Urban Politics #340: Don’t Give Up

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I have often found that change doesn’t come as quickly as I’ve hoped for, despite my best efforts. Hard to say why that’s true. Perhaps it’s a culture of caution, perhaps it’s a short attention span on the part of the advocate, or sometimes it just takes time to convince people.

Below are three projects that came to fruition after a year or more of work on the part of the public, my office and other elected officials. I begin with the shortest time period required and proceed to the longest. The lesson learned for me is that while progress may be slow, it won’t be achieved at all if you retreat and give up.


Green BuildingsSeattle has been a leader in promoting the construction of high energy savings buildings. As part of that effort the city established the demonstration program for the Living Building Challenge Design and later the Seattle Deep Green program. In May of 2012, the City Council’s Planning, Land Use and Sustainability Committee (PLUS) met to discuss amending these programs to provide design departures to allow greater flexibility in applying prescriptive land use code standards or requirements. The departures were being sought by a national developer, Skanska, for a large building planned for the Wallingford neighborhood.

After that PLUS Committee meeting, councilmembers heard from Wallingford residents challenging whether Skanska’s building was eligible for the Living Building Challenge program, a program that defines the most advanced measure of sustainability for buildings possible today. The Living Building Institute oversees the program and it determined that Skanska’s design did not qualify as a Living Building, in spite of City planners having initially described it as one.

On July of 2012, the PLUS Committee met again to vote on Council Bill 117516, which would provide design departures for allowing the Skanska building in the program. During that meeting, I learned that the City’s review of applicants to the Living Building Design Demonstration Program was inconsistent and inadvertently led to the City’s earlier qualification of the Skanska project as a Living Building.

In order to provide more consistency in reviewing green building design departure applications, I sponsored, and PLUS Chair Councilmember Richard Conlin co-sponsored, Resolution 31400 forming a new Living Building and Deep Green Pilot Technical Advisory Group (TAG). The Resolution stated that it was the City’s intent to continue promoting and encouraging the development of buildings that achieve the highest level of environmental sustainability by requesting the Council receive updates and enhancements from the Department of Planning and Development (DPD) to its Living Building and Seattle Deep Green pilot programs.

Members of the first Living Building and Deep Green Pilot Technical Advisory Group (TAG) were confirmed by the City Council in September, 2013.

TAG is the key element of legislation implementing a revised Living Building pilot program, which DPD is due to deliver to the Seattle City Council by December 31st of this year. Legislation implementing the new Seattle Deep Green pilot program is expected by December 31st of 2014.

By listening to critiques of the program and introducing new legislation, the council was able to strengthen the requirements for eligibility to these programs and make them more consistent for developers to follow.


Building 30

Planning for re-development of the Warren G. Magnuson Park began in 1997, two years after the land was transferred from the federal government to the City. The Community Preferred Reuse Plan (1997), the Sand Point Blue Ribbon Committee report (1999) and the Magnuson Park Concept Design (1999) all contributed to the framework for how this 309 acre addition to Seattle’s parklands might best serve residents.

The transfer came with a hitch. As a result of deactivation in 1970 of the federal Sand Point Naval Air Station, which was located on this site, the city had to invest more than $42 million and complete more than 40 capital improvement projects that were needed because many of the buildings were in disrepair. In addition, third-parties who lease space there have invested over $35 million. Solid Ground and the University of Washington, which own additional land in the park, have invested more than $54 million to transform seriously unsafe buildings into safe, active public recreational facilities. However, many buildings remain in dire need of repair today.

One such building that for years I and the Sand Point Arts & Cultural Exchange (S.P.A.C.E.) have been advocating to restore for arts and cultural uses is Building 30 Building 30 hosted about 35 events annually in its hangar until being declared unsafe for full occupancy in late 2010. Only seven events were allowed in 2011 and four in 2012. Users such as Friends of the Library, Rat City Rollergirls, Seattle Tilth and Cascade Bicycle Club all suffered.

In 2010, the Mayor proposed renovating Building 30 with $8.5 million from a MOHAI loan to the City. I had negotiated that loan as part of the City’s & MOHAI’s agreement on the State’s purchase of City land long occupied by MOHAI. But, because of the great recession, my colleagues and I determined the higher priority was to protect libraries, women’s programs, neighborhoods, and human services for the poor and elderly from the deep cuts proposed that year by the Mayor. The MOHAI loan was repaid this year, interest-free.After two more years of pressing the director of DPR to include Building 30′s rehabilitation in the Mayor’s capital budget, DPR decided to advance rehabilitation from 2015 to this year. Its ribbon cutting will be held on October 11th, and I will attend.

What makes Magnuson so attractive to me is its mixed use appeal. It has pretty much every recreational activity one could wish for in one location. Although arts and cultural activities have waned in comparison – due to more dilapidated buildings being closed or due to the eviction of artists from leased buildings – the restoration of Building 30 represents a long-overdue arts & cultural space milestone for Magnuson Park that will finally be reached. And now under the rehabilitation Building 30 will also house thirty new artist studios.

It took three years of planning and scrimping to find the money, but in the end Magnuson Park will now be able to pursue one the goals that citizens had envisioned for the park, a location to host a vibrant cultural scene.


Since 2008 I have been advocating that revenue from automated traffic enforcement should fund road and pedestrian safety improvements as is recommended by the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Laws and Ordinances. Ninety-six percent of all violators who have paid their tickets have not gotten another violation. This is proof that these speed cameras are working to change driver behavior. By dedicating these funds to new traffic and pedestrian safety improvements, we can also change the physical environment through which drivers and walkers move.

Road SafetyThe Mayor and City Council finally adopted this practice in July of this year when the Council passed legislation mandating dollars from automated school zone speed cameras be dedicated to traffic and pedestrian safety improvements near schools.

This $14.8 million in new road safety investments is proposed to make traffic safety improvements around schools across the City.

Before passage of this law, the level of funding in the City’s capital budget for new crosswalks, signage and other safety enhancements was scheduled to occur at only 7 schools in 2013. This new revenue stream will allow improvements at 8 additional schools in 2013. Another $6 million will fund safety improvements at nearly 13 additional schools in 2014.

It took five years of lobbying, but I never gave up on my goal of earmarking these revenues to address Seattle’s much needed pedestrian safety improvements.

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