Earlier this month, December 6, Councilperson Rob Johnson spoke at the regular monthly meeting of the Wallingford Community Council (WCC). On behalf of the WCC, I want to thank Rob for taking time out of his busy schedule to participate in a dialogue with the residents of Wallingford concerning important issues facing the community.
Rob began by reviewing key city activities that took place in 2017 and what will be the city’s priorities for 2018. These included:
Rob explained that he is the Chair of the Planning, Land Use and Zoning committee and that it’s focus has been, and will continue to be upzoning in key urban villages throughout the city, including Wallingford.
Tackling the affordable housing issue continues to be one of the city’s top priorities. The city is working with the Sound Transit Board to utilize surplus land for affordable housing. He sited two examples of an area around the Roosevelt light rail facility as well as the formal officers quarters at Magnuson Park. The latter will include 150 units and will open in 2020.
Rob also reported that the city is focusing on increased public safety by hiring 200 additional officers in the North Precinct. However, he did state that the North Precinct building has space challenges that result in extremely tight quarters for the police officers. The building needs to be restructured and rebuilt to provide adequate space.
Next Rob discussed authorized homeless encampments and confirmed that an encampment would be relocated from Ballard to Wallingford in the next two months. He also said that these encampments are good for offering homeless folks a place for shelter.
Next, he discussed the renewal of the Families for Education levy that is due to expire in 2018. It is currently at $60 million and the new levy might be at $100 million. Here, coordination with the mayor’s community college program and a comprehensive plan are needed. In addition, the library levy is also due to expire in 2018.
Rob also discussed parking issues and said that the city needs to do a better job of rationalizing on- and off-street parking plans. Approximately 25 to 30 percent of parking spaces go empty over night. He is looking to utilize private spaces for public parking.
Next, he talked about tree protection. He described a little confusion in that eight different departments are working on tree canopy actions. (More on this situation later).
Rob also mentioned that at the end of 2018 the school districts building levy will expire and the city needs to coordinate with the school board on this issue.
With regard to Hamilton High School, he is working on the parking issue as well as lighting for the school.
The meeting with Rob was then opened to questions from the audience, and below is a summary of those questions/statements and Rob’s responses:
Statement – There is not enough family housing being added to the HALA initiative.
Response – We are working to include these as approximately 50 percent are two bedrooms or more. Three bedrooms are a different classification. He is working to see if these units can be incentivized through private development.
Question – Where is the focus on middle-class housing?
Response – I am on a task force for this area. We need to get a balance across the private and public sectors.
Question – What about people on a fixed income who already live in a home?
Response – One benefit these people have is that they have a fixed monthly payment, while renters don’t.
Statement – But property taxes and utilities are increasing.
Response – I am sympathetic to that, and I am working with the county assessor. Also there are programs for seniors and low-income home owners that offer tax forgiveness. Look at the county assessor website.
Question – What about other people who aren’t seniors? What can we do?
Response – A lot of wealth is coming in. As a council, we are trying to support other policy objectives without property tax increases–like income tax, B&O tax, and head tax. There is more pressure for more levies though.
Statement – Seven hundred homes in the urban village zone will get property tax increases due to upzoning.
Response – Our objective is to get developers to build more affordable housing. Developers are building today but aren’t contributing to affordable housing. We are attempting to get and listen to community input. Another round of communication will come soon. Wallingford’s proposal to shrink the urban village boundaries will be heard. We are looking for an interactive conversation on this issue.
Statement – The mayor’s transition plan contains a lot of information on small businesses but not much at all about seniors. What is the mayor really looking at with regard to seniors? Can you please keep seniors on the map here?
Response – I have volunteered at the Wallingford senior center. I didn’t endorse Durkan, but will work my angles to make sure that seniors are covered. I am looking for more data on seniors that are becoming homeless; the numbers are increasing.
Question – LR1, LR2, and LR3 are all high density – all of these projects can have unlimited density, which is counter to the idea of family. Developers’ incentives aren’t aligned to what Rob was saying. Going from single-family to LR2 and LR3 is steep, especially if you are changing the definitions. Why more density?
Response – Message received. Wallingford is a hodgepodge of zoning … not too inconsistent with other parts of the city. Can’t have spot zoning changes or lack of attention to detail and historic decisions. I am looking to rationalizing the system going forward. One street corner with four zoning types is a problem. We will look into this kind of feedback.
Statement – The city has stated that it is bound to the requirement of affordable housing, but under the current in-lieu funding, we are not seeing affordable housing. This is a “targeted displacement” program. We need real impact fees like Bellevue and Redmond.
Response – Developers can pay into a fund or do affordable housing on-site. The parameters adjust on variables and will continue to adjust. We plan 6,300 affordable housing units over 10 years and council wants to calibrate the numbers up or down based upon how things go. Current data says that developers are going to more on-site units than paying into the fund. With regard to impact fees, you have to talk with Mike O’Brien.
Question – With the last three projects, the ratio of parking is crazy and insane. Cars are everywhere. Small businesses are being impacted as well. Families with kids and groceries are being hurt. Elderly and children are impacted as there is no place to park. Is the policy, “whatever the developers want”?
Response – Two of the highest bus ridership routes serve Wallingford. A lot of people are choosing mass transit. Small businesses are being hurt by too much traffic in the neighborhood. One available parking spot per block is the goal. We need to manage parking better. Can we open up shared parking resources? 84 percent of renters own a car, and 50 percent of homeowners own two or more cars.
Question – Are the city and the mayor good at fiscal management? And if so, can you give some examples?
Response – No, the city is not a good fiscal manager. The city is growing, but the budget doesn’t represent this growth. We have double accounting, etc. This needs to be fixed.
Statement – When tearing down old buildings to put up new, we are displacing commercial businesses. New retail space is too expensive. Small businesses are leaving and are becoming big retail chains. This is negatively changing Seattle.
Response – I agree. We need to incentivize developers to provide 5,000-square-foot retail spaces. We need to diversify and grow.
Statement – MHA calls for 6,300 affordable units in 10 years, yet the EIS calls for only 5,633 units. Why is this different? The numbers are false.
Response – 6,300 units is the goal.
Once again, thank you, Rob Johnson, for joining us in a good discussion about the future of Wallingford. He can be reached at [email protected]. I did the best I could in capturing the dialogue, and I apologize for anything I may have missed.