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Modern bridge to replace Fairview Avenue trestle

Seattle Department of Transportation held an open house last night about plans to replace the 65-year-old  Fairview Trestle that runs beside the historic Lake Union Steam Plant building with a modern bridge. Construction of the new bridge is planned for spring 2017, and that’s when the detours would start.

SDOT had hoped to leave at least one lane open on the old bridge during construction, but that would have prolonged the project by at least six months, so they are opting for a quicker construction schedule of 15 to 18 months as opposed to 24. Quicker construction reduces costs and might be less inconvenient all around.

The most likely detour, said a SDOT representative, will be Aloha Street to Eastlake Avenune (but SDOT is also looking at Republican Street). If Aloha is chosen, the street will be resigned to allow for better traffic flow, signal priority and a left turn lane back onto Fairview south of construction site, where one is not currently allowed.

Fairview Detour edit

(Photos are of a few of the design boards from the Open House.)

There is a stairway just north of Silver Could Inn that could be improved for pedestrian access, the SDOT official added.

The new bridge will exactly replace the old bridge in size, 65 feet wide, but will have wider car lanes and a two-way bicycle track, along with sidewalks on either side. To allow for the seeming expansions, the seven foot buffer lane is disappearing.

The floating walkway beside the bridge will also be removed and may be replaced if permitting allows. There are design plans for it.

Rendering of new Fairview Avenue Bridge.

Rendering of new Fairview Avenue Bridge.

The new bridge will have three lookout points and lots of new native plant vegetation and hardscaping (stones and pathways) on either end leading up to it.

Fairview Plants

Improved landscaping will bookend the bridge.

It will be strong enough to hold a streetcar should the streetcar be extended to Eastlake and up Roosevelt, but that is not the reason for the trestle replacement. At 65 the trestle has outlived its useful life and is not earthquake sound.

For more information and to comment go to SDOT website.

Cautionary Land Use Tales: The Battle of Roanoke Reef

It’s Halloween and it seems like an appropriate time to put up our first article in an on-going series of “Cautionary Land Use Tales.” Because it’s a little scary to think of what might have been… 

It is the Seattle land use fight by which all others are judged. Thirteen years, from 1967 to 1980, dozens of public hearings, and file cabinets of lawsuits concluded in victory for the neighborhoods of Lake Union.

Since 1962, neighborhood activists had warned that zoning loopholes could allow massive office and residential buildings along the shorelines and above the waters of Lake Union – replacing houseboats and water-dependent businesses.  State and city governments lent a deaf ear to the threat.

In 1967, neighborhood fears were realized when a building permit application for a seven-story condominium was filed for the foot of East Roanoke Street. Existing were pleasure craft moorages– some covered, some not – spread out around the Riviera Marina that housed Bill Boeing’s weathered 1916 Seaplane Station. The proposed “Roanoke Reef Condominium” was to be built on a 480’ x 100’ concrete platform located just north of East Roanoke Street – just above the waters of Lake Union. The application read: one story of concrete parking garage, then six stories of wood frame with stucco face and tinted-bronze glass.  It boasted a heated pool, glass enclosed lanais, television security system, three elevators and 168 luxury units.

Houseboaters and upland neighbors rallied against the proposed project and won outright.  The 1967 building permit for the Roanoke Reef Condominium was denied. But the battle of Roanoke Reef wasn’t over; in fact it had only just begun.

*

In 1969, Fairview Boat Works just north of the foot of East Lynn Street was demolished and construction began on a five story, 98-unit over-the-water apartment house (now the 48-unit Union Harbor Condo). Union Harbor was permitted and built before neighbors could organize meaningful opposition.  Within months, five more proposals to build mega-unit over-the-water apartment houses along Fairview Avenue East were announced.  A speculative feeding frenzy had begun, and Roanoke Reef re-surfaced as a five story, 112-unit condo proposal.

The newly formed citywide citizens group CHECC (Choose an Effective City Council) prodded state and local government to address the problem of Lake Union’s inadequate zoning, and zoning loopholes were eventually closed in such a way as to discourage four of the five over-the-water development plans. One permit was issued, however, to Roanoke Reef. The permit application was submitted to the Seattle Building Department on May 7, 1969.  It was “conditionally issued” the next day.  Building permits were either approved or denied, so to neighbors the permit spread a strong stench of impropriety.

In the end the battle of Roanoke Reef centered on what would turn out to be an illegally issued building permit.

Proposed 112-unit over the water structure aka "Roanoke Reef"

Proposed 112-unit over the water structure aka “Roanoke Reef”

*

Since individual plaintiffs could be held personally liable for construction delays while officers of non-profit corporations were protected, a first legal strategy was the creation of a non-profit community organization for upland residents. The Eastlake Community Council (ECC) was formed in 1971. Among its official purposes was (and still is) “to maximize public use and enjoyment of the inland waters and shorelines adjoining the Eastlake community.”  ECC worked with the Floating Homes Association (FHA, founded in 1962) to fight the vested permit. But each time the building permit was set to expire, the City renewed it.

Enactment of the 1971 Shoreline Management Act should have ended the project outright.  But “construction” on Roanoke Reef began March 15, just weeks before the SMA’s June 1 effective date, with workers driving 10 concrete pilings into the lakebed.

Although community scuba divers proved the pilings were haphazardly placed and certainly only symbolic, the city again renewed the building permit.

In a June 23, 1971 letter to the Eastlake Community Council’s co-founder Phyllis Boyker, then-Mayor Wes Uhlman wrote, “I dislike the destruction of a valuable natural resource like this section of Lake Union for purely business interests. Unfortunately, however, there seems to be nothing which can done to halt the project. No building or zoning codes have been violated and no laws have been broken.”

In July, real construction began. Existing moorages were torn out along with the March 15 pilings. The old Riviera Marina that included the original Boeing Company hangar was torn down, and 250 concrete pilings were driven into the lakebed.

With the start of that construction, the community took legal action.  Harold H. “Hal” Green of the firm MacDonald, Hoague and Bayless offered his legal services “at cost.” By summer’s end $11,500 had been raised toward a legal fund. On September 15, 1971, a lawsuit was filed in King County Superior Court on behalf of ECC, FHA, and Phyllis Boyker, who formed the lead as a directly affected upland resident.

Among the suit’s charges were 1) the city had issued an illegal building permit in 1969, 2) the City had repeatedly renewed the illegal permit, and 3) the developers were not in compliance with the Shoreline Management Act.

The developers, represented by Robert Ratcliffe of Diamond and Sylvester, (the law firm of Joe Diamond, parking lot magnet) quickly brought a counter-suit against Phyllis Boyker. Under the threat of financial ruin, Ms. Boyker was forced to withdraw. The developers then contended that FHA and ECC were not directly impacted by the proposal and thus had no right to sue.  The State Department of Ecology joined ECC and FHA as a co-plaintiff on February 10, 1972.  The trial began four days later.  After nine days of testimony, the introduction of 137 exhibits, and ten minutes of consideration following final arguments, Superior Court Judge W.R. Cole ruled against the community on every count – including the very right to bring the lawsuit.

The ECC and FHA were exhausted, debt-ridden, and facing an appeal deadline to the State Supreme Court. They needed an additional $8,000 for transcripts and court-ordered bonds. They raised money though dances, rummage sales, spaghetti dinners, boat outings, door-to-door solicitations, and mailings.  On April 19, 1972, in a meeting with representatives for the Attorney General’s office, (the AG at that time was Slade Gorton, a charter member of CHECC.)  the earlier promise of state help was negotiated into meaningful support.  That evening, the votes were won to commit ECC and FHA to appeal to the State Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, back at the Reef, construction continued.  A fully furnished model unit stocked with sales brochures opened at the adjacent construction staging area.  A Roanoke Reef advertising billboard appeared in South Lake Union at the corner of Fairview Avenue N. and Valley Street.

On September 6, 1972, the Attorney General filed papers with the State Supreme Court to halt construction of Roanoke Reef.   When work stopped, a significant portion of the cinder block parking structure had been completed.  Oral arguments were heard on November 13, 1972 before the State Supreme Court.  Joe Diamond, himself, argued for the developers; Harold Green and Francis Hoague (a local liberal legend) for the community.   On July 18, 1973, the State Supreme Court ruled for the community.  The City was stuck with a nearly $3 million bill for illegally issuing the permit.  What’s more, the Court ruled that ECC and FHA did have standing to sue—an important early precedent for public interest litigation that spread throughout the country.

 

Roanoke Reef July 20, 1973 two days after the State Supreme Court ruled permits were illegally issued. This Seattle Times photo portrays the moment of community victory. Note the upland construction shack and model unit where the gracious 49-65 East Roanoke townhomes now reside. (photo credit: Seattle Times)

Roanoke Reef July 20, 1973 two days after the State Supreme Court ruled permits were illegally issued. This Seattle Times photo portrays the moment of community victory. Note the upland construction shack and model unit where the gracious 49-65 East Roanoke townhomes now reside. (photo credit: Seattle Times)

*

But victory in a land use battle does not simply come with a “permit denied” ruling, and developers do not just go away.  In this case, the verdict did not include an order to remove the illegally permitted concrete platform.  Within four days, the developers submitted a new building permit application.  The proposal had been reduced to 81 units, but remained 57 feet high.  And in November 1973, the developers filed a $7,000,000 damage suit against the City of Seattle.

Although the developers eventually won a $2,896,534 judgment against the city (check written July 3, 1976), they made little headway in securing permits for their condominium. The tide of the Battle of Roanoke Reef clearly had turned to favor the community. Just before Christmas 1974, the city denied a final new building permit. The Roanoke Reef over-water condominium project was dead. During the next three years, occasional rumors circulated that a new condo building permit was soon to be submitted but the rumors always proved to be negotiation posturing or unfounded speculation.

Between 1975 and 1978, the Battle of Roanoke Reef was a miserable, tedious stalemate.  The community was unyielding in seeking removal of the illegal platform. Removal was completely unacceptable to the developers. Sketchbook entrepreneurs offered ideas for a public park, marina or restaurant to settle the celebrated dispute. Each scheme rested atop the illegal concrete slab. Most met with initial public approval. All required vigorous repudiation by the community.

In 1976, ’77 and ’78, the developers submitted land use applications to establish marinas beside the platform.  In each instance, the developers refused to state that further development would not occur. Two of the three proposals met with initial government approval. An attitude of “let’s approve it and move on to another issue” seemed to prevail.  But for the community, the platform continued to be illegal and developers refused to disclaim thoughts of future high-rise development.  Each marina proposal initiated another round of public hearings.  Each marina proposal was eventually defeated.

 

Construction of the Roanoke Reef platform. The illegal platform would remain for years.

Construction of the Roanoke Reef platform. The illegal platform would remain in place for years.

*

Like weeds through the sidewalk, life slowly began to infest the Reef’s concrete slab. An impromptu marine engine repair shop located there.  Fishing boats tied up for off-season moorage.  Some live-aboards took advantage of the $1 per foot moorage fees. Kids dove off the slab and canoes cruised under it.

In 1978, the Roanoke Reef stalemate was broken and a temporary truce was declared.  It was agreed that a City-hired consultant conduct a study of the legal, economic and environmental ramifications of the concrete slab. The community supported the study only after demolition was included as an option.

Soon after the consultant’s report, Lucile Flanagan (later the benevolent owner of the Crest Theater) quietly emerged with a viable Roanoke Reef plan. Ms. Flanagan would purchase the property for $500,000, demolish the concrete slab, construct and sell 20 condo houseboat moorages, plus nine townhouses at the site of the former construction staging area. The sale was finalized in the summer of 1979 and the Environmental Impact Statement completed during the first months of 1980.

No single individual led the community’s efforts. Only houseboater Terry Pettis (FHA Executive Director) and uplander Victor Steinbrueck (an ECC board member) were intimately involved from beginning to end, but they thought it proper that the Battle of Roanoke Reef be spearheaded by the ordinary folks of  the FHA and the ECC. Nine ECC presidents served during those years. The long casualty list of cancelled vacations, lost career opportunities and strained family relationships explains the rapid turnover.

1980 demolition party invite

1980 demolition party invite

*

On a sunny Saturday – July 26, 1980 – the Battle of Roanoke Reef officially ended with a neighborhood party on the concrete platform.  Food, music, beverages, skydivers, politicians and speeches accompanied this latest of innumerable fundraisers for the ECC Legal Defense Fund, with one and all invited to start the demolition of the slab at one-dollar-a-whack.

A submerged reef of concrete is located somewhere off Blake Island where the remains of the platform were finally hauled to rest, but not before a few souvenir chunks were given out.  For many years thereafter (it may be there still), on a shelf in the Director’s reception area for Seattle’s Department of Construction and Land Use there was a chunk with an engraved red aluminum label reading, “Roanoke Reef, 1971-1980.”

(Note this is a classic piece that was first published in 1987 and more recently ran in the Summer 2014 Eastlake News. It was written by Jules James.)

Sink or swim? Nov. 3 hearing for Ride the Ducks

The fate of Ride the Ducks is in the hands of Olympia right now and a hearing at the state capitol will provide more information on whether the ducks will be allowed to sink or paddle back to shore.

The Washington State Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC) is holding a status conference, open to the public, Tuesday, Nov. 3, at 9:30 a.m. on their investigation into the safety operations of Ride the Ducks. People can either attend in person at the UTC hearing room or request to be conferenced in prior to the meeting. For conference line availability call 360-664-1234.

“At the meeting, UTC motor carrier safety staff will provide the judge with preliminary findings from their ongoing investigation,” wrote a state representative after a request for information.

Much hangs in the balance. Will the Ducks be permanently sunk as many hope or will the state toss them a lifesaver and allow some form of operations to resume?

The state suspended the Ducks operations four days after the horrific and tragic accident that occurred on the Aurora Bridge September 24. Since that time the state has been looking into the safety practices and maintenance records of the two types of vehicles Ride the Ducks operates for its tourism business, “Truck Duck” and “Stretch Duck” vehicles. The “Stretch Duck” vehicle is under the most scrutiny as it was the type involved in the Sept 24 accident.

In a Joint Stipulation filed Oct. 1, 2015, both the state and Ride the Ducks have the objective of returning the “Truck Duck” vehicles to service within 30 days if they pass “regulatory inspections” and the “Stretch Duck” vehicles “within a reasonable period of time.”

But returning the Ducks to service is not what everyone wants.

Over the past three years Eastlakers have actively fought a proposed private Ride the Ducks boat ramp adjacent to Terry Pettus Park citing safety and noise concerns. The ramp would have as many as 18 amphibious Duck vehicles an hour during peak season crossing the Cheshiahud Lake Union Loop trail and entering the lake in close proximity to the local houseboat community.

The Eastlake Community Council, the Log Foundation (a cooperative of three houseboat docks adjacent to Terry Pettus Park) and the Floating Homes Association in February 2015  filed a legal appeal with the Washington State Shoreline Board countering the city’s decision to permit the Ducks. Finally on the advice of their attorneys when it appeared the appeal would not be successful, the three groups reached a settlement agreement with Ride the Ducks in June 2015 for significant noise abatement through the proposed ramp area among other things.

Now, Ride the Duck opponents of the Eastlake ramp site, with enough public support, see the hearing in Olympia as an opportunity to sink the Ducks.

image from www.stoptheducks.com

image from www.stoptheducks.com

Beach House on Lake Union won’t last long but that’s OK

It stands out on South Lake Union Park like some strange temporary construction structure, which it is, but it’s also an art installation that contains and recalls a time before there was any construction on the shores of Lake Union.

As its plaque explains, “Beach House is inspired by early Native American dwellings cross-pollinated by today’s frame-construction houses. The interior structure is made from sticks collected over the last eight years from a Puget Sound beach near my home. Its shadows cast upon the interior walls form negatives, like blueprints or x-rays of the sourced material’s origins.”

Although a Beach House seems perfect here, the lake was not its original site, wrote artist David W. Simpson in an email. “This piece was transported from Westlake Square (now one of the Pronto Bike locations) across from the Westin Hotel about a year ago.” It was intended as a temporary piece, he adds, for one or two months, but surprisingly has not been vandalized in the year or so it’s been at SLU, until recently when a small tag of graffiti appeared. But that may be expected as the house decays.

Says Simpson, “I intended for this to be an ephemeral project, and thus the natural decay of the interior walls (once a bright blue) and the decline of the stick structure inside seem quite appropriate.”

Below are some photos of its construction and installment at Westlake Square. There’s also a slideshow on the artist’s website and a nice write-up in The Seattle Weekly.

4picsX3pics BHouse DAY_2.jpeg

 

 

 

Amazon’s New Digs will be Biospheres

While Amazon is known for occupying a good part of the territory in South Lake Union, its corporate campus is expanding to the edge of downtown (Sixth and Blanchard to be exact). Check out GeekWire for the latest bird’s eye view of its construction.

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.

The kids are all right!

From the Lake Union blog site, Cascadia Planet, the latest on how kids are doing something about climate change: The kids call us out — Filing lawsuits for science-based climate recovery.

Egan House on Tour

Yesterday, the Egan House, that  curious white, wedge-shaped building building on Lakeview Blvd. was open to the public. Historic Seattle owns the house, while the Seattle Parks Department owns the greenbelt. Every few years Historic Seattle will open the house to the public for tours and as a reminder of the building’s architectural significance to Seattle. The rest of the time the house is rented out to tenants to enjoy.

Egan House is a time capsule taking you back to what was breakthrough modern style, inside and out, over a half century ago. Original detailing remains, including a late fifties kitchen ordered from Sears, complete with a refrigerator in the cupboards and the facade of a once working washing machine. Customized pocket doors make efficient use of the modest space; a floating staircase made with Alaskan marble connects the floors.

When it was first build in 1958, the house caused people to stop and gawk. Today it is the youngest building Historic Seattle has preserved and put into reuse. As Historic Seattle notes in its brochure (folded in triangle) about the house, “The striking design represents a shift away from architectural traditionalism, and its preservation illustrates new views of what is worth saving. Part of what makes it so memorable is that the house is isolated from its neighbors by the site’s topography. Adding to the house’s notability is the unique approach to life taken by its designer: in the 1950’s, architect Robert Reichert was a unique character within Seattle’s design community. As other local architects embraced international modernism and helped develop a Pacific Northwest architectural style featuring strong horizontals, overhanging eaves, modular forms and clean lines, Reichert went his own way.”

The living room is at the  top of the house providing the space with dramatic, high ceilings.

The living room is at the top of the house providing the space with dramatic, high ceilings.

 

The other side of the living room, and off this side is a triangular deck with view of Lake Union.

The other side of the living room, and off this side is a triangular deck with view of Lake Union.

Every couple of years, Historic Seattle opens the Egan House up for public tours.

Every couple of years, Historic Seattle opens the Egan House up for public tours.

Cascadia Planet -The Fennica Actions: “Bold, cultural revolution” comes to Portland‏

The same week Pope Francis in his climate encyclical called for “a bold cultural revolution” to win “liberation from the dominant technocratic paradigm,” a group of kayaktavists in Seattle boldly set themselves in front of Shell Oil’s monster oil rig departing to drill in the Arctic.  This past week the revolution came to Portland when kayaktavists and climbers hanging from St. John’s Bridge blocked passage of Shell’s icebreaker Fennica, a vital element of the Arctic drilling fleet.  Lake Union blog, Cascadia Planet, tells the story of the Portland actions and sets them in the global context.

 

 

Photo Caption: Streamers float in the wind under the St. Johns Bridge as activists hung under it in an attempt to prevent the Shell leased icebreaker, MSV Fennica from joining the rest of Shell’s Arctic drilling fleet. According to the latest federal permit, the Fennica must be at Shell’s drill site before Shell can reapply for federal approval to drill deep enough for oil in the Chukchi Sea.

 

 

 

Gov. Inslee orders carbon regulation – Credit to youth lawsuit?

Lake Union blogger, Patrick Mazza, is a climate activist and as things continue to heat up around the world, we’re happy to share some of his writing, especially when it is good news:

Washington Governor Jay Inslee today ordered the state Department of Ecology to place a regulatory cap on carbon emissions.  While a successful youth lawsuit to spur such an action is not being given direct credit, it is hard not to see the connection.

“Carbon pollution and the climate change it causes pose a very real and existential threat to our state,” Inslee said. “Farmers in the Yakima Valley know this. Shellfish growers on the coast know this. Firefighters battling Eastern Washington blazes know this. And children suffering from asthma know this all too well and are right to question why Washington hasn’t acted to protect them.”

Inslee is claiming regulatory authority under the state Clean Air Act. The rulemaking is expected to take a year. The action will provide Inslee a potential opportunity go to the U.N. Paris climate summit in December with a climate initiative of global significance.

In August 2014 a group of eight youths petitioned the state Department of Ecology to start a rulemaking for carbon caps much as the governor ordered today. Ecology rejected the youth petition.  Represented by the Western Environmental Law Center, they took Ecology to court. On June 23 in a decision unprecedented in the United States, King County Superior Court Judge Hollis Hill ordered Ecology to reconsider the petition based on scientific testimony and their own statements.

Of critical importance, the youth petition affirmed that existing laws provide Ecology with all the authority it needs to regulate carbon emissions. The governor today took the same position.

But the governor’s press spokeperson, David Postman said, “As far as I know, this effort is not related to the lawsuit against Ecology.”

Nonetheless it hard to believe that these developments are not connected.  Ecology is under the gun from Hill’s court order.  Andrea Rodgers, lead attorney in their case, has a similar view. “The only ones who asked the governor to do this are those kids. They deserve the credit.”

The eight are Zoe and Stella Foster, Ajia and Adonis Piper, Wren Wagenbach, Lara Fain, Garbriel Mandell and Jenny Zhu.

The youth petition asked the for carbon emissions reductions of four percent a year beginning immediately. This is based on science developed by world-renowned climate scientist James Hansen, who this past week released a new study indicating sea level could rise 10 feet in 50 years if deep emissions reductions do not begin immediately.

What is not clear from the governor’s announcement is how far his order will go to implement science-based goals. The announcement says, “The regulatory cap on carbon emissions would force a significant reduction in air pollution and will be the centerpiece of Inslee’s strategy to make sure the state meets its statutory emission limits set by the Legislature in 2008.” State carbon emission limits are substantially higher than the level required by science.

“We’re going to make sure that whatever Ecology does is based on the best available science,” Rodgers said.  “When we meet with Ecology tomorrow we are going to ask that they heed Judge Hill’s order.”

In her order Hill quoted Ecology’s own December 2014 report to the governor.

“Climate change is not a far off risk.  It is happening now globally and the impacts are worse than previously predicted, and are forecast to worsen . . . If we delay action by even a few years, the rate of reduction needed to stabilize the global climate would be beyond anything achieved historically and would be more costly.”

Ecology itself admitted the 2008 goals fall short: “Washington State’s existing statutory limits should be adjusted to better reflect the current science. The limits need to be more aggressive in order for Washington to do its part to address climate risks and to align our limits with other jurisdictions that are taking responsibility to address these risks.”

Noted Hill, “Despite this urgent call to action, based on science it does not dispute, Ecology’s recommendation in (the December 2014) report is, ‘that no changes be made to the state’s statutory emission limits at this time.’”

Judge Hill wasn’t buying that.  She told Ecology to take its own report and scientific testimony into account and reconsider the youth petition. That is what the agency will have to do.

The regulatory cap will not in itself set a carbon price as would have the governor’s failed carbon bill.  But that could come by future legislative action or a ballot measure. A carbon tax is the center of Initiative 732 being forwarded by Carbon Washington for the November 2016 ballot.

“This is not the comprehensive approach we could have had with legislative action,” Inslee said. “But Senate Republicans and the oil industry have made it clear that they will not accede to any meaningful action on carbon pollution so I will use my authority under the state Clean Air Act to take these meaningful first steps.”

Inslee also announced he would not implement a Clean Fuels Standard because it would have triggered a “poison pill” taking around $2 billion away from transportation alternatives including transit, bicycling and walking.

“In talking about the terrible choice the Senate imposed on the people of Washington – clean air or buses and safe sidewalks – I heard broad agreement that we need both clean transportation and clean air,” Inslee said. “I appreciate the commitment I heard from many to work with me to ensure our state meets its statutory carbon reduction limits.”

(I previously wrote that my gut told me Inslee would swallow the “poison pill.”  In this case I’m glad my gut was wrong.  Clean fuels should not be played against needed alternatives.)

Inslee’s announcement today signifies a tremendous climate victory. Whether or not they are given direct credit I believe can thank eight young people and the adults who backed them up.