(Substituted Friday morning: Seattle Channel video of Thursday night hearing)
Click into that stream and you’ll be watching the event we’re at City Hall to cover – the City Council’s last big public hearing before its vote next month on HALA Mandatory Housing Affordability upzoning. (You can follow along with the agenda, and its relevant materials, here.) It’s been eight months since the council’s hearing in West Seattle; this one is for the entire city, and the chambers are full – with five of the 9 councilmembers here (Lorena González is chairing in the absence of vacationing committee chair Rob Johnson; also here are Lisa Herbold, Debora Juarez, Teresa Mosqueda, Kshama Sawant). We’ll be chronicling highlights as they happen.
First to speak is a representative from the SEIU. “Middle- and low-income workers will continue to be priced out of the city” if there’s not more housing stock, she says, expressing support for HALA MHA.
Second is also a HALA MHA supporter who says the process has taken too long. “Working families are struggling,” she says. “… More people need housing, and this is the chance to mitigate that need.”
Third and fourth are two members of 350 Seattle’s “housing team.” They say “housing is a climate issue” and express relief that “MHA is so close to the finish line.” They express opposition to some proposed amendments including the ones that would reduce the level of upzoning in some areas (including part of West Seattle).
Fifth is another MHA supporter who says, “We’ve been working on getting to the Grand Bargain [with developers] since the Nickels administration.” (That former mayor left office in 2009.)
Sixth, a representative of the city Planning Commission, in favor of MHA, who says they’re excited about its potential to “distribute more development capacity” to neighborhoods that could use it.
Seventh, the first opponent to speak, who says “tech bros” who are “strip-mining the city” and “venture capitalists” among others will continue to “pour in” and redevelop the city. She says that she and her husband feel they are being “pushed out of Seattle” so it’s “time to leave.” She draws a smattering of boos.
Eighth, an opponent who calls MHA “fundamentally flawed.” She also says she supports Councilmember Herbold’s anti-displacement proposal (announced yesterday). She wants to see neighborhood planning restored.
6 PM: Ninth, a speaker who says that MHA will lead to more displacement. So she wants the 23rd/Jackson urban village to not be upzoned. She specifically appeals to CM Sawant, saying her district, 3, has had “sacrificial lambs” already displaced. She draws strong applause (we should note that the pro-MHA speakers had drawn some applause too).
AHEAD: THE REST OF OUR 4 1/2 HOURS OF AS-IT-HAPPENED COVERAGE:
Tenth, a man who says that the City Council shouldn’t be voting on March 18th because the city had published a notice saying the comment period is open until March 29th. He also mentions something that former Mayor Ed Murray had said regarding MHA having to be inclusionary, but, the speaker says, it’s exclusionary.
11th, representatives of a preservation group on Beacon Hill. (We should also note, a sixth councilmember is now here, Sally Bagshaw.) They are advocating specifically for that focus.
12th, a woman who says “there is no livability or affordability in HALA.” She says MHA would provide “pseudo-crumbs” of affordable housing, and calls the “last-minute amendments” just bones thrown to constituents by councilmembers who want to be re-elected. She says it’s “false” to claim that “we can build our way out of” the housing crisis.
13th, a Wallingford resident who says “we are a neighborhood, not a housing-production zone.” He says HALA MHA “does nothing for first-time home buyers” and contends it will do “more harm than good,” saying that the city expects current residents to “get out,” calling that effect “the new redlining.”
14th, a Central Area resident who calls HALA MHA “fundamentally flawed.” But she also advocates for amending it, and adds “leave South Park … alone.” She is the first to mention a concern for tree canopy. She says it will produce only a “small amount of affordable housing.”
15th, an opponent who criticizes MHA’s option for developers/builders to pay a fee to have affordable housing built somewhere else. She voices concern about displacement.
16th, a person describing herself as a “climate activist” and saying she’s concerned about the city’s trees and the potential loss of what they do. “When you cut down trees, you have more heat islands, and people are going to die.” She voices appreciation for an amendment that addresses the tree situation, as well as for Herbold’s anti-displacement proposal.
17th is West Seattle’s Deb Barker who begins, “you’re going to hear from a lot of paid speakers tonight … I’m not one of them.” She mentions having been part of the coalition that appealed the HALA MHA EIS, because of opposition to a “one size fits all” for the proposal. She also mentions that Morgan Junction – where she leads the community council – is strongly interested in neighborhood planning.
18th, also from West Seattle, is Cindi Barker, who suggests the city should have noticed a variety of red flags along the way. She also supports Herbold’s anti-displacement proposal. She also voiced concern about a last-minute change in some of the zoning proposals.
19th speaker says MHA is actually a “small step” and she hopes to see more in the future. She says she’s an immigrant and a tech worker – saying she doesn’t always feel welcome (referring to an earlier opposition speaker who used the term “tech trash”). She says “a lot of people are here because” they couldn’t get off work early enough to sign up to speak. (Signups started at 5 pm.)
20th speaker is a Madison resident who says she had been involved with the appeal coalition and says it’s unfortunate that some believe this will make more neighborhoods accessible. She says developers will instead be building to the highest market rate they can because of the fees they will have to pay to create affordable housing elsewhere.
21st speaker is a North Seattle resident who supports MHA and wants to see more homes and “more diverse homes,” seeing it as a “once in a generation opportunity.” Without HALA MHA upzoning, she says, the city will become a “de-facto gated community” full of houses worth $1 million or more.
22nd speaker, Natalie Williams of West Seattle, who says it’s important to change HALA MHA to require developers to build affordable housing on site.
23rd speaker says “MHA is flawed and doesn’t meet the SEPA requirements.” He also says he supports “the strongest possible displacement legislation” and criticizes MHA for creating very little affordable housing.
6:30 PM: 24th speaker is a group who said they’re from the Sierra Club. The first speaker of the group said she is a homeowner who supports MHA. “Having more housing and more housing types …. will make it easier for more neighbors to move in.” Another group speaker elaborates on the stated contention that density is pro-environment. In conclusion, they ‘support the most robust” version of the legislation.
25th speaker – González has just announced 140 people are signed up – is a Queen Anne resident who says priorities should include impact fees, infrastructure, and “includ(ing) community councils in neighborhood planning.” She says a proposed 75-foot-high development near her is “completely out of character” with the neighborhood. The “suppression of neighborhood voices …is a gift to developers,” she says.
26th speaker is the notorious Alex Tsimerman (who is running for City Council). He looks at people in the audience and says they look “happy” but should “wake up” and “stand up.”
27th speaker is from Seattle-King County Realtors and urges “swift” action to approve HALA MHA because more housing is needed. He offers a history lesson in growth decisions made a quarter-century ago but “from the beginning we failed to be realistic about the supply of housing we needed” in urban areas. “Your work on MHA is critical … it’ll help.”
28th speaker is from North Capitol Hill and wants a vote against an amendment that he says would increase zoning in a part of Eastlake.
29th speaker is concerned about threats to historic resources in Wallingford.
30th speaker says he’s representing his family’s rental business on Aurora and is concerned about a zoning change in that area, which he says is significantly affected by pollution from trucks already. The street can’t support thousands more apartments – it has narrow sidewalks and will be a “pedestrian nightmare,” he says.
31st speaker says she’s an “enthusiastic yes (for) MHA” and is also from an affordable-housing provider that benefits from city funding. Her organization has “shovel-ready projects” that are being delayed because of a lack of funding.
32nd speaker is a group, Friends of Ravenna-Cowen, voicing support of two proposed amendments that remove historic districts from rezone areas. He says they worked exhaustively to create a historic district that includes more than 400 houses built early in the 20th century. The district is “a legacy for all” and while they understand the need for affordable housing, they don’t believe the district’s historical integrity should be damaged or destroyed.
33rd speaker says she lives in a 720-square-foot house on a 4,000-square-foot lot in a neighborhood with no sidewalks. She says she wants to create an additional housing unit on her lot. She supports an amendment that would make her block RSL instead of LR1 – upzoned, but to a lesser degree.
34th speaker is an MHA supporter who tells stories about a friend who said he’d be moving out because he can’t afford to own a house here – rent is so high that he can’t save to buy one – and about other friends who are having difficulty affording housing. “The status quo is causing displacement. This legislation is needed. … Please pass this legislation and go as big as you can.”
35th speaker is a Crown Hill resident who recounts comments in the process and support for Councilmember Mike O’Brien’s RSL amendments. “Come visit us,” she concludes.
7:03 PM: 36th speaker says he’s representing an organization that’s part of the advocacy group Seattle For Everyone. He says the area needs a lot of new housing and MHA will help it get there. “The laws of supply and demand apply to housing,” and people will want to move here no matter what, so if there isn’t more housing, prices will continue going up, he says.
37th speaker is a Wallingford resident who urges approval as soon as possible because he believes the “Seattle process” has already dragged it out too long.
38th speaker is a group wearing T-shirts declaring that they are Architects for Affordable Housing. One representative says single-family zoning is “irresponsible” and “ignore(s) the housing crisis.” She is against some of the proposed amendments, as is the next person; another group member talks about a small business facing displacement and says that’s the result of past bad land-use decisions.
39th speaker says that she’s a “Seattle lifer” who urges the council to pass MHA because tens of thousands of workers are moving here every year and need housing. “On behalf of the labor movement, we welcome all workers to our city,” she concludes.
40th speaker is another Crown Hill resident supporting the aforementioned O’Brien amendments, including zoning some areas RSL instead of Lowrise.
41st speaker says he is a new homeowner in District 1 but he’s against Herbold’s amendments. He says nothing gives him the right to “deny housing” to others. “There are more people who want to live in my neighborhood than there is housing for them. … We cannot build a wall around the incredible neighborhoods that make up the city.”
42nd speaker is Doug from West Seattle, saying he is representing Friends of Dakota Place Park. “We all want the city to be better … but we have to have parks …and as our city becomes more dense, we need parks.” He says Dakota Place Park, despite being landmarked, isn’t addressed at all, it’s just “a dot on the map” and so he wants to see more work to protect the area around parks like that.
43rd speaker says he’s from the “41st SW Truncated Lot Association,” drawing some laughter. He is not in favor of the amendments “reducing the upzones” and notes that he and most of his neighbors “want to redevelop someday”; he also says he enjoys the fact that so many people are moving here.
44th speaker voices specific concern about a mentioned-earlier amendment that would upzone part of Eastlake to midrise. She says it will encourage demolition. She also voices concern about “the noise and safety issue.”
45th speaker talks about herons breeding in Discovery Park and voices concerns including construction noise that can scare the birds.
46th speaker is a U-District resident who said he’s a “tech worker who makes $19/hour.” He said he came here to live more sustainably and to get a job. The shortage of affordable housing makes it hard for him to do more than to be “holding on.” He supports the “strongest form” of MHA.
47th speaker said that restricting the ability to build housing in some areas is closing them off to some people, while she believes “all parts of the city should be open to everyone.” She also expressed concern about creating a “risky environment …for affordable-housing developrs.”
48th speaker described herself as a supporter of affordable housing but an opponent of MHA. She said studies show that increased density does not necessarily increase affordable housing. She brings up the topic of affordable business rent and says that many businesses and artists have moved into affordable rental housing. “You can’t have a band practice in a microapartment.”
7:39 PM: 49th speaker says he supports tree and anti-displacement amendments and is concerned about trees not being protected from removal during development. He singles out “exceptional trees” and laments that they are not protected. “This is an urban tree sacrifice zone bill,” he concludes.
50th speaker, a Wallingford resident who says the upzones are not needed because “there’s plenty of capacity” to develop already. He says MHA is happening because the “super-rich” are investing in real estate. “You’re basically saying, we need to get rid of families, they’re bad … Why are you intending to get rid of families? Why are you intending to de-forest the city?”
51st speaker is Port Commissioner Stephanie Bowman who says she is a resident of Beacon Hill, where the upzoning proposal is a “blunt instrument” that will be wrong for the area.
52nd speaker says that Seattle is “facing an ever-increasing battle between the haves and the have-nots” and is concerned about possible reductions in the upzone proposals. She says she is a renter living in Wallingford and doesn’t feel like its community council represents her.
53rd speaker says she came here ready to give full support to MHA but was swayed by an earlier speaker who voiced concerns about its effects on the Central Area.
54th speaker wants to focus on the “last word in the MHA title, affordability,” and is concerned that upzoning single-family properties will increase their property taxes. “As soon as developers start buying into a neighborhood,” property values and taxes will increase, he says, which makes it a “land grab by the city, and developers waiting to swoop in and purchase … properties.”
55th speaker describes himself as a housing case manager for a nonprofit and says the city needs a lot more affordable housing. He says it’s tough to do his job because no matter how well he or his clients know the system, there is simply not enough housing – “we need more.”
56th speaker, a “longtime Capitol Hill resident,” observes that wealthier neighborhoods “are not impacted by this legislation.” She believes HALA MHA will raise the risk of displacement in the Madison-Miller Urban Village.
57th speaker, from Wallingford, talks about historic sites that were “once threatened by developers until the city of Seattle demanded that they be protected for the future.” She repeats a concern others voiced about HALA MHA being a “one size fits all” plan. She calls for more neighborhood-focused planning.
58th speaker, a renter from Madison Valley, says he supports passing MHA in its “strongest form.” He adds, “Zoning is a generational issue” and says that having a majority of the city zoned single-family is an issue that affects younger people more. After passing MHA, the city needs to examine zoning laws, he suggests.
59th speaker, a District 4 resident, voiced support for changing some proposed Lowrise areas to Residential Small Lot. She says that “effective neighborhood planning” would have put this process in a better place.
8:02 PM: 60th speaker wonders, “could we actually build more housing if there were upzones?” and suggests “it’s not a zoning problem.” He moves on to comment on the amendments and says the tree issue should have been “a hearing all its own.”
61st speaker says he supports passing MHA “as soon as possible” but opposes the amendments for districts 1, 2, 4, and 6, calling them a “last-minute attempt to water (MHA) down.”
62nd speaker is an MHA supporter who talked about having lived in other areas of the nation/world, including dense neighborhoods from Brooklyn to Jerusalem. “Maybe instead of fighting density, we should be looking to improve density.”
63rd speaker says he’s a District 2 resident who works for an environmental nonprofit working to reduce sprawl. He says our city’s “rapid economic growth” has led to many households being forced to spend a huge percentage of their income on housing. Building more housing will help alleviate that, he says.
64th speaker describes himself as a U-District resident and small-business owner. He notes that the U District saw MHA rezoning early and is seeing its small business endangered. The Ave should be a historic district and deserves protection, he said. They’re having a rally next Monday night and have an online petition going at savetheave.org.
65th speaker says a particular upzone near him is going to lead to some inconsistency on the block.
66th speaker says he’s “not in favor of upzoning as a solution to our housing problems. … The problem is that the supply’s controlled by the people who have the money.” He says MHA will keep renters renting “for the rest of (their lives)” because there will be no affordable houses left to buy.
67th speaker: She says the MHA process “turned into a special-interest bloodbath.” It was “well-intended” but has “dismissed” authentic neighborhood input. She says each council district needs a dedicated neighborhood center.
68th speaker, a resident of District 4, says he is both a traffic engineer and part of a housing nonprofit that currently manages more than 2,000 affordable units. The lack of affordable housing increases the traffic problems, he says.
69th speaker, a Roosevelt resident, says her “pocket neighborhood” has been affected by housing being built in the light-rail vicinity nearby, and single-family housing is going “extinct.” She said that at one time she thought she was going to be taxed out of her house, but now she’s going to be zoned out.
70th speaker says he lives on the U-District/Roosevelt border says he’s a liberal but listening to some of the speakers he feels guilty for being a “bourgeois NIMBY because I live in a house.” He says his area has places where “gobs of housing” can be built without “bulldozing” more single-family housing and “destroying the history that’s made some of our neighborhoods special.”
71st speaker describes himself as a Seattle renter who supports MHA. “I welcome more neighbors with open arms.” He also thinks increasing housing supply will enable him to own something someday.
72nd speaker says she is from Roosevelt and supports density and more housing but also supports protecting important neighborhood features such as her nearest historic district, Ravenna-Cowen. This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to protect it, she says.
73rd speaker says she’s a renter in District 4, living near where she works – a 10-minute bicycle commute away – saying she’s lucky to have found that housing, while speaking in advocacy of peers who haven’t been so lucky. She opposes any amendments reducing the strongest form of MHA.
8:31 PM: 74th speaker says she and her neighbors support amendments that substitute some Residential Small Lot zoning for lowrise. She speaks in favor of “urban forest” as well as housing density, “to reach your climate goals.”
75th speaker is from First Hill and speaks in favor of an amendment he says Bagshaw proposed, “to give us the tools to build our desperately needed open spaces.”
76th speaker is a homeowner from Fremont/Wallingford who says she supports MHA and is sad that many of her co-workers in the food-service industry can’t afford to live in many areas of the city. She adds that she wishes that MHA didn’t allow developers the option to pay into a fund for affordable housing separate from their projects.
77th speaker is a 30-year resident who says the climate crisis requires protection of trees.
78th speaker said he’s a longtime resident who was “sickened” when then-Mayor Murray cut city ties with neighborhood-district councils and also says that the claims that this rezoning will remedy past redlining are false – he shows a map and says the once-redlined areas aren’t affected. He also says there’ll be fewer single-family starter homes for young families.
79th speaker is yet another Wallingford resident (that’s the neighborhood name we’ve heard most often tonight). It’s a residential urban village, she says, but 700 single-family home sites will be rezoned. She says she’s in favor of more density but residential urban villages “should not be treated the same as urban hubs and urban centers.”
80th speaker says her neighborhood is “about to be taken over” by two high-rise developments, neither with affordable units. “My neighbors and I feel like canaries in the coal mine, struggling to breathe.” She says “tower designs must be mitigated.”
81st speaker is a resident near Aurora. “Nobody’s building housing on Aurora” and jobs in the area have decreased too, he says. He says rezoning will require housing to be built where it’s not required now.
82nd speaker says he’s from Greenwood and wants to bring “a very small collection of parcels to (the council’s) attention.” He wants them excised from the upzoning plan.
83rd speaker says she’s against “higher height limits on the top of Queen Anne Hill.” There is a “huge tulip tree” they’re trying to “save from a developer’s saw,” she adds. She also decries the “myth” that people don’t drive. She also decries unspecified councilmembers as “running away like cowards,” not “willing to live with the consequences of their votes.” (Three of the councilmembers who are present – Juarez, Sawant, Herbold – are up for re-election this year. Two are citywide councilmembers Gonzalez and Mosqueda who don’t run again for two more years, and one, Bagshaw, has announced she’s not running.)
84th speaker talks about noise in his North Capitol Hill neighborhood as well as views that would be lost if “midrise towers (were) built across the street.”
*48 speakers remain, said González at that point.*
85th speaker says he would like to be able to build an ADU on his dad’s property and is also interested in hosting a Block Projct house but he can’t do both. Overall, he supports MHA.
86th speaker and a group of neighbors from Harvard Avenue are concerned about noise from an upzone that’s been mentioned by others earlier. A wall built nearby “made things much worse for us” in terms of increasing noise from nearby I-5. He says they’re already at 80 decibels, and adding midrises nearby “is only going to add to that noise.”
87th speaker is a West Seattle resident who expressed concern about how Councilmember Herbold’s proposed amendment would affect his area, and said he’s also concerned that some of the amendments would protect structural racism and white privilege.
*That speaker mentioned he was dealing with low blood sugar and Councilmember González pointed out a group in the gallery with cookies. González also noted that at 9:30 pm, City Hall becomes an emergency shelter, so people need to be mindful of shelter users’ privacy after that time.*
88th speaker offered “random observations” from “deal(ing) with this issue a while.” He suggested the city needs to decide what size it should be – “are there limits to the growth in the city?” He also said he supports the tree protection and anti-displacement proposals.
9:09 PM: 89th speaker – with attrition starting to become more common, as González calls names of people who have left – says she is running for the seat that Bagshaw is vacating. She accuses the council of selling out to developers. She says the city should take what land is has left and set up shipping containers to sell as homes.
90th speaker spoke in favor of Herbold’s anti-displacement proposal. He said that some neighborhoods, such as Fremont, are inaccurately characterized as “low-displacement” when the opposite has happened. He said the HALA committee was originally told that homeownership should be encouraged, especially in such areas, but that got left out of the Environmental Impact Statement.
91st speaker identifies himself as a representative of “Welcoming Wallingford,” saying that those who fear that allowing more neighbors means something “will be taken away” from them are wrong. MHA is not necessarily “the solution to this problem” of too little housing, he said, but it’s a start.
92nd speaker began, “It’s been a long four years and you’re still not listening.” He takes issue with the characterization of HALA MHA leading to affordable housing. Instead, he says, “This is about making development more profitable. …. We have plenty of housing,” but it’s not affordable, and “that’s the problem … densification in this place is being used to push more and more people out of the city, and you’re doing a fabulous job.”
93rd speaker says he’s from Wallingford and is critical of the city not treating this as the emergency it’s been described as – so he wants to see MHA passed.
94th speaker described himself as “one of the bastards who came here in the ’70s from California that Emmett Watson failed to keep out.” He mentions the homelessness crisis and then leaps to changing the rules regarding offstreet parking before mentioning an “absentee landlord” filling a nearby residence with up to 12 unrelated tenants.
95th speaker says her group supports the goals of MHA but is concerned about displacement as an “unintended consequence.” She also says her group supports the amendments that would provide some protection for historic resources, as well as protection for trees.
96th speaker says he is in favor of MHA and is on a zone that’s scheduled to be rezoned but he thinks it should be rezoned to something denser, Lowrise instead of RSL.
97th speaker wants to see more of a focus on developing vacant land under MHA, because that will be less disruptive.
98th speaker is from East Fremont and sees some “serious defects in the whole thing,” which he believes is favorable to developers.
99th speaker is opposed to the amendment that would reduce the upzoning in part of West Seattle. He says past studies of the area along Genesee have long shown that the higher degree of upzoning would be right for this area. He says the amendment would “meddle with the transit process” by holding down the cost that Sound Transit would have to pay if it needs the properties in this area.
100th speaker says, “The decision you make in mid-March is going to affect the city for decades.” He says he and his spouse live in a multifamily development but miss trees taken out by a developer who built on a nearby site. He says that density and open space are not incompatible so he would like to see that taken into consideration.
9:38 PM: 101st speaker says MHA is “underpin(ned) by a lie … that Seattle is 70 percent single-family housing.” It’s actually 35 percent, he said, because parks are considered part of SF. He goes into a poem about “density Bolsheviks.”
102nd speaker said she’s lived on Capitol Hill as “a lucky person” (among other things) for almost half a century. She backs Herbold’s anti-displacement proposal. She also says she’s “from the sixties (when) we practiced participatory democracy” but “the Grand Bargain is a flawed process.” She recommends an October 2015 Seattle Times report with the backstory.
103rd speaker says he’s a small-business person and would like to see that supported.
104th speaker says he’s a homeowner and a parent but cannot afford the home he bought a few years ago – he thinks MHA “must be passed.” He says families can live in many types of housng and he’s also in favor of getting rid of single-family zoning.
105th speaker says the goal of affordable housing is supported by everyone but more amenities are needed – transit, businesses, etc. She is concerned about displacement and says ideas should be considered such as low-cost loan funds.
106th speaker says he supports MHA because “there’s no room to grow outward, we have to grow up” due to Seattle’s topography and limited supply of land. “By upzoning we get rid of the (exclusionary) single-family zoning.”
107th and final speaker is from Mount Baker and wants support for an amendment that would bring a park to the town center. She says residents of a future low-income-housing development there “need this park.” She also does not want to see upzoning in the Mount Baker historic district.
HEARING ENDS ... just short of 10 pm. The council meets on Monday to consider amendments and pave the way for that March vote.