Social justice is one of the four core values of the Seattle Comprehensive Plan. These values (the others are economic opportunity, environmental stewardship, and community) were developed through a community process in the 1990’s, and are intended to guide decision making in City government.

To ensure that we carry out our commitment to social justice, as well as our long standing commitment to ending racism, the City has developed a Race and Social Justice Initiative (RSJI). The goal of this initiative is to provide information and tools to help City leaders and staff understand issues of race and social justice, and to ensure that our City actions accord with our values. Often those who are privileged in our society by virtue of social and economic standing have the most input to City actions, because they know who to talk to and how to talk to them. The goal of RSJI is to ensure that our decisions include the voices of those who are not heard as often.

In 2011, the Council asked staff members on our RSJI Change Team, a group of staff volunteers, to look at several pieces of legislation to see if applying an RSJI lens would help us make decisions that are inclusive and reflect our social justice values. The Change Team chose the South Lake Union (SLU) Rezone for one of its first reviews, and I had the team formally report to the South Lake Union Committee on Monday, February 25. After hearing their report, I announced that I would prepare a Resolution reflecting their recommendations. I expect to submit this resolution to the Council in the next few days.

The RSJI analysis identified five key areas where change in South Lake Union offered opportunities to ensure more equitable outcomes:

  • SLU offers access to family wage jobs, housing, transit, and open space.
  • Housing and jobs are the key areas that may have an impact on race and social justice.
  • Retaining existing zoning in the Cascade neighborhood avoids displacing current residents.
  • More workforce housing could be provided through incentive zoning.
  • Pathways for communities of color to access jobs in SLU are a great opportunity.

The analysis offered five strategies to advance racial equity:

  • Do not change heights in the Cascade Neighborhood.
  • Maximize affordable housing through incentive zoning.
  • Use education and job-training partnerships to expand access to job opportunities for communities of color.
  • Promote community gathering spaces like a community center or school.
  • Utilize revenues from the Transportation infrastructure Fund (TIF) to achieve social equity goals.

My resolution will delineate the Council’s response to these strategies, which will reflect our concurrence with the basic analysis and direction suggested by the Change Team. I expect that the Council will:

  • Move carefully in making any changes in the Cascade heights, ensuring that those changes are targeted to areas where there are vacant lots or significantly underutilized properties and do not create incentives to demolish existing affordable housing. We are likely to approve modest changes that increase the opportunity for more housing to be built in the neighborhood, and consider providing a transfer of development rights provision that would encourage preservation of historic, affordable structures.
  • The Council will adopt an incentive zoning program, and is likely to make some additions to the Mayor’s proposal. We will also begin a larger process to review options for increasing affordable housing and set a direction that will increase opportunities.
  • My resolution will propose a work plan to increase and target education and job training partnerships in order to expand access to job opportunities.
  • The Council will take an active role in promoting and finding resources to support community center development, and is likely to strengthen the incentives in the rezone legislation that would encourage developing a school to serve this area.
  • The use of TIF revenues will be determined in a future ordinance, and the Council will keep the RSJI screening process in place when we review this legislation.

Achieving social justice requires careful, thoughtful, and specific steps that will move us in the right direction. There is no magic bullet or law that will end racism or create social equity. The RSJI screen helps us to construct and modify legislation in ways that will realize our goals of a City where the opportunity for housing, employment, and community participation is open and encouraged for all of the people of Seattle.