Human Rights Commission Appointments, SODO Arena Street Vacation Vote

Seattle Human Rights Commissioner Appointments

The Civil Rights, Economic Development, Utilities and Arts (CRUEDA) Committee, is looking to appoint new commissioners to the Seattle Human Rights Commission. Are you interested in promoting human rights for the residents of Seattle and facilitating the prevention and elimination of discrimination? If yes, please send a resume’ and cover letter to andra.kranzler@seattle.gov or Marta.idowu@seattle.gov .

The Seattle Human Rights Commission consults with and makes recommendations concerning the development of programs which promote equality and justice. It works with the Director of the Office for Civil Rights to end discrimination based upon race, religion, creed, color, national origin, sexual orientation, political ideology, ancestry, age, marital and parental status, disability, Section 8, and retaliation. It conducts appeals and holds hearings to identify and deal with acts of discrimination and assist in resolving racial tensions in the areas of employment, housing and public accommodations.

To learn more about the Seattle Human Rights Commission you may attend a meeting. The upcoming meetings are on May 5, 2016 and June 2, 2016 at 6pm at City Hall!

SODO Arena Street Vacation Vote

Many people have written me about the street vacation proposed for Occidental Avenue South.  This was not an easy vote to cast—I have heard from many people that I respect on both sides of the issue.  When Monday, from the dais, the direction of the vote became obvious, I felt no joy, nor victory.  The disappointment of my colleagues and that of the fans in the room was palpable.  I too felt a pang of empathy for the people who have been engaged in a four years long campaign to bring back to Seattle a sport they love.

SODO-proposed-street-vacationI absolutely understand the passionate desire to bring NBA basketball back to Seattle.  However, I could not support this proposed street vacation, and thus was part of the Council majority in a 5-4 vote against the proposal.  I believe the Council majority actually represented the public’s interest.  A poll found 75% of registered voters said building a new arena in SODO shouldn’t be a priority for the city, and 77% either opposed the street vacation or wanted action delayed until KeyArena has been fully explored as an alternative.

Last year when asked my position on the arena, I said that though I would not have been likely to vote for the 2012 Arena Co. Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that contained the conditions required for the $200 million in public financing, I would not try and oppose the public financing or the conditions in the MOU.   I also said that I would oppose efforts of proponents to renegotiate the MOU.  Voting in support of the proposed street vacation was not a condition of the MOU and had I voted in favor of the street vacation I felt I would be undermining my own position to oppose efforts to renegotiate the MOU, because in voting in favor of the street vacation – without a team – we’d very likely be inviting efforts to extend the MOU agreement beyond November 2017.

Either vote, whether for or against the street vacation, contained elements of risk and sacrifice.   Perhaps I risked the promise of new, future jobs, but my vote was decided in favor of protecting industrial and maritime jobs that we have now so that we can maintain the diversified economy that has kept our region strong in good economic times as well as the downturns.  Further, the legitimate traffic concerns of commuters and small business owners in West Seattle and South Park played prominently in my decision.

WHY DO THEY CALL IT A STREET VACATION?

A “street vacation,” or sometimes alley vacation, is when the Council votes to allow a street to be removed from the street grid for other purposes, generally development.  Streets are public rights of way and because they belong to the public they have a measurable monetary value.  The proposed arena required elimination of Occidental Avenue South between Holgate and Massachusetts in SODO, to the south of the stadiums. Consequently, a vote was necessary to vacate and pay for the street. If the arena location hadn’t been dependent upon this street vacation, it could have proceeded directly to the Master Use Permitting (MUP) process under the Department of Constructions and Inspections.

Under city policy, street vacations are judged by whether they:

  1. Protect the functions of the street right-of way;
  2. Have any adverse land use impacts, and
  3. Whether there will be public benefits sufficient to offset the loss of the street.

These policies are set to be reviewed and perhaps amended by the Council.  One of the elements of the street vacation policy under review is the issue of sequencing, or in other words, the timing of street vacations in relation to other necessary project components such as the issuance of a MUP or fulfillment of other requirements necessary to a project.  The issue of sequencing – whether the application for this street vacation was ripe – was a matter of significant concern for me.  I believed that, given the complexity of this project, the street vacation vote should have been scheduled after the issuance of a MUP and after Arena Co had an NBA team.

WHY WAS HAVING AN NBA TEAM NOW IMPORTANT TO THE STREET VACATION?

Again, because streets are public rights of way and therefore belong to the public and have a measurable monetary value, the public must get a measurable benefit in return.  The vacation requires ArenaCo to pay for fair market value for the street, in this case estimated at $15-20 million, as well as a robust public art program and public amenity plaza.  Still, in evaluating this street vacation, because of the intense traffic and employment impacts of this project, I believed that the thing that was needed to tip the balance in favor of meeting the threshold for allowing a street vacation was Arena Co. acquiring a team. The one true public benefit, and the reason we’ve been discussing this for four years, is an NBA team—and we don’t have that. The hope of a team is not a public benefit. In short, I think it was only possible to meet the necessary public benefit threshold if we’d considered the legislation after attaining an NBA team. In addition, though it wasn’t part of the street vacation decision, the lack of an NBA team also means the provision in the MOU requiring $40 million for a SODO Infrastructure Fund does not apply.

WHAT IMPACTS?  WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL ABOUT A BLOCK?

It’s not only the vacating of a block that is at issue; it’s that in vacating a block a project could move forward with significant additional unmitigated impacts – not just because the loss of a  single block but because of the project itself.  If we had a team, those unmitigated impacts might have been worth enduring.  Without a team, they are not.  The impacts of this project on jobs and traffic should not to be dismissed.  42,700 people work in SODO at an average wage of $70,400.  The future of the maritime and shipping industry is currently in flux, with the planned expansion of the Panama Canal. The Korean shipping company Hanjin has operated out of Pier 46 since 1986. They have expressed concerns about the long-term potential of the site, given the 2012 MOU arena agreement the Council approved. The signals we send to the global maritime and shipping industries matter, especially with increased competition from British Columbia and Southern California, which have been taking market share from Puget Sound ports in recent years. The creation of the Northwest Seaport Alliance, combining the Ports of Tacoma and Seattle, thereby creating the third-largest marine cargo load center in the United States, is designed to address this.

The City’s position was that the proposal was consistent with the Seattle Comprehensive Plan, yet the Container Port Element of the Comprehensive Plan, specifically calls for a. maintaining maritime jobs and revenue that cargo container activities generate, and b. consideration of the value of transition areas at the edges of general industrial zones in a way as to not create conflicts with cargo container activities.

It is true that there was the potential for new jobs as a part of this project, and I don’t want to pit worker against worker.  But, the historic labor agreements – like the Labor Peace Agreement – was not part of the Street Vacation, but was part of the MOU and should the project proceed outside of the MOU or under a new MOU as I discuss below, those agreements too could be at risk.

I definitely heard support from some of my constituents in District 1, but the widespread concern from a significantly greater number of West Seattle and South Park residents about access to Downtown was concern that I, as a District 1 Councilmember, could simply not ignore. Many in West Seattle feel they already shoulder the greatest share of our City’s burden for professional sports facilities.

District 1 is separated from Downtown by SODO, and the stadiums.  If transportation mitigation doesn’t work out, West Seattle and South Park would be the neighborhoods most affected by hindered access to Downtown. The West Seattle Transportation Coalition noted that there’s been a 45% reduction in north/south vehicle lanes over the last 7 years through SODO. Business owners have expressed concern about gentrification, and losing access to goods and services in SODO.  One restaurant owner in West Seattle wrote to the Council that 14 unique locations in SODO provide goods and services to his business. The West Seattle Chamber signed a letter stating that concerns about increased traffic congestion were not adequately addressed.

50 state legislators signed a letter to the Council opposing the street vacation, saying “the site of the proposed street vacation represents the crossroads of international trade, manufacturing…that together form a key economic engine for our state” and said that vacating the street would deal a serious blow to our region’s global competitiveness. This is a highly unusual letter, and testament to the importance of trade in Washington State’s economy.

The letter was signed by legislators from all seven districts that include Seattle, including Representative Eileen Cody in the 34th District, a State Legislative District largely contiguous to my District 1 City Council district.

Finally, and significantly, the street vacation, and the Environmental Impact Statement, didn’t address the additional LA-Live style bars and restaurants that form a part of the overall development—so I believe that full parking and transportation were not adequately analyzed to consider those additional impacts.

WHY DON’T  I UNDERSTAND THAT WE NEEDED A “SHOVEL-READY” ARENA TO GET A TEAM?

In recent weeks, NBA Commissioner Adam Sliver has said that having a “shovel-ready” arena is “not a factor” in expansion considerations.

BEST AND WORST CASE SCENARIOS AND MY AMENDMENTS TO TRY AND ADDRESS THEM:

Here is what could have happened if we ignored what the NBA commissioner has told us and instead bet on the promise of a shovel-ready arena to get a team and passed the Street Vacation as proposed:

  1. Best case scenario: Arena Co. gets team and fulfills terms of MOU agreement and starts projects with public money
  2. Unfortunate – but not worst – scenario: Arena Co. builds an arena entirely with private money and we don’t get a team, but have the impacts described above.
  3. Worst case scenario: Arena Co. starts projects with private money and comes to Council next year to ask for a new MOU – extending the time, with construction already begun, and using the fact that the street was vacated and the project already started in order to pressure the Council to get rid of the requirement to have a team in order to access public financing.  We still don’t get a team, we end up using public financing to build an arena, and we have to endure the impacts described above.

It’s unfortunate that the duration of the street vacation wasn’t linked to the duration of the agreement with Chris Hansen that the Council passed in 2012, which provides for public funding if Hansen obtains an NBA team and additional funding with an NHL team. That agreement lasts until late 2017.The street vacation as proposed would have lasted 5 years, in line with city street vacation policies. Had we been able to amend the street vacation so that it only lasted until the end of the agreement, that might have partially satisfied my concern that approving a street vacation now would open us up next year to renegotiation of the MOU, but our Law Department advised against pursuing an amendment like this.

An amendment I did offer would have required the ArenaCo group to obtain ownership rights to an NBA team before the street vacation was granted; it didn’t pass.  This amendment, had it passed, also would have partially helped address my concern that an NBA needed to be part of the public benefits package necessary to meet the threshold required to vacate a public street.

Two  other amendments I introduced did pass.  Though they would have a. improved pedestrian access and b. made the public plaza available for up to 12 city-approved free of charge events per year, their passage did not significantly address my concerns with the street vacation application. Nevertheless, I appreciate my Council colleague’s support.

IS THE ARENA DEAD?

Arena Co. still has options.  The MOU with the City is still good until December, 2017.  If an NBA team is secured, a new street vacation application could be made for the current location under the current MOU.

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