Councilmember Abel Pacheco (District 4, Northeast Seattle) and Councilmember Mike O’Brien (District 6, Northwest Seattle), along with their Council colleagues, voted 8-0 to pass SEPA reform through Council Bill 119600, updating the City’s environmental review process to better align with the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA).
Councilmembers Pacheco and O’Brien cited many examples in which SEPA was used by individuals to try and prevent housing diversity and sustainable infrastructure improvements in Seattle, rather than to protect the environment, which was the original intent of the State Environmental Policy Act. C.B. 119600 updates City codes to reflect recent changes to state law, made by E2SHB 1923, that exempt some environmentally-friendly Land Use Code changes from appeals under SEPA.
“SEPA is a tool meant to protect the environment. But from Fort Lawton to Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) to the Bullitt Center, SEPA has too often become weaponized to intentionally delay projects that had broad consensus,” Pacheco said. “We all acknowledge that we are in both a housing and climate crisis. SEPA reform legislation streamlines the process and cuts through ‘red tape’, allowing Seattle to adequately respond to its housing shortage and advance its climate goals.”
“SEPA reform will prevent individuals from unnecessarily delaying or blocking strong environmental policies, such as denser housing closer to transit, or backyard cottages, which was delayed for three years due to SEPA appeals,” said O’Brien. “This legislation was considered in response to local environmental groups calling for common sense changes to improve SEPA, recognizing that excessive SEPA repeals delayed hundreds of badly needed affordable housing units from being built.”
The legislation was supported by a broad range of environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, 350 Seattle, and Futurewise.
“One of the most important things we can do for the environment is to make it easier for people to live near where they work and play,” said Sierra Club Seattle Group Chair Brittney Bush Bollay. “Council Bill 119600 smoothes the path for adding much-needed housing in our city by preventing predatory delay of projects that are already well-studied and clearly safe and green. In the midst of both a housing and a climate crisis, we must do all we can to enable the creation of new homes in locations that reduce car dependency and allow people to choose to walk, bus, bike, or roll around the city.”
Highlights of Council Bill 119600:
- Limits Hearing Examiner SEPA appeal hearings to 120 days, with an option to extend to 150 days if all parties agree
- Clarifies that additional and voluntary subjects covered in an Environmental Impact Statement are not subject to appeal
- Aligns City code with changes to state law such as HB 1923
- Updates SEPA thresholds for Urban Villages to match Urban Centers, exempting projects with less than 200 units and 12,000 square feet
- Allows the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections to create a SEPA Handbook that provides guidelines for consistent analysis