Seattle Times op ed “Don’t believe HALA upzone hype”

Excerpt from the Seattle Times op ed written by Seattle Fair Growth board member Susanna Lin:

“The city has produced a biased study that does not honestly or accurately assess the impacts of those zoning changes on displacement, the loss of tree canopy, school capacity, historic and cultural resources, transportation, small businesses and infrastructure. The city’s document also fails to study alternatives beyond upzones that could better address our affordability crisis with fewer adverse impacts

The concern about the city’s upzone proposals are so great it has spurred more than two dozen community groups from across Seattle to come together to file a legal appeal challenging the adequacy of the study. The new coalition is called Seattle Coalition for Affordability, Livability and Equity. It is composed of neighborhood, housing and homeless advocacy groups, small business and environmental groups from across Seattle. sdr

To read the full piece, click on this link:

To donate to the Coalition’s appeal against the HALA upzone impact study, click here:



Seattle Fair Growth mentioned in the French publication Le Monde diplomatique…

“Susanna Lin, of the Seattle Fair Growth association, lives in the Wallingford district, recently invaded by developers. She said: ‘You can’t just let the developers build and build and build, and not also build schools, and not also invest in transit, and not also invest in sewers, in roads, in fire protection.”

For the full story, please follow this link:

Get out the vote!

**Ballots due November 7th**
Seattle does not need more developer-funded elected officials in City Hall.  Seattle Fair Growth recommends the following candidates for City Council:
  • Vote: Jon Grant, City Council position 8
    Jon Grant is a housing advocate and grass roots organizer.  He is not taking any campaign contributions from developers or CEOs.  He is advocating for a tax on our wealthiest corporations to build 5,000 units of public housing, which would virtually end unsheltered homelessness in Seattle.  If you want someone with real solutions to our housing crisis, vote Jon Grant for City Council, position 8
  • Vote: Pat Murakami, City Council position 9
    Pat has decades of experience advocating and volunteering for our neighborhoods, public safety and our schools.  She is a strong voice against developer-driven policies and upzones and is not taking political campaign contributions from developers.  If you want a strong neighborhood voice on City Council, vote Pat Murakami for City Council, position 9.

Wallyhood: “The life and death of our Neighborhood Plan”

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Using Wallingford as an example, this post on the Wallyhood blog shows us how much our neighborhood planning process has fallen over the years.   Click here to read the full blog post.

Attend the city hosted meeting on October 26th to demand the City return to a neighborhood-driven planning process.

Comprehensive Plan Amendment Meeting:
Thursday, October 26, 2017, 6 – 7:30PM
Hales Brewery (in the Palladium)
4301 Leary Way NW, Seattle, WA 98107

Two topics covered: (1) City asking you to write single family zoning out of our Neighborhood Plans, (2) What impacts should be studied for proposed backyard cottage/in-law apartment legislation

Meeting announcement:

Seattle Fair Growth weighs in on new upzone in Uptown

KOMO News Interview 2

“It is simply a raw deal for our community. The actual affordable housing is not going to be built onsite. The majority of it is going to be paid in lieu. So unfortunately a lot of people think they’re going to get affordable housing, but it’s not even going to be in the areas that these zoning changes are occurring.” Jon Lisbin from Seattle Fair Growth

To view the full KOMO news story, follow this link:



Jon Grant is raising money from everyday people, not downtown developers and special interests. That is why you should vote for him.

I am excited at the prospect of having Jon Grant as a City Councilmember and I am proud to endorse him. Formerly the Executive Director of the Washington Tenants Union, Jon is now running for the open seat on City Council, position 8 on a platform of empowering community voices and addressing our affordability housing crisis.  I encourage all of you to support his campaign and vote for him in the general election when you receive your ballot in October.


As a neighborhood activist and blogger, I am someone who is always pushing for transparency in our local government. I am disappointed by many of our current elected officials and the HALA propaganda show that has been coming out of City Hall. We need a livable Seattle and equitable housing policies, not upzones that benefit large developers like Vulcan at the expense of everyone else. As so much money is entering our region, it is important that those with the green do not exploit our Emerald City.

Jon Grant is a man of the people. He understands that too many of the current City Councilmembers are in the pockets of big developers and special interest groups. I respect and trust Jon because he is not accepting donations from developers, corporations or CEOs.  In contrast his opponent, Teresa Mosqueda, has accepted a maxed out donation from Maria Barrientos, a developer who helped negotiate the “Grand Bargain” and whose development in Queen Anne is displacing the beloved Teatro Zinzanni.

Jon understands that the current HALA “Grand Bargain” is a bad deal for the neighborhoods.  He was the only member of the Mayor Murray’s HALA committee who abstained from the final vote because he knew that neighborhoods and the community were getting a bad deal.  Jon does not support one-size fits all upzones and feels that neighborhoods should have a say in how they grow.  He has advocated for higher affordability mandates in every upzone before the Council thus far and has worked in coalition with neighborhoods like the Chinatown/International District in fighting gentrification and displacement.

Jon is advocating for 25% of all new development to be affordable to working people, which is comparable to other cities with similar programs (currently the city is only requiring developers to set aside 2-9% of units as affordable or pay a fee).  His opponent does not support increasing affordability mandates.

His opponent fully supports HALA’s upzoning and has been endorsed by City Council Land Use chair Rob Johnson, who is leading the push to rezone the neighborhoods while requiring very little in return from the wealthy, downtown developers.  In contrast, Jon Grant has been endorsed by Councilmember Lisa Herbold, who is currently the strongest advocate on the Council for neighborhood-friendly policies.  Jon Grant would make a strong ally with Lisa Herbold to push back against Rob Johnson’s pro-developer policies.

Jon will fight for those least fortunate, people who are at risk of being displaced from our current development boom and those who have already been displaced and are living on our streets.  His first volunteer job as a teen was for Real Change and he has been advocating for the homeless and to prevent homelessness ever since.  Jon, together with Seattle’s People’s Party and Councilmember Kshama Sawant, has announced a plan to build 5,000 homes for the homeless in five years.  This would effectively provide shelter for all of those communities currently living on our streets.

Jon Grant is a true, grassroots neighborhood organizer who has a strong history of fighting for the underrepresented and standing up to wealthy developers and special interests.  This is not a time to sit passively by, get involved in Jon Grant’s campaign and take back our city from the monied interests who are currently pulling the strings.  And above all else, vote for Jon Grant when you get your ballot in October!

HALA Update and Timeline


Mayor Ed Murray’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda, or HALA, has been bulldozing its way through City Hall.  HALA allows developers to build more by changing the zoning, and in exchange developers are required to include affordable units in their buildings or pay an in lieu fee to have those affordable units built somewhere else (my money is on the latter).

While the City claims this will improve affordability, critics such as myself see these upzones as only pouring gasoline on the fire.  Too little is required of developers and this plan incentivizes tearing down our most affordable homes.  HALA will metaphorically bulldoze over any remaining neighborhood character and buildings of historical value and displace low income renters and small businesses.  Not to mention City Hall has a deaf ear to neighborhood input on how we grow and that without any upzones at all we have development capacity that is more than sufficient for expected growth.  But the City continues on…

The specific HALA program that in essence sells upzones to developers in exchange for fees is called Mandatory Affordable Housing or MHA.  So far the City has upzoned those areas that have had planning efforts in the works for the last few years (although neighborhood activists have lamented that the City’s  “outreach” has ignored neighbors concerns).  MHA upzones have been implemented in the U District, Downtown/South Lake Union, the International District, 23rd & Jackson/Cherry/Union and Uptown.

That leaves the remaining urban villages, many of which have not had any recent meaningful neighborhood planning (at the time of this writing the draft zoning maps for the remaining urban villages can be found here).  Because of this, the City has been required to perform an Environmental Impact Study (EIS) to look at the effects of the zoning changes.  Given the varying attributes of the many different neighborhoods concerned, it is surprising the City is lumping them all together, but that is the faster way to get things done.

The draft EIS gave three alternatives to study.  These were 1) No Action, 2) MHA upzones, & 3) MHA upzones with growth spread around differently to minimize displacement in areas with existing affordable housing.  Excuse me, but why are both “alternatives” just different versions of MHA?

City Hall: Neighborhoods, would you like your upzones sunny side up or scrambled?  Sorry, upzones are the only option we have on the menu today.
Neighborhoods: Umm, excuse me City Hall but I’m pretty sure upzones are not the only option available to provide affordable housing.  (Actually on our website we have a lot of other options

According to Jesseca Brand from the Department of Neighborhoods, the final EIS will include a preferred alternative with recommended zoning changes for the remaining urban villages.  The Executive is expected to send these recommended zoning changes to City Council by late summer or early fall at the latest.

The City Council is currently putting together their work plan for next year.  Although this timeline is not finalized, the current estimate is the Council will vote on these zoning changes mid-2018 (think June, July or August).

This legislation for all of the remaining urban villages, will be sent by the Executive to City Council as a whole.  Meaning all of the remaining neighborhoods are lumped together.  There will be zoning changes on all of the maps, but this one-sized-fits all approach is not neighborhood planning.  

This is really opening up the flood gates to let developers build much larger throughout large swaths of the City, regardless of whether the schools have capacity, the transportation options are sufficient or the sewers are updated.  The Growth Management Act requires concurrent planning for infrastructure with growth and the City is falling short.  And to add salt to the wound there is zero promise that affordable housing will be built inside these affected neighborhoods, and zero promise that there will be a net gain in affordable units since this plan incentivizes tearing down our most affordable housing to build larger, luxury units.

One key roadblock neighborhood activists could put forth, is to formally appeal the EIS with the City’s Hearing Examiner.  The final EIS is expected to be released in the coming weeks (perhaps mid September or October, but the date has not been finalized yet).  The EIS will be published on the City’s website at and will be announced on the HALA newsletter (sign up at the link just mentioned).  Also, if you submitted comments for the draft EIS (kudos to you), the City should notify you directly that the EIS has been published.  Once the final EIS has been published, a challenger has only FOURTEEN DAYS from date of publish to submit an appeal to the City’s Hearing Examiner.  Fourteen days!  Seriously?  These documents are longer than a grad school chemistry textbook.  If the EIS is challenged, then the City Council can continue to deliberate on the legislation, but cannot vote until the appeal is resolved.

I’ve been binge watching this HALA show for about a year and a half.  I’ve been to more City Council and local government meetings than I can count.  Time and again, I have watched most of the City Council disregard many thoughtful arguments put forth to challenge HALA.  They do not respond to reasonable dialogue and already have their minds made up.  In my personal opinion, the current City Council will only be stopped by a formal challenge.

Land Use Chair Rob Johnson and the majority of the City Council are in the pockets of big developers like Vulcan.  If you are a group who is considering challenging this thing (please do) then get your ducks in a row now.  If you would like to hire an attorney to help with the appeal, get one lined up and start thinking about funding.  Because you only have FOURTEEN stinking days to challenge the EIS once it’s released and it will be released soon.  And if you are not in a position to challenge, but want to fight this thing, please be on the lookout to respond to donation requests to cover the legal fees.  Because these fights are expensive and so called “wealthy” neighborhood groups often operate on a shoestring budget.

Timeline Summary

  • Final EIS to be released in the coming weeks (possibly mid September or October, date not finalized)
  • You have only FOURTEEN DAYS from the date of publish to submit an appeal to the Hearing Examiner
  • If EIS is not challenged, City Council is expected to vote on the rezone legislation mid-2018 (date also not finalized)

Hearing Examiner Public Guide (how to file an appeal, etc.):

Not overwhelmed yet and want to read more?  Here’s my recommendations to stay informed:

City wants to eviscerate design review for neighborhood scale projects – Comments due Monday, July 10

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Expect fewer public notices if design review “improvements” are approved.

The City is proposing design review “improvements,” but depending on which camp you are in you may not see these changes as improving anything.  The city’s proposed changes would effectively eliminate design review from neighborhood sized projects, basically telling everyday residents of Seattle, we don’t want to hear your voice and telling developers they are free to do whatever they want.  So beware when a candidate or city official tells you they are a fan of “streamlined design review.”  The reality is removing your voice from the conversation.

You know what most the design reviews I’ve been to are about?  Trying to get the developers to just follow the damn rules.  Because there is this lovely thing called a “departure,” which means the developer politely asks the city if they can break the rules and not follow building code.  And now, they want to do this out of the eyes of the public.

For example, if the code says there should be a 10 foot setback from the property line, but the developers have a really good reason why they simply must build to the property line, that would be a “departure.”  Or the code says the upper floors should be set back to allow some light to reach the neighboring home, but the developers much prefer the extra square footage they get with a sheer 50 foot wall, and they aren’t really concerned that its abutting a single family home.  Or how about just a little common neighborly decency?  Like the design review where the developers of a 50 unit apartment building wanted to put their dumpsters right next to the window of a legal backyard cottage.  

These are all real examples of what happens at a design review.  They are not stopping development.  Just look around you, buildings are going up at a dizzying pace.  It just gives neighbors a second to say to the city and the developers, “Hey, would you want to live next to that?”  Which in an ideal world, developers would be doing anyway.  But in the commercial environment we are living in, unfortunately profits are often more of a concern than quality of life for the people around them.

So please take a moment and write a letter.  I will leave you with an excerpt from the Wallingford Community Council’s website, which includes a sample letter at the end.  If you would like to see the full call to action please click here:

Wallingford Community Council "Kite Hill" logo

Proposed changes that impact neighborhoods include:

  • Removing neighborhoods from the process by replacing language such as:
    • “Neighborhood priorities among the design guidelines” with “identify guideline priorities”.
    • “Highest priority to the neighborhood” with “highest priority to the Board”.
  • Exempting projects on properties of less than 10,000 square feet from any design review. In the past 2 years, 29% of projects were in this category. For perspective: most four story apartment buildings are on properties of less than 10,000 square feet.
  • Restricting the scope of the Design Review Process:
    • Administrative – Developments inside Urban Villages get Administrative Design Review, with no public meetings, if less than 20,000 square feet.
    • Hybrid – Developments up to 20,000 square feet (or larger inside an Urban Village) would require only the Design Review Board “Recommendation” meeting and not the “Early Design Guidance” meeting.
    • Full – Only the largest developments, over 20,000 square feet, and only outside Urban Village boundaries, would require the normal Design Review Board “Early Design Guidance” and “Recommendation” meetings.
  • Revising who is a stakeholder by changing straightforward terms such as “Developers” to more generic terms like “Project Proponents”.
  • Shifting responsibility and authority from the Design Review Board to the Director. This has the effect of making Design Review Boards less independent, and will make the Board positions less attractive to the professionals who volunteer their time.
  • Granting departures from design guidelines without public review.

Submit your comments by Monday July 10, 5:00 PM to William Mills, Land Use Planner Supervisor, at or by mail to:
City of Seattle, SDCI
Attn: William Mills
PO Box 94788
Seattle, WA 98124-7088

Please send your comments to the City Council by phone, 206-684-8888, or by email:

Please submit your comments to Mayor Murray:

Your input DOES MATTER!  Last year, due to comments and push-back from all over the city, the proposed changes were tabled until now.

Feel free to send version of these suggested comments:

I oppose the amendments to the Land Use Code (Title 23 SMC) to modify the design review process. 

The Design Review Process is meant to bring three perspectives together, the developer, the designer, and the community. The proposed changes drastically reduce the involvement of the community, creating an imbalance of input. Without the checks and balances of inclusive design review, growth can destroy neighborhoods. With them, they strengthen the character and quality of the neighborhood while adding housing & commercial spaces. 

I oppose the proposal to eliminate design review for developments under 10,000 square feet within Seattle (a four story apartment house is under 10,000 square feet). I live in Seattle, and I believe this, combined with the proposed Grand Bargain HALA MHA upzones and new zoning definitions for almost all of the residential zones and neighborhood commercial zone, will lead to an unchecked and un-reviewed redevelopment frenzy in my neighborhood.

When combined with the Grand Bargain HALA MHA upzone and new zoning definitions, this rule change will allow 40+ foot tall, zero-lot-line developments to appear next to single-family homes without any kind of notice, review, or public hearing. This type of development will negatively impact the livability and quality of the city. The community has a right to participate in the approval process. I ask that you prevent these rule changes from occurring.

Please leave the Design Process as is, and instead, direct the city to start enforcing design guidelines. Too many departures are being granted, too many setback requirements are being ignored, and too many loopholes are being exploited due to poor enforcement.

Learn more about the draft recommendations here:

Design Review Program Improvements, Seattle Department of Construction & Inspections (SDCI).
Draft Ordinance (PDF format).