Reader view: It’s time to tell the technocratic elites — Hands off our town

Just a few days ago, the Washington State House passed HB 1110 with a bipartisan vote of 75-21. In unilaterally taking zoning decision out of the hands of local communities around the state, the Washington State House of Representatives is signaling that it has decided the fate of all of our towns. The entire state is going to be forced to emulate Seattle’s model of growth, whether we want to become de facto extensions of Seattle or not.

I’ll admit, these are fighting words. But now is the time to fight, so I’ll be blunt in this piece. But first, a little history:

In 2018, Guy Palumbo, the self-styled “Senator from Amazon” (who is now simply a lobbyist for the tech giant), proposed a minimum density bill that is remarkably similar to HB 1110. According to this article:

“State Senator Guy Palumbo (D-Maltby) provided The Urbanist with an early draft of ‘minimum density’ legislation and has been distributing it around to local planning departments and other stakeholders in the Puget Sound Region. Areas of Washington state meeting the bill’s requirements would no longer be allowed to have big-lot single family zoning. Instead the bill would set up a tiered minimum zoning around rapid transit station and explicitly allow duplexes, triplexes, fourplexes, townhomes, and courtyard apartments (5 to 12 units), single-room occupancies, and accessory dwelling units (with no ownership requirement.)”

Quite simply, Jeff Bezos was eyeing the land surrounding Seattle as housing for his workforce. Given his notoriously brash governing style at Amazon, it’s not surprising that Bezos and the Amazon lobbyists wanted to do away with the annoyance of having to fight local city councils to upzone the Puget Sound region piecemeal. They wanted to bypass city councils and upzone of the entire state in one fell swoop.

Sadly, Seattle’s recent history of growth and density is a study in shortsighted greed and long-term misery. As I’m sure anyone in the Puget Sound region can attest, watching the City of Seattle kowtow to the billionaires club, tax-free tech titans like Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates — who treat the state of Washington like their own private fiefdom and the local 99% like guinea pigs for their social engineering experiments — has been painful. Seattle’s complete disregard for the infrastructure, transportation and environmental impacts of their planning decisions has exacerbated inequality and led to widescale gentrification and socioeconomic stratification in a short amount of time. It is not pleasant to be a person of modest means in the city of Seattle these days, by any stretch. Yet the technocratic elites of Seattle still need people to serve them in minimum-wage jobs.

The Seattle of today is unrecognizable from the Seattle I grew up with in the ‘90s and the 2000s. Today, it is a playland for the rich. I don’t think that most people who live in the Seattle area even realize that it has been nicknamed “Silicon Hills” by the Silicon Valley crowd. And we know what they did to real estate and livability for anyone not earning blockbuster tech and private equity salaries in Palo Alto, California.

I am not a NIMBY, but I’m also someone who doesn’t think that yards, trees, and parking spaces should be “luxuries” that only the affluent can afford. I live in high-density housing along the Highway 99 corridor. I see the struggle of my neighbors with young children who play in our common driveway, with cars whizzing by, because there simply is no green space left anywhere safely in walking distance for their kids. It’s the consequence of oversight in city planning for an area of town that has traditionally been underserved when it comes to livability and quality of life for residents.

City councils set standards on building design, tree preservation, open space and other amenities that make new construction positive additions to their communities. I am concerned about this move to concentrate power in the hands of 147 legislators in Olympia, rather than the thousands of local city officials and volunteer planning commissioners embedded all over the state of Washington. This small group in Olympia simply doesn’t know the land use history of our various regions the way that the local city councils do. Yet they are using the heavy hand of Olympia as a sledgehammer against our zoning laws.

As much as technocratic elites like Jeff Bezos and their proxies in the state Legislature might find the process inconvenient, local politics is messy and changes take time for a reason. Politics at the local level involves various stakeholders, from our local residents and community members to community activists, business interests, environmental organizations, local tribal governments, and county, state, and federal government. As city councilmembers, we are tasked with finding compromises that rarely make every party happy, but each group should be heard and allowed to speak about how new proposals affect them personally. That is how the political process is supposed to work in our representative democracy. HB 1110 abolishes that process.

HB 1110 (and its companion bills) are expected to sail through the Washington State Senate as easily as they did the Washington State House of Representatives. Now is the time to contact your state senator and ask him or her to support changes to the bill to retain at least some zoning control at the city level. You, the voters and taxpayers of this great state, sent those legislators to Olympia in the first place. Don’t let them permanently silence your voice on changes to your own neighborhood.

Here is my proposed amendment to HB 1110. This can be a starting point for your discussion with your state senator:

Strike Sec. 3(4)(b)

“Any city subject to the requirements of this section:

(a) May only adopt objective development and design standards on the development of middle housing;

(b) May only apply administrative design review;

(b) May choose to retain a public design review process that allows members of the public to meaningfully engage in proposed changes to their areas, so that the city can develop and apply fair land use and environmental policy into its ordinances, development regulations, zoning regulations, and other official controls, enabling the city to make decisions based on respect and justice for all peoples, to identify and plan for the reduction and prevention of environmental and health disparities and work towards eliminating disparate harms and disproportionate environmental and health impacts by prioritizing vulnerable populations and overburdened communities and the equitable distribution of resources and benefits. A public design review process should strive to be accessible across all socio-economic and cultural barriers, including language barriers.

   (i) A public design review process may include any of the following, as cities see fit to implement:

  1. Notification to community members in specific neighborhoods that an application has been received for a development in their neighborhoods. Cities may opt to require that notifications are published in multiple languages, depending on the relevant needs of the affected neighborhoods.
  2. Public hearing(s) to give members of the community the opportunity to provide feedback to applicant developers about the proposed projects for their neighborhoods, including but not limited to concerns regarding the aesthetic, environmental, infrastructure, and displacement impacts for their neighborhood.
  3. Architectural design board review to allow members of the community to provide feedback to applicant developers on how best to integrate additional density and massing into neighborhoods with lesser impacts on present community members in the neighborhood.”

— By Jenna Nand, Edmonds City Council, Position 7

    1. Just found out that, according to a former council person, anyone who disagrees with up zoning is a “segregationist”. And, according to another person, any signs that have been put out expressing an opinion to vote “no” on these bills are “NIMBY trash”. It’s interesting, and sometimes disappointing to see who engages in these conversations. If one doesn’t agree with their view for Edmonds, that person is automatically classified as white, rich and racist. So tired of being wrongly characterized.

      1. Top down government is what we have I don’t know what to tell you, people want bigger more intrusive government or at least in this state. When is government going to be big enough? At this point increased density servers no one but bigger government and builders at the cost of our quality of life. The question I haven’t heard answered is what all these new people are going to do, what jobs are there going to be. Do we need 14000 new restaurant workers? And how are these new people going to afford to fill these units. I guess I just don’t see the need for the growth. I got a idea I hear they have some nice ocean front property in Arizona enough for millions of people why don’t we put the growth there?

  1. Annon,

    Thank you for the posting of our New affordable housing, as this continues we probably need to change the to “Olympia took away” our “Edmonds Kind of Day” again this isn’t about low to middle income folks, this is a pure money grab and a way to chase those of us that live in a neighborhood for 30-50 years who’s children have moved on and are looking at how our city spends our tax dollars, we also may not support school bonds as our children have moved on many years ago, when you look at your taxes the bonds for the school district are the biggest cost factor, the city doesn’t want more older people because in some opinions they don’t spend money like younger families, We older folks creat a stagnant economy and are paying attention to our dollars because we worked hard and try not to throw money out the window. The facts are obvious, again it’s not about low income housing! Just look at the posting Annon posted, it’s all about the tax revenue and dollars spent per household in the community.

  2. Well said. Every point. Unfortunately, this plan for the world is decades in the making and has polluted the minds of most politicians, as the vote count affirms. Unless and until people look past their party allegiance and desperately seek leaders who believe in individual freedom, our cities will be filled with elites and served by those in the lesser income tenements surrounding them. There is no indication citizens are willing to choose critical thinking in any meaningful numbers at this time.

    1. Jenna Nand’s comments are excellent, however, it’s not technocrats or some dastardly master plan of Jeff Bezos nor is it bipartisan. It is the workings of a one party system that has control of our legislature and is led by the worst state governor in the nation. They work in an echo chamber. Liias and Peterson and their ilk are convinced they are smarter than the rest of us and they have convinced themselves that the progressive way is the right way despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Wake up folks you don’t have to look far to see what happens once their policies take hold. Evidence? Seattle, Portland and King County. Snohomish County along with Edmonds is next.
      Glen Nelson is right, we must look past party allegiance going forward.

  3. Washington State has had “single party” rule for the past 40 or so years. Same for Seattle, Tacoma &etc. . The voters put what are now known as “progressives” into office and kept re-electing them cycle after cycle despite it becoming ever apparent what they were doing to this once beautiful and livable state and region. Anyone remember the signs that read “ Don’t Californicate Oregon and Washington” ? I do. Everyone thought that was pretty funny, but it’s not so funny now, is it?

  4. Jenna’s Reader’s View is right on the mark. These ultra rich mega-millionaire control freaks like Bezos, Gates, and Schultz don’t live in any sort of normal or high density housing. They live in huge mansions with gates, guards and gardeners. Yet their “vision” is for us peons to all live in soviet style giant apartments or block style family homes with no set backs, green spaces or parking; one on top of the other. They do this to provide their cheap labor to develop AI robots that do away with as much need for even that cheap labor as possible. When you need a net worth of at least a million dollars; just to afford a simple single family cottage, there is no longer a viable middle class. You folks who just hate Democrats for causing all our problems better take a closer look at your so called freedom loving powerful Republican friends, because most of them don’t live in a $2000/mo. one or two bedroom apartment either; and they aren’t going to save you from the wealthy hoarder class we have built with a totally unfair regressive tax system.

  5. I have personally witnessed the effects of 2 recent developments in my neighborhood (Southwest side of Gateway) on the ecosystems that rely on the tree canopy and small forests.
    A 1-acre forested lot was recently cleared of approximately 75 trees (mostly Douglas Firs and Western Red Cedar) and since then I have seen Owls, Eagles, Hawks, and Coyotes (jumping my tall backyard fence!) in the small greenway behind my backyard. In the 15 years I have lived here, I have never witnessed this type of influx. It is my opinion that they were displaced from the clear- cutting of their home.

    We have to stop these Bills! They are a blatant overreach and power grab to take away local decision-making.

    If you are reading this comment please take 5 minutes to share your voice -TODAY.

    If we don’t all take action, we will have to live with the consequences.
    No more tome for talk- ONLY ACTION.

    See link below to Michelle Dotsch’s MEN article on the Bills. There are super EASY TO USE LINKS embedded in the article.

    Please don’t wait- the time is NOW.

    1. And those recent developments were done with local approval and under local control using local decision making. The notion that it is bad if dictated by the state in a blanket way if far worse that local control depends on what neighborhood you live in, those who live outside the bowl and without views of the water will see this kind of development regardless, even with local control. This is all about expanding the real estate tax base. Interestingly Skagit county is reducing their homeless efforts because property values dropped, and with it so did the the real estate tax revenue used to fund it. Edmonds was considering upzoning before these state bills, just in areas where they think it is okay…outside the bowl. It is solely about tax revenue and the outrageous spending in the last couple of years not being sustainable either locally or at the state level.

  6. Jenna is spot on. These Democrat sponsored bills to remove local zoning control and enforce one size fits all density requirements are simply a developers dream. It will not solve homelessness or provide cheap housing for first time buyers. It will destroy the character of current single family home zones and allow monolithic wall to wall condos and fourplexes with no additional funding for the infrastructure impacts on environment, water, sewer, parking or police. Who to blame for this? Start with your local state representatives Strom Peterson, Lillian Self-Ortiz, and Marco Liias. All support these bills and Gov. Inslee who has promised to sign them. You get the government you vote for.

  7. Correct sir. And there are still also many of the retired in our community that do spend money and enjoy doing it. Remember we are not the generation that says, “we want nothing” they say “we want no stuff”. Fine but you may change your mind on that. If you prosper you can both help others and help yourselves and live well. That is the secret to success. These bills do nothing to help anyone at all. They give inferior living at a huge cost to people who will probably hate them in the long run, at a cost that very few can afford. So the wealthy Dems and the Greedy Reps are all to blame. When I say Wealthy Reps I mean the developers, the planners and the builders, the wolves in sheep’s clothing, the owners of run down property they have been renting to others who will be displaced soon, I suspect. I do not begrudge anyone’s wealth at all. But to sell our land to the greedy I do object to that.

    Thank You Jenna Nand. YOU are the type of person we need in office in Olympia.

  8. I’m encouraged and very happy I decided to follow this thread. I was becoming discouraged and pessimistic, watching the direction, Edmonds, Washington State and the country is going.

    Margaret Atwood
    “Nolite te bastardes carborundorum. Don’t let the bastards grind you down.”

  9. I’m tired of the hypocrisy. Politicians say they’re for climate control, yet they have no problem removing trees, which are not only helping the climate, but also providing shade, heat reduction, places for wildlife to live, etc. Trees are especially important in high-density areas. I’m appalled at this legislation.

  10. Here is the latest:

    “ › seattle-news › politicsWA House passes bill banning single-family zoning | The …
    Mar 7, 2023 · House Bill 1110 passed overwhelmingly on a bipartisan 75-21 vote. It aims to increase housing supply and density in cities across the state without increasing sprawl.”

    Both Strom Peterson and Lillian Ortiz-Self voted for the bill. Now on to the Senate. Sen. Marco Liias has expressed his support.
    Say goodbye to single family zones.

    1. Editor: I entered a response y the 14th. It was not entered so it must have been rejected. No problem but I would appreciate feedback on why you did not include it with the other responses.

      I would appreciate it.

      Scott Victor

      1. Hi Scott – I searched the comments and I didn’t find one pending for you for that day. Could you please resubmit?

  11. We cannot let the control of our local communities be dictated to us by a small number of elitest and a state government that has been run mostly by democrats for decades. Look at what has happened in Seattle. The liberal government has turned it into a lawless society where you are either rich or poor. Hardly any middle class are left in the city, and it shows.

    Stand up for your quaint and lovely town that you have paid very high property taxes to live in (if you own), and don’t let Edmonds become another Seattle!

  12. As long as you keep thinking in terms of Democrats vs. Republicans you are going to be losers. Start thinking in terms of Rich Autocrats vs. hard working middle class normal people and you will start winning once-in-awhile. Our laws are all made by rich people (D.s and R.s) to benefit rich people. (Trump Tax Cuts for the Rich, for example).

    These new housing laws are more of the same at the local level. Rich, powerful people are all about control and never having enough money or power. “Democrat” and “Republican” are just convenient constructs they use to control the rest of us as much as they possibly can. There is very little difference between Bill Gates and The Koch Brothers; they are both rich entities with lots of control and they intend to stay that way; while we all have meaningless arguments over which party will be our savior when the answer to that is neither. Nothing is that simple.

    1. Good points Clint. That fixer-upper that might get bought by a family to fix up and live in and raise kids, now that family has to bid against a developer who wants to tear it down and build a 4-plex. Developers win most of those sad contests.

    2. Boy do you have that right Clint. I will admit I was shocked a bit to see either side going along with these housing bills. But now your words above are very clear. This isn’t about housing its about people making money on both sides. The Blue are not true to their causes that is clear. The Red want this housing to make tax dollars and money for themselves. All this time thinking the Blue would say hey wait a minute, what about homeless housing, what about rentals people can afford, all of it was BS. I can’t believe I was so naive to think at least the Rep here would not want that type of government intervention, a Blue gov at that. But money won out for them too. They don’t care about Edmonds, YET.

  13. If you accept the Nihilism of those who say there is nothing you can do and it is all the fault of the rich then you are condemned to a bleak future. The fact is none of this happened while Republicans controlled at least one house in the legislature. Same for the ant-police legislation passed a couple of years ago that have contributed to skyrocketing crime rates. The centralization of zoning control in the state government instead of keeping the historical local control is part of Democrat game plan to centralize more power in the state. and weaken local control and individual choice. Yes, some Republicans voted for HB 1110 but, most did not. All the Democrats voted for it.

    1. I don’t know if I can buy what you are selling Mark. My Mom told me early on to think and manage your money like rich people do in America; otherwise you will always be poor because they run the show. I took her advice and we are pretty comfortable as a result. The rich have a great vested interest in keeping us all at each other’s throats over silly political crap; while they pad their bank accounts and hoard money by giving themselves the advantage of low to no taxes. We will be fine whichever way this housing nonsense goes and that’s exactly how I’ve planned it. We already have our tiny home/extra bedroom. It’s a 19ft. trailer with 30 Amp service in the front yard. You have to figure out how to beat the corrupt system, or it will beat you,

  14. As of 2009 the Urban Forestry Commission Seattle had 100,000-150,000 unused places for new trees just on the publicly-regulated right of way planting strips!! This means Seattle missed the chance years ago to build measurable tree canopy by not enough promotion of new tree planting. And now the “chickens have come home to roost”. Not utilizing the planting strips was a dropped ball long ago. Nobody builds houses on street right of way, and street trees,when given enough soil volume and room to grow, can have a great effect on mitigating climate change and doing all the other things trees do. But it’s often been said that the best time to plant a tree was “yesterday.” This means we all need to work on several fronts at the same time: push for stronger regulations and “outside the box” thinking by housing builders, and planting trees and getting them established like there’s no tomorrow. Stop the clear-cut lots and McTownhomes and PLANT MORE DAMN TREES.

  15. It’s amazing that the legislators just lie through their teeth as they bend over backwards selling us the developers’ propaganda, pretending that with all this market rate housing they want to build, that everyone will all of a sudden be able to afford a house. They only have to include 2 units of low income housing in a six-plex, so gee, guess what, they’ll build a duplex and a tri-plex or four-plex everywhere. The billionaire’s running the show see us a mere objects only here to make them richer and do as we’re told. Corporate rule sucks!

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