Front Page

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

An After Thanksgiving Walk Around Lake Union

UFO sightings, new geological formations, signs of the times, and holiday cheer; walking is when you really see things, despite the boring stretches (as one of our party complained).

Or maybe because of them.

Here are a few photos of things that caught our eye the day after Thanksgiving:

A UFO above the trees on the Burke Gilman Trail.

A UFO above the trees on the Burke Gilman Trail.

Many Blue Herons show up around Lake Union  though we did not see any of the actual feathered kind.

Many Blue Herons show up around Lake Union though we did not see any of the actual feathered kind.

The most enchanted place on the lake, the Spur Line trestle.

The most enchanted place on the lake, the Spur Line trestle.

Sign of the times: "Wake Up America Bernie Sanders for President." (This place always has intriguing signs.)

Sign of the times: “Wake Up America Bernie Sanders for President.” (This place always has intriguing signs.)

And artwork -- more signs of the times.

And artwork — more signs of the times.

Startling damage from the November 5 marina fire.

Startling damage from the November 5 marina fire.

South Lake Union holiday cheer.

South Lake Union holiday cheer.

Ducks enjoy a new Eastlake pond where sidewalk and parking once existed.

Ducks enjoy a new Eastlake pond where sidewalk and parking once existed.

And another temporary geological formation -- the Seattle canyon.

And another temporary geological formation — the Seattle canyon.

 

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.