The Seattle Displacement Coalition has joined a broad effort to respond to the pressures of runaway growth in our neighborhoods. The Coalition for an Affordable Livable Seattle (CalSeattle, calseattle.wordpress.com) consists of 15 environmental, neighborhood, senior and tenant organizations from across the city.
CalSeattle’s short-term goal is to gather signatures and endorsements on a petition to the mayor and Seattle City Council, calling for development-impact fees to ensure developers pay their fair share of the costs of growth and its impact on our ailing infrastructure.
Right now, it’s the taxpayers footing the bill, with special levies, fees and taxes for the services and improvements their projects demand, while developers walk away with the benefits.
The group also seeks adoption of new rules requiring developers to replace, one-for-one, any low-cost housing they remove and protecting our dwindling tree canopy and urban streams.
CalSeattle also wants a new system of neighborhood-based budgeting that guarantees an equitable distribution of city revenue to all of Seattle’s communities and newly created council districts and prevents the continued misallocation of city resources into downtown and South Lake Union.
Until these measures can be approved, CalSeattle calls for an immediate moratorium on upzones and on the issuance of residential permits in 20 neighborhoods of Seattle that already have reached their 2024 regionally mandated growth targets.
Needless to say, these are ambitious goals, given our elected officials’ tendency to bow to development interests. But the group has already found four City Council members who have said they’ll support some system of developer-impact fees.
Meanwhile, the coalition’s long-term goal is to build a citywide movement around this “managed growth agenda,” with the aim of influencing who gets elected in 2015 to the seven newly created district City Council seats. Every candidate, incumbent or newbie, will be evaluated against this “pro-neighborhood” agenda.
One the participating groups, Seattle Speaks Up from Capitol Hill, has mobilized more than a thousand residents calling for a rollback of recent upzones in “L3” lower-density multifamily areas that allow five-story buildings in areas filled with one-, two- and three-story, older, lower-priced apartments.
Recently, Seattle Speaks Up asked us a set of questions about growth and density. Check out the conversation at seattlespeaksup.wordpress.com. Here’s an excerpt:
Do you support Seattle Speaks Up’s petition to save our Lowrise-3 Neighborhoods?
Yes, for several reasons. The current L3 zoning encourages grossly out-of-scale development that doesn’t integrate; takes away light, views, trees and greenspace; lacks adequate parking; and is just plain ugly.
Secondly, much of the new stuff requires removal of existing lower-density, low-income and affordable units. The current zoning is an incentive to redevelop areas now filled with affordable townhomes, garden apartments and row units that otherwise would not be demolished. This is a critical source of affordable housing in our city. Longtime residents — including seniors, people of color, retail and service workers — are forced out of their neighborhoods.
Third, the residents of these neighborhoods, not planners, should have more say over the future of their communities.
Fourth, the increased height, bulk and density of development allowed under current rules serves absolutely no environmental purpose since these neighborhoods, before the upzones, had capacity far in excess of what’s needed to meet their regionally assigned growth targets.
Do you think asking for reasonable limits on growth represents a progressive and environmentally responsible position?
Since when did it become environmentally responsible to allow unbridled development to destroy our city’s older-growth tree canopy and demolition of thousands of units of housing built with old-growth trees that otherwise had years of useful life in them?
And what’s responsible about pouring tons of carbon-emitting concrete to replace perfectly good buildings?
Simply adding growth in Seattle does not prevent sprawl and does not get people out of their cars. Show us one subdivision, one suburban shopping center or strip mall that was not built because we built another high-rise in Seattle (while tossing still more low-income people from their homes)?
While Seattle has grown at a record rate, areas outside King County in the Puget Sound basin — especially at the margins — have grown even faster, yet we lack the mass-transit dollars to serve these areas. That’s because we’re pouring billions into an expensive rail system running into Seattle’s downtown that, in 10 years, might serve 5 to 10 percent of regional commuters — meaning most are left with no choice but to continue driving.
We’ve got the worst of both worlds: more sprawl and the Manhattanization of Seattle. What’s environmentally conscious about this?
Seattle’s true progressives and environmentalists are the ones working to save our inner-city tree canopy from private development, to preserve our affordable housing stock, to keep our parks public not commercialized and to retain our city’s human scale. The ones seeking to responsibly manage growth, like the neighborhood groups and community leaders making up CalSeattle — they’re the real environmentalists.
JOHN V. FOX and CAROLEE COLTER are coordinators for the Seattle Displacement Coalition (www.zipcon.net), a low-income housing organization. To comment on this column, write to QAMagNews@nwlink.com.