About Patrick Mazza

Posts by Patrick Mazza:

Living By the Lake – Epicenter of a Rapidly Changing Seattle

It has been years since I could go up on my apartment building’s upper deck overlooking Lake Union and not see multiple construction cranes, sometimes as close as a few blocks away. No surprise. Change is roaring through Seattle, nowhere more than around the lake, with the epicenter at its south end.

That area once occupied by car dealerships, wholesalers, warehouses, small shops and working-class housing has, as everyone around here knows, undergone astounding change. A new downtown has grown, fulfilling the vision of city engineer R.H. Thomson in flattening Denny Hill, albeit close to a century after Thomson expected. The area has become, in the words of the Urban Land Institute, “one of the world’s most dynamic urban technology hubs,” a mix of computing and biotech. Amazon, the world’s premier e-commerce retailer and leading web services company, has grown volcanically. From 5,000 Seattle employees in 2010 to 40,000 now, mostly in South Lake Union (SLU) and the Denny Regrade, those numbers are expected to reach 55,000 by 2020. Amazon has as much office space in Seattle as the next 43 organizations combined.

Facebook is in the area, and Google is building a major complex on Fairview at the north end of SLU. There’s a personal and indicative story in the latter that tells a lot of the story of the neighborhood. Back in 1995, I was living in Portland and playing in a political punk band. We came to Seattle for our last club date before we broke up, a play-for-beer gig at the Lake Union Pub, one of Seattle’s funkiest dive bars. The pub was torn down many years ago to become a parking lot. I used to pass it daily on the way to work. Now the new Google-plex is rising above the site. We played near what will be the building’s northeast corner.

Band playing at the Lake Union Pub (not the author’s) photo by Dan10things

Former site of the Lake Union Pub

 

One wonders about an alternative scenario in which Seattle voters approved the Commons in 1995. The large park would have stretched from the southern shore of Lake Union to Denny and been surrounded by an upscale urban village. It was opposed by people who wanted to keep the funky old neighborhood. But that neighborhood is gone, and a much more intense upscaling than was envisioned has swallowed the whole area. The South Lake Union Park that does exist is a jewel, but it does seem like a bet was missed. In any event, Amazon was determined to stay downtown. So the build-up that happened in SLU would have happened somewhere, perhaps in South Seattle, perhaps more into the old downtown.

The effects of growth are spilling across Seattle – rents rising fastest in the country in 2016, and still going up in 2017 though not quite as fast due to a boom in apartment building. A lot of that is taking place in surrounding neighborhoods including mine, Eastlake. It seems virtually impossible to walk down a street in the neighborhood without passing a construction site, usually where a single-family home has given way to multifamily housing. That and city moves to upzone densities have spurred a backlash in the neighborhoods, and lawsuits.

I’m of divided mind. As someone who works professionally on the critical issue of climate disruption, I’ve long opposed autocentric sprawl and supported growing up rather than out. Every gallon of gasoline burned represents 25 pounds of climate-twisting carbon dioxide dumped into the atmosphere, some of which will last longer than nuclear waste buried at Hanford. Making transit a practical alternative to cars takes a certain amount of density.

We are facing increasing climate impacts, from the fires that filled our air with smoke the last two summers to record storms that ravaged Houston, Florida and Puerto Rico, not to mention the Indian subcontinent and Africa. When low water levels were threatening to put houseboats on the lakebed and cut their utility lines in summer 2015, it was due to lack of mountain snowpack feeding rivers and streams, one of the major climate impacts forecast for the Northwest. As sea level rises, salt intrusion from the Ballard Locks into Salmon Bay and the lake will become an increasing problem. Climate disruption is coming home.

It is clear that the 20th century pattern of a single-family home with parking at the curb for the single-occupant vehicle must yield to 21st century realities, if we care about leaving a world to our children not completely ravaged by a disrupted climate. Replicating the current pattern with electric vehicles will still require tremendous natural resources and leave us in traffic jams. We need cities where people do not need to own a car, and that means density. It also means we must significantly build up transit and other alternatives to make it practical.

At the same time, the quality of much of the new development causes understandable backlash. Much of the architecture, and I can see it on my own block, is aptly described as “prison modern.” It presents a cold face to the street that lacks the soul and convivial feeling of the older houses it is replacing. Much is radically out of scale with surrounding buildings. Large mixed use buildings on main streets price out the funky old retail and restaurants, often replacing it with medical and other offices that don’t promote vibrant street life. In many cases dense development involves losing trees and greenspace as well as precious views. On top of all this, the bulk of new residential development is upscale apartments, while older, affordable housing is being lost. So displacement is an issue. I don’t have all the solutions for this, but we need to address these questions with better standards, and possibly have the city get into the housing development directly. We also need to accept there will be trade-offs for growth.

I have lived nearly 20 years now in Eastlake, nearly one-third of my life. When I first moved to the neighborhood in 1998, the precursors of today’s trends were already present. The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Institute and ZymoGenetics were already on the ground toward the south end of the neighborhood. SLU high tech development was already in sight. Eastlake Avenue had begun to be lined with multi-story mixed-used buildings. The west slope of Queen Anne was already densified. The shape of what we see today was on arrival. It is today’s rapid rate and massive scale of change that is difficult and disturbing.

But change must come, and we must somehow adapt. If there is to be growth, better an Amazon downtown than on a campus on the metropolitan fringe, and better people living in dense, transit-friendly, multi-family neighborhoods than sprawling, auto-dependent suburban subdivisions. The question is not whether or not we will grow. In fact, as one of the least climate impacted areas of the U.S., we will have our own climate refugees. People will actually move to the Northwest for the weather! The question is how will we grow, whether we will preserve equity and amenable neighborhood environments. And nowhere is the question being put more vigorously than around Lake Union.

Do you have any stories or pictures of places around Lake Union come and gone? We’d love to get them and potentially share them on the blog. editors@lakeunionwatershed.com

 

 

 

Stage Struck: Films featuring Lake Union

Not everyone gets to live on a movie set. Here, living around Lake Union we do, both literally and metaphorically.

In the literal sense, going up on the top deck of the building where I live in Eastlake, I can gaze down on the lake where Heath Ledger and Julia Stiles paddled a water cycle in 10 Things I Hate About You, the 1999 adaptation of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew, many years before playing the Joker in The Dark Knight killed Ledger. The movie also shot at Gasworks Park, as did Singles. Of course, there’s the Sleepless in Seattle houseboat on the other side of the lake and slightly to the south of where I stand. On the lake’s south end among the classic vessels docked at the Museum of History and Industry, you can still board the tug on which the 1933 Tugboat Annie was filmed, the Arthur Foss, the oldest tug in existence in the U.S. Tugboat Annie opens on Lake Union.

Looking over to the Aurora Bridge, I think of John Wayne living on a boat and having a shootout on the docks just west of the bridge in McQ, the 1974 piece of Seattle film noir in which Wayne played Detective Lon McHugh, the Dirty Harry of Seattle. It was his first cop role, one of his only two, and the fourth to last movie of his career. (The climaxing chase scene is idiosyncratically Northwest, on the beach out near Moclips.) Circling over to Wallingford on the slope rising above the lake, around 42nd and on Burke Avenue N., there’s the house in which John Lithgow and his family entertained a sasquatch in 1987’s Harry and the Hendersons.

Panning to the southwest, that magnificent flying saucer on stilts and surroundings have been the scene of more than one filming. Alan Pakula’s 1974 political conspiracy thriller, The Parallax View starring Warren Beatty, begins with the assassination of a politician at an event atop the Space Needle. And no one can forget Elvis dining there in the 1963 It Happened At the World’s Fair. There’s even a full Elvis album by the same name. I’m sure there’s a few other movies shot around the lake I’m missing.

Moviemakers are attracted to the lake and its surroundings precisely because of the dramatic and unique scenery – nearly a square mile of water surrounded on three sides by hills. (The fourth side, the south end, was a valley until the Denny Regrade, in which Denny Hill was sluiced down by up to 20 million gallons of water a day from the lake between 1907-11 to open up land for development.) Add to that the houseboat communities surrounding the lake, the unique setting of Gasworks Park, the Olympics off to the west, the skyscrapers of downtown to the south and southwest, and of course, the iconic Needle. Along with Pioneer Square and Pike Place Market, the lake is one of the city’s absolutely quintessential places, often aptly described as the heart of Seattle. The lake is outright the stage set for annual events that draw from the metro region including the Christmas ships and July 4 fireworks.

The world has many beautiful and scenic neighborhoods, but from my admittedly biased perspective, I think the Lake Union ranks in the global top percentiles of truly extraordinary urban vistas. At least a 95, and I would argue, a 98. Just walking down the hill, where I catch sight of the lake, is a stirring experience. Riding the 70 bus downtown, I’m always caught by the panorama of the lake that opens on Fairview in front of Zymo Genetics. On my walks by the lake on Fairview, I stop at the street end parks to take in the stunning views. The lake has many moods, whether the joyful sunniness of summer’s bright lit waters, the zen cool of a slate gray winter day, or its whitecapped boisterousness when a strong wind is blowing in. It’s a primal experience of nature in the midst of the city.

And one of constant motion and change. Some days, often in the gray months, the lake is quiet. Other days it is a cavalcade of marine craft of all sorts, from kayaks and paddle boards to motor boats, cabin cruisers, and sailboat regattas circling the lake. There are the ducks and other tour boats. Working boats from tugs pushing barges to Alaska fishing trawlers. Vintage and replica craft such as the restored Virginia V, last of the old mosquito boat fleet that served the Puget Sound before the ferries and one of the last two steamships operating on the continent, and the Lady Washington, coming in for the Center for Wooden Boats annual festival.

Maneuvering between them all, and flying above, of course, are the seaplanes. The lake has a long history with seaplanes. Bill Boeing personally flew the first Boeing aircraft, a seaplane, from the Boeing hangar dock at Roanoke and Fairview in 1916. Today the lake is one of the continent’s busiest seaplane airports, with 97 flights per day recorded in one recent year. If someone wanted to start this as a new operation, there would be all kinds of NIMBY opposition. But somehow, the sight and sound of seaplanes roaring overhead has become a comforting and familiar signature of the place. So much so that neighbors suggested seaplane images as decorations on freeway walls installed over recent years. (Suggestion not taken by WSDOT, which used more standard designs.)

Lake Union is a place that inspires and stirs, a joining of earth and water under the continually changing skies of Seattle, a vista to fire the imagination. Those of us fortunate enough to be able to live here are graced with a unique setting of great beauty, and a never-ending show. For making movies, the lake is a stage set extraordinaire, whether of the Hollywood variety, or the daily theater that is life.

Below other posters of movies mentioned in this piece. Did we miss any? Let us know – editors@lakeunionwatershed.com

 

 

A brother’s tragic passing: Facing death in life

Death came to my family’s door in recent weeks. My brother’s son, who has experienced psychotic episodes for years, stabbed my brother Chris to death. Alex had just been released from a mental hospital a month before, and stopped taking his medications. He always relapsed when he did this, and he did again.

Ironically, my brother was a psychiatric nurse who along with his wife, Pam, undertook heroic efforts to try to help Alex. In the end, Chris died trying to save Alex from the demons of schizophrenia that plague his soul. Our family finds the loss of Chris and the life potential of a young man who had great promise a twofold tragedy.

Having one close family member killed by another is one of the great tragedies anyone can face. And my family and I have now faced this. We live in a society noted for its denial of death, obsessed with pushing it out of mind. Shoved hard up against the brute reality of death, and one that was untimely and senseless, denial is not an option. It brings to the surface every sense of vulnerability and mortality that normally stays buried, or which comes out as surface anxiety about this or that life circumstance, but really in the end is about dying. It has me musing a lot on the reality of death in life, and about how we must grapple with this reality to live life with authenticity.

The reality of death has surrounded us lately. The day before my brother’s demise, it came close on my Northwest home ground when a Union Pacific oil train derailed and exploded in the Columbia Gorge, forcing evacuations in Mosier, Oregon. Very fortunately for Mosier, only a few tanker cars burst into flames, and no one died. If more had gone up, the town could have shared the fate of Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, where an oil train exploded July 6, 2013, destroying 30 buildings and killing 47 people. After the Gorge derail, Mosier Fire Chief Jim Appleton said that to continue running these bomb trains is “insane.” In this case, the mental illness is a virtually sociopathic pursuit of profit at all cost, and a denial of the deaths that might come to others as a consequence.

A week to the day after Chris was killed, another tragic event brought the reality of death in life to the whole nation. As my daughter and I left the motel to return from my brother’s funeral in Pennsylvania the next morning, CNN was blasting news of the many dead in Orlando from the lobby TV.

In a Facebook post some days before, I had written, “People around the world suffer tragic and senseless losses of loved ones to violence. From Syria and Iraq to mass shootings in the U.S. Now my family has. I can’t take away much meaning in this except to deepen my sense of compassion for those who have suffered similar losses.”

I could not have expected such a monumental event to come so close in time, 49 dead, 53 injured, in the largest mass shooting by an individual in U.S. history. An individual driven by hatred and derangement. I know, in a way I would not have known before, the deep grief and soul wounding that at least hundreds of family and friends of the Orlando victims are feeling now. It is a feeling of darkness that burns like a deep black fire into the depths of your soul. The loved one taken away. The loss you can never replace. The empty hole that you know can never be completely filled. The experience of death in life.

I have spent many years working to address one of the largest life and death issues ever to confront humanity, the radical climate disruption caused by carbon pollution. A 2012 report puts annual deaths due to climate disruption at 400,000, from people dying in heat waves to children extinguished by hunger and disease. But climate can seem like a large wonky, abstract issue and numbers are themselves abstractions. They obscure the reality of the human beings behind them. Of a child dying in the arms of a mother wracked by despair at her helplessness to save her dearest. Of a father whose absence will leave his wife and sons and daughters pitted with sorrow. To really comprehend the large issue of climate, we need to touch those human realities of death in life, to feel these losses as our own.

Death is coming upon our world, and we cannot deny its reality. From the death of much of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and other corals around the world, along with the biodiversity they represent, to the multitude of deaths brought by drought and heat waves searing hundreds of millions in India. Because of the momentum of climate change, the losses will be greater no matter what we do. We will lose coastal cities to sea level rise, from New Orleans to Venice. Innumerable species will go extinct. Superstorms will wrack continents. Breadbaskets will become dustbowls. The wrenching reality, so hard to face, is that now we can only contain the damage and hope to leave a world with which our kids can at least cope. We must also confront the very real chance that we might not make it, and our world will plunge into civilization-destroying catastrophe. Somehow, pierced by the reality of a death so close, I have found a new grace to take in the possibility of failure.

Much climate denial is about denying the reality of these deaths we must face as a world. The climate movement itself finds it difficult to grapple with these realities or honestly communicate them. But we are late in the game, rushing headlong into oblivion. We can no longer afford to downplay, soft-pedal or bright side what faces us. Ourselves the products of a culture dedicated to the denial of death, we have to summon up the courage to speak the truth and say we have already visited the future with a legacy of death. That unless we rise to the challenge rapidly and in a massive way, many more will die and we well might collapse our civilization. We must confront the reality of death in life, knowing that much will be lost, in order to save that which we can.

Chris Mazza, 1958-2016, "There is no death, only a change in worlds." --Chief Seattle

Chris Mazza, 1958-2016, “There is no death, only a change in worlds.” –Chief Seattle

To come to terms with the many challenges we face, both personally and as a world, we need a quality that my brother exemplified, that of empathy and concern for other human beings. As a psychiatric nurse, Chris did not have a glamour job, or one that was particularly high paid. But he dedicated his life to helping the most troubled among us. Many of his fellow workers showed up on the viewing line. They testified to how much he cared for patients and for them. Chris was the glue for his state mental hospital ward and the union shop steward. Nurses on the women’s ward the floor below described him as their protector, the one who showed up first when they had trouble. Some were in tears. Their grief at his passing was real and deep.

Chris was also was the one among our four siblings who most took care of our aging mom, and who last summer drew the family together for the first time in over a dozen years. I will forever prize those last times with him. He was one of those good, humble human beings who put others first, the kind of human being the world needs more of. The hundreds who showed up for his viewing and funeral were testimony to how many lives Chris touched. As I said in my words at his funeral, if I die with as many friends as Chris, I will count my life a success.

If there is any grace in my brother’s tragic death, it is to deepen my empathy for my fellow human beings. In the end, I don’t know if we get through what we face without that quality. Whether as individuals coping with our own personal realities, or as a people dealing with the tragic consequences of our time. I will miss my brother, and take from his life the example of caring. A death, even a senseless one, can have redemptive value if it makes those left behind become better human beings. I can only hope that my brother’s death, the way it is making me confront the realities of death in life, and calling me to empathy and compassion, will have that value. That will be a legacy of life in the midst of death.

 

Patrick Mazza is a Lake Union writer on sustainability issues. This is a cross post from his blog Cascadia Planet.

South Lake Union: Making an urban sustainability model (second of a two part series)
By Patrick Mazza

As the new century dawned, major changes were in store for South Lake Union. The low-slung light industrial district occupied by warehouses, supply shops and auto dealerships was set to become the epicenter of Seattle’s development boom.

In anticipation, the district’s major landowner and lead developer, Vulcan, commissioned the Urban Environment Institute and veteran green architect Bert Gregory to develop a framework and handbook that would make SLU a world-class green development model. The seminal sustainability plan published in 2002, Resource Guide for Sustainable Development in and Urban Area: A case study in South Lake Union, offered strategies for everything from water and energy efficiency to materials use. It was soup to nuts for limiting the impacts of buildings on local and global environments, and for making a compact urban district that would provide an alternative to suburban sprawl.

This is where solving the climate crisis comes home. The kind of sustainable urban development envisioned in the SLU study is central to reducing climate disrupting carbon emissions. Buildings alone are responsible for 45% of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions, while transportation emits another 34%. Creating compact, walkable urban districts served by transit and composed of efficient buildings is one of the most potent of climate solutions.

I visited with Bert at the Mithun architectural firm’s waterfront pier offices in downtown Seattle earlier this year. He is chair of the firm, one of the nation’s leading design firms and an innovator in the green building revolution that has broken out since he did the SLU handbook. With the emergence of a new downtown in the area, I wanted to find out now whether Bert thought SLU had lived up to the promise he saw when he was pulling together the document in 2001 and 2002. For the most part, in Bert’s view, SLU has fulfilled his vision, with one important exception that I will deal with later.

Bert noted his study focused on what can be done within the constraints of the market. SLU both reflects and has helped spur a major market transformation, he said. The U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED rating system “was still in its infancy” when he did the study. The certification standard sets criteria to limit environmental impacts and create buildings that are healthy for the people living and working in them. Today, “The market is transformed.”

The Seattle Cancer Care Alliance Patient House at 207 Pontius Ave. North is a LEED Gold Building that offers 80 units of housing as well as amenities, offices and retail. It has won numerous awards including American Institute of Architects Northwest & Pacific Region 2011 Honor Award, and a 2010 Gold Medal from The Building of America Network, 2010

The Seattle Cancer Care Alliance Patient House at 207 Pontius Ave. North is a LEED Gold Building that offers 80 units of housing as well as amenities, offices and retail. It has won numerous awards including American Institute of Architects Northwest & Pacific Region 2011 Honor Award, and a 2010 Gold Medal from The Building of America Network, 2010

Seattle was an early green building leader, he said. Now, “Green is the price of entry.” In SLU, “Almost every building is gold.” That is the second-highest rating. “There is an ambition for platinum.” That is the highest. “It is a pretty remarkable collection of green buildings in one neighborhood. Overall when you look at buildings in SLU all are pretty sophisticated in terms of ambition for green strategies.” This includes features such as green roofs to cut energy use and to capture and reuse of stormwater.

“There’s been a revolution in the investment community,” he added. “It’s a revolution in where they want to make their investments. Many investors require green building. It’s less risky. Every building we’re doing has some kind of certification. It’s very different from the old days. The excitement is the market has changed.”

The move is away from suburbs and back into cities. “Its responding to demographic and workplace living styles. It is driven by lower risk, higher value and market demands. You look at Amazon. What a fundamental decision for a corporation to decide to stay in the city! It is driven by competitive advantage to attract talent.”

Distinguished by its unusual window design, the tall building at 400 Fairview North is also a standout for green architecture beneath the skin. The Skanska building aims at the top green building rank, LEED Platinum. Compared to a comparable, conventional building, 400 Fairview is designed for reductions of at least 25% in energy use and 40% reduction in potable water use. It employs beams for heating and cooling that are quieter and more comfortable than the standard HVAC systems and use 30% less energy. The building captures and reuses storm water.

Distinguished by its unusual window design, the tall building at 400 Fairview North is also a standout for green architecture beneath the skin. The Skanska building aims at the top green building rank, LEED Platinum. Compared to a comparable, conventional building, 400 Fairview is designed for reductions of at least 25% in energy use and 40% reduction in potable water use. It employs beams for heating and cooling that are quieter and more comfortable than the standard HVAC systems and use 30% less energy. The building captures and reuses storm water.

SLU “reflects good long-term work by people to create place, to do all the things needed to keep sprawl from happening.”

Bert pointed out one way SLU is a cutting-edge sprawl buster. Also board chair of Forterra, a local nonprofit devoted to landscape preservation and urban sustainability, he noted that SLU is using a system promoted by Forterra and implemented by King County. That is Transfer of Development Rights (TDR). Forest and farm lands on the urban fringe are preserved when development rights are sold. Purchasers are urban developers. TDR lets them build taller buildings, and so make more money on a parcel of land.

“King County at leading edge,” Bert says. “Ultimately the rest of the US needs to be as forward thinking about urban development, placing people in walkable neighborhoods close to transit, rather than low-density development. Get population in urban centers. “

“We look at a couple of million more people coming here by 2040. We need a whole bunch of SLUs throughout our region that are green and walkable. Places like Lynnwood, Federal Way and Puyallup can learn a lot of good lessons from SLU.”

The SLU study not only looked at buildings, but at district systems that tie them together. District systems operate on a scale beyond individual buildings. They can provide services such as heat, cooling and electricity.  For example, a heating plant can serve several buildings, as can a chilled water system or an electricity microgrid. A goal was to “enter into dialogue on systems beyond the individual building,” to line out opportunities for district-based solutions in energy, water and transportation. That is where success has been more mixed.

In terms of transportation, “The investment in the street car is really the key part, continuation of the street car downtown, and then slowly, linked across the city.”

SLU’s growth has come with increased traffic congestion, always a problem in an area long noted for the “Mercer mess.”

“SLU, like a lot of Seattle, is in the transportation ‘teenage years,” Bert notes. “We’re transitioning into a compact, global city that must have a convenient and enjoyable mass transit, biking, and walking system to get around.  Using the car will never be convenient in Seattle again with our new long peak hours, especially as more cars are added to the system.”

And that is as it should be. Making car use less convenient may have its irritations. But for a sustainable planet it is necessary.

The SLU report also envisioned district energy systems powered by technologies such as solar, fuel cells and microturbines, as well as chilled water systems linking buildings. That is the element of the vision that has not played out.

The Amazon Phase VI building at 515 Westlake Ave. North and 500 9th Ave. North is a LEED Gold building that exemplifies a high performance, energy-saving skin, cross block/mid-block connections, public people spaces and a high quality of landscape architecture.

The Amazon Phase VI building at 515 Westlake Ave. North and 500 9th Ave. North is a LEED Gold building that exemplifies a high performance, energy-saving skin, cross block/mid-block connections, public people spaces and a high quality of landscape architecture.

“This is a very challenging situation for a wide variety of reasons. District energy is still an emerging topic, fraught with unbelievable complexities, such as infrastructure in public streets, property lines, and risk for investors,” Bert says. The region’s mild climate and cheap hydropower also militated against district energy.” SLU was “way too early for district systems.”

But technologies and systems are improving. “The exciting thing there is an emerging revolution in district-based systems. The policy and economics profile is significantly different than in 2001. There is greater viability. It is a topic in all projects of higher density.”

The SLU study pointed the way for the district. But, Bert noted, “its greatest success was its widespread impact beyond Seattle. We have received requests all over the world for copies. It is used in university curricula. Fundamentally the impact is much broader than SLU because it is a case study.”

Bert since has gone on to do other similar studies, including a more detailed plan for the Lloyd Crossing area in Portland that “took this to a different level.”

In Bert’s eyes, SLU has overall lived up to the sustainability concepts he lined out in 2002.

“These are things that takes vision, partnerships and 20 years of efforts,” he said. “Now we as a region have to be thinking about what’s next for 2040, for 2100.”

More people are coming to our region. How we grow will make all the difference for our region, our planet and our climate. Compact urban districts that are built green and served by transit are the way to go, and SLU provides an important model to guide growth throughout the region, nation and world.

In Defense of South Lake Union (first of a two part series)
by Patrick Mazza

I had to think long and hard about this story.

I started out many months ago with a simple concept. I would interview Bert Gregory of the Mithun architectural firm about a seminal sustainability plan he did for South Lake Union back in 2001 in anticipation of the building boom. Bert Gregory is one of the pioneering green architects, and was well positioned to create a plan that would make SLU a global sustainability model.

In early 2015 I visited Bert to ask him how well he thought the plan had been carried out. I’ll report on Bert’s comments in the second part of this series. But before I could write the story, I realized I had to flesh out my own thoughts about SLU, figure out what I really think about the neighborhood that is now a representation of Seattle’s explosive growth. Among Seattleites, there are a mix of feelings, always inevitable with such major transformations. Knute Berger captured this in a May Crosscut piece:

On the plus side, SLU is ground zero for Seattle’s job growth, boasts major institutional support (Amazon) and comes as close as anything in modern times to a planned urban neighborhood with parks, museums, traffic projects and street cars . . . On the downside, the neighborhood is a poster child for corporate welfare, receiving more attention and public benefits than some needier areas of the city. Its rapid development has displaced established businesses and overwhelmed older enclaves like Cascade . . . for many, the architecture of the neighborhood is cookie-cutter, view-blocking, phony (those facades) and often sterile – a little bit o’ Bellevue.

Tough stuff. And as an Eastlake resident I have my own mix of feelings. In 2012 I spent most of the year living and working in Portland. When I returned to work in downtown Seattle in early 2013, suddenly I found what had been my well-used but moderately filled 70 bus suddenly stretched to capacity, like a New York City subway at rush hour. Mystified, I asked what happened. “Amazon,” the bus driver told me. While I now work out of my home, I still catch the 70 for downtown meetings. The stuffing only seems to have worsened.

I also looked at the blocks of buildings and, while I’m not as down as the Berger quote, I found the district very much a 21st century neighborhood, very functional, but lacking the warmth of older urban districts.  I needed to dig deeper. So I took walks around and through the neighborhood to further explore its new feel. What did the street life feel like? What is the potential for SLU taking on a more organic feel as it settles in?

Of course, the youthfulness of the street crowds is one of the first and most striking impressions. Young Amazon geeks and their equivalents in other firms. There is some effort to create a face to the street, with many restaurants, outdoor café patios, street furniture and trees.   It isn’t Paris, but maybe it’s a start to a warmer urbanity.

There is some effort to vary the buildings and provide some interesting features. Nothing like the decorative ornamentation one finds on older buildings in downtown, or on some postmodern buildings. But something.

While the impression from beyond the neighborhood is a somewhat uniform block, for example looking at it from South Lake Union Park, when you delve into it a surprising number of the older buildings still stand, offering a needed variety. As Berger points out, it is important to save some of the old neighborhood.

A walking tour of South Lake Union is an eye-opener: It is far more than throw-away light industrial warehouses. A remarkable variety of architectural styles exist there, from 19th century row houses to turn-of-the-century bungalows, from mid-century modern commercial buildings to Deco structures, even some interesting Brutalist brutes.

SLU and its new downtown are facts on the ground. We live in a new Seattle that might discomfort us with change. But my conclusion is that, in a world of change, SLU is necessary. In part 2 of this series, I will delve into specifics about the district’s green buildings, and how they do indeed reflect the sustainable development envisioned by Gregory. For now, I will say that in terms of overall development patterns, we need SLU.

Ultimately, my conclusion about SLU is shaped by the work I do. For most of the last 17 years my work has focused on the massive challenges of global warming and resulting climate disruption. This is seen in our own state in the form of record drought and wildfires, huge and sometimes unseasonal storms, deadly landslides, massive salmon run deaths in overheated rivers and shellfish-industry killing ocean acidification. The greatest source of planetary heating and all its impacts is carbon pollution from fossil fuels including petroleum that runs almost all of our transportation system. In Washington state with its clean hydropower, transportation plays a disproportionate role in climate-twisting carbon emissions, 45% of the total.

Thus, while densification and growth come with some discomfort, and my Eastlake neighborhood is seeing its own share, if we are going to have growth, this is the way to do it. SLU’s creation of a dense, modern urban neighborhood is the kind of model we need. We cannot reduce auto dependence without moving to land use patterns that make car use less necessary – Neighborhoods that place work, shopping and residences close together. Amazon’s rapid expansion has its drawbacks, and one wishes rocket-ship-subsidizing billionaire owner Jeff Bezos might consider a greater contribution to ground transit. But for the climate and sustainability in general, the Amazon development is infinitely superior to Microsoft’s 1980s vintage campus in auto-centric Redmond.

We can quibble about the details of development. But overall, global sustainability requires dense, walkable urban development that can be served by transit. SLU meets that test.

In the next part, Bert Gregory tells us which pieces of his sustainable development model SLU fulfills, and which it doesn’t.

Image of South Lake Union is a combination of photograph and rendering of a potential future condition of the neighborhood.  Courtesy: Studio216

Washington first state to price carbon by popular vote? The obstacle course

Washington state climate advocates are aiming at a political act never before achieved on this planet, enacting a state-level price on carbon pollution by popular vote.

Carbon Washington volunteers are on the streets seeking signatures to place I-732 on the November 2016 ballot. It would set a $25-per-ton carbon tax. The Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy is exploring a carbon-pricing measure for that ballot, likely by a cap-and-trade similar to California’s.

So far the only U.S. electorate that has voted to tax its own carbon pollution is at a city level, that of the uber-liberal enclave of Boulder, Colorado. Residents in 2006 voted to tax themselves an average of $21 annually, and renewed it in 2012. In 2010 Californians voted down an initiative to repeal their cap-and-trade. But to this date, none of the many state, province or national carbon pricing systems has been enacted at the ballot box. The path to this date has been through legislative and executive decision-making.

Washington state would seem prime turf to set a precedent. Wildfires are scorching hundreds of square miles and forcing evacuation of whole towns. Record drought threatens water supplies. Salmon are dying by the hundreds of thousands in overheated streams. Carbon-acidified waters are driving out the shellfish industry. The state is on the climate chaos frontlines.

Nonetheless, passage of any measure at a statewide level is an obstacle-laden proposition. A tsunami of opposition funding from the fossil fuel industry and its allies will greet any initiative. (It would be a good time to own a TV station in one of the state’s major metros.) It is also famously difficult to gain voter approval for measures that impose new taxes or fees, even when most voters are not directly affected, as the 2010 two-to-one whomping of I-1098’s income tax on upscale incomes demonstrated. State voters instead have a record of voting for tax cuts, as the successes of initiative entrepreneur Tim Eyman have shown. (Though not so successful in recent years, Eyman is returning with another tax limiting measure this fall if it survives court challenges.)

CLIMATE FORCES DIVIDED

If these obstacles were not tough enough, a fractious politics creates additional hurdles. The Alliance and CarbonWA are in public and messy tensions with each other. Attempting an unprecedented political act against industry opposition and voter skepticism would seem at a minimum to require unity among climate advocates. Today climate forces are divided. This post looks at the roots of the struggle, tracks its unfolding chronology over recent months, and seeks to analyze what it means for ballot box success. There is a lot of ground to cover, so please bear with a longer-than-usual post.

The split tracks back to the failure of the federal climate legislation campaign in 2010. Very much an effort by environmental NGOs to bring the power of influential constituencies such as business to bear, the federal effort ended in dismal failure. But by that point a more grassroots-oriented climate movement was starting to emerge. Direct action against expansion of pipelines and other fossil fuel infrastructure was one aspect. Another was organizing for a carbon tax by citizens skeptical of the carbon cap-and-trade system proposed in the federal bill.

In Washington economist Yoram Bauman spearheaded creation of CarbonWA, which began pushing toward a carbon tax initiative. This set up tensions with Climate Solutions and allied groups leading federal and state legislative efforts. Climate Solutions was pursuing what it called the West Coast Agenda, passage of cap-and-trade through Washington and Oregon statehouses as a way of kickstarting progress back to Congress at some point. It would take a central role in forming and organizing the Alliance in early 2015 as the Washington vehicle to carry out the Agenda.

After talking about an initiative for several years CarbonWA was urgent to move. Losing patience with a legislative process that blocked Gov. Jay Inslee’s cap-and-trade in the 2015 legislature, the group submitted I-732 as an initiative to the legislature. Group leaders say they would have pulled the initiative if the legislature had moved on the Inslee bill, even if it was not their preferred policy design. Now CarbonWA aims to return to the legislature in January with 264,000 qualified signatures to secure placement in the 2016 general election. At this writing the campaign has garnered over 100,000, despite opposition and potential ballot measure competition from the Alliance.

“ . . . a powerful coalition that includes the state’s major green and labor groups is trying to squash the effort,” Seattle Times political reporter Jim Brunner reported in a July 26 Sunday edition story bannered across the front page, “Carbon-tax initiative divides environmentalists.” Describing CarbonWA as “scrappy, grass-roots” and “an upstart, eclectic bunch,” Brunner reported, “I-732 backers say they’ve waited long enough for action from the political establishment and are pushing ahead.” He quoted Bauman, “They say that there might be another measure. I feel like some of those folks have been saying that for years.”

Indeed, an Aug. 10 Seattle Times op-ed by Alliance leaders couched the ballot prospect. “Throughout the summer, the alliance will continue to explore possible climate ballot measures with the goal to file and qualify an initiative to the people in 2016,” they wrote.

Cascadia Planet broke the story about environmental group efforts against I-732 back in April. A few weeks later tensions between the Alliance and CarbonWA appeared to ease with a joint statement, “. . . we are not currently endorsing each other’s efforts. But we have no objections to individuals or groups supporting or working with either or both groups (or making a joint endorsement). We respect each other’s efforts to build a strong movement for climate action and will stay in close contact in the months ahead as the alliance completes its research work and as Carbon Washington moves forward with its signature-gathering campaign for I-732.”

Despite that seeming accord, the rift between the groups re-emerged with a June 12 memo signed by 23 members of the the Alliance Steering Committee. It raised objections that could not be interpreted in any other way than as an effort to discourage I-732 signature gathering. “. . . after extensive evaluation the alliance has determined we will no longer consider supporting its Initiative . . . As stated in the attached memorandum, recent polling unfortunately shows that I-732 is not winnable, and confirms that running multiple climate ballot measures in 2016 ensures across-the-board defeat.”

Pollsters reported, “just 39 percent of Washington voters back Initiative 732 when read the full and final language of the ballot question . . .The prospects for Initiative 732 look grim.” CarbonWA was presented with the results. Bauman’s response was, “The alliance thinks the most important result from the poll they conducted last month is that initial support for the Carbon Washington proposal is under 40% (i.e., 39%); Carbon Washington thinks the most important result from that poll is that support climbs to over 60% (61% Yes, 35% No, 4% Undecided) when the proposal is explained in simple language.”

Other analysis from the pollsters raises continued questions about whether the Alliance will go ahead with its own initiative: “Our survey explored a number of other potential ballot measure concepts, all of which started with more support than Initiative 732 – with some topping fifty and even sixty percent – though all were similarly impacted by negative messaging . . . However, further research should help to identify an alternative ballot measure concept with sufficient initial support and durability in the face of messaging to win voter approval in 2016.”

That a ballot concept considered to be viable has not yet emerged is not due to lack of polling. Public opinion researchers have been testing policy designs on likely voters for several years.

In important ways the governor has already taken matters into his own hands. He issued a July 28 order for a rulemaking to impose a carbon cap by regulation, he hopes by next summer. Based on existing state law for clean air protection, it requires no additional legislative action, though a court challenge is likely. The Department of Ecology proceeding is geared to create a system of carbon permits that polluters could trade among themselves. Though that market may de facto set its own price, a pricing system that brings carbon revenues into state coffers will require further action. Rumors have been flying that the governor will announce his own referendum as early as September.

COMMUNITIES OF COLOR WEIGH IN

That still leaves the problem of divided forces. The most profound and troubling evidence of a fundamental split came 12 days after the the Alliance Steering Committee memo. A June 24 climate justice open letter signed by leaders of eight Alliance member groups representing communities of color outright opposed I-732 on the grounds of equity and inclusiveness. The signers represent Got Green, Puget Sound SAGE, One America, Washington Community Action Network, Asian-Pacific Islanders Coalition, El Centro de la Raza and the Latino Community Fund.

The groups object to the way I-732 allocates carbon revenues. The initiative is dubbed “revenue-neutral” because it recycles all carbon revenues to tax cuts and credits. The state sales tax is reduced one percent. A tax credit of up to $1,500 is funded for each of the state’s 400,000 lowest income families. The business & occupation tax on manufacturers is eliminated. All the measures are intended to balance higher energy prices. The theory is that if carbon revenues are recycled, people will respond to the market disincentive of higher energy costs by spending on other items. A $30/ton revenue-neutral carbon tax has appeared to reduce transportation fuel use around 10 percent in British Columbia.

By contrast, communities of color leaders say, carbon revenues should be spent ensuring an equitable and a just transition from fossil fuels. A “Principles for Climate Justice” statement signed by the same groups last year was a clear precursor to the conflict, forecast by Cascadia Planet in a Nov. 25, 2014 post, “Climate justice in collision with revenue-neutral carbon policies?.”

The statement read, “Racial equity must be at the center of policies that address climate change . . . Revenue . . . should be invested directly in lower-income communities, indigenous communities and communities of color so that the economic benefits outweigh the policy’s economic burdens . . . The highest priority for reinvestment must be to mitigate financial costs of implementation to communities with lower incomes. Further reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. Create clean, living wage jobs that open pathways for people with lower-incomes, people of color, and local residents to enter the green industry workforce. Enable people to live where they work with access to clean transportation, an affordable place to live, and clean and secure food sources.”

The June 24 letter echoed those statements: “This past January we helped form an inclusive statewide coalition with a mission that includes equity, the Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy. Our diverse coalition includes faith, families, health, labor, business, and justice communities calling for action to reduce pollution, create green jobs, and invest in communities of color and lower incomes . . . Carbon Washington’s Initiative 732, crafted without inclusive input, fails to equitably reinvest revenue from pricing carbon pollution. It relies on a flat payout using the same regressive sales tax structure that has made our state dead last in fairness.”

To be balanced, the failed Inslee climate package supported by the Alliance and its member groups fell substantially short of the “Principles for Climate Justice,” without significant funds for green jobs or renewable energy, a minimal amount for affordable housing, and a transportation funding proposal that would have devoted far more to road maintenance than transit and other auto alternatives. It is expected, though, that a measure going to a public ballot will take a different shape than one designed to pass a legislative gauntlet.

I-732 defenders have their own equity argument. The sales tax cut would balance higher energy prices, while the currently unfunded Working Families Tax Credit would tip benefits to lower-income groups.

Bauman maintains, “. . . the household impact of the carbon tax and the sales tax reduction offset each other: most households will pay a few hundred dollars a year more for fossil fuels and a few hundred dollars a year less for everything else.”

At the same time, the Working Families Tax Credit would reduce the unfair tax burden on the 400,000 lowest income families with children. Writes Bauman, ” . . . funding the Working Families Rebate at a 25% level would provide the greatest improvement to the progressivity of the Washington State tax system since the sales tax exemption on groceries was passed at the ballot in 1977.”

The question of which policy design will bring the greatest benefits to disadvantaged communities remains in debate. Nonetheless, the considerable moral authority of communities of color has been brought to bear on the issue. The rift is real and all the more difficult to heal because it is ideological.

PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER

The issue between CarbonWA and the Alliance might be mapped as centrist versus center-left.

CarbonWA and similar revenue-neutral advocates argue that measures which add new costs to grow the size of government will drive away centrist voters – Overcoming voters’ traditional aversion to voting new revenues will be overcome only if revenues are fully recycled back to them. The challenge is that skeptical voters might not believe they will really see the money.

The Alliance takes the position that just transition will require greater public sector efforts funded by carbon revenues, and that such programs will be needed to draw good voter turnout from low-income and people of color communities. The group also points out that low-income people without children will gain far less from the families tax credit.

Another way of drawing the distinction is less about ideology and more about makeup and organizing models.

While the Alliance claims membership of 125 groups of all shapes and sizes, its core is composed of professional advocacy groups, labor unions and progressive businesses. The Steering Committee is listed here.

CarbonWA, though it has a skeletal campaign staff, is more a volunteer-driven outfit that has drawn in local community climate groups and organized additional local chapters. It does have a board with several Washington state political veterans such as Bill Finkbeiner, former State Senate majority leader, and a heavy-hitter advisory board including a number of economists, who tend to like carbon taxes over cap-and-trade. The line-up is here. The initiative is also endorsed by several figures from the progressive side of state politics including Seattle City Councilmember Nick Licata, former Mayor Mike McGinn, and former County Executive Ron Sims.

The obvious question is whether these differing tendencies and positions can pull together by November 2016. Can the fractures of 2015 heal by 2016?

Some of the answers will start to arrive in fall. CarbonWA expects most of its signatures will be gathered by the end of October. In a practical sense, that means it must accumulate roughly twice the number of names in the last three months of the campaign as it did in the first three months to assure enough qualified signatures. That will be a tough haul, but the campaign has built momentum and a large army of signature gatherers.

If I-732 fails, the question will be whether this citizen energy will flow to another initiative campaign. Signature gathering for any measure announced by the Alliance or the governor this fall will take place next year. It will have money to hire paid signature gatherers, so will have less need for volunteers. Nonetheless, without a lot of grassroots enthusiasm, it is hard to see any ballot measure surviving the deluge of fossil fuel opposition money. Most I-732 supporters will likely vote for any carbon pricing initiative. But will the fractiousness of this year dampen enthusiasm for deeper engagement?

If I-732 succeeds in ballot placement, the danger is that the fractures opened up in 2015 continue through until election day 2016. The best that can be done is to state the questions. If it is the only initiative, will the controversy this year depress enthusiasm among constituencies critical for passage? If there are dueling initiatives, will the tone of the debate be respectful or fractious? The wisest course in that scenario would be to set aside conflicts and advocate for an all-of-the-above strategy.

I have thought long and hard about the CarbonWA-Alliance conflict, and confess I am of divided mind. Personally, I lean toward the kind of investments for which the “Principles for Climate Justice” call. The title of my blog post says it, “Beyond Market Fundamentalism: The Climate War Requires Public Purpose and Investment.” Carbon frameworks that rely purely on the market-tipping effects of carbon pricing will not alone be sufficient to achieve the rapid and dramatic carbon emissions reductions for which science calls. Scientist James Hansen, who has lined out the needed reductions scenario and is also a preeminent advocate of revenue-neutral carbon taxes, himself acknowledges, “Although a carbon fee is the sine qua non for phasing out emissions, the urgency of slowing emissions also implies other needs including widespread technical cooperation in clean energy technologies.” (See Conclusions.) In other words, Apollo Project-scale or greater funding.

At the same time, a carbon price in itself is vital and CarbonWA’s $25/ton tax is an important first step. If I-732 were enacted, it would only be the beginning. The need for deep carbon reductions demands further steps. Future carbon revenues beyond the $25/ton figure could conceivably be devoted to carbon-reducing investments. The important consideration is to put a stake in the ground and give citizens familiarity with carbon pricing, whether through I-732 or an alternative measure proposed by the Alliance or the governor. To this point the I-732 campaign has been the only game in town, has built a deep-rooted network of enthusiastic volunteers, and has provided a way to spur the climate conversation at a grassroots level, engaging well over 100,000 people on the streets by now. That kind of engagement will be needed to pass any initiative, and CarbonWA is currently generating it.

WEIGHING THE ODDS

The ultimate test is viability at the ballot box. The bottom line question is – Can anything pass? Is Washington capable of enacting the first state-level carbon pricing in the world by popular vote?

The 2006 vote on I-937 provides a parallel, and leaves a troubling message. After many years of frustration seeking to pass a renewable electricity standard in the legislature, clean energy advocates went to the ballot box to enact a requirement for a 15% new renewable energy share in the state. Running up against utility industry charges the measure would increase electrical bills, the measure squeaked by with only 51.73%. In the case of a carbon pricing measure energy costs will indisputably increase. That is, in fact, the point.

Two strategies are in play to overcome this hurdle. CarbonWA seeks to bring in moderates and centrist voters with its revenue-neutral policy, and hoping they will believe it’s not a bait-and-switch. The Alliance is seeking to unify and turn out progressive constituencies with just transition funding. While I am philosophically more in tune with the position carbon revenues should fund energy transition, I have concerns there may be some strategic hubris in the circle-the-progessive-wagons approach. They center on the likely angle of attack opposition forces will employ.

It is easy to see it coming – “Seattle liberals want to impose new energy taxes on you, pushing up your gas and power bills to create yet another social program.” The targets will be suburban, rural and working class voters who already feel economically stressed, are alienated from the political establishment, and do not see benefits coming their way. The kind of voters Tim Eyman seeks to draw. It is not a pretty political reality, but it is a political reality,

Pulling a large margin in King County, the state’s largest, will be crucial to passing anything statewide. Even with climate impacts coming to Eastern Washington, a climate measure will still get creamed there, as well as in the Republican-leaning Southwest corner of the state. Margins in other Puget Sound and Westside counties will be narrower, so piling up a landslide victory in King County is the key to victory.

Important lessons are to be found in the April 2014 King County Proposition 1 vote to increase transit services. It asked voters to approve a 0.1 percent sales tax increase and a $60 annual car tab fee for 10 years. The vote saw Seattle vote 2-1 in favor, but the measure lost by an eight-percent margin. Seattle political consultant Ben Anderstone maps the results here. In urban areas where transit is a more viable option – such as the core of Seattle – the measure won big. It was crushed by suburban voters who could not see much of a direct benefit to them, and did not want to pay more for car tabs. Seattle was ultimately forced back to conduct its own successful transit funding vote.

Voters not seeing their direct interest is the danger any climate ballot measure faces. One which adds to the overall tax burden might face a steeper climb, especially if the benefits seem to be flowing elsewhere. Of course, we all have an interest in recovering a stable climate, and perhaps the intensification of climate impacts in Washington can put a measure over the top. The crux will be whether voters see the benefit of increasing their energy bills in order to protect the climate.

At this point, the best that can be said is the matter is in uncertainty, and a fractured climate movement does not improve the odds. The hope is that whatever measure or measures make it to the 2016 ballot, the movement will have re-gained sufficient unity and voters will be sufficiently motivated by climate impacts they see happening in their state and world to vote in carbon pricing. Washington state will make history if they do. But the obstacle course on the way is steep and deeply pitted.

 

Patrick Mazza is a Lake Union writer. This article is a cross post from his blog, Cascadia Planet.

Fountain ice

The Thanksgiving weekend cold snap created this icicled scene in the fountain at Chandlers Cove Sunday.  The succession of sunny cold days, unusual for Seattle, left a dusting of snow and ice all around the Lake.

Crazy Horse’s pipe centers multifaith ceremony at St. Patrick’s

Envision a priestess of the Goddess, a rabbi, a Sufi, a Methodist minister, a Lutheran pastor, a Quaker, a Hindu, a Muslim, Native American leaders and representatives of several other faiths passing around a pipe that once belonged to Crazy Horse, making prayers and sharing insights as the pipe came to them. All in a Catholic Church!

The 28th Interspiritual Celebration of Gratitude at Thanksgiving

The 28th Interspiritual Celebration of Gratitude at Thanksgiving

It happened in the neighborhood last Sunday. The 28th Interspiritual Celebration of Gratitude at Thanksgiving took place at St. Patrick’s with the theme, a Ceremonial Call to Illumine and Restore the Sacred. It was centered on the Sacred Pipe Ceremony. Hereditary Chief Phil Lane Jr, an enrolled member of the Ihanktonwan Dakota and Chickasaw Nations, noted that his tribe has had Crazy Horse’s pipe in its possession for several decades. But they are only bringing it out now.

This is a time when prophecies of Crazy Horse and other elders are being fulfilled, Lane said. After 500 years of darkness a spiritual renewal is bringing people of many faiths together to protect the Mother Earth. So Native people are beginning to share more of their ways with us. Bringing out the pipe was one manifestation of that.

Seattle spiritual leaders pass around Crazy Horses pipe

Seattle spiritual leaders pass around Crazy Horses pipe

Native spirit was at the center of the event. We were welcomed by Ken Workman, a member of the Duwamish Tribal Council and a fourth generation grandson of Chief Seattle. Sundance Chief Rueben George of the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation gave an extended talk with some deeply poignant moments. His son, Cedar George, was at the Marysville-Pilchuck High School when the tragic shooting happened recently. Healing was one of the intentions of the event. Rueben broke up for a moment describing how much he hurts for his son. Cedar spoke about how his grounding in Native spiritual ways gave him the strength to endure and help his classmates.

Native leaders from right to left: Ken Workman, red scarf; Phil Lane; Rueben George; Cedar George

Native leaders from right to left: Ken Workman, red scarf; Phil Lane; Rueben George; Cedar George

Rueben George and Phil Lane are both leaders of the Nawtsamaat Alliance of Native and non-Native people. The Alliance is taking a stand against oil and coal trains, ports, terminals, and pipelines in order to protect the Salish Sea, the inland waters from Puget Sound through the Georgia Straits.  This stance was the background of the Ceremonial Call. Faith communities such as those represented in the Sunday ceremony increasingly understand the Earth is sacred. They are prominent in the movement against coal and oil expansion because they understand that fossil fuels threaten our climate and our waters. Rueben talked about the growing movement coming together to protect the waters, noting how 25 years after the Exxon Valdez spill, Prince William Sound is still polluted. That could happen to our waters if we let the fossil fuel industry’s insatiable greed have its way, he said.

I have to admit I’m a recovering Catholic who rarely passes the door of a Catholic Church. But it’s no surprise I found myself at St. Patrick’s. The church is committed to keeping alive the ecumenical and progressive vision of the early 1960s Vatican II conference. This must have been challenging through the conservatism that has prevailed since, but the tradition of openness seems to be returning with Pope Francis. Maybe I’ll find my way back for a regular mass. It would make my mother happy.

Sunday’s Ceremonial Call was deeply moving, indeed stirring gratitude this Thanksgiving season. In a world where so much seems enveloped in darkness, this brought light.

Down home Seattle soul lives at Voula’s Offshore Café

When I first came to the Northwest in the ‘70s, after growing up on the East Coast and going to school in California, I noticed that this corner of the U.S. stood out for its great breakfast places. I became familiar with the culinary delights of omelets stuffed with a multitude of ingredients accompanied by piles of hash browns, stacks of toast and coffee cups that never stayed empty for long.

I speculated it was all about the natural resources economy of the region. About the need for a hearty breakfast before going out to run chainsaws, heave fishing nets or herd cattle. All the logger’s and rancher’s breakfasts listed on the menus were a pretty good clue.

It was definitely the case with his place, says Sikey Vlahos, owner of Voula’s Offshore Café, located just off Lake Union at 658 NE Northlake Way.

Voula's entrance

Voula’s entrance

“This place was supported by fishermen and the people who worked on the boats. They needed hearty meals, to escape to a restaurant to get good food.”

The fishing industry is not the force on the lake that it once was and many older landmarks have shut down under pressure from higher rents. But Voula’s continues to attract a steady clientele from local residents, the university and a still active business community on the Lake. In a Seattle that is rapidly gentrifying Voula’s remains a genuine expression of traditional Seattle soul, a down home diner serving ample, tasty breakfasts and lunches in a friendly setting rich with recollections of local history.

Voula's mural

Voula’s mural

There’s the mural that covers the entire east wall of the front dining room. Depicting Portage Bay circa 1957, it was done by an artist named Gene Buck who needed a place to stay. The restaurant, just opened two years as Rose’s, had a room off to the side. So as a trade Buck spent his evenings painting the still bright image centered on University Bridge.

And there’s a piece of the original SLO-MO-SHUN IV hanging on the wall. The history-making hydroplane was built by Anchor Jensen of Jensen Motorboats, still just down the street from Voula’s on Boat Street.

Piece of the demolished SO-MO-SHUN IV

Piece of the demolished SO-MO-SHUN IV

Hydroplane historian Fred Farley tells the story: “In the early hours of June 26, 1950, an event transpired that caught the racing world by surprise. An Unlimited Class hydroplane with the unlikely name of SLO-MO-SHUN IV set a mile straightaway record of 160.323 miles per hour on Lake Washington near Sand Point, which raised the former standard by nearly 19 miles per hour . . . SLO-MO-SHUN IV was not the first Unlimited hydroplane to ‘prop-ride’ on a semi-submerged propeller. But she was the first to reap championship results in the application of the concept . . . For the next twenty years, boats had to pretty much use a SLO-MO-type of design to be competitive.”

The hydroplane broke to pieces in an accident on the Detroit River in 1956. Heartbroken owner Stan Sayres died three weeks later. But the memory of this piece of Seattle heritage lives on as part of a hydroplane display on the rear dining room wall.

One of two paintings by Chihuly

One of two paintings by Chihuly

A catacorner wall reflects another famous Seattle connection with two paintings by Dale Chihuly celebrating Voula’s. Chihuly’s Lake Union glass blowing shop is a nearby neighbor and Chihuly was another Voula’s regular when he lived there in the 1980s.

Voula’s has yet a further claim to fame. In 2007 Guy Fieri of the Food Network made the restaurant one of the original features for his show, “Diner’s Drive-ins and Dives.” The crew came in for a two-day filming session. The Voula’s episode still repeats and has made the restaurant an attraction for tour operators.

“It doubled our business,” Sikey said. “We had to expand.”

Guy Fieri's book features Voula's

Guy Fieri’s book features Voula’s

Despite all the fame and attention Voula’s remains totally down to Earth. It is the good old neighborhood gathering spot with many daily regulars. A bulletin board full of friendly messages, a wall of pictures of customers’ children, even a shelf of toy cars donated by customers – originally for kids to play with, are all evidence of how much a community place this is.

Sikey and his mom, Voula, took over the place in 1984. Then the Offshore Café, they added Voula’s name, and it has stuck ever since. Voula herself is officially retired, but she is often in providing a warm, Greek-style greeting. The other day when I was in for breakfast she led the house in a rendition of “Happy Birthday” for a customer.

The entire family migrated from Greece in 1971 when Sikey was 7. Dad worked as a tailor. Voula started working at the Little Cheerful Café, which is now the Portage Bay Café at University Motor Inn. In 1983 the owner sold the Little Cheerful.

“My mom was upset she wasn’t offered it,” Sikey says. “So she started looking for restaurant to buy, and she bought this one.”

Recently Voula’s expanded again. A classic diner where mounds of hashbrowns cook on open flat stoves behind the counter, the café has now added a much larger rear kitchen in a space that was formerly Tony’s Coffee warehouse.

“We have five times the kitchen that we had,” Sikey says.

The menu “all started with the classic American breakfast,” he notes. Creative weekly specials are offered and become regulars if popular enough. As you might expect, there’s a lot of Greek influence in the menu, like one of my favorites, the Freagy Greagy omelet with feta, spinach, Greek sausage and onions. Voula’s does a lot of its own meat and fish smoking. One of their signature dishes, the Pinata Benedict, features their own smoked pork, though I like to switch that out with their smoked salmon.

New buildings are popping up around Voula’s North Lake location. The university is slowly devouring the neighborhood. Will Voula’s survive or be swept up in the development wave as have so many classic Seattle institutions? Fortunately, no.

“We own this place,” Sikey says. “We’re in control of our own destiny. With the huge investment we just did that is not in the foreseeable future. This block is owned by three different families. We are all on the same page.”

What is the toughest part of running Voula’s?   “Working 12 hours a day for 6 days a week. Sometime it’s seven,” Sikey says.

And the best?

“It makes me happy to see people eat a meal and make a comment such as ‘the best thing I’ve ever had’ or ‘that was extremely delicious.’ It gives me great gratification to make people happy.”

The family has indeed made this Lake Union tradition a place of happiness. Next time you’re hankering for a classic Seattle breakfast diner experience try out Voula’s Offshore Café. You’ll be happy you did.

 

Climate as the culminating progressive movement: Naomi Klein’s antidote to despair

Crossposted from Cascadia Planet*

In her seminal This Changes Everything Naomi Klein is looking for the force that will do just that, politically and economically, before business as usual changes everything about the climate and the world’s ecosystems. She finds answers in a coalescence of the past two centuries’ great progressive movements, all of which have “the intrinsic value of life . . . at the heart . . .“ Climate can be the driver that completes the unfinished business of those movements, Klein writes.

The movement to abandon use of fossil fuels parallels the 19th century movement for abolition of slavery and the 20th century movement for independence of former European colonies. “Both of these transformative movements forced ruling elites to relinquish practices that were extraordinarily profitable, much as fossil fuel extraction is today,” Klein notes. Even the value of the slaves that were freed in the Civil War roughly equates to the value of coal, oil and natural gas that must be left in the ground to avert catastrophic climate disruption and ocean acidification – around $10 trillion.

But these progressive revolutions left unfinished business. The freed slaves never received 40 acres and a mule. The economic disempowerment of African America remains a stark fact today. Redistribution of lands and wealth did not follow colonial independence. Postcolonial governments that tried to redistribute wealth were undermined by coups, assassinations and bank-imposed austerity schemes.

Heroic social justice movements have secured legal rights and won cultural battles, Klein writes, notably civil, women’s and gay and lesbian movements. But they have been less successful on the economic front. The New Deal labor movement is an exception, as are social movements that built strong public services. But these are being pushed back. Klein looks to a turnaround and advance in a new progressive coalescence that secures economic justice by addressing climate necessities.

Klein’s fundamental point in This Changes Everything is that the time for gradual change in economies has passed. Humanity has dumped too much climate disrupting carbon in the air. Emissions reductions of 8-10 percent annually are needed in industrialized countries to stabilize an increasingly turbulent climate. This will require deep changes in economic systems. Making these changes offers a chance to complete the unfinished work of economic justice. Klein frames this as a Marshall Plan for Earth.

“The massive global investments required to respond to the climate threat – to adapt humanely and equitably to the heavy weather we have already locked in, and to avert the truly catastrophic warming we can still avoid – is a chance . . . to get it right this time.”

Thischangeseverything  thischangeseverythingback

Winning means beating the foe of all movements for the “intrinsic value of life” including climate, the extractivist worldview that sees land, waters and people only as opportunities to extract wealth. The contrast is an economy that regenerates life. She gives many examples, prominently, initiatives for clean energy and green jobs at local levels, from Native reservations to German municipalities. Bringing resources back to communities, enabling them to build their own sources of sustenance, is the key. That can come in land redistribution, restored public services and institutions, and good housing, as well as solar panels and wind turbines.

“So climate change does not need some shiny new movement that will magically succeed where others failed. Rather, as the furthest-reaching crisis created by the extractivist worldview, and one that puts humanity on a firm and unyielding deadline, climate change can be the force – the grand push – that will bring together all these still living movements.”

Indeed, Climate Movement 2.0 seems on arrival. Climate Movement 1.0 was driven primarily by environmental groups and scientists. A more diverse range is coming to Climate Movement 2.0. More ethnic, more working class, younger.

Climate Movement 1.0 culminated in the unsuccessful push for a federal carbon cap in 2009-10. The climate bill was stuffed with nuclear and “clean coal” subsidies and tied to a carbon offset market that would have allowed polluters to substantially avoid direct emissions reductions into the 2020s. Even support for offshore oil drilling came into the Senate bill. Klein correctly concludes that failure to pass that bill “should not be seen, as it often is, as the climate movement’s greatest defeat, but rather as a narrowly dodged bullet.”

Klein skewers the process that created the bill, the U.S. Climate Action Partnership of Big Green groups such as Environmental Defense Fund and big polluters. The severely compromised legislation gave a free pass to 90% of power plant carbon pollution and set carbon caps far short of what it would take to avert disastrous global warming. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency would have been barred from regulating power plant pollution. Ironically, EPA is now moving to do just that as the result of a U.S. Supreme Court decision. In the end, the polluters jumped ship when they saw the legislation crippled by lack of Obama Administration support.

Despite spending nearly a half billion of Green funder money to support the legislation, the climate movement also lacked much of a grassroots base, Klein writes. It was more focused on elites. She quotes Harvard University sociologist Theda Skocpol. “To counter fierce political opposition, reformers will have to build political networks across the country, and they will need to orchestrate sustained political efforts that stretch far beyond friendly Congressional offices, comfy boardrooms, and posh retreats.”

In other words, the climate movement would have to move beyond the suites and out onto the streets. Notes Klein, “a resurgent grassroots climate movement has now arrived and is doing precisely that – and it is winning a series of startling victories against the fossil fuel sector as a result.“ This more grassroots and democratic movement is where Klein sees hope.

“When I despair of the prospects for change, I think back on some of what I have witnessed in the five years of writing this book,” Klein says.

“When I started this journey, most of the resistance movements standing in the way of the fossil fuel frenzy did not exist or were a fraction of their current size. All were significantly more isolated from one another than they are today.”

Now, resistance to extreme fossil fuel extraction and infrastructure, to tar sands, fracking, coal ports, oil trains, etc., draws in Native people, farmers, faith communities, local public officials and civic groups. The direct action movement Klein dubs Blockadia is sprouting across the map, “’friction’ to slow down an economic system that is careening out of control.” Universities, cities and foundations are facing and responding to determined citizen movements demanding divestment from fossil fuel stocks. In Germany hundreds of municipalities have de-privatized electric utilities, restoring public control and driving one of the world’s most rapid shifts to renewable energy.

That last trend exemplifies one of Klein’s most important points, the urgent need to push back the attack on the public sphere by the market fundamentalism that has prevailed since the 1980s – the philosophy that government can do no right and the market can do no wrong. From responding to disasters such as Katrina or Sandy to rapidly advancing clean energy, a rebuilt public sector is crucial, she says. Klein’s subtitle, “Capitalism vs. the Climate,” has spurred criticism and misunderstanding that she is calling for an end to capitalism as the precursor to solving the climate crisis. Klein’s real point is that we must begin changing the balance of power.

“There is plenty of room to make a profit in a zero-carbon economy; but the profit motive is not going to be the midwife for that great transformation,” she writes.

Instead, a turn back to communitarian values will be the motive force: “. . . any attempt to rise to the climate challenge will be fruitless unless it is understood as part of a much broader battle of worldviews, a process of rebuilding and reinventing the very idea of the collective, the communal, the commons, the civil, and the civic, after so many decades of attack and neglect.”

In a season that has seen the People’s Climate Mobilization in New York and around the world, with a visibly broader spectrum coming to the climate cause, Klein’s This Changes Everything is the book of the moment. Klein has sighted the path to climate victory in integration with a larger progressive movement, and victory for the historic thrust of progressive movements in a unifying focus on climate. The struggle will be long and difficult, but working together there is a chance to build the better world of centuries’ aspiration. Klein has drawn a prospect of immense hope out of a deep crisis that can so easily induce despair. That is the genius of this book. Read it.

*Editor’s note:  Patrick Mazza is a climate activist, writer, blogger and Lake Union resident.