In The Hall
The repeal of the CAP initiative Monday was unanimous and underwhelming—an anticlimactic finish for a once-sacrosanct law that limited downtown building heights for almost 20 years. So uncontroversial was the new law, proposed by onetime CAP campaigner Peter Steinbrueck, that the only matter left to settle Monday was how much money to make residential developers pay toward affordable housing: The mayor wanted $10 per square foot; Steinbrueck, and affordable-housing advocates like Real Change and the Seattle Alliance for Good Jobs and Housing for Everyone (SAGE), wanted $20. In the end, Steinbrueck (more or less) got his way: a tiered system in which the fee, called an "affordable housing bonus," increases on floors above the current limit, for an average per-foot bonus of $18.94. The bonus, though contentious, will only pay for about 600 new affordable units downtown (2,600 once an uncontroversial $10 bonus for commercial buildings is factored in)—one reason Steinbrueck called it "a very small contribution toward the very large and growing gap in downtown affordability."
Steinbrueck also won the mayor's support, albeit belatedly, for a tax on commercial parking: a proposal the mayor fought four years ago, when Steinbrueck first suggested a modest parking surcharge to fund "alternative transportation." Late last month, as part of his plan to bring Seattle into compliance with the Kyoto Protocols, Nickels proposed his own 10 percent tax on parking—the same level he had claimed would have a devastating "negative impact... on our business climate" just four years ago. According to a recent report by Nickels's cringingly named "green ribbon commission" on Kyoto compliance, a tax of at least 10 percent on parking "would have a substantial influence in reducing the number of vehicles and miles being driven in Seattle," reducing emissions and encouraging alternative transportation. (Nickels spokeswoman Marianne Bichsel did not return calls.)
"I'm very pleased the mayor's reintroducing my proposal," Steinbrueck said Monday. However, Steinbrueck said he wanted to see the parking-tax money pay for things like transit and bike lanes, not basic road maintenance. "If it's just a pothole fund, forget it."
SHARE/WHEEL, a cooperatively run shelter provider that stands to lose $350,000 in city funding for refusing to participate in Safe Harbors, a computerized database on the homeless, moved a small step closer last month to resolving its disagreements about Safe Harbors with the city, even as it lost a major ally. Two weeks ago, the Interfaith Task Force on Homelessness dismissed SHARE/WHEEL's objections to the program, calling it "both less intrusive and more secure than many such systems... around the country." Among other security measures, the ITFH noted, Safe Harbors' data is encrypted; no one is tracked individually; and anyone can opt out of the program. But ITFH's reassurances weren't enough for SHARE/WHEEL, which proposed a manual survey to replace the computerized program. So far, the city has not agreed to SHARE/WHEEL's unorthodox proposal (in a March 30 e-mail, Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis seemed skeptical), but the prospect of two new tent cities—both in public parks, since SHARE/WHEEL lacks the funds to cover washing facilities and portable toilets—may yet spur the city into action.
Confidential to Joel Connelly: If being friends with council staffers compromises the Stranger's journalistic integrity, do your dinners with Jean Godden, political consultant Cathy Allen, historian/gadfly Walt Crowley, and (until recently) Jim Compton compromise yours?