by Sarajane Siegfriedt, Lake City
Josh Feit wrote in his Publicola blog 4/5/16:
“Speaking of HALA and how it dovetails with the housing levy: As people were testifying about the levy in council chambers, neighborhood representatives from the newly created HALA focus groups were meeting downstairs in the Bertha Knight Landes room. And in another coup for the mayor, the group wasn’t so much meeting to debate the HALA plan—which also includes neighborhood upzones, a commercial development linkage fee for affordable housing, urban village boundary changes, and the inclusionary housing requirement—but rather, they were tasked with how to make it all work.
The City “…rebranded mandatory inclusionary zoning as “Mandatory Housing Affordability,”… This serves to bury the intent of Mandatory Inclusionary Zoning (MIZ), which is to build 5% or 7% of moderately affordable housing within midrise buildings throughout the city. However, one developer predicted that no developer would want to hamper his resale value by actually including the rent-limited units and that “everyone” would pay the in-lieu fee instead. This would delay creation of affordable units by at least three years, while the City goes through the competitive process of finding a nonprofit developer who must find land and additional funding, then build the building.
The Seattle 2035 Comprehensive Plan eliminates the central planning role played by neighborhood councils in the 1995 plan. Some neighborhood activists have participated in their councils and in planning processes, including the Urban Design Framework for the 2035 Comp Plan. Now these voices are purposely being suppressed.
Instead, the Mayor invited applications for five Community Focus Groups. Of the nearly 700 who applied, 169 were chosen, predominantly those who live within the boundaries of the 30 urban villages, excluding Downtown and South Lake Union, which are already upzoned. Half of those selected are renters, reflecting their proportion in the city as a whole. People and communities of color were given extra weight. The effect of these criteria were to exclude most homeowners who applied—those who are most knowledgeable by virtue of long years of engagement in planning and zoning issues.
What is the purpose of focus groups? My MBA in Marketing taught me that they are a marketing tool, helpful to marketeers who want to learn how best to present the product or service. What makes it most acceptable? What language do we use to sell it? I have never heard of a focus group providing changes to a planning process like the 2035 Comprehensive Plan.
The five focus groups will meet in groups of 40, about every other month. They will serve to give the Mayor a check-off on his “community outreach” box, but they have no connection to the existing Community Councils and do not speak for or to them. These structures, which exist to provide grassroots input to the political process, no longer have a role in planning our community.