The HALA attack on Eastlake

Donations needed to help ECC and its coalition partners to challenge City claims on impacts from increasing building heights

On Nov. 27, a coalition of 26 non-profit organizations including the Eastlake Community Council filed an administrative appeal to a Seattle Hearing Examiner, challenging a final environmental impact statement (EIS) by the Office of Planning and Community Development. The Eastlake Community Council joined together with other neighborhood and community groups as SCALE (Seattle Coalition for Affordability, Livability, and Equity). [SCALE’s articles of incorporation can be seen by clicking here.] We seek a ruling that the EIS does not accurately state the impacts on Eastlake and other neighborhoods of a proposal to the City Council (known as Mandatory Housing Affordability, or MHA) to allow greater height and bulk for new buildings on multi-family and commercially zoned properties in exchange for claimed improvements in affordable housing.

ECC believes that the Seattle Hearing Examiner will agree that the EIS fails to accurately describe how the resulting upscale development will displace low and middle income people, destroy trees and historic structures, and cause traffic and parking problems, shortfalls in facilities and services, and other negative impacts. Since (except for the houseboats) all of the residentially zoned land in Eastlake is classified as multi-family and would be up-zoned by the proposal, this case is a huge one for our future. [Although the City Council cannot vote on the measure until an accurate EIS has been produced, it has been getting ready to do so if it wins the case, so public comments to encourage a more responsive approach are much needed; see above for the details.] Links to the coalition’s appeal letter, to the EIS, and to myriad other documents in the case, as well as the schedule of hearings, and recordings of the hearings held so far in the case, can be found by clicking here.

Your donations are urgently needed! Cost of the appeal includes the attorneys (the well-regarded firm of Bricklin and Newman) and expert witnesses and will total more than $100,000. Please make checks made out to Eastlake Community Council, specifying in the memo line “MHA-EIS appeal”; mail or drop off to: ECC, c/o Lake Union Mail, 117 E. Louisa St. #1, Seattle 98102-3278. To donate on-line, click here. Please specify that the donation is on behalf of the Eastlake Community Council.

Faulty Environmental Impact Statement challenged by SCALE (Seattle Coalition for Affordability, Livability, and Equity), a citywide alliance that includes the Eastlake Community Council.

To review the environmental impact statement, click here. Notably, its Exhibit 2.8 is grossly mistaken in claiming that Eastlake residents have a low risk of displacement. In fact, most Eastlake residents are renters whose buildings are more likely to be demolished under the Mayor’s plan, to be replaced by luxury buildings likely beyond their means. The housing fees proposed to be charged for this additional development capacity will build subsidized housing elsewhere–and only for the poorest. The middle class who find Eastlake affordable today would be driven out by the Mayor’s proposal.

For other weaknesses in the EIS, click here for ECC’s Sept. 9 letter with suggestions for the EIS that the City largely ignored. Also, see the report by InvestigateWest on tree loss in urban villages like Eastlake and how “Livability” (the L in HALA) is being ignored.

Mayor and City Council members,need to hear your views on the previous Mayor’s proposal to increase building heights on every residential and commercial land lot in Eastlake.

Whatever your views, it is important to exercise your rights as a citizen by communicating with our elected Mayor and City Councilmembers. And please send a copy to the Eastlake Community Council at info@eastlakeseattle.org. Doing so alerts ECC to your concerns so we can keep you informed and involved about follow-up.

Mayor Jenny Durkan accepts comments from the public by e-mail. You can also leave a comment on-line at http://www.seattle.gov/mayor/get-involved/contact-the-mayor (the system will reject any message of more than about 500 words). You can also reach Mayor Durkan by letter (which can be longer!) at 600 Fourth Avenue, 7th floor, P.O. Box 94749, Seattle, WA 98124-4749, or by fax at 206-684-5360. The Mayor’s reception phone is 206-684-4000.

Be sure to communicate with the nine City Councilmembers individually, rather than by a group e-mail or letter (which is far less likely to be heeded). The City Council e-mail addresses are as follows: sally.bagshaw@seattle.gov, teresa.mosqueda@seattle.gov, rob.johnson@seattle.gov, bruce.harrell@seattle.gov, lisa.herbold@seattle.gov, mike.obrien@seattle.gov, lorena.gonzalez@seattle.gov, debora.juarez@seattle.gov, and kshama.sawant@seattle.gov.

You can also reach the City Councilmembers by letter at 600 Fourth Avenue, 2nd floor, P.O. Box 34025, Seattle, WA 98124-4025, or by fax at 206-684-8587. Each Councilmember also has a voice mail number listed at http://www.seattle.gov/council or by calling 206-684-8888.

Last chance to comment on the City’s proposals to upzone Eastlake and other multi-family neighborhoods (background below)

The Seattle City Council is considering a proposed ordinance that would upzone every residential or commercial lot in Eastlake, and many others throughout the city. It would do so partly by changing the zoning of many lots in Eastlake to higher intensity zones; and partly by increasing the potential height that can be built in all zones. This upzone process started with a then-secret “Grand Bargain” between developers, Mayor Ed Murray, and Councilmember Mike O’Brien. District 4’s Councilmember Rob Johnson now presiding, in a process still lacks transparency or civic engagement, with no real effort to notify or listen to those renters, home and condo owners, and small businesses who suffer from the upzones.

The proposed ordinance, which is dauntingly complex, can be found by clicking here. A key to understanding the ordinance are the maps showing proposed upzones for Eastlake and other neighborhoods and these maps are not yet posted–but they appear to be based on the “preferred alternative” that can be see by clicking here. The current zoning map and the “preferred alternative” upzone map that was released on Nov. 9,can both be found at EIS web map. For commercial zones, the existing zone and height are listed first and the proposed new zone and height are listed second. Understanding the notation about residential lots requires consultation with s guide to the abbreviation. But one thing is clear: every residential or commercial lot in Eastlake would have a height increase, some by one story, some by two stories, and some by three stories!

Whatever your views–please send separate e-mails or letters now, addressed separately to each of the nine City Councilmembers (addresses below)–or at least send one to our District Four councilmember Rob Johnson at rob.johnson@seattle.gov, with cc to his staff at citywidemha@seattle.gov and with bcc to ECC at info@eastlakeseattle.org. For information, links, and how to comment, see background and below.

Don’t forget to write

Mayor Jenny Durkan accepts comments from the public by e-mail: jenny.durkan@seattle.gov. You can also reach Mayor Durkan by letter at 600 Fourth Avenue, 7th floor, P.O. Box 94749, Seattle, WA 98124-4749, or by fax at 206-684-5360. The Mayor’s reception phone is 206-684-4000, where you can also leave a voice mail afterhours and on weekends. Durkan is finding it difficult to separate herself from her endorser and predecessor Ed Murray, and a good way would be to drop this citywide upzone and find a more balanced solution (another would be not to keep Murray’s Department of Neighborhoods director, who has politicized the Department into a battering ram for the upzone).

Be sure to communicate with the nine City Councilmembers individually, rather than by a group e-mail or letter (which is far less likely to be heeded). Please identify yourself as a resident of Eastlake, and preferably include your street address. The City Council e-mail addresses are as follows: rob.johnson@seattle.gov (if you can send just one, and be sure to cc to his staff at citywidemha@seattle.gov), sally.bagshaw@seattle.gov, teresa.mosqueda@seattle.gov, bruce.harrell@seattle.gov, lisa.herbold@seattle.gov, mike.obrien@seattle.gov, lorena.gonzalez@seattle.gov, debora.juarez@seattle.gov, and kshama.sawant@seattle.gov. Please also bcc ECC at info@eastlakeseattle.org.

You can also reach the City Councilmembers by a letter (again, preferably one for each, not to all as a group) at 600 Fourth Avenue, 2nd floor, P.O. Box 34025, Seattle, WA 98124-4025, or by fax at 206-684-8587. Be sure to sign and to identify yourself as a resident of Eastlake; preferably include your street address. Please also send a copy of ECC c/o Lake Union Mail,117 E. Louisa St. Each Councilmember also has a voice mail number listed at http://www.seattle.gov/council or by calling 206-684-8888.

What’s up? See above for links to the proposed legislation. The upzones invite a whirlwind of redevelopment that, due to the increased development potential of every commercial and residential lot, will likely demolish most of Eastlake’s remaining affordable rentals and displace most of our middle and lower income renters and many small businesses. Every residential or commercial lot in Eastlake would have a height increase, some by one story, some by two stories, and some by three stories!

The resulting new development will price them out even as developers buy out of on-site affordability requirements. Eastlake will be the cash cow as the buy-out money goes to other developers who build only subsidized housing for the lowest incomes for which the “forgotten middle” are ineligible. And few, if any of the limited number of new subsidized units will be built in Eastlake because our land values are way beyond state and county limits on the cost to produce each subsidized housing unit.

If the City Council fans the flames of speculation, property taxes will go through the roof, with owners of homes, condos, and apartment or commercial buildings pressed to sell — or dramatically increase their residential or commercial rents. Renters and condo/home owners who stay in Eastlake will suffer a loss of views from their homes and from the increasingly overused public spaces. All Eastlakers will suffer with the deterioration of Eastlake’s quality of life–further overloaded streets and buses, ever scarcer parking, and noise, pollution, and the loss of many of Eastlake’s remaining trees. For more background, see the ECC web site; and click here for additional talking points offered by SCALE, a citywide coalition to which ECC belongs, and encourages you to donate to (see more at top of this web page).

This upzone process started with a then-secret “Grand Bargain” (see link below) between developers, Mayor Ed Murray, and Councilmember Mike O’Brien. With Murray in disgrace and District 4’s Councilmember Rob Johnson now presiding, the process still lacks transparency or civic engagement, with no real effort to notify or listen to those renters, home and condo owners, and small businesses who would be upzoned.

Released on Nov. 9, the current zoning map and “preferred alternative” upzone map can both be found at EIS web map. A guide to the abbreviations can be found on For commercial zones, the existing zone and height are listed first and the proposed new zone and height are listed second. Understanding the notation about residential lots requires consultation with pages 8-9, 33-5, and 46-9 of the Director’s report.

Affordability and livability could both be trashed in Eastlake

Over strong opposition from the Eastlake Community Council and other groups (in column at right, see section on land use in Eastlake for some of the history), Mayors and City Councils in recent years have increased allowable building height and bulk and eliminated yard requirements, inviting rapacious growth that is destroying affordability and livability. Mayor Murray and some City Councilmembers now are pushing this process to a destructive new level with a proposal to impose on Eastlake and other urban villages an increase in allowable building heights by up to two stories .

For the City’s specific zoning and height increases proposed for different lots in Eastlake and other “urban villages” (released on Oct. 19, 2016), click here. For a collection of links on the HALA upzones and their background, click here. For a one-page citywide summary released in 2016 of the proposed increases in height and floor-area-ratio for different zones around the city, click here. The Eastlake Community Council is analyzing these proposals and welcomes your input about them, to info@eastlakeseattle.org.

In November, 2016, the City of Seattle released an analysis purporting to show the economic feasibility of its proposed Mandatory Housing Affordability program (click here. In fact the report shows the opposite. The City report is lengthy (28 pages) and in writing it the City was loathe to acknowledge how its own report uncovered serious flaws in the MHA program. Thus a citywide public interest committee of neighborhood leaders and local developers (including Linda Alexander, Cindi Barker, Bill Bradburd, Marty Liebowitz, Anna Nissen, Dennis Saxman and Irene Wall) conducted an independent analysis of the program; click here for this critique, which was released in January 2017. It distills the City report down to 6 major flaws showing that the program will not perform as projected.

Eastlake renters will be particularly hard hit, receiving little or none of the resulting subsidized housing–which in any case would go only to the very poorest and would be located in parts of Seattle far away. No one with a moderate income would receive subsidized housing. Fees collected from developers in cash-cow Eastlake would subsidize rents in other parts of the City, while the frenzy of development attracted to Eastlake by the increased building size would not be affordable and would cause the destruction of most of Eastlake’s remaining older buildings with currently affordable rents. The results would be neither affordable nor livable, and would worsen an already unsustainable parking situation.

Background In the Mayor’s “Grand Bargain” deal with private and non-profit developers, cooked up behind closed doors without involvement or even notice to neighborhood advocates or the press, a small fraction of the profits from this growth juggernaut would allow developers to buy out of having to build any affordable housing. Their modest housing fee (far less than in other cities using this scheme) would become a slush fund for non-profit housing developers to build subsidized housing for available only to those with incomes 60 percent or below the Seattle median income). But little or none would be built in Eastlake because most projects would still need county, state, and federal money that is conditioned on keeping per-unit construction costs lower than is feasible with Eastlake’s high and growing property values.

The proposed FAR and height increases are part of a supposed “grand bargain” that was cooked up behind closed doors and pushed through the Mayor’s so-called Housing Affordability and Livability Advisory Committee. Contrary to that committee’s name, the proposals would undermine Eastlake’s affordability and livability—not surprising considering that the committee was ludicrously overloaded with development industry sympathizers who will profit from that result.

The only concession that the Mayor and City Council have made to public outrage over this unseemly process has been to promise not to change to multifamily zones any of the single family zoned land that is not located in a designated urban center or urban village like Eastlake. This cynical departure from what has otherwise been portrayed as an indivisible “package” should have invalidated any “grand bargain,” but of course the advocates are choosing instead to push the additional development pressures on Eastlake and other multifamily zoned neighborhoods that are not equally protected.

Central to the HALA proposals from Mayor Murray and some City Councilmembers would be a major increase in the Floor Area Ratio (FAR) allowed in “residential urban villages” like Eastlake. FAR may seem arcane, but the proposed increase would translate into height increases of at least ten feet and possible twenty feet or more in the multifamily and commercial zones that comprise most of Eastlake’s land. These changes could destroy much of Eastlake’s remaining affordability and livability–and yet were proposed by a “Housing Affordability and Livability” advisory committee (nicknamed HALA). To see the map that has all Eastlake land proposed for much bigger buildings than currently allowed, click here. For background from the City’s point of view, click here.

On August 15, 2016, the City Council unanimously passed an ordinance authorizing these “affordability” requirements–but the gesture will mean nothing unless a zoning ordinance allows the increased building heights and footprints. (For the official line, see the web site of the City Council’s Committee on Planning, Land Use & Zoning (http://www.seattle.gov/council/committees/planning-land-use-and-zoning).

It may never happen, because the City is embarking on a required environmental impact statement (EIS) that will examine whether affordability or livability actually would benefit. Go figure: Whatever large trees still exist on private land would be wiped away as boxy new buildings take over. Eastlake’s remaining moderately affordable rentals would fall to up-scale development as our neighborhood becomes a sacrifice area and cash cow for building subsidized housing elsewhere for those on lowest incomes. Let us hope that the EIS is thorough and not politically driven.

More background on the City’s Mandatory Housing Affordability proposals to allow increased height and footprint of new residential and commercial buildings for the claim of affordable housing

Under the State Environmental Policy Act, the City of Seattle is required to conduct an environmental impact statement (EIS) about the Land Use Code ordinance that some City officials and some in the development industry want as a way toward highly profitable increases in height and floor area of new residential and commercial buildings.

The legislation would impose on urban villages or centers like Eastlake (which is classified as a residential urban village) a height increase of one or two stories and an increase in building footprint (reduced “setbacks” — no longer yards of any meaningful size). In exchange, new projects would either provide some affordable units on site (don’t bet on it) or would buy themselves out with a modest housing fee into a City fund to help non-profit housing developers build subsidized housing (available only to those with incomes 60 percent or below the Seattle median income). On Sept. 9., 2016, ECC sent to the City a four-page letter with HALA EIS scoping comments. To see it, click here. We will provide progress reports here about the EIS as they become available.

Contacting the City Councilmembers

As mentioned above, the City Council needs to hear from you. Be sure to communicate with the nine City Councilmembers individually, rather than by a collective e-mail or letter (which is far less likely to be heeded). The e-mail addresses are as follows: sally.bagshaw@seattle.gov; teresa.mosqueda@seattle.gov; lorena.gonzalez@seattle.gov; bruce.harrell@seattle.gov; lisa.herbold@seattle.gov; rob.johnson@seattle.gov; debora.juarez@seattle.gov; mike.obrien@seattle.gov; and kshama.sawant@seattle.gov. You can also reach the City Councilmembers by letter at 600 Fourth Avenue, 2nd floor, P.O. Box 34025, Seattle, WA 98124-4025, or by fax at 206-684-8587. Please cc the Eastlake Community Council at info@eastlakeseattle.org, so we can keep you in the loop as these debates continue to heat up.

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