Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels has spent a busy summer trying to line developers’ pockets, most notably with a proposal in June to expand property tax exemptions for builders for median income condos and (if any remain by 2008) apartments. But Hizzoner topped himself in the dog days late last month with a quiet proposal to gut permitting and environmental review requirements for new projects — a new pinnacle of cynicism not just because it’s another giveaway to developers that encourages the teardowns of what’s left of this city’s semi-affordable housing stock, but because of how he sold it.
From the mayor’s press release, entitled — I kid you not — “Mayor Nickels proposes ways to encourage smart growth: Changing SEPA thresholds to meet today’s climate change challenges:
Mayor Greg Nickels has submitted legislation to the City Council this week that will encourage environmentally friendly growth in Seattle neighborhoods, promote housing affordability and reform out-of-date land use regulations. “Every decision facing us today has a direct impact on climate change and our planet,” said Nickels…
The mayor’s proposal will change the threshold for SEPA review for downtown residential zones from 20 to 80 units, from four to six units in low-rise duplex/triplex projects; from 20 to 30 units in designated urban villages and urban centers. Thresholds will remain the same for industrial projects. Under the new thresholds, all parking will increase from 20 to 40 stalls.
Larger projects will be subject to the SEPA thresholds based on the size and location of a proposed project. The proposed changes will help to streamline permit review for new development, and reduce barriers that add delay, cost and risks to development of new housing and businesses.
SEPA, for those of you not up on your bureaucratese, is the State Environmental Policy Act, Washington’s equivalent to the federal Environmental Impact Statement. SEPA allows local municipalities to determine how large a project needs to be before its size triggers a SEPA review, and what Nickels is proposing is increasing that threshold by from 150 to 400 percent. If approved by City Council it would be a massive gift to developers.
It warms the cockles of one’s heart to think that Nickels is proposing such measures not because he’s in bed with their beneficiaries, but because he wants to save the planet. You see, according to Nickels, anything that makes more money in Seattle for developers by definition discourages sprawl, and therefore helps stop global warming in its tracks. Your new high-end condo could save a polar bear’s life.
But why stop there? Saving the planet is serious business; it won’t be accomplished simply with a tax break here and a gutted regulation there. Nickels needs to think bigger, and undoubtably he is. Look for these proposed measures soon:
* What’s this 20 to 40 stalls nonsense? Abolish parking. Cuts CO2 emissions (except for those clueless out-of-towners circling the block for hours…) and eliminates developers’ need to provide parking.
* Cut down all trees in the city. “More good, socially conscious projects get held up by some stupid old tree than any other single factor,” Nickels will say, before promising to minimize CO2 by replacing each tree with a new twig on a one-to-one basis.
* Abolish all height limits and setback requirements on new buildings. It’s the only conceivable way to save the Inuit way of life.
* Ban back yards.
* Bulldoze all environmentally sensitive areas. (Happily, the city has already gotten a head start on this one.) Lots of potential for new townhomes here.
* Have Seattle taxpayers pay for all construction costs. Expensive, sure, but so is building a levee to save downtown from rising sea levels.
* Rather than paying bothersome, expensive relocation fees to tenants whose homes are being destroyed, developers may simply pass the tenants along to the city, which will shoot them. (They didn’t want to live in Auburn anyway.)
These sure-fire environmental winners are a slam dunk to sail through city council. Just ask newly minted environmentalist Jean Godden, who, when asked for comment on the mayor’s planet-saving proposals, rolled on her back and asked to have her tummy rubbed.
The fact that these ideas, like the mayor’s current proposals, would help to make the mayor’s rich buddies that much richer, is strictly a coincidence. And the fact that they will force still more poor, working, and middle class people out of the city is — well, look, do you want to save that polar bear or not?