Is this the mayor of Seattle, or a Danny Westneat puppet?
Is this the Mayor of Seattle, or a Danny Westneat puppet? Kelly O

Never mind what you may have thought. The Seattle Times, not Mayor Ed Murray, runs Seattle. The mayor sent out this pathetic press release this afternoon:

Today Mayor Ed Murray issued the following statement announcing he will not recommend pursuing a Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) committee recommendation that could have changed 94 percent of single-family zones in Seattle. Instead, he is calling for renewed public dialogue on how best to increase affordable housing in denser neighborhoods:

“The Council and I created the HALA process because our city is facing a housing affordability crisis. In the weeks since the HALA recommendations were released, sensationalized reporting by a few media outlets has created a significant distraction and derailed the conversation that we need to have on affordability and equity.

But that's not all. Mayoral spokesperson Viet Shelton sent me this statement: "The Mayor is not actively pursuing HALA’s recommendation for changes for ADU/DADU’s [accessory dwelling units and detached accessory dwelling units, otherwise known as backyard cottages and mother in law apartments] in Single Family Zones."

That means the mayor is backing away from two of HALA's key recommendations (pages 26-27 of the HALA report) for more density in Seattle, and it is an all but swift and total capitulation to the Seattle Times.

This morning, Times columnist Danny Westneat declared "upzoning" in single-family zones dead. (Even though council elections that could test the public's feelings on this issue aren't for another six days, even though no one elected Danny Westneat mayor, and even though Westneat only quoted three council members—one of them retiring—about the issue.) In a matter of hours, Murray effectively agreed with Westneat, throwing out a key recommendation from his own 28-member housing committee, which put ten months worth of meetings into developing the report. LEADERSHIP!

Not cancelling the tunnel boondoggle, not pursuing municipal broadband, not asking the state to lift the ban on rent stabilization, not building housing for the homeless and low-income people using city bonds—Murray consistently ignores pressure from the progressive left on all this important stuff. But the wrath of single family homeowners and the Seattle Times? That he can't take.

"The HALA committee knew from the start that we were making recommendations," said David Wertheimer, the HALA-co-chair, "not making policy. We've delivered those recommendations and we stand by those recommendations. There's a process for turning recommendations into policy, which requires action from the mayor and the council. That process has clearly begun."

UPDATE: Code changes to allow for more backyard cottages and mother-in-law apartments (ADUs and DADUs) could still move forward, however. Staff for Council Member Mike O'Brien, who chairs the select housing affordability committee that will handle legislation based on HALA's recommendations, say despite the mayor's change in position, he'll still pursue making changes in single-family zones to encourage more density through those kinds of units.

"What I'm in favor of going forward is policies that will encourage multiple families to share housing in single family zoning in structures that exist today," O'Brien said, meaning ADUs, DADUs, and adaptive re-use of existing structures. "We need more people to be doing backyard cottages and mother-in-law apartments, and we have to promote them in a way that makes them doable." O'Brien said he's less clear about, and less interested in, HALA's recommendation regarding duplexes, triplexes, and rowhouses. That means on the council side, there's still space for at least one of the two HALA recommendations that Murray has backed away from today to make progress towards becoming law.