A Criminally Unfair, One-Sided, Amateur Blog-Style Q&A With (Or Without) David Miller

In a previous post, Seattle city council candidate David Miller left lengthy comments in response to my supposition that he is a density NIMBY.  His responses left me jonesin‘ for further clarification, and so I am posting my questions to David here,  with the hope that he will be willing to answer them in the comments, but also fully aware that he may wisely opt to completely blow it off.  (Reader warning:  this is gonna get pretty wonky, but alas, it’s the only way to get at the truth.)

(1) You said that “we need to do upzones.”  Please give some examples of specific locations in Seattle that you believe should be upzoned.  And not upzones that would be contingent on meeting this or that precondition, but upzones that you believe should be enacted now.  Would you support upzoning single-family to multifamily anywhere in the City, and if yes, where?

(2) You said “we even agree about TOD.”  Okay, let’s test that with a real example.  I believe that the Beacon Hill light rail station area is ridiculously underzoned within a quarter-mile radius of the station, and that it that it should be upzoned to 65 feet in some areas, and that some lowrise areas should go to 40 or 65 feet, and that significant areas of single family should be rezoned to multifamily lowrise, and possibly even midrise in some cases.  Do you agree, yes or no?  If no, please describe the zoning changes that you would support, if any.

(3)  You said that “I suspect we disagree about whether the state or neighborhoods get to decide precisely where the density will go and what form it will take.”   Here you are no doubt referring to the “TOD bill,” but sorry David, HB 1490 as proposed did not mandate precisely where the density would go, other than within a half-mile radius around a high-capacity transit station area.  Nor did HB1490 mandate what form the density would take—the local jurisdictions would have control over that.  All HB1490 would have done was to ensure that land use code did not prevent development from eventually reaching a minimum density threshold appropriate for successful TOD, on average, across the entire half-mile radius station area.  And the amended version of the proposed bill only applied urban centers in Seattle—where you said you support upzones.   Please explain these apparent inconsistencies regarding your opposition to HB1490.

(4) Elaborating on #3, I believe it is safe to say that you believe planning decisions should be primarily made at the neighborhood level.  But given that the environmental challenges we face are regional if not global, what happens locally can negatively impact people everywhere—neighborhoods do not live in a bubble.  You said that “[The City’s] job is to protect the people that already live here,” which suggests to me that you do not appreciate these connections, and have an alarmingly narrow view of the world.  Consequently, I am concerned that as a City Council member you would favor narrow neighborhood interests at the expense of progress on critical environmental issues such as climate change.  Are there any situations in which you believe that “top-down” planning is appropriate, or does every decision need sign-off from each and every neighborhood resident?

(5)  You said that “We also differ in that I do not believe density is automatically affordable…”   Sorry David, because that is nothing but a classic straw man argument.  I have never said that, and neither has the vast majority of people who advocate for urban density.  But perhaps you could explain how preventing high-density housing by only allowing low-density housing will do anything but make housing less affordable?  High-density housing is inherently more affordable because it uses less land, materials, and infrastructure, and it also has the law of supply and demand on its side.  Go to any neighborhood and compare the price of the average single-family house to the price of the average condo.

(6) Completing the straw man, you added that “We also differ in that I do not believe density is… automatically environmentally sound.”  While there are examples of high-density housing that is not as green as it could be, in the vast majority of cases high-density housing is greener because it uses less land, materials, resources, energy, and infrastructure, and also because it is a critical ingredient for enabling alternatives to the single-occupant vehicle.  Do you disagree?

(7) The affordability issue noted above in #4 was addressed in my critique of the Livable Seattle Movement document that you said “was written by someone else.”   Since you seem to want to distance yourself from that document for some reason, can you give any specific examples of arguments in it with which you disagree?  Do you have any objections to my critique?

(8) You said you did co-author the 3X Capacity document that was also a subject of my critique.   Do you stand behind the claims that “overzoning contributes to lack of affordable housing and sprawl” and “attempts to concentrate densities end up driving sprawl?”  If yes, then as I asked in the critique, please show us the data.  I don’t believe there is any, but let’s see if you can live up to your campaign promise to “base decisions on real data.”

(9) You often refer to the 2020 growth targets with respect to the King County Buildable Lands Report.  But that report uses OFM’s 2002 projections.  In 2007 the OFM raised its population projection for 2020 in King County by nearly 100,000 people.  This reduces surplus housing capacity significantly.  Furthermore, data compiled by the Puget Sound Regional Council for Vision 2040 shows that in King County growth in urban areas has been falling far behind targets, while growth is exceeding targets in small cities and rural areas.  Isn’t it misleading to reference out-of-date projections when the newer data suggest a different trend? And once Seattle negotiates new 2031 growth targets based on the more recent data this Fall—targets that will be substantially higher than the 2020 number you are still using—what is your plan for accommodating that additional growth in the 2011 Comprehensive Plan update?  And is it wise to focus so much on a projection only 11 years out, given sites that are underdeveloped today will be around for the next 50 to 100 years?  And even if current zoning can accommodate growth targets, does that mean should we be locked into old zoning that no longer is appropriate for changed circumstances, such as, for example, the new light rail stations?  Lastly, here’s what the Washington Research Council had to say (pdf) about the Buildable Lands Report:  “The problem is that a whole host of factors not considered during the process will determine whether a parcel deemed ‘buildable’ will actually see new housing construction in the next 20 years.”  Given all of the above, do you still believe is it intellectually honest to insinuate—as you have done repeatedly—that we don’t really need any upzones because the Buildable Lands Report says Seattle is already overzoned?

(10) You said that concurrency is “our #1 barrier to the acceptance of more density.”  First, can you please explain exactly what type of infrastructure you are talking about, and give some specific Seattle examples of where there has been new dense development that is lacking these things?  The GMA’s concurrency language is not intended as an excuse to halt development, but rather to ensure that local jurisdictions plan and fund infrastructure and amenities.  What actions would you take as a City Council member to get the City to fund infrastructure and amenities so that density will be more acceptable?

(11) You have made up a term called “intraurban sprawl” that I have never heard used before by any urban planning professional.  I’m inclined to believe it is a nonsense term designed to be inflammatory by co-opting the word sprawl, but perhaps you could explain it for me?   What are the metrics that define this “intraurban sprawl?” As I asked here, “could you please give a Seattle example of the sort of ‘pockets of density’ you are so concerned about?”  I smell another straw man here:  density advocates are not proposing that we scrap the urban center/village framework. Your boogie man who wants to turn Seattle into “one big concrete heat sink” doesn’t exist.

(12) Most of us who advocate for urban density are also generally in favor of eliminating off-street parking requirements, and would even support invoking parking maximums in some cases.  Are there any land uses or areas in the City for which you believe that parking requirements should be reduced, eliminated, or given a maximum?  City of Seattle code does not require any off-street parking in light rail station areas—do you agree with that policy?

(13) You said you support the backyard cottage ordinance.  Do you support allowing backyard cottages in all single-family zones in the City?  Would you support removing the proposed limit of 50 permits per year, since that limit would only allow about 5% of Seattle’s single-family homes to get a permit within 100 years?  Would you support removing the parking requirement for backyard cottages?  Don’t forget that parking takes out trees and pervious surface, which you said you want to preserve.

Congratulations, you’re done!

In summary, my take—with all due respect to the fact that you are a politician, after all—is that you are trying to have it both ways.  Out of one side of your mouth you claim to support density, because you recognize that if you do not, you will not be taken seriously by anyone who understands urban sustainability.  But out of the other side of your mouth you attach so many unrealistic preconditions to allowing density that your claimed support is a moot point, which allows you to remain aligned with your true base—those who are opposed to the transformation of Seattle into a more urban city.  Perhaps your responses will convince me otherwise.  Or who knows, perhaps your responses will convince you to stop pretending to be someone you’re not.

34 Responses to “A Criminally Unfair, One-Sided, Amateur Blog-Style Q&A With (Or Without) David Miller”

  1. Friends of Seattle

    And we’d also be curious to learn Mr. Miller’s response to our evaluation of his candidacy:


  2. Michael

    Wow. What a self-important pile. And it would do you well to learn what “straw man” actually means. (You might stop by “ad hominem” on the way.)

    I can’t take it anymore. I’m deleting BAC from my RSS.

    Funny thing is, I don’t even think I like Miller – this is just insufferable.

  3. F Buncher

    Dan –

    THANK YOU! If there is anyone in Seattle who can smartly and articulately break down and challenge David Miller on these issues, it is you. I am so grateful for your willingness to do this and for the time and energy that you invested in this analysis.

    David has sincere intentions. But, he is not what he claims to be. If he is elected and if he becomes chair of the Planning Land Use and Neighborhoods Committee, serious damage will occur to all of the progress Seattle has made in land use and transportation over the last 20 years. Seattleites need to understand this before they cast their votes in the primary election.

  4. Martin H. Duke

    I wish every City Council candidate had to answer most of this questionnaire.

  5. Joshua Daniel Franklin

    I can’t follow all the intricate arguments… is this a double endorsement for Miller and O’Brien?

  6. Uncle Vinny

    This is fabulous; I feel like I just took a mini-class in urban sustainability. I’m genuinely interested to hear Miller reply… if there’s another side to the story, I want to know about it!

    I have the biggest wonk-crush on you, Dan. :-)

  7. Chris

    Awesome set of questions, Dan! I echo #3’s comments

  8. J David

    Dan, good on you. It’s about time someone got down to brass tacks with Miller. And, yes, it would be great if all candidates answered these questions.

    Michael @2, if you haven’t already deleted HAC, could you please describe what “straw man” means to you? I think Dan got it right on. Also, what about Dan’s post don’t you like? Be specific, please. Here’s my thinly veiled message: you’re not adding much to this conversation, so you may indeed want to find other venues. I hear Perez Hilton writes a mean blog.

  9. ktstine

    Hey Dan, great questions and I hope he answers – can you do this for every candidate? I have heard that the Beacon Hill Station was not correctly engineered by ST to hold more than a NC 40 sized building atop it…do you know if this is true?

  10. David Miller

    Wow, Dan. What a list. With 13 questions, I’m not going to have the time to get as wonky with you as I would like but I’ll give it a shot.

    1. I don’t think any upzones should be done without preconditions, particularly for preservation of affordable housing, creation of affordable housing, etc. Seattle has been too quick to give away bonuses with too little in return. Anywhere in the downtown core except along Western, Northgate, in most cases at the center of urban centers and urban villages.

    2. Beacon Hill is a tough one, thanks. The folks there are perfectly happy with additional height. There is a great plan to reconfigure traffic patterns there to create a more walkable central core of their business district. I’m not sure 50/acre is the right number there, I think NC at some height is certainly appropriate and I’d like to see that area as one of the test areas for cottage housing. One problem with focusing on one area is Council needs to plan our overall density profile (where it’s going to go) and then let the neighborhoods figure out how/where they want to put it.

    3. Yeah, it (original bill) did mandate where density had to go. 50 housing units within a half mile radius. This conflicted with neighborhood plans (Roosevelt, notably) that decided to grow in a different pattern. It was more than a little problematic even at Northgate, which is heavily commercialized within that 1/2 mile making it tough to put housing at that density in that prescribed circle. You’re right that it didn’t specify what form, as long as it was 50Hu/acre. I’ve said on the campaign trail that I support the initial modified bill (the final one was too watered down on affordable housing). The modifications I especially appreciated were: 1. 50 housing units or jobs /acre; 2. Requirements for concurrency to support higher density; and 3. The edits to specify which Seattle urban areas were and were not covered.

    4. Council’s responsibility is to figure out the density targets for specific areas, a specific plan with specific timelines & budgets to fund the concurrency, and figuring out transit corridors. Neighborhoods are responsible for figuring out where that density goes within their planning area and what it looks like. Then, Council is responsible for approving those plans and making sure they are adhered to.

    5. If we define “affordable” most simply as a unit costing less than the average price for the area — features and size held constant — explain to me why any meaningful number of developers would give up his/her profit margin to build an affordable unit? They won’t, unless they are encouraged to or subsidized. The only time you get units less than average price (“affordable”) from developers on their own is when you have a housing market deflation. You’ll get a relative few at the end of each bubble, and then developers will simply stop building the N+1 unit that would have been affordable. Simple Econ 101 supply & demand curves (build more widgets, price gets cheaper) don’t work on land use. We have to be more creative than that.

    6. Build a city people don’t want to live in and you get urban sprawl. Build a city with a continuing shrinkage of urban tree canopy, and the average Seattleite moves into the ‘burbs, not to mention we’ll be violating our responsibilities under the endangered species act. High density housing in our urban villages and centers is the way we can have our cake and preserve our in-city environment, too. I’ve met more than a few “environmentalists” who believe we should eliminate SF housing in Seattle. The resulting increase in impermeable surface and loss in tree canopy would destroy our urban watersheds and make it impossible to save Elliott Bay, Lake Union, and Lake Washington — even with < 1 car/HH and the best bus system in the world. So the answer is obviously somewhere between what we have now and that extreme. My answer is build in the urban villages and centers and leave the SF areas largely alone to preserve environment.

    7. I think the perspective of that document was that we don’t need to grow as a city. I’m not comfortable with that. I also think the argument about density increasing sprawl was not explained correctly. Density done badly creates sprawl because nobody wants to live near it or in it for very long. I disagree with your critique that overzoning is immaterial. Overzoning leads directly to a lack of affordability because taxes are based upon highest use. More subtly, overzoning creates a larger area where speculative buying occurs — the fringe areas where a developer will outbid a resident because he/she believes since the property is “close” to a higher zoned area, they can convince someone to upzone it. I would have framed the parking argument differently, saying that I believe it is irresponsible and harms both livability and affordability for a city to decrease parking requirements without providing decent bus service. This does create sprawl, and anyone who denies that doesn’t spend enough time talking to people about why they’ve moved to the burbs. You are legally correct that people have no certain right to a parking spot in front of their house, but people have that broad expectation. Screw with that without giving them alternative transportations means and you hurt your own anti-sprawl effort.

    8. I said I had a hand in it, not that I agreed with every sentence. That said, overzoning harms affordability, driving sprawl. See also the December 2007 downzone of industrial lands where the Seattle Planning Commission, City Council, and Mayor Nickels all concluded the way to preserve affordability in those areas was to remove speculative pressure caused by overzoning.

    9. I don’t say the BLR means we don’t need to upzone. I say the BLR means we are not in a zoning crisis at a level where Council has to roll over and get no social benefit from the upzones we grant. Of course we have to upzone to take the new population our leaders have signed us up for.

    10. Actually, the GMA requirement has been used by the courts to do exactly that. Seattle has a monstrous backlog on concurrency projects. Most of the Northgate CTIP remains unfunded. Concurrency projects on most E/W routes in the north end are not close to being funded. The lack of decent bus service is probably the most glaring and most harmful. At the neighborhood level, what people want more of is traffic calming, crosswalks, signals, and sidewalks. If you see a neighborhood fight development, and see a compromise (which happens more often than not), they settlement involves most of that list. That’s concurrency.

    11. Actually, they do exist. Every candidate on the campaign trail who says they are a fan of neighborhoods has been in an argument about why we should have any SF in the city at all. The Planning Commission has said they want to “take the lock off single family zoning”. That sounds benign, and even I think we can do things with real cottage housing at AADUs to densify SF, but I worry that if we signal to developers that we’re ready and willing to upzone anything anywhere (Note: the MFU has (or at least had) a clause that would allow upzoning within 1/2 mile of any park, business, public building, or school) we’ve lost. I use the term, which I made up, of intra-city sprawl to talk about the need to concentrate our growth in the urban centers and urban villages. People understand it fine.

    12. I favor parking requirements based not upon location — which gets you “if things turn out here exactly how we HOPE, then it will be alright” — but on transit service levels. Adequate transit at the area would allow for lower parking requirements – even zero. It’s worth noting your argument is less with politicians than lenders, who largely won’t lend to facilities with no parking because they know the market won’t support it due to lack of decent transit service. Light rail is a pretty good example where I think we can get away with very reduced parking, but we need better spoke bus service. Metro is thus far failing on their plans for this according to people who live in the area.

    13. DADUs are not cottages, despite the recent rebranding, and the DADU proposal is not a cottage housing proposal. I favor attached ADUs. DADUs without 2nd stories and with hard sq ft limits would be a bit more attractive to me, particularly when situated on alleys. Tree canopy reduction is a real issue for me on this, too, which is why I favor AADU instead of DADU. http://www.cottagecompany.com/default.aspx

    And now, my turn…

    1. You obviously want to reduce the amount of SF in Seattle. How much should we have left?
    2. Given there is no convincing data showing green roof techniques can match the stormwater retention capability of conifers, plus the loss of truly permeable surfaces that inevitably result from upzoning SF to higher densities, how do you expect to upzone SF and avoid environmental damage and massive increases in Seattle’s stormwater treatment requirements? If you’re willing to sacrifice Seattle’s environment for environment elsewhere, that’s a valid answer as long as you also explain how we’ll deal with Endangered Species requirements in our urban watersheds.
    3. Given the inevitable increase in stormwater treatment requirements (unless you pull a rabbit out of the hat in #2 and figure out what no stormwater expert in any jurisdiction has been able to answer for me), how will you pay for it in a way that does not hurt affordability.
    4. Do you agree we need to increase our urban tree canopy to 30%? If so, how would you accomplish this in a city that you believe should become more dense? Bonus points for addressing the conifers versus deciduous tree problem in your answer.

    Dan, thanks for the questions. I wish I could spend hours on this, but I can’t. I tried to answer in a way that gives people a sense of how I think about these issues, plus get as specific as I could given time limits.

    People who want to densify our urban villages but have no responsibility for how it turns out can afford to be black and white in their answers. This is not directed at you, Dan, or any specific person but an observation I’ve come to. I see most zoning decisions on the ground as shades of gray. Where I would oppose an upzone in one area or one parcel, I would support it in another area or parcel even though there isn’t much difference in the proposed project. The nice thing about upzones is we have that legal luxury. Where I would support lower parking requirements in one area, I wouldn’t support in other areas.

    This is REALITY when it comes to acting in real space instead of in theory. I have a habit during the campaign of not agreeing to blanket statements, because I don’t want to mislead anyone that I’m going to be 100% for or 100% against an issue they are concerned with. I always want to talk less about the 98% of the time I’m going to agree with them and more about the 2% of the time where we’ll disagree. This habit of mine is a flaw in politicians, I’ve learned. Others are more than happy to say they are 100%, assuming the person on the other side of the table won’t actually take them at their word.

    The fact I am an advocate for neighborhoods who has fought to make an environmentally unsound development environmentally sound creates a level of distrust among urbanists and developers and magnifies any caveat I provide. I know I can’t win this argument with the folks here, Dan, if only because so very few will take me at face value.

    There is no doubt in my mind people will read this and see the caveats I’ve used and say, “SEE, HE ISN’T REALLY FOR ‘X’ AND TRIES TO HAVE IT BOTH WAYS.” Well, guilty. I believe we can have our density AND our environment AND a wide variety of housing styles that includes large areas of SF homes. I don’t think it will be easy, and one big reason I’m running is I want very much to work with the rest of Council to see if we can figure it out. I think my understanding of what neighborhoods are concerned about will be a big asset on Council, and not a barrier to getting things done than need to be done to accept hundreds of thousands of more people in the city. I see no greater challenge for our city and our region over the next decades than the challenge of getting density correct.

  11. Ellery

    Wow, a lot of words there from Miller, but seemed to avoid most of the tough questions, and any specifics. Completely avoided the real question in #9. And the statement about backyard cottages ruining tree canopy is just such silliness. I mean, current code lets us build garages with that same footprint—so it is okay for me to take out a tree to build a house for my car, but not a house for my aging parents? Ridiculous.
    But I’ll give Miller an ‘A’ for having the balls to respond, and seemingly putting a lot of time, if not real substance, into the reply — but Mike O’Brien has my vote.

  12. Sara @ Futurewise

    I’d like to respond to David’s response to Question #3, dealing with HB 1490. The original bill stated that the overall allowed density of the station area (within 1/2 mile radius of the station) had to average 50 units per acre. It did not specify where the density went within that 500+ acre area, nor any specific urban form over another. Yes, it would have prompted upzones in several station areas in Seattle, but the bill’s advocates felt that the enormous multi-billion dollar investment that the entire region is putting into light rail necessitates that the surrounding land use and transportation decisions support regional environmental and social goals. I guess I would ask David whether he believes, in a case such as station areas, where there is such critical potential for broader goals to be met, that it is the neighborhood alone, and its current residents and their interests, that should determine, and possibly limit, the long term benefits that our region sees from this light rail investment. Is there no broader public interest here, David?
    The bill was written to give tremendous latitude to the neighborhood to determine where density would go, put in place design guidelines, protect open space and green infrastructure (in the amended version), improve intermodal access, and provide for affordable housing that is not being provided currently. It was a real missed opportunity.
    As for David’s Northgate example, that station area already met the allowed 50 units per acre threshold under current zoning, according to our analysis, and is already considering further upzones. There is plenty of NC zoning in that station area that allows for residential development in the future.
    I am glad to hear that David supported the amended version of the bill, although his comments at the February 18th city-wide meeting on the amended version of the bill did not seem particularly supportive. Should he be elected to council, perhaps we can look to him to be a champion for that amended version in the 2010 legislative session?

  13. Death by Density

    Thanks for doing this.

    Often, people who seek office are willing to sacrifice their principles for an election certificate. David Miller is of the worst form of this class of politician for, as you describe, he wants support of the city’s NIMBY, single family activist class but he also desperately wants to be accepted by the “smart urbanists” and environmental crowd. David never really made it off the elementary school playground. He wants to hang out with the cool kids but still wants to keep his weird anti-growth bullies.

    The bottom line is that David will say anything to either side to get elected. But, as you effectively point out, the real “winners” in this if David gets elected are the single family, no growthers.

    Those of use who see growth as an opportunity for good need to repudiate Miller’s pandering rhetoric. And a word to Pat Murikami and her ilk: can you really trust David if he’s whispering in our ears at night when he should be at home with you?

  14. Beal

    A note on concurrency. Miller’s response makes it sound like Seattle is out of compliance with the GMA on the grounds of currency. This is not true. They are completely concurrent under their current guidelines. Perhaps what Miller meant to say was that he disagrees with Seattle’s concurrency guidelines and would seek to change them. But it sounds more like he is suggesting that the courts are finding Seattle out of compliance with GMA, which just isn’t the case.

  15. David Miller

    Sara —

    I have stated on the campaign trail, including in front of neighborhood groups, that I support the initial amended version. I remain uncomfortable with the idea of the state specifying where density has to happen inside an incorporated area, as do people currently on Council and in the Mayor’s office.

    My comments at that meeting were all, or nearly all questions. They were tough and I was aggressive, which many people have taken to mean I opposes the concept of TOD. Odd, given I told your ED that I supported it with the amendments.

    Frankly, the problem with passing this bill is not with Seattle or Seattle neighborhoods but all the people in the outlying areas who object to the state doing city-level planning. Seattle neighborhoods didn’t kill it (I talked to the legislators), it was the threat of lawsuits from other municipalities for overstepping state authority.


  16. Michael

    LOL. I had to come back and see how the gang gave Dan the “oh snap” high five he was looking for.

    Especially funny is comment #3. Very over the top. It’s good to have friends, huh?

  17. Joshua Daniel Franklin

    Small note: the 50units/acre net density zoning did NOT conflict with the 2006 Roosevelt Neighborhood Association rezoning recommendations, which have not yet happened but will add quite a bit of NC3-65 (and other) near the station and along Roosevelt Way NE close to I-5.

    There is a lot of confusion on this for two reasons: first, Futurewise correctly estimated 38/acre net density zoning for the .5mi around Roosevelt Station based on the existing zoning and not on the neighborhood’s own rezoning recommendations (it took me a while to figure this out).

    Second are the 16-story heights from by “Roosevelt Development Group” who have some sort of secret lease agreement with Hugh Sisley, but however you feel about that Roosevelt can meet the 50/acres with its own plan without those heights. The Sisley properties are toward Ravenna (the opposite direction from I-5), some right on the .5mi radius border.

  18. Matt the Engineer


    I have a problem with your underlying philosophy of saving green space in Seattle above all else. Let’s take an example of a 20 unit condo building replacing three SFH’s, not caring at all to add a green roof. Yes, we lose perhaps 4000 sf of green space. But aren’t we saving say 1500sf x 17 = 25,500sf of green space from wherever else these 17 families would have lived? Knowing that on net balance 17 families need to move somewhere, isn’t moving them into the city rather than the exurbs (where new homes are built) much better for the environment? Your philosophy seems to be too narrowly focused on Seattle rather than the region.

    Separately, your point about keeping city life attractive to avoid sprawl sounds nice but is misguided. What do you think it would take to see housing prices higher per sf in the suburbs than the city (a sign that people are actually leaving the city for the suburbs)? I’d think it would take something just short of a dirty bomb.

  19. April

    @15, you’re right that the “threat of litigation” played a much bigger role in killing 1490 than the neighborhoods (and the 20 or so floor amendments didn’t help either). But the litigation threat that killed the bill was related to the other 10 or however many sections of the bill there were – specifically the first section related to explicitly adding climate change consideration to the GMA (not the state supposedly overstepping it’s authority). And really, the bigger issue is that many legislators falsely believe that there’s not political and statewide support for the GMA – so they back away from efforts to strengthen it.

  20. David Miller

    Matt —

    Why would you assume these families would move outside GMA urban areas? Why not assume they will move into a similar building in an established urban village in one of the surrounding communities?

    Also, why not assume that we will build that unit in available space in OUR urban villages and centers? Space exists, I’m willing to upzone there, so let’s do that instead. My point is let’s densify according to the plan we have instead of throwing the doors open on SF and irretrievably losing canopy and permeable surface.

    Green roofs are a better alternative to not green roofs, but they simply don’t compare to the benefits of trees and permeable surface. Let’s make sure we all understand there is no equivalency there. Green roofs are a mitigation, not a substitute.

    April —

    That’s good to know that perspective, though that’s not precisely what I heard from other cities. We agree that GMA is way more popular than politicians believe. We fought that same thing here in Seattle with trying to update our tree canopy rules. Lots of hard work to convince Council trees are infrastructure, not just pretty-pretty green things. We’re over that hump (mostly) so I’m hopeful we can eventually do the same for GMA. We have to get other urban areas in Puget Sound (Tukwila) to help with the heavy lifting (Tukwila), which is why I support the modified TOD bill (Tukwila) even though I have reservations about state mandating of where density should be put.

    Joshua —

    Correct, it was the *shape* of the density — teardrop-ish vs circle. The Sisley upzone would not be needed to meet the density goals there if the City would have told the developer of the grocery/retail complex to build to adequate height and do multi use… but what to do about underbuilding in the center of our urban centers/villages is a whole ‘nother can-o-worms that Council needs to work on if we’re serious.

    Beal —

    Seattle is actually in violation of transportation components of the GMA in both Ballard and Northgate by not having identified funding to handle transportation plans within the 6 (5? I forget without my notes) year specified timeline. I was more generally referring to the spirit of the GMA concurrency requirements, however. We have a billion-dollar backlog of infrastructure work we need to do (Closer to 4$B if we add stormwater separation work we need). One could argue that is a GMA fail, too, but no enterprising lawyer has tried that tactic.

    Ellery —

    I think I answered #9. If you’re talking about the need to plan beyond 2020 sightline of the BLR, you’re absolutely correct. We start rewriting our Comp Plan to 2040 next year, and we have to lay the groundwork. We’re much closer than you think. Dan is right that OFM raised targets for King County by 100,000 people, but Seattle didn’t get even the majority of that raise according to conversations with staff. Even if it got it all, we are still zoned adequately for 2020 even if it is not 3x for housing. Nickels did agree to take on an added 150,000 between 2020 and 2040, which is why I know we have upzoning we need to do.

    And I think the code allowance to take out a tree to build 2-story garages in the middle of the property is silly, so I’m not being discriminatory to DADUs on that point. I think AADUs are the better way to go.

    Now I’ve got to get back on sched. Dan, thanks (I think!) again for the oppy to put my neck in the guillotine here…


  21. Joshua Daniel Franklin

    David, thanks for taking the time to reply here–it’s great to hear your perspective on these issues.

    By the way, since we’re using “families” as an example here, I’d like to point out that our Urban Centers have very few family apartments or condos, despite numerous examples from around the region and world and existing resources for children like parks and museums. Most urban family-friendly housing like Cascade Court or Denny Park Apartments are for low-income families which is great, but we need a range of incomes and ages in Urban Centers. (And for those of you urbanites with kids–and I know it’s several of us–the city has a survey also linked at the top right on that website.)

  22. Alex

    David, you’re smart enough to make your positions sound like a call for moderation, when in fact there is nothing moderate about them.

    By making it even harder to develop compact communities in Seattle, your positions would result in more suburban sprawl, more auto dependence, less ecological integrity in local systems, more climate emissions and toxic pollution, as well as rising housing costs, slower transportation, less healthy people and a region with a lower quality of life.

    The facts are really not on your side, and neighborhood NIMBY-ism cloaking itself in environmentalism is a stance Seattle can no longer afford.

    Thanks for making it very clear why Mike O’Brien needs to win this race. I’m writing another check now.

  23. Alex

    Also, you say in regards to local government, “Their job is to protect the people who already live here.”

    I would say, with Jonas Salk, “Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors.” You can’t be a good ancestor while melting the ice caps. Compact development, and lots and lots of it, is the best answer we have to climate change.

  24. dan cortland

    J David@8: Here’s an example of a straw man:

    Are there any situations in which you believe that “top-down” planning is appropriate, or does every decision need sign-off from each and every neighborhood resident?

  25. dan cortland


    Agreed on the lack of family-size apartments and condos. What about townhouses? Are families not moving into townhouses, of which we seem to have a fair supply in urban v/c’s? If not, are townhouses effectively the McMansions of the City?

  26. Joshua Daniel Franklin

    DanC, I hate to continue hijacking this great thread… but I will! First, a caveat: I’ve only recently become aware of the background research on this, but I had a real “Aha!” moment while reading Vancouver’s 1992 “High-Density Housing for Families with Children Guidelines.” It lists features like large entryways (i.e., room for kids’ wet boots to dry) and separating kitchen and bedroom areas (so that baby can sleep while I’m doing dishes). These are things that we wanted but had a hard time finding in the U-District. We thought they were personal preferences, but it turns out they’re family preferences.

    All that to say that it’s not simply a matter of size, though many families do want more than 2 bedrooms. The 4-pack townhomes fail on several features, including large entryways and views of the yard (if their yards even count as such). In other words, “family housing” can be townhomes, condos, or apartments as well as SFH, duplexes, cottages, etc. but the shape of the building guarantees nothing.

    The problem I see in Seattle’s Urban Centers, though, is that very little is being built–I think I heard something like 5% of units (as I mentioned, mostly low-income). Vancouver required 25% of units in False Creek. I know units vs people is apples to oranges, but as a point of comparison, 21% of King County’s population is under 18. The Urban Villages are in a somewhat better position than Urban Centers simply because they currently have a lot of SFH, but excluding 21% of the population and their parents from targeted growth areas will lead to sprawl, it’s simple math.

  27. dan bertolet

    Hey DanC @24, clever, but perhaps not such a stretch when you consider statements like this:

    He says the city needs to figure out “how to make activists out of everyone.”


    Otherwise, it’s probably going to take a new stand alone post to unpack Miller’s replies, most of which seem to me to have much more words than content. I’m not looking forward to it.

  28. Publicola » Blog Archive » Check out Hugeasscity’s Q&A With David Miller

    […] the whole thing here. Permalink | Leave a Comment | RSS addthis_pub = ‘nietsdlog’; addthis_brand = ‘HA Seattle’; […]

  29. Paul Ashraff

    Ha! your man McGinn, well, his created Greatcity.org, supports Miller. What are you missing that he isn’t.

  30. Ellery

    Paul @29 – Great City is a 501c3 and doesn’t endorse candidates. Great City hosts Seattle Network, a social networking site, as a way for different citizens to connect on various progressive issues. One of the members posted that event. Doesn’t mean Great City supports Miller.

  31. It’s Miller Time (Again) (Sorry) | hugeasscity

    […] you David Miller for taking the time to respond to the Q&A, even though this is just some hack’s blog with the word “ass” in […]

  32. Anthony R Meurer


    A former state certified Life Health variable and fixed annuity agent,EMT, Firefighter now licensed for the past 15 years in specialty contracting, manufacturing, member of the Wall Street Journal business opportunities national, and current USCG Marine officer, in my travels, training and real life experiences with many variations of contracts, legal challenges, political wrangling, I have found that there is much home running going on when bidding in the condominium demographic within South Florida.
    The state of Florida has not made the law strict enough regarding estopel of a valid proposal, offer and acceptance never having a chance to engage or perform within the present structure for non profit Florida condominium associations.
    The acts of the participants on both sides of the equation are in many instances criminal, for example collusion for financial benefit is illegal.
    There are a record number of complaints over this kind of undertaking not to mention the recent disconcerting rash of complaints that assessment money collected after the annual collection goes completely unaccounted for and no one is going to jail.
    We can only hope that eventually the Florida legislature will have to recognize there is a serious problem and pass the kind of rules of law required to detour one from straying into the gray.
    When it comes to fair dealing bidding or negotiating contracts with not for profit condominium associations in our beautiful state of Florida make sure you document everything in anticipatory breach correspondence, with a little tact know one will know that you have covered your concerns by just sending a short email message verifying any devil in the details.
    You would be surprised how this extra effort described documenting statements during the period of preliminary discussions, or substantive negotiations curtails the kind of bad behavior we could all do better without.
    Anthony R Meurer

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