fought hard to keep (it) there … that’s why we have yards and trees and other mitigating things to keep the Duwamish Valley cleaner.” They prefer no-action Alternative 1.
Andrew Kirsch of Capitol Hill is concerned about the tree canopy. He doesn’t think the DEIS adequately assesses how it will be affected. Single-family residential provides the most tree canopy, he says, while noting that single-family is also 30 percent of all the demolitions happening now in Seattle, with large houses replacing small.
Ron from the Othello Urban Village says that he is at high risk of displacement and most in favor of Alternative 3.
Debra is concerned about the tree canopy and says the estimates in the DEIS seem “very implausible to me,” including a statement that the canopy won’t be affected much by conversion from single family to lowrise. “This is not how it’s gonna be. … the estimates are incorrect.”
AJ Honore from Belltown says more time is needed. “I’m hearing a lot of pissed-off people and the more I learn personally about the so-called Grand Bargain, the more pissed off I get.” He says it’s more “the Grand Giveaway.” He also wonders where the elected officials – mayor, City Council – are.
Tim from Futurewise says his organization is working on written comments. They want the “preferred alternative” to include all areas within a 10 minute walkshed of urban villages because of the significant investments in transit.
Tawny says more time is needed and that the EIS needs to look more closely at each urban village and its attributes. “I don’t think they should all be lumped into one environmental impact statement when they are so different.” She says the suggestion that redevelopment will be gradual does not seem realistic, “we are (already) seeing entire blocks going down at one time.” She also says the DEIS over-relies on existing ordinances for mitigating impacts, and says some of those ordinances have long needed revision. And she’s concerned about toxins released when demolition happens.
Kim Barnes from West Seattle says that she’s still reading the DEIS and more time is needed. She is concerned about high-displacement vs. low-displacement urban villages being “pitted against” each other in the alternatives. She’d like to see how the discourse between the areas is being set up and how decisions will be made about who gets the development and who doesn’t. Westwood-Highland Park, for example, is proposed for lots of density but doesn’t have supporting infrastructure. She favors Alternative 1.
Susanna Lynn of the Seattle Displacement Coalition says they are disappointed with the low quality and lack of information in the DEIS. “It does not offer a true alternative just MHA this way or MHA that way.” For example, you could downzone development to two stories and if a developer wants to develop to 50 stories, they would have to include a significant percentage of affordable housing. The document “also downplays the amount of affordable housing that would be lost.”
Chris Leman says “this process has been warped and in secret since it was begun” – the Grand Bargain was done in secret, for example. “The deck is stacked.” He is from Eastlake and also says the analysis does not differentiate, neighborhood by neighborhood. “That’s the whole idea of neighborhood planning, which is basically being trumped by this MHA process.” HALA “is not really affordability” for all who need it, he said, referring to the “middle class … being devastated in our city.” And regarding livability, “there’s nothing to improve livability in this.”
Next person says she feels like the analysis did not accurately or adequately what specifically would happen to very-low-income households in certain census tracts. She thinks an inventory of existing stock would be helpful, and suggests that the DEIS downplays the impact of demolitions.
Miranda says more time is needed. “It’s over 800 pages, I’m a working parent, and I haven’t even had time to see Wonder Woman.”
Tim Gould of Wallingford says he’s concerned that “a lot of people want to freeze Seattle after they buy in.” He says denser development in Seattle “will ultimately be better than subdivisions in the foothills of the Cascades.” He also wonders about increased citywide investment for access to opportunity.
That was the last commenter signed up, and no one else wants to jump in. The comments will be part of the final EIS and there will be responses; Wendlandt reiterates that written comments are still being accepted through July 23rd. How to comment, and links to all the docs, can be found here.
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