In The Hall
The Forever Tax
The biggest news coming out of the council on August 7 was the passage of Mayor Nickels's transportation tax package, which would pay for road and bridge maintenance citywide. The package includes a tax on commercial parking; a $25-per-employee tax on employers whose workers drive to work; and a ballot measure that would increase property taxes to pay for two-thirds of the proposed improvements.
The property tax has been billed as a $1.6 billion tax over 20 years. The problem is, the tax isn't limited to 20 years. Under state law, it can last forever. The 20-year timeline, in other words, is just a suggestion—a fact made abundantly clear by the nonbinding resolution the council passed as part of the package stating its "intention" that the city "will not levy any of the additional taxes that were authorized" under the measure. Although that resolution passed unanimously, the council was divided on the rest of the package, particularly the head tax, which Peter Steinbrueck called "the most odious of the new proposed taxes."
The Great Bed-and-Breakfast Debate of 2006 was also laid to rest on Monday after what seemed like hours of debate—over how many bedrooms should be allowed (four or, no kidding, five); whether owners of B&Bs should be allowed to make exterior alterations; whether they should be required to live in a house for a certain number of years (Jean Godden suggested five); and whether the public should get a say when a neighbor wants to open a bed-and-breakfast. Richard Conlin, looking mildly amused, began the discussion at Monday's council meeting sardonically: "This ordinance is based on the premise that bed-and-breakfasts are a good thing." It would be "perverse," Conlin added, for a prospective bed-and-breakfast owner to tear down a historic mansion to build a new structure, as opponents of the new legislation predicted. Godden, who proposed a perplexing series of amendments, countered that restricting B&Bs "protects the character of our single-family neighborhoods." Godden's four proposals to place new limitations on bed-and-breakfasts all failed.
Single-family neighborhoods were invoked yet again during Monday's debate over detached accessory dwelling units, also known as mother-in-law apartments. (The city estimates that allowing DADUs in Southeast Seattle, to which the new ordinance is limited, would lead to the construction of 10 to 20 units a year.) But while testifiers opposed bed-and-breakfasts because they would bring too many (presumably wealthy) visitors into single-family neighborhoods, they opposed DADUs for the opposite reason: because they would bring too many (presumably nonwealthy) new residents into those same single-family neighborhoods. One citizen who testified against allowing mother-in-law apartments warned of "more people, more trash, and more crime" in the city; another said DADUs were being "dumped" on disadvantaged neighborhoods. Nonetheless, the once-controversial legislation passed 8–1, with only Richard McIver, who predicted "major problems," voting in opposition.