by David Baum, rumblecrash.com
Somewhere between 35% and 49% of the land in the city of Seattle is zoned for single-family homes, depending on exactly how you count. But the urbanists and their developer backers continue to claim that the number is "two-thirds," between 63% and 67%.
The urbanists lie about this because they want homeowners to appear greedy and exclusionary, even racist. "It's time for NIMBYs to share their privilege!" they exclaim. "Why should homeowners have two-thirds of the land, when so many new tech workers can't afford to move here and find a place to rent? The only way to increase the housing supply is to open up single-family zones to developers so the free market can increase density. While we're at it, let's get rid of single-family zoning altogether!" (That last bit didn't go over so well.)
But their argument is based on a lie. The only way to claim that two-thirds of the land is zoned single family is to include parks, open space, and cemeteries in the single-family zone. This is what the HALA committee did (and for which they were called out at Crosscut: Single-family Seattle isn't as big as density boosters claim).
Here's the specific claim from page 24 of the HALA Report: "Approximately 65% of Seattle’s land – not just its residential land but all its land – is zoned single family."
But let's look at the numbers, taken from the Mayor's own Draft Comprehensive Plan (in the Land Use Appendix, on page 8 of the PDF).
The calculation to check the HALA claim is straightforward:
It's possible to get a higher number (around 48%) by excluding "Rights-of-Way" (roads, alleys, etc.) from total acres, but it's unclear why you would do that unless you had a political point to make.
The claim that "two-thirds of Seattle is zoned for single family use" is a lie. Urbanists who propagate this lie are deliberately distorting the truth to smear homeowners for political purposes. They should stop doing that!
For another in-depth look at the distortion of these numbers by City planners, see:
Warping data to grossly inflate city land area given over to single-family zoning, by John Fox, Seattle Displacement Coalition (May 12, 2016)
The Open Philanthropy Project also funds “Seattle For Everyone,” the coalition of developers, density advocates, and unions which is running the campaign to push HALA legislation through the City Council. In February 2016, the Open Philanthropy Project gave Seattle For Everyone $50,000 in “general support.” [Source]
So this is a sophisticated two-pronged approach: Sightline creates the pro-HALA propaganda, and Seattle For Everyone uses it to run the campaign. Or, as the Open Philanthropy Project puts it:
"Sightline is a part of, but does not lead, the coalition mentioned in the previous section, which is planning to work to ensure that the city council enacts the HALA recommendations. Sightline’s proposed work aims to provide intellectual and messaging support for the coalition, but will not replace the coalition’s work of organizing support for the HALA recommendations as they move through the city council." [Source, Section 1.4]
I have to give these people credit. First of all, the Open Philanthropy Project is actually “open,” in a meaningful way. They put their activities and their rationale right up front (which is how I found the information for this post). Second, the other projects of both Open Philanthropy and Sightline appear, at first glance, to be legitimately progressive efforts to preserve the environment and create a sustainable society. Somehow, a narrow, market-based approach to housing policy has captured their attention.
The one thing that sticks in my craw is the dishonesty with which “Seattle For Everyone” portrays itself as a “network of grassroots neighborhood teams.” They ain’t that. They’re a political campaign managed by heavy-gun professional operatives in close coordination (I believe) with the Mayor’s office. They have been deployed specifically to preempt neighborhood opposition to the HALA upzones by creating a false “public” voice to drown out the actual voices of the public. More on this to come.