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A Better Picture of Seattle's Industrial Jobs – finally!
Earlier this month I arranged for City Council to hear the results of a study we requested to get a better handle on the condition of industrial and marine-related jobs in Seattle. At the end of 2007 we approved changes to industrial zoning. In the name of preserving industries that produce family-wage, blue-collar jobs, we put strict limits on the amount of new office and retail development that can happen in SODO and in the Ballard-Interbay Manufacturing and Industrial Center. The limits proved controversial and the debate was heated (opponents called it a massive down-zone while proponents said it was the key to saving jobs). One thing we all agreed on was that we needed better data on which to make these long-term land use decisions.
So, we asked for a new map of current land uses; a review of regulatory tools like land use code definitions, building space requirements, and development capacity credits; and economic impact studies of what we call the marine and "basic industries" job sectors. You can check out the executive summaries for the three reports here. Please contact my office if you'd like the full reports:
The Basic Industries Economic Impact Analysis might be the most "meaty" of the reports. It shows that industrial employment levels look a little like a roller coaster between 1995 and 2007 with a net loss over that time. On the good side, Puget Sound's industrial job numbers have grown faster than in the rest of the country. Our best assets are water and rail. Our greatest deficit according to the industrial business people interviewed was that we don't have enough skilled people ready to take industrial jobs.
After the hearing the briefing to councilmembers and after speaking with advocates on all sides of the industrial zoning debate, I don't think the data has changed anyone's mind about anything, but all parties agree this is the most complete data we've ever had on blue collar industrial, manufacturing and port-dependent jobs. That's a good start as we look next year at how to refine zoning in places like Georgetown and the light rail stations in SODO.
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Neighborhood District Council Audit
Created in the late 1980's, Our 13 Neighborhood District Councils have been, and remain, invaluable neighborhood resources. Since their inception, they've served as a forum for the exchange of ideas; to identify neighborhood budgeting priorities; to address common problems, and to disseminate information back to participating organizations, including community councils, community clubs, neighborhood associations, and business groups.
Over the past few years, however, some district councils have struggled with membership and bylaws; have labored under city directives to diversify or carry out complex community conversations on behalf of the city; and have debated the weight or relevancy of district-level input into city decision-making.
To bring some clarity to the situation, I and other citizen advocates requested that Seattle's City Auditor conduct an audit to comprehensively review, and then convey, how things are really going. The work has since been completed (available here) and I think reflects what many of us already know: there is keen interest, citywide, in real civic engagement. The 13 district councils play a key role in brokering dialogue both inside their territories and with City government. In 22 years, among thousands of important conversations and projects, we've had some missteps, mission drift and misunderstandings.
The audit reminds us that Seattle started a great system when we built the district councils, but that the councils can't do it all, especially when we have an ever more diverse city and mixed ideas about what we want from the councils. I'm looking forward to working with civic engagement fans to better clarify the roles and responsibilities for both the City and the individual district councils as part of the Neighborhoods Committee 2010 workplan.
Take a look at the piece I wrote at seattlepi.com for more thoughts about neighborhood engagement and the district council system.
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Neighborhood Plan Status Reports – How are things?
How do you know whether a neighborhood's growth and change has matched projects and whether it's synching with the neighborhood plans developed by residents a decade ago? You don't unless you ask.
As part of the work updating Seattle's 38 neighborhood plans, the Seattle Planning Commission and the Neighborhood Plan Advisory Committee are holding a series of open houses this (and last) month to pose a series of questions to attendees about how their neighborhoods have changed and what people would like to see in the future. The goal is to produce a mini "almanac" by the end of the this year for each planning area showing demographic, housing, open space, transportation infrastructure and other changes over the past 10 years. These status reports are intended to help neighborhoods decide if their plan needs updating or not.
A few of the neighborhood open houses have already occurred, but some will take place later this month. Check here to see when and where meetings will happen. If you don't have the opportunity to attend the open houses, you can also review your neighborhood's status report and provide feedback on-line here. Check it out, maybe pass it along to neighbors.
Looking ahead, the Department of Planning and Development will incorporate the feedback they've heard from the community in these meetings and from the on-line "virtual" town meeting, make changes to the status reports, and then report back to the neighborhoods later this year for a final sign-off to ensure the status reports are indeed reflections of what neighbors experience every day.
This is a great opportunity to look around us and see what's transpired in 10 years that may have no relation to neighborhood plans (the economy is powerful motivator) or which can be attributed directly to the plans (new libraries, sidewalks and parks). We need to look around and understand where we are now if we are to know how the plans
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Planning and Land Use
In August the Planning, Land Use & Neighborhoods Committee (PLUNC) will take up the idea of allowing backyard cottages (formerly known by the more wonkish moniker of "detached accessory dwelling units") in other parts of the city beyond Southeast Seattle.
If you don't already know about them, backyard cottages have been allowed on certain single-family zoned properties in Southeast Seattle since 2006 and already exist in many parts of north Seattle from pre-annexation days (or perhaps from a small number of modern-day permit-averse builders). Since 2006, 20 have been built in Southeast with generally positive reviews from nearby neighbors.
The city-wide proposal, as it stands now, mirrors the standards in Southeast Seattle. The owner must live in either the house or the backyard cottage a minimum of six months every year. This is especially important to me because it will help ensure the owner stays invested in the neighborhood. Lots must be at least 4,000 square feet to be eligible. The structure can be no higher than 23 feet and be no more than 800 gross square feet. Total lot coverage requirements remain the same as for all single-family-zoned lots -- no more than 35% of a lot can be covered with a structure and that would include the cottage. The legislation also calls for on-site parking for both the home and the cottage. The proposal also includes a limit that no more than 50 cottages would be permitted per year.
Most of the comments I've received so far have been supportive of the proposal (backyard cottages can give families a place to grow, adults a place to grow old, and they can serve as a way to supplement your mortgage payment); I've also heard from residents who feel that backyard cottages are just more density where it doesn't belong (in our single family neighborhoods).
I'm not looking to destroy anyone's neighborhood (including my own), but after touring many of the backyard cottages built since 2006, I think this expansion out to the rest of the city could work. Backyard cottages so far look to be a good answer for affordability and life-long changes in families while not changing the visual character of single-family neighborhoods. I'm looking forward to the August 12 presentation to PLUNC. A public hearing will follow on September 15 at 5:30 p.m. in Council Chambers, City Hall.
For more information about the proposal, click here. The Seattle Planning Commission created a helpful guide about how to build backyard cottages.
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Councilmembers Tim Burgess and Jean Godden joined Sally on a Southeast Seattle tour to observe backyard cottages that have been created over the last three years. This backyard cottage in the Mount Baker neighborhood (structure on the right), sits nestled behind the single family house on the left.
Multifamily Code Update
"I hear a lot of the discussion being focused around the idea that the multifamily code update is about somehow about improving the auto-court or improving the four-pack. It's not about that, it's about ending it. The four pack is not a housing type, it's a parking solution that people live over. And what we're trying to do is create a code that's flexible enough that people can actually live in the housing as it's designed; so people can live in it for its open space and to meet housing needs."
- David Neiman of the Northwest Chapter of the Congress of Residential Architects
June 30, 2009
I pulled this quote from the public comment portion of a recent Planning, Land Use & Neighborhood Committee meeting in Delridge's Youngstown Cultural Arts Center auditorium regarding the Multifamily Code Update. (Well, actually Dan Nolte in my office pulled the quote. Thanks, Dan!) It's a comment that resonated because as we debate how to improve housing design in our city's low-rise zones, parking seems to be front and center of the debate. I think David's point is that we should have people front and center.
If the City mandates parking, then town homes continue to need to be designed around the automobile and we continue to see garages as the primary design factor. Even if the City removes parking requirements (like around light rail stations), townhouses will continue to be designed around the automobile because banks likely won't give loans to projects that don't include parking (lenders assume resale value would be lost without off-street parking).
Be it parking, open space, fence heights, building facades, street-facing doors, affordable housing requirements, allowing rooftop decks, more height, or replacing units-per-lot requirements with more flexibility, the issues get complicated and mucky very quickly. One person's flexibility is another's opportunity to run amuck.
Council continues to work diligently through these issues, and as the meetings progress, we're having a great dialogue about housing choices, affordability and neighborhood-friendly design. I think we're on a path to strike a good balance between all of the competing concerns. If you haven't been following along in the deliberations and discussion, I've linked to all of the committee meetings where PLUNC has discussed the update on my website.
As we look ahead, I hope you'll send along your thoughts for how we move forward. If you've watched the most recent neighborhood committee meeting, you'll know we're asking input from the community on all of the issues mentioned above.
For another comprehensive look at town home design and the interplay between aesthetics, affordability and sustainability, check out William Dietrich's great piece in The Seattle Times' Pacific Magazine from this past Sunday.
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Kindergartners invade City Hall
Last month, City Hall was the target of an end-of-the-school-year a visit from a Bryant Elementary kindergarten class. The children had spent several months learning about government. As a good government geek I think that's so cool! I don't recall my kindergarten class at Bridlemile doing anything like that.
I bumped into the class as they were walking through, and said hello to their teacher. He announced to his class that I was Sally, and after saying my name, he asked the kids what they knew about Sally, they all announced "Sally likes dangerous things!" As someone who really doesn't go in for anything the least bit dangerous, I thought it was an odd identifier.
The teacher, Kevin Gallagher, explained that they pulled photos off of the city website and connected those photos with councilmembers to help the kids better connect with us. For instance, he used a photo of Councilmember Nick Licata reading a copy of a children's book he wrote, so the kids knew that "this is Nick and he likes to read." They had a picture of Council President Richard Conlin, so "this is Richard and he like to ride a bicycle." Kevin said they used the photo on my website of me in full firefighter gear when I attended firefighter training and was climbing what I fondly remember as "the tall ladder of death." (see photo here).
After their visit, the children made a journal entry of their visit and I was sent a copy of the compiled pictures from the visit. A few of my favorites are here.
Forever more I will be known as Sally, the councilmember who likes dangerous things. Actually, when I think about the land use committee, maybe it's not so far off the mark.
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Sally and fellow Councilmembers participated in the annual downtown Seattle Pride Parade on Sunday June 28 . Councilmembers rode segways, T3 Motion scooters, and electric bicycles, all in an effort to show Seattleites the various types of alternative-powered vehicles the City utilizes.
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