Hearing on appeal of Seattle’s MHA upzone plan by 29 community groups begins this Monday, June 25th 9am (Location: City Hearing Examiner Room 4009 Seattle Municipal Tower)

by Susanna Lin and John Fox

Lawyers for 29 neighborhood groups will convene in Hearing Room 4009 (40th Floor) of the Seattle Municipal Tower, 9am Monday June 25th, to tell the City Hearing Examiner why the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the City’s massive “MHA” upzone plan must be redone.  This unprecedented coalition of groups from every corner of the city is seeking a more detailed, accurate and thorough assessment of how the plan affects both the affordability and livability of our city.  In doing so, they’ll be asking a very fundamental question: Is upzoning the best way to make Seattle more affordable while growing gracefully in a way that benefits everyone? Their appeal, they say, is in effect an attempt to ensure that City Hall at least will give the community an honest and unbiased look at that question.   

MHA, or Mandatory Housing Affordability, is a program that allows developers to build to increased heights and density inside urban villages and multifamily zones. In exchange for the potential to build more lucrative buildings, developers will be required to include affordable units onsite or pay into an affordable housing fund to be managed by the City (most developers will likely chose the fee option).

Because this is a large land use change, the City is required to produce an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) so it may identify and mitigate for any negative impacts of this policy. Seattle Coalition for Affordability Livability and Equity (SCALE) has filed an appeal against the City due to the City producing a flawed and biased study and not looking at reasonable alternatives as required by the EIS statute.

The SCALE coalition has grown to include 29 community groups from across Seattle, including TreePAC, West Seattle Junction Neighborhood Organization (JuNO), U District Small Businesses and Seattle Fair Growth to name a few. It should be a wakeup call to the City that so many organizations from around the City have decided to join this coalition to stand up to City Hall.

MHA has so far been passed in downtown, South Lake Union, University District, Chinatown International District and Uptown. Prior to upzoning, each of these urban villages received individual Environmental Impact Statements. However, now the City has lumped together the remaining 27 urban villages in an EIS that is insufficient to study the differences between them. Northgate is very different from Othello and they each deserve individual attention such has been the standard so far.

The structure of an EIS dictates that the City must study reasonable alternatives to their proposal in order to determine what is the best way to reach the City’s goals with the least negative impacts. However, the City failed to look at other options and instead only looked at alternatives that were different versions of upzoning. MHA will have significant impacts such as an increase in displacement, loss of communities and historical buildings, undue stress on schools and infrastructure and loss of tree canopy as lots are clear cut to make room for higher density. There is a myriad of other options available to produce affordable housing. A wonderful report written by the Community Housing Caucus in 2015 details pages and pages of possible solutions, but unfortunately this report is mostly just collecting dust on the shelf, while City Hall pushes forward with the increasingly unpopular upzones.

The Environmental Impact Study is an important tool that we have to take a critical look at potential impacts of proposed legislation. It should not be manipulated in order that political pet projects be pushed through without honest evaluation. And in the end, political egos should not be what matters. It should be how do we make Seattle more affordable and more livable with the least negative impacts.20180130_192217.jpg

The hearing dates are currently scheduled for June 25-29, July 23-27 and August 20-24. Location: Seattle Municipal Tower, Time: 9AM.

For the most up-to-date information on the schedule, please see the calendar of the Hearing Examiner: http://www.seattle.gov/examiner/calendar.htm

To learn more about the SCALE Appeal or to make a donation to help cover legal fees, please visit seattlefairgrowth.org/appeal

Please write the Mayor and City Council to let them know you support the SCALE appeal and encourage them to work with the residents affected.

jenny.durkan@seattle.gov, bruce.harrell@seattle.gov, sally.bagshaw@seattle.gov, Lorena.Gonzalez@seattle.gov, Lisa.Herbold@seattle.gov, Rob.Johnson@seattle.gov, Debora.Juarez@seattle.gov, Teresa.Mosqueda@seattle.gov, Mike.OBrien@seattle.gov, Kshama.Sawant@seattle.gov


Developers should not be exempt in new ordinance to protect Seattle’s trees 


Upzones will result in loss of exceptional trees with replacement by smaller ones.

by Steve Zemke and Susanna Lin

Look around at any development site in Seattle, and you will usually find it clear cut of any trees or vegetation that used to be there. Given the record breaking development boom we are experiencing, and the City Council preparing to add more density with upzones across Seattle, and it becomes clear that protecting our trees in the face of rampant development should be of the upmost importance.

With the current proposal to increase density through zoning changes in 27 urban villages and multifamily zones across Seattle, the City was required to produce an Environmental Impact Statement or EIS to evaluate the negative impacts this increase in density may produce.

The EIS produced by the City says that the Tree Protection ordinance and regulations are sufficient to deal with trees during development. Yet the Tree Regulations Research Project done internally last year by the City said that “Current code is not protecting trees.” “We are losing exceptional trees (and groves) in general.” “Development and hardscape increase result in tree loss. Conifers and large tree species are coming out with deciduous and dwarf species are coming in.” The inadequacy of our current tree protection is one of the issues in the MHA EIS appeal.

While the Tree Regulations report was cited in the bibliography, its conclusions are not discussed in the EIS and its conclusions are contrary to what the EIS said. In the draft EIS they mentioned in the bibliography the Tree Regulations Research Project report, but put no link to it. It was not publicly available. The report contradicted what the City said in the EIS. The report was finally secured through a public records request after failed attempts to have it discussed by the city at the Urban Forestry Commission.

With increased development occurring, our trees and urban forest are being removed at a faster pace but adequate mitigation is not in place to replace the benefits trees provide like cleaning our air we breathe and reducing storm water runoff. Seattle needs to require developers to replace trees removed or pay a fee to the city to replant them. The city needs to update its existing tree ordinance to require this. 

Councilmember Rob Johnson has a proposal to update to Seattle’s Tree Protection Ordinance, which would require private homeowners to get permits to remove trees and replace trees removed but would not require developers to do so, according to the draft outline in a memo he had Council staff discuss last week before the Planning, Land Use and Zoning Committee.

Here are the recommendations the Coalition for a Stronger Tree Ordinance made:
Action Needed Now to Protect Seattle’s Trees and Urban Forest

Here are the recommendations the Seattle Urban Forestry Commission made:
Tree regulations update “Trees for All” proposal recommendation 

Here is the memo from City Council Central Staff and Rob Johnson that needs strengthening:
Draft Updates to Seattle’s Tree Regulations

Tree Regulations Research Project – Final Report  March 31, 2017

Councilmember Johnson is trying to get this passed by August, the same timeline he is working on for the MHA upzone legislation. Johnson in his memo from Council staff, however, proposes exempting developers from having to get permits to remove trees and replace them on site or pay the city to do so elsewhere. He also supports a 12″ threshold diameter rather than 6 ” diameter which would cover 45% of the trees on single family lots.

E-mails to the Mayor and City Council are needed now as Councilmember Johnson is proposing releasing a draft on June 20th at the Planning, Land Use and Zoning Committee. We are trying to put pressure on the Council to do the right thing by:

  • Including developers in all zones in tree protection requirements
  • Doing canopy assessments prior to issuing construction permits
  • Requiring permits to remove any tree over 6 ” DBH
  • Requiring replacement on site or pay into a city Tree Replacement and Maintenance Fund for all trees removed
  • Requiring all Tree Care Professionals to be licensed as SDOT already does
    remove the exemption of lots less than 5000 sq ft from complying with the Tree Protection Ordinance.

You can help by sending them an e-mail now.  Thanks.

Contact information for the Mayor and City Council
Mayor Jenny Durkan: jenny.durkan@seattle.gov

Councilmember Lisa Herbold (District 1): lisa.herbold@seattle.gov
Councilmember Bruce Harrell (District 2): bruce.harrell@seattle.gov
Councilmember Kshama Sawant (District 3): kshama.sawant@seattle.gov
Councilmember Rob Johnson (District 4): rob.johnson@seattle.gov
Councilmember Debora Juarez (District 5): debora.juarez@seattle.gov
Councilmember Mike O’Brien (District 6): mike.obrien@seattle.gov
Councilmember Sally Bagshaw (District 7): sally.bagshaw@seattle.gov
Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda (Position 8): teresa.mosqueda@seattle.gov
Councilmember Lorena González (Position 9): lorena.gonzalez@seattle.gov

More than two dozen community groups have joined together to take legal action against the City stating it has not adequately studied the negative impacts of the proposed upzones. To learn more about the appeal, click here.

Have you donated yet to the appeal?

If you have, will you dig deeper and donate more?

The City has not adequately assessed the negative impacts of its planned upzones, nor studied reasonable alternatives to upzoning to create affordable housing. 

This is why Seattle Coalition for Affordability, Livability and Equity (
SCALE) has filed a legal appeal of the Environmental Impact Statement with the Hearing Examiner against the City.

SCALE logo

28 community groups are joined together as SCALE to take legal action against the City to demand an honest and unbiased assessment of the impacts of upzoning on neighborhoods, tree canopy loss, displacement, schools and small businesses.

SCALE has been successful in funding our legal fees so far, with the generous support of Seattle citizens, Coalition members and a number of skilled volunteer lawyers among us. However, this is a very large and complex appeal.

In order to fund next legal steps, we need to redouble our fundraising efforts in April. Can you help now?

Thank you for caring about the future of our city as a livable place for all!

Please make a donation today! 

Simply click on the green button!

Checks made out to Seattle Fair Growth can be mailed to:

Seattle Fair Growth
2442 NW Market Street, Box 487
Seattle, WA 98107

Seattle Fair Growth is acting as fiscal agent for Seattle Coalition for Affordability, Livability and Equity (SCALE).

If your community organization is interested in joining us and would like a presentation from SCALE, please contact sfg@seattlefairgrowth.com.
To learn more about why we are appealing the Mandatory Housing Affordability Environmental Impact Statement please read the following editorial from our legal team – All of Seattle’s Neighborhoods deserve a say in upzoning upheaval as well as Susanna Lin’s op-ed in the Seattle Times Entitled “Don’t believe HALA upzone hype

Urgent action needed, including emailing individual Seattle City Councilmembers and the Mayor, to prevent further reductions of on-street parking in crowded neighborhoods

Last year, Livable Phinney won a great victory before the Hearing Examiner. Seattle City Code allows efficiency unit developments with no parking in neighborhoods with “frequent transit.” The flawed rationale is that if transit is frequent, cars aren’t needed. Frequent transit is defined as one bus every 15 minutes. Livable Phinney was able to show for a project in their neighborhood that, though the bus schedule shows buses arriving every 15 minutes, in actuality, 40% of the time, buses were not “frequent,” so the Hearing Examiner agreed that an efficiency unit development without parking was illegal and couldn’t be built.

The Seattle City Council majority refuses to address parking overcrowding and is prepared to change the definition of “frequent transit” from one bus every 15 minutes to one bus every 20 minutes to continue to avoid addressing parking.

The Herbold Amendment: Councilmember Lisa Herbold has proposed an amendment (see attached) to address parking overcrowding in some neighborhoods. Under current City Code, even if a parking study shows a development will aggravate parking overcrowding, STAFF CANNOT ADD MITIGATING CONDITIONS to address parking. Under the Herbold Amendment, if on-street parking occupancy in the surrounding neighborhood is at or above 85%, staff can add mitigating conditions, such as requiring additional off-street parking, denying RPZ passes to buildings shown to aggravate parking overcrowding, or other measures.

ACTION REQUESTED:  Please email the listed Councilmembers and Mayor urging them to support the Herbold Amendment, which will probably be considered by the full City Council at its April 2, 2018 meeting at 2PM in City Hall. It is critical that we support Councilmember Herbold to show the full City Council how important parking is to the neighborhoods. A simple, sample email that can be used or modified is provided below; the below list of Councilmembers and Mayor could be pasted in the “To:” field, though separate emails to each Councilmember and the Mayor would probably be more effective.

Use this template or write your own:

Dear Councilmembers and Mayor:

Please support Councilmember Herbold’s amendment to Council Bill 119173, off-street parking regulations, currently scheduled for consideration by the full City Council on April 2, 2018.  The amendment allows, but doesn’t require, parking mitigation for an individual project, when on-street parking occupancy in the surrounding neighborhood is at or above 85%.

lisa.herbold@seattle.gov, bruce.harrell@seattle.gov, kshama.sawant@seattle.gov, rob.johnson@seattle.gov, debora.juarez@seattle.gov, mike.obrien@seattle.gov, sally.bagshaw@seattle.gov , teresa.mosqueda@seattle.gov, lorena.gonzalez@seattle.gov, jenny.durkan@seattle.gov

The Herbold Amendment Summary: Councilmember Lisa Herbold has proposed an amendment to CB119221 (previously CB119173) to address parking overcrowding in some neighborhoods.

Under current City Code, even if a parking study shows a development will aggravate parking overcrowding, staff cannot add mitigating conditions to address parking.

Under the Herbold Amendment, if on-street parking occupancy in the surrounding neighborhood is at or above 85%, staff can add mitigating conditions, such as requiring additional off-street parking, denying RPZ passes to buildings shown to aggravate parking overcrowding, or other measures.

Councilmember Lisa Herbold Amendment – SEPA mitigation of off-street parking impacts

READ full text here (updated): Council Bill 119173: Potential amendments for vote – Attachment 9. Amendment Fa: SEPA mitigation authority 

This amendment would change the City’s policies under the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) to allow the city to condition approval of development on parking for projects within an area with frequent transit service in an urban village and to allow mitigation of parking impacts through limits on RPZ permits.

The City’s SEPA policies, pursuant to Washington State law, require analysis of impacts of development on parking. If impacts are identified, the City’s SEPA policies provide a range of methods to mitigate those impacts, including:

  • Transportation management programs;
  • Parking management and allocation plans;
  • Incentives for use of alternatives to single-occupancy vehicles;
  • Increasing the amount of parking required for the development; or
  • Reducing non-residential development densities.

However, the SEPA policies remove the authority to mitigate parking impacts from individual projects in areas where parking requirements have been removed. This includes the following areas:

  • Most Urban Centers, such as Capitol Hill/First Hill, Downtown, South Lake Union, Uptown and parts of the University Community;
  • Station Area Overlay districts (around light rail stations);
  • Parts of urban villages within a frequent transit service area; and
  • Areas where on-street parking is not at capacity and would not be at capacity after the development.

The proposed amendment would allow parking mitigation in frequent transit service areas in urban villages when parking is at or over 85% capacity and would allow restrictions on RPZ permits as a potential mitigation measure.

You tell me this filthy choking air is progress, that your steel and glass boxes are better than each tree, happy, green, full of life

Poem for May 16th by James A. StansberryIMG_20171019_075935.jpg

From the many tribes singing in my blood
I come and I say, you are the same people
who brought trinkets, worthless then, less now
to bargain, we would have simply welcomed you
to our land, but, you could not hear it
singing then, cannot hear it crying now
and you took it all, greedy then, greedier now
and you tell me

me  with Cherokee, Blackfoot, African and Haitian

dancing in my blood, you tell me this filthy choking air
is progress, that your steel and glass boxes are better
than each tree, happy, green, full of life
arms full of Mother Sky, you tell me


a lie

you, who only hear dollars whispering
coin’s empty tarnished hurdy-gurdy

you tell me

a neighborhood is this mad destructive dance
and I say, with my red blood, my African blood, my Haitian blood
you are wrong, you are lying, again, and this time
I reject your trinkets, because this time I see you
for the broken trickster you really are and I say
not one more tree, not one more house, not one
more family on the street, this stops here.


James A. Stansberry is an author, nature activist, shaman and resident of the U District. I had the pleasure of meeting James while protesting the U District upzones in 2016. The U District was the first neighborhood upzoned under former Mayor Ed Murray’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA).

More than two dozen community groups, including Seattle Fair Growth, have joined together to take legal action against the City stating it has not adequately studied the negative impacts of the proposed upzones. To learn more about the appeal and to make a donation to help cover legal costs, click here.

Former Mayor Ed Murray’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda falls short on both affordability and livability. We can do better.

An edited version of this statement was given by Alex Pedersen on February 12, 2018 at the District 4 public hearing on Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA). It is are shared here with permission.

Alex Pedersen with his children - Copy

Alex Pedersen, founder of the neighborhood newsletter http://www.4toExplore.org and former legislative aide to Tim Burgess. Alex and his family have lived in the Ravenna neighborhood for over a decade.

Good evening.

Thank you, City Councilmembers, for travelling from City Hall to our neighborhood to have this public hearing tonight.

My name is Alex Pedersen. My family and I live in Ravenna and, for the past several years, we have published a neighborhood newsletter that celebrates Northeast Seattle (www.4toExplore.org). As someone who has worked in both the public and private sectors to analyze affordable housing, let me say this about the proposal before you tonight:

We can do better.

We can do better because former Mayor Ed Murray’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda falls short on both affordability and livability.

We can do better by increasing the percentages of affordable housing. Setting aside only 2% to 12% benefits the wealthy 1% at the top of the economic food chain while leaving only scraps to the low-income families who need the affordable housing.

We can do better by inserting meaningful protections against economic displacement. Among the many disruptions caused by upzones, upzoning too much, too soon causes land values to spike. Higher land values mean higher taxes, which can push out vulnerable populations including senior citizens and small, neighborhood businesses.

We can do better by requiring more affordable housing on site — we want the affordable housing in our neighborhoods — that is the right thing – the equitable thing — to do. So then build it now, build it onsite – instead of letting developers discriminate and delay by writing a check and being “NIM-D’s” — “not in my developments.”

We can do better by crafting fair Impact Fees to help build more public schools. Sensible Impact Fees are charged throughout Washington State and throughout the nation and we need them in Seattle so that growth pays for growth.

We can do better by concentrating the growth within the existing boundaries of the Urban Villages where frequent and reliable transit already exists, rather than forcing it upon neighborhoods where it would benefit only real estate speculators.

Finally, we can do better by letting our new Mayor Jenny Durkan provide more affordability and more livability, rather than ramming through the backroom deal of the former mayor.

Please continue your hard work for our city by rapidly revising the proposal so that it is truly affordable, truly livable, and much, much better for everyone. Thank you.

The Seattle Times Opinion: “All of Seattle’s neighborhoods deserve a say in upzoning upheaval”

Below is an excerpt from the February 14, 2018 Seattle Times (for the full article click here). Written by Claudia Newman and David Bricklin, attorneys who are representing Seattle Coalition for Affordability Livability and Equity (SCALE) in the hearing examiner appeal of the Final Environmental Impact Statement for the citywide implementation of the Mandatory Housing Affordability policy. Seattle Fair Growth is one of the 26 member groups of SCALE.

In the same way that we protect wetlands, streams and habitat in the face of increased development, we must also protect our schools, mobility, walking, trees, character and open spaces in the face of increased development in the urban areas.

The Seattle Office of Planning and Community Development (OPCD) began this process the right way. It reviewed, in great detail, the impacts of upzoning in South Lake Union. Then, city planners reviewed, in detail, the impacts of an upzone in the University District. Next was Lower Queen Anne. It’s not clear why former Mayor Ed Murray’s staff then jettisoned that careful neighborhood-by-neighborhood approach and proposed a single piece of legislation to upzone 27 neighborhoods at once. Analyzing so many changes all at once was an impossible task. It resulted in meaningless generalities, omissions, misleading statements and outright inaccuracies.

Ballard is not the same as Beacon Hill. Madison Valley is nothing like West Seattle. Greenwood and Jackson Place and North Rainier each have their own unique layout and issues.

From 1994 to 2003, the city engaged in an extensive, bottom-up, neighborhood-specific planning process. Neighbors and city staff developed plans for individual neighborhoods. The goal was to allow higher density in a way that would protect the quality of each neighborhood. Roughly 30,000 citizens of Seattle worked on those neighborhood plans.

But in 2015, Mayor Murray entered into the “Grand Bargain” with developers and affordable-housing advocates. The so-called “grand” bargain was consummated only by omitting a key constituency from the agreement — impacted residents. The people who live in the neighborhoods and know them best had no meaningful representation at the table. The neighborhood plans were sidelined.


To learn more about the SCALE legal appeal and to make a donation visit seattlefairgrowth.org/appeal.

One can support density and still be against the MHA upzone proposal

The following comments were given by Julie McCleery on February 12, 2018 at the District 4 public hearing on MHA. They are shared here with permission.

julie headshot

Dr. Julie McCleery is a Wallingford resident and researcher at UW whose work focuses on building healthy communities, especially for youth.

Thank you for your time. I think it’s important to note that one could be for increased density and still against this particular proposal. I am against this legislation for a number of reasons but will focus on the lack of feasibility study, mitigation, and concurrency planning. Specifically, the lack of neighborhood-centric planning means that the plan for Wallingford fails to take into account a variety of issues that warrant consideration prior to determining density levels and, that if not addressed, run counter to the principles at the heart of urban village design.

These issues include, but are not limited to, the following

          Wallingford is the only urban village that will house a middle school and a high school in its center. 2000 young people will come and go daily. No consideration was given to that fact in either the renovation of Lincoln High School or in the design of the urban village. Nowhere in this city do we have a model for what it looks like to manage the school buses, metro buses, cars, cars with teen drivers, bikes and pedestrians within a high density urban village with two school zones. The safety and transit implications warrant your attention now. 

          Hamilton and Lincoln will be the only comprehensive middle and high schools in the city without athletic fields. Further, Wallingford is the only community without adequate access to a community center (defined by the City’s only levels of service). And Wallingford has the second smallest library in the city – which does not have capacity to provide services for Wallingford’s population.

Therefore, all of these students (as well as the residents of Wallingford) have to leave the urban village to access these civic amenities, increasing dependence on transit and running counter to the plans for a walkable, inclusive, dense neighborhood.

The City has worked hard to build civic infrastructure near students, seniors and those in need of services in other communities. Serving the residents – both existing and new – of urban villages should be part of the larger vision for HALA. This means access to high quality, low cost services should be part of the land use, urban planning and design conversation right along with density, not an afterthought.

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: seattlefairgrowth.org/feisdonate.html