Infographic: How Arctic Drilling Violates Our Laws, Values & Planet

The people of Seattle are doing everything possible to stop the myopic environmental damage caused by Arctic drilling.

Some critics have tried to foment a feeling of futility and kowtow popular opposition by shaming ordinary people for participating in our fossil fuel economy. But the point of the popular outcry – its very essence – is that fossil fuels are inescapable in our daily lives. People are demanding a sustainable economy instead.

Life as we know it depends on bold, immediate action, especially when a harbinger of catastrophic climate change is moored in our backyard.

My proposal for new microhousing regulations

As Chair of the Planning, Land Use and Sustainability Committee (PLUS), I recently convened a working group of neighborhood residents—including people who live in or near microhousing buildings—and developers of microhousing to help dig into the micro-housing regulations that were proposed by the Department of Planning and Development earlier this spring. We convened this group because it was clear that neither side, not the neighborhood activists nor the developers, was happy with the proposed regulations. I wanted to hear the issues at the crux of each side’s concerns so I could help navigate a path forward to establish permanent regulations for this type of in-demand housing.

The working group met three times over the past two months, with each meeting lasting at least two hours. As the convener and facilitator, I tried to focus the conversation on specific issues each side were interested in, such as size requirements of the units, when design review is appropriate, parking regulations, and where future microhousing and congregate living buildings should be located. At the last meeting, I shared my proposal for regulating microhousing. It differs from the original DPD proposal in a number of ways, which are nicely framed up in this matrix compiled by City Council Central Staff. A stand-alone document outlining my proposal is available at this link and on the PLUS Committee agenda for today, August 13.

The fundamental change with my proposal would replace the existing model of micro-housing with “small efficiency apartments.” Each of these would be treated as an individual unit for purposes of counting towards permitting, growth targets, fire and life safety requirements, and the like. Along with the requirement that they be individual units, we also provide new flexibility for these studio units to be built smaller, to respond to the changing market demand for small, more affordable units. Below, I will summarize my proposal on some of the biggest issues we discussed in the working group.

How Big and Where Built?

The new requirements would allow small efficiency apartments to be built with an average size of 220 square feet within the building, with individual units as small as about 180 square feet allowed.

In addition, we know there is some share of the market that would like a very small unit and shared kitchen facilities, more like a dormitory than individual studio apartments. My proposal will allow these to continue to be built as congregate housing, but specifies that they can only be built in higher density zones in our urban villages and urban centers. These are the places that most likely have access to transit and amenities to support a higher density community. In multi-family low-rise zones, congregate residences will not be allowed. However, in these zones, small efficiency apartments may be built.

Design Review

My proposal would require most new small efficiency apartments and congregate housing to go through design review, depending on the size of the building, which is measured by gross floor area. For multifamily projects in which more than 50% of the units are small efficiency dwelling units and for congregate residences (all zones):

  • Streamlined Design Review (not appealable) for projects containing 5,000-11,999 square feet of gross floor area.
  • Administrative Design Review (appealable) applied to projects containing 12,000-19,999 square feet of gross floor area.
  • Full Design Review (appealable) applied to projects containing 20,000 square feet or greater of gross floor area.

For multifamily projects in which 50% or fewer of the units are small efficiency dwelling units, the standard Design Review threshold for the zone where the project is located would apply.

Parking Requirements
In Station Area Overlay Districts, Urban Centers, and commercial and multifamily zones within Urban Villages near frequent transit service, no minimum parking requirements would apply. In all other areas, one space will be required for every two small efficiency dwelling units in a building or for every four units in congregate housing buildings.

 

Next Steps

With the working group now complete, the ball is back in the City Council’s court. In today’s PLUS Committee, we are discussing the working group and my proposal for microhousing and congregate housing. We plan to bring it back to Committee for more discussion on Friday, September 5, our next PLUS Committee meeting. For more information on the PLUS Committee, check out our web page.

Setting minimum density requirements in areas where we want density

Today, on Wednesday August 13th, the PLUS Committee will receive a briefing on Council Bill 118167, related to minimum density requirements in the city’s most dense and walkable neighborhoods.

Density helps create better pedestrian environments because it means more people on the street–whether they are coming from home or work, or out shopping in local businesses or eating at local restaurants. More people on the street level helps these community gathering places and businesses thrive, which in turn make for a more desirable pedestrian environment. This density can also help make an area transit-friendly by potentially increasing the number of people who take transit and reducing the number of cars needed (more walking, biking and transit means less congestion, too). Granted, that means our local and state governments need to be doing more to expand our transit capacity, but the point is that transit goes where the people are. Creating dense, vibrant business districts across the city benefits can have numerous benefits to the city.

This issue of minimum density development emerged last year when single-use, low-density developments were proposed in neighborhood business districts better suited for mixed-use development. For example, in the case of a proposed drug store in Wallingford, the single-story pharmacy with adjacent parking lot and drive-through window did not fit the vision outlined in the Neighborhood plan for a more dense transit and pedestrian-oriented neighborhood business district.

As a result of public concern over these developments in neighborhood business districts, interim regulations were enacted on September 16, 2013 to halt similar future developments while the Department of Planning and Development worked on permanent regulations to address the underlying issue.  Now, with the interim regulations due to expire and DPD ready with their proposed permanent regulations, Council is poised to take up the legislation in September. The new regulations largely reflect the interim regulations, with a few additions.

In short, the bill would require that new development in pedestrian-designated areas of officially zoned “Urban Centers,” “Urban Villages,” or “Station Area Overlay Districts” be built to at least half the allowed maximum density or “floor area ratio (FAR)” in that zone.  Projects of lower density (for example, a single story store with a parking lot), won’t be allowed in these areas. Take a look at this map and the bold black lines that designate where these new regulations will apply.

We don’t want or need minimum density everywhere, but by ensuring we get density in our priority pedestrian-oriented areas, we ensure we are creating great walkable, transit-friendly hubs both downtown and in our neighborhoods.

If you’re interested in the details, here are some additional resources:

Guest blog post: The dangers of gas-powered leaf blowers

[Note: The following is a guest blog post. Let us know in the comments or via email what you think Seattle City Council ought to do about the issues Maddy raises here: mike.obrien@seattle.gov.]

Hi, my name is Maddy and I have recently graduated from my senior year of high school. After reaching out to Councilmember O’Brien about the need to regulate the use of gas-powered leaf blowers, he invited me to write this guest blog post to help educate his constituents on what I have learned and what I see as the dangers of gas-powered leaf blowers.

I am really worried about the repercussions of leaf blower use. Thankfully, a study on leaf blower use and its consequences, commissioned by the Seattle City Council, is scheduled to come out in September 2014. I am pleased that the Seattle City Council is taking the risks of leaf blowers seriously and I am hopeful that this study, requested by Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, will get more than a hearing and that it will lead to actual change.

This earth is our home, our bodies are our home. While innocuous and seemingly unharmful, gasoline-powered leaf blowers cause harm to both. Whenever we use these leaf blowers, we trade health for momentary expediency. As leaf blowers push leaves from one place to another, they also spin “dust particles, including herbicides, pesticides, and other contaminants up from the ground into the air” we breathe as reported by the Santa Monica Office of Sustainability and the Environment. However, despite the unsettling idea of breathing in whatever may have been on the ground, the emission of particulate matter from leaf blowers is even more disturbing.

Particulate matter is one of the most harmful pollutants according to the California Environmental Protection Agency. It is so small that it can lodge in the deepest parts of our lungs where our bodies can’t get rid of it. Particulate matter can worsen asthma, bronchitis and other lung diseases and decreases the body’s ability to fight off infection. Recent studies even suggest that exposure to particulate matter can lead to premature death for the elderly.

The irritating noise produced by gasoline-powered leaf blowers is actually, in and of itself, a health hazard for children. Stephen A. Stansfeld and Mark P. Matheson report that adult bodies have developed strategies to cope with extensive, irritating noise but that this ability is not fully developed in children. Although extensive noise can “impair performance and increase aggression” in adults, children’s reading comprehension and long term memory can be negatively affected as well.

And it gets worse. The California EPA records that many gasoline-powered leaf blowers operate on two-stroke engines which are designed in such a way that up to 30 percent of the fuel can be lost unused, as exhaust. The main pollutants of such exhaust include hydrocarbons, which combine with nitrogen oxide to form ozone, and carbon monoxide, a toxic gas that can kill. The California EPA also reports that gasoline powered leaf-blowers emit benzene, acetaldehyde and formaldehyde, a carcinogen which can cause cancer. As the American Lung Association states, “two-stroke engines like lawnmowers and leaf or snow blowers often have no pollution control devices. They can pollute the air even more than cars” which have catalytic converters to convert exhaust into less harmful compounds. This important feature, however, is lacking in a lot of lawn equipment. A study done by the car researchers at Edmunds.com found that two-stroke leaf blowers actually pollute 23 times more carbon monoxide and almost 300 times more non-methane hydrocarbons than a 2011 Ford Raptor. The study concludes that 30 minutes of yard work with this leaf blower would pollute the same amount of hydrocarbons as the 3,900 mile drive from Texas to Alaska in the Raptor.

I am worried by all this evidence. I am worried that we are trading a healthy future for speed. I am dismayed by the damage we are doing to our own bodies, yes, but also for the damage we unknowingly do to others.

About 100 cities have placed restrictions or banned all leaf blower use. It is time for Seattle to follow—for ourselves, our children and the environment. The Seattle Municipal Code on noise control states that “It is the express intent of the City Council to control the level of noise in a manner which promotes commerce; the use, value and enjoyment of property; sleep and repose; and the quality of the environment.” It is time for the City Council to uphold the Municipal Code and ban gasoline-powered leaf blowers.

As much as I hope that the recent look into leaf blower use in Seattle will create change within the law, Councilmember Mike O’Brien told me in a recent meeting that he pays the most attention to issues which have strong community support for them. Therefore, it is time to start organizing. I really do believe that together, we could follow many other cities and ban gas-powered leaf blowers. I have a petition at http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/ban-gas-powered-leaf. The goal is 1,000 signatures by the time the study comes out in September. If you are interested in helping organize or participate in a letter campaign, contact me at banblowersseattle@gmail.com. Please help me. This is very important.

O’Brien, City Council Seek Emergency Order Prohibiting Transport of Flammable Crude Oil through Seattle

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: 7/23/2014

 

Councilmember Mike O’Brien

O’Brien, City Council Seek Emergency Order Prohibiting Transport of Flammable Crude Oil through Seattle
First nationwide action by a City Council to call for immediate end to oil train transport near neighborhoods

SEATTLE – City Councilmember Mike O’Brien and all eight of his council colleagues signed a letter calling for the U.S. Secretary of Transportation to issue an emergency order prohibiting the shipment of Bakken crude oil in legacy DOT-111 tank train cars. Bakken is highly flammable and easily ignited at normal temperatures by heat, static discharges, sparks or flames, and vapors which may form explosive mixtures with air and spread along confined areas such as sewers. The Seattle City Council is the first in the country to support the petition, filed by Earthjustice on behalf of the Sierra Club and ForestEthics.

The corresponding letter highlights the O’Brien-sponsored oil train Resolution 31504, which was signed by Mayor Ed Murray and adopted by Council in February. O’Brien’s resolution urged Secretary Anthony Foxx to aggressively phase out older model tank cars used to move flammable liquids that are not retrofitted to meet new federal requirements. Following the explosion of DOT-111 train cars in Quebec, which killed 47 men, women and children, Canada immediately took action to begin phasing-out of the DOT-111 cars.

“Dozens of people have died in crude-by-rail accidents when DOT-111 tank cars were punctured and spilled flammable crude,” said O’Brien. “The catastrophic explosions can be triggered by a single spark and yet they travel on tracks underneath downtown and flanking both Safeco Field and CenturyLink Field. Seattle cannot afford to sit idly by with public safety in our city at risk.”

Earlier today the U.S. Department of Transportation proposed new rules that would phase out the use of the DOT-111 cars in two years. City Council’s letter in support of the EarthJustice petition seeks to protect the public from oil spills and explosions now. According to the letter: “Banning the shipment of highly flammable crude oil in legacy DOT-111 tank cars is necessary to abate the unsafe conditions posing an imminent hazard to human life, communities, and the environment.”

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, areas up to one-half mile or more from an accident site are considered vulnerable. An incident requiring warning, evacuation or rescue could easily affect the more than 600,000 people living and working in densely populated sections of Seattle.

BNSF Railway reports moving 8-13 oil trains per week through Seattle, all containing 1,000,000 or more gallons of Bakken crude. Many of the City of Seattle’s public safety concerns were highlighted in the April 2014 testimony of Seattle’s Director of Office of Emergency Management before the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and Related Agencies in the Committee on Appropriations.