As many of you are doubtless aware, there was a zoning hearing last night, regarding the upzone of the station area surrounding the future Roosevelt Station. I’m not terribly interested in rehashing the tortured history, arguments and intrigue surrounding this rezone and the (officially separate, but practically intertwined) contract rezone near Roosevelt High School. As someone who’s perhaps taken more of an in-depth interest in the matter than most on “my side”, and reached out to people on the “other side” of this debate-cum-brawl, I have some observations that I hope will be useful for the future.

  • Stick a fork in it. The Mayor’s modifications to the Roosevelt Neighborhood Association’s proposed rezone are done. Whatever your opinion of the outcome, the last six months have been a tour de force in community organizing by Jim O’Halleran and the RNA. They’re well versed in the minutiae of zoning laws, politically and legally astute, incredibly motivated, well organized, and they vote. The council couldn’t ignore the opinions of this group of people if it tried. If only we could run transit campaigns a tenth as well.
  • Let’s not ever do this again. The upzone sideshow has become a nightmarish headache and time sink for the agencies caught in the crossfire. In particular, I think Ron Endlich and his staff have gone above and beyond the call of duty to address the concerns of neighbors in meetings beyond those required by the formal outreach process, deftly addressing the matters that pertain to Sound Transit while not getting caught in the zoning-related crossfire, which legally has nothing to do with ST.
  • This isn’t going to happen again at Northgate.  There is already a real effort underway to bring together neighbors, agencies, transit advocates and other stakeholders to talk about the station area rezone at Northgate, a process that is just beginning. I hope to write about this effort more as it unfolds.
  •  “DIY Zoning” is perhaps an experiment we should not repeat. When the light rail upzone process started in 2006, the RNA asked DPD if they could devise the plan to meet DPD’s density targets, rather than the normal method of DPD planners crafting the proposal based on community input.

    Years of successful volunteer effort (which met DPD’s density targets) created the not-unreasonable expectation that the RNA’s plan would be adopted wholesale by the city. When transit and density advocates appeared at the 11th hour to demand major changes, those people were — not unreasonably — very upset.

    Can such a process be made to work in a way that balances the competing interests of present and future residents, without offending those current residents who have shouldered the hard work of planning, and who feel a legitimate pride of ownership in their own efforts?

  • The legitimacy of neighborhood opinion. Just as RNA members tend to skew toward older, wealthier, property-owning people in the neighborhood, transit and density advocates tend to skew the opposite way in every respect. If we expect them to understand our concerns, we must take be willing to listen to and understand their concerns. If you’d poured $400,000 into a house, you’d be jittery about neighborhood land use changes, too; and to be idly dismissed as a NIMBY by random internet commenters for expressing those sentiments would be hard to bear.
  • Most people aren’t anti-density, they’re just worried about how the change will affect them. This doesn’t make them stupid or evil, rather we need to better articulate the benefits of well-planned mixed-use density (which seem transparently obvious to us), and counter the mostly-bad arguments of the very small number of people who really are just intransigently opposed to density or change.
  • Engage with people, not the internet. This is something of a cri de coeur and perhaps an odd thing for a blogger to write, but I’m absolutely convinced that if even a small number of transit or density advocates had personally gone out to the neighborhood meetings and just listened and talked to the people there, most of this uncivil mess could have been avoided. A majority of people can usually be swayed either way by someone who takes the time to address their concerns; even those who don’t fully buy your arguments will typically see your perspective and work with you to find common ground; virtually everyone will hear you out and respect you for showing up and listening to them.

That’s all I have to say about that.

48 Replies to “Lessons Learned the Hard Way”

  1. Nice piece, Bruce. I contrast this to Roger Valdez’ post reprinted on Publicola, where he went out of his way to paint RNA and Jim O’Halloran as raving NIMBY’s. Personally I favor 65 feet near Roosevelt High, but they are thoughtful people who want growth elsewhere in the neighborhood.

    1. And by elsewhere you mean where no one else wants to be, directly adjacent to I-5. I have lived above I-5 and I would never do that again.

      1. While I find Bruce’s piece more or less reasonable and fair, this remains the major gaping hole in pretty much every argument for the RNA’s plan.

        You can’t let the RNA off the hook for insisting on a better, yet inarguably much more expensive, route alignment and station placement, and then pushing all of the density to right where the cheaper station would have been.

        Indefensible! (And, you’ll note, they haven’t even tried to defend it on these terms.)

      2. Ya, pushing the bulk of the density away from the station and into some sort of density ghetto next to the freeway in the least desirable location is a bit over the top. Clearly the RNA is trying to get the new development as far away from what they perceive as “their” neighborhood as possible.

        That said however, I think combining the high density portions of the RNA plan and the high density portions of the other plans might make sense.

        And why isn’t some sort of tighter architectural review board a part of this discussion? If you want to protect the “look and feel” of the neighborhood, then do it through some sort of tighter architectural standards.

    2. The problem with the lack of civility at the meeting in Roosevelt on Monday would not have been changed by having more density advocates attend and listen. The problem was the format of the meeting. And even more so, the fact that those conducting the meeting (City Council) did not set clear expectations about rude behavior. The first time someone acted up while someone else had the floor they should have put a stop to it. The format of a meeting – everyone gets their 2 minutes (or 8 minutes in at least one case) – is not about having a “let’s all build common ground and mutual understanding” type of dialouge. COUNCIL BLEW IT!

      1. I keep feeling like I must have attended a different 3+ hour hearing that night. “…..people booing and yelling at people who were there to give earnest testimony.”??


        I was in the middle of the main floor of the auditorium, and that certainly isn’t what I witnessed. I think anyone who watches the documentation of the entire meeting would tend to question the validity of the reporting in blog posts and comments which claims a negative environment with booing, heckling and yelling (?).

        see the video of the hearing here:

        Yep, early on (see time mark 39:30) there was a woman who later identified herself as working for a developer (40:30) and she got some boos + hisses — BUT — Councilwoman Sally Clark immediately spoke to the room and called for quiet. At the end of her statement, that woman –and every other person who spoke– recieved at least polite applause, regardless of their position and statement. Later on there was also some speaker who was bugged by someone sitting nearby who was continuing to talk. Dunno exactly what that was about, but others basically told him to shut-up.

        Even with these couple incidents (in the course of a 3 1/2 hour meeting), outbursts and disrespect from the audience were much more the exception rather than the rule. There was certainly not the heckling and “poor civic discourse” that some people describe. Again, don’t take my word for it: watch the tape. See if you can spot any of the “intimidation” of opponents which has been described.

        yeah, I was just in one spot. maybe there were areas of the auditorium where people were not so respectful? On the other hand, a number of audience members were very actively “shush-ing” anyone who even began to audibly boo, hiss, or heckle.

        And frankly, it all got very confusing anyway, and some people had trouble knowing who they wanted to applaud….. It was sometimes hard to know where some of the speakers stood and what they supported. A number of them stood up and said something about being ‘for the plan’ without designating which. (there are at least 3: the April DPD plan, the June DPD plan, and the community-consensus “SLRP”).

        But that’s okay– general comments that ‘they support the plan’ are at least verbal “votes” that ‘yes, Roosevelt should be upzoned’, which isn’t a “slam-dunk” for everyone– there were a couple people ( but just a very few ) who stood up and said they wanted NO upzone, No growth…..

        But anyway, much more confusing –and almost comic– were the people who stood up and said that:

        #1. they supported the current DPD/Mayor’s proposal (the june plan).


        #2. they supported density and wanted to see the most density possible….

        Well, those two things contradict themselves, since the fact is that the community’s latest proposal (the SLRP) calls for MORE density than the current legislative rezone plan.

        These folks either didn’t hear and understand the first part of the meeting
        they were attending in support of the developer of the property at the corner of 65th and 15th. There were very obviously some of these folks, and their statements of being “pro density” was just their pre-programmed ‘talking point’ to try and push for a plan that would benefit those specific owners/developers.

        you cannot be “for the maximum density” and then be AGAINST the community-consensus plan which allows for MORE density than the current city proposal.

  2. This is pretty one-sided, Bruce. It casts “the neighborhood” as virtuous and everyone else as villainous. You ask for others to listen to “the neighborhood” but cast transit and density advocates as “appearing at the 11th hour.” You take care to list “the neighborhood” concerns as legitimate but never contend with the points made by transit and density advocates. You seem to believe that the only problem here is that the rest of the city didn’t just go along with whatever the RNA decided.

    We’re never going to get to a productive place if that’s the attitude that is taken. There are many problems with the RNA position. They claim to be for density, but they have bitterly opposed a very modest and simple plan to place it a couple blocks from the station. Their justification, that it would block views from the high school, is an obvious cover for purely NIMBY attitudes. No serious argument has ever been advanced against 65′ on the Sisley properties.

    You say we should be concerned with someone making a $400,000 investment in a home, without acknowledging that plenty of other SF residents around the city have seen their property values rise when density is added nearby, and without acknowledging that the Roosevelt Station will ensure that homes in the neighborhood will hold their value much, much better than most other places in not just the city but the region. And you make no room at all for people like myself who rely on density to find a place to live at all.

    Finally, the attitude of “the neighborhood” is deliberately exclusive and deliberately intended to prevent compromise. The RNA did organize well, no doubt, but their claim to represent “the neighborhood” was disproved at last night’s event when a significant number of local residents showed up to endorse the city’s plan. Supporters of the city’s plan were booed and made to feel unwelcome, and have been defined as outsiders trying to wreck the neighborhood. You’ve done that in this post, even if it wasn’t intentional. You say that the neighborhood has to be listened to, but what of those who want a place to live and don’t believe those who got there first should be able to prevent anyone else from enjoying the Roosevelt neighborhood?

    Roosevelt residents live in a city. They have every right to be consulted on plans and every right to speak up for their preferences. They do not have a right to dictate terms to the rest of the city, who has a stake in this too.

    1. Anyone who knows Bruce and his posts and comments knows that he is hardly a density opponent. This is an attempt to explain what strategic mistakes density advocates made/are making with regards to Roosevelt and what to avoid in the future. I think “remember that your opponents are people too” isn’t an unreasonable standard.

  3. I won’t have written some of Rogers piece but I also wouldn’t have written some of this either.

    I don’t appreciate your self deprecating praise of RNA. RNA didn’t recently pass Mass Transit Now, ST2 ($17.9 Billion dollars) or save Metro from a 20% service cut. Lets keep some perspective. They have worked on something that very directly impacts them, no wonder they are so engaged.

    RNA certainly is organized and I honestly appreciate their dedication but that doesn’t mean that we as transit advocates, the ones that won them the ability to have that station, shouldn’t have an important and *legitimate* voice. Just because a community, for example a poor minority community isn’t as organized or engaged doesn’t mean their opinions are any less important. Engagement doesn’t always equal right.

    It isn’t acceptable that people get heckled when they say something the crowed doesn’t agree with just as you did when you said Metro should get rid go the 42 at one of the CRC meetings. That is not acceptable and Council member Clark should have done better to create a less hostile environment.

    I would agree with you that this has been a failure/messy planning process that I think everyone has learned from. DPD has fallen flat on it’s face with all previous TOD station zoning and this one is no exception.

  4. The RNA engaged with no one but themselves in order to craft a plan that all the neighbors would love. They were fundamentally *not* attempting to answer the question: How do we use this amazing, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of getting a subway station to plan for something truly visionary that will benefit generations of new residents?

    The question they were answering was: How do we keep this subway station from altering this neighborhood in ways we don’t want?

    The results were predictable. The fact that they feel they went “above and beyond” should tell you all you need to know about their grasp of what they squandered.

    1. I’m sorry, but I was there and you are so very wrong.

      comments keep using “The RNA” as synonymous for the neighborhood, and claiming that few were involved or engaged.

      Likewise, “The RNA” is NOT one and the same as the committees which updated the neighborhood plan (NPUT, the “Neighborhood Plan Update Team”), and the group formed to look at potential up-zones (basically 2005 – 2006). In both cases, these were efforts certainly supported by the RNA, and there was a great deal of overlap in the membership (for better or worse, the active members of any community tend to be the active members of any community organizing, regardless of the issue), but both the NPUT & subsequent zoning work contained a variety of members — Roosevelt residents, business owners, developers, city officials, etc. AND people from outside of the immediate neighborhood. It was a completely public process, and membership was open to ANYONE who wanted to get involved.

      So all those recent blog comments that have tried to make out the Roosevelt zoning workgroup as some private, elite club of the RNA which excluded others — well, that’s just wrong. This was no shady back-room deal. We followed the city’s process, and often had city officials at the meetings. And there was never any suggestion, by any observer, that the meetings were anything less than open and inclusive.

      Yeah, it was hard to get the word out city-wide, but we did what we could, and did everything and anything that was suggested to us by the city (DPD, Dept of Neighborhoods, SDOT, the council, etc.) to bring more voices/experience/viewpoints to the table. To the best of my memory, back in 2005 – 2006, there were something like 30 members of the Neighborhood Plan Update Team (NPUT), of which maybe 12 – 15 would attend a typical meeting (monthly at first, weekly by the end); and the zoning workgroup (dunno why we never got a good name/acronym for that one) had maybe twenty members with a core group of 10-12 who attended most all of those meetings. Beyond that, the outreach included “open houses” to present draft plans, a neighborhood-wide survey, and articles in the monthly neighborhood newsletter (rough numbers: a circulation of maybe 2000– delivered to all 1300 households in Roosevelt and adjacent blocks; placed out in piles in local business and whatnot; and eventually posted on the neighborhood website [ once we got one ] )

      Believe me, we were struggling to get people to participate, and I have no idea how, in 2005, we might have engaged with more people — especially all the people who are now haunting these blogs and are so frustrated that they weren’t involved 6 years ago. But this perhaps points out more problems with the process rather than the neighborhood. We were a bunch of local residents who were (as stated above) doing “DIY” urban-planning. All we knew was what the city told us, and what we could learn through our own research. The city told us what they felt was an adequate, effective, and thorough process; and they were totally satisfied by our work. When it came to the zoning work, the city gave us growth targets which we met or beat– and we did so in a way which we felt stayed true to the “character of the neighborhood” and the city-approved neighborhood plan…..

  5. I repeat a question I asked on another thread: Why *did* density advocates not show up until the eleventh hour? Why did STB only start reporting on this process earlier this year?

    1. Well most of the work done by RNA was done in 2006 over 5 years ago, and before this blog was even around. Since then from my understand not much has happened until this year. The Sisley issue has been around but that was just those few block, not the whole neighborhood.

    2. This “11th hour” point is just straight BS. We live in a democracy, we can change policies whenever we’d like to, and we can debate these things to death if we want to. There’s no such thing as an “11th hour”.

      Imagine this statement on any other policy issue. “Why are you showing up at the 11th hour trying to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell”?”

      1. Andrew, this is one of those times when I go looking for a Facebook-style “Like” button. I agree completely. The “11th hour” or the 1st hour — it doesn’t matter. If you need to challenge something, you need to challenge it.

      2. It’s not a point of whether or not you *can* change it at the 11th hour, IMO.

        Rather, the point is that waiting until the 11th hour, in any process, increases the burden on the people who are asking for change. The automatic presumption of all who have been involved (and this is far from unique to Seattle) is that if you cared you would have been involved sooner.

        I’m not arguing whether or not that attitude is correct in a democracy. Merely pointing out it exists. If you want to win the argument – which I think is what Bruce is trying to get to with this piece – you have to deal with the environment you find. Whether you like it or not.

    3. I can’t agree more with Andrew. There’s no such thing as an “11th hour”. We engaged when the public was asked to engage. Quite frankly, it’s hard to discover how to get involved. Even activists like us often don’t know something’s happening until it starts getting reported on by someone else.

      1. This!

        I even had a hard time finding out how to get involved in the Transit Master Plan process and the county’s strategic planning.

  6. Probably because they didn’t know about it? Because there was no outreach? They weren’t invited?

    Frankly there should have been more than just RNA and “density” folks at the table. But that table also shouldn’t have been the RNA table…it should have been something impartial.

    OR there should have been a multilateral process whereby the city actively sought many inputs, weighing the RNA equally with other stakeholders. Instead, we got one proposal from one group. Not enough to make good long-term decisions.

    1. Probably because they didn’t know about it? Because there was no outreach? They weren’t invited?

      Exactly. Just because the RNA were at the table doesn’t mean we should just automatically assume their position there was just, legitimate, or good policy.

      1. please scroll up and read my comment above.

        It was not “RNA’s Table. Other people were there, and other groups were represented. Everyone was invited. It was a completely public, open process. City officials attended the meetings and were satisfied at the level of participation + outreach. we followed every bit of process/procedure, and frankly we were awfully frustrated that we could get more people involved.

      2. Andrew Smith says:
        “….. Just because the RNA were at the table doesn’t mean we should just automatically assume their position there was just, legitimate, or good policy.”


        yeah, that’s why there was a city process which the RNA and all the others followed — and that’s why there was a city review process of the “work product”. Nothing was written and immediately taken as gospel and published by fiat! The update to the neighborhood plan was reviewed by the dept of Neighb, all the other affected departments, and the city council.

        The re-zoning proposals the community submitted were reviewed by DPD — and DPD found them to be so good that they largely based the draft plan on what the community created. The biggest changes that DPD made was that they thought some of the density-increasing upzones “went too far”…..

        If community organizers follow all the procedures and processes that are established; and they meet all the goals the city has set; and their work is thoroughly reviewed/edited/altered by the city……. how much more can anyone be expected to do?

        if you can’t accept that work done with full city oversight and vetting is legitimate, then what can possibly pass your standards?

  7. I would request that your next post be on whats happening on Northgate. I haven’t heard anything about whats going on there, and I think a lot of other people are in the same boat.

  8. I have so many issues with this including:

    1) The RNA is a very narrow minority interest. The RNA by doesn’t even represents all Roosevelt residents. It’s an organization you have to pay dues to be a member of. I cannot understand how anyone could sympathize with a well-organized special interest group benefiting themselves at the expense of other.

    2) “Transit and density advocates showing up at the eleventh hour” is basically the contraposition of what happened. DPD and the RNA met without ever bringing “transit and density advocates” to the table.

    3) For “stick a fork in it”. We can elect new governments who can then change policy (for example, change density targets, etc.). If some previous government got into bed with a special interest group and people want a change now, that’s democracy. Asking to silence the debate because “we’re done, move on” is not just nonconstructive, it’s completely at odds with our system works. We can change these zonings when ever we want to, it’s our city.

    Finally, I dislike the nasty strawmans in your post. Who has ever called Roosevelt residents “stupid” or “evil”?

    I think you owe all of us an apology.

    1. I have to laugh at the so-called progressives who love neighborhoods until they commit a thoughtcrime, at which point they become a bunch of rich old NIMBY minority interests. At least Bruce is honest enough to say that the experiment in listening to the neighborhoods ought to be ended, and that the city should be empowered to ignore what their residents have to say.

      I hope (and trust) that the residents of the Roosevelt neighborhood are watching this blog closely. It couldn’t possibly be any clearer that the urban planners despise them for their failure to fall in line.

      1. Your comment has nothing to do with what I wrote. Bruce was clearly praising the RNA. I disagreed with that praise.

        I’m not an urban planner, and I’ve never been accused of being a “progressive” until just this instance.

        Matthew’s totally right about the speed limit. Contrast the 125th street road diet (massively unpopular in the neighborhood) with this upzone.

      2. Exhipster:

        Just because a neighborhood does something doesn’t mean it’s progressive. Exclusivity attempts are common in neighborhoods – Broadmoor’s racist policies are (were?) the most extreme example, but this is very similar. People want to self-select their neighbors to be *just like them*, just like they watch TV and go to websites that reinforce their existing views. That’s inherent to being human – but it’s normally balanced by economic reality, except when a neighborhood is given a tool to try to enforce their desire. It’s not a good thing – honestly, the right thing to do here, even as Bruce mentions, is not to engage with the neighborhood nearly as much in the first place.

      3. “Neighborhood Rights,” much like “States Rights,” can be used to justify some pretty terrible policies. We need to have a balance between the narrow interests of residents and the broad interests of the whole region.

      4. Just because a neighborhood does something doesn’t mean it’s progressive. Exclusivity attempts are common in neighborhoods – Broadmoor’s racist policies are (were?) the most extreme example, but this is very similar.

        Ooooh, that’s good! So a neighborhood doesn’t do what you want them to do, and now they are racists. Do you realize just how arrogant this is?

      5. Reading comprehension isn’t your forte is it?

        Here, let me break it down in smaller words for ya:

        You made the point that Progressives should always go with what Neighborhoods want.

        Ben commented showing how that is not true. He then gave a stark example of neighborhood policy being bad.

        You then foamed at the mouth.

    2. I think you missed the point of Bruce’s post. It’s not an attack on us (or anyone), so much as a plan for the future. That is, if we want to end up with a better result next time, then here are some things we should keep in mind.

      As much fun as it is to read a post like Roger’s, it’s not very *useful*. We can congratulate ourselves for being on the right side of the issue, but the fact is, we didn’t get what we wanted, and that’s largely because of many of the reasons Bruce articulated — including the fact that we allowed the neighborhood to have such a big role in the first place.

      So which is it? Do we want to sit around and tell everyone how our plan would have been better? Or do we want to figure out what went wrong, so that next time, we *do* get what we want?

    3. You made the point that Progressives should always go with what Neighborhoods want.

      It gets even better. Disagree with a “progressive,” and not only are you old, NIMBY, and a racist, but you’re stupid. Problem is, I never wrote what you say I did. Not that “facts” would ever get in the way of a good, hard “progressive” cry.

  9. FANTASTIC summary, Bruce. This is perhaps the first post that I’ve seen from any blog that has done a fair job of pointing out the differences between the two sides. I has been sad reading Roger Valdez’s post (which has clearly swayed the opinion of those at Publicola too) who portray the RNA and the Roosevelt neighbors as NIMBY’s who are opposed to density. The point is that they’ve spent so many years and have had so many of those difficult conversations related to density that occur in single-family dominated neighborhoods that to have the the public process ripped from them at the last minute doesn’t sit well. Thank you for bringing a balanced voice to this discussion for the first time.

    1. And yet this post did nothing of the sort – it was highly preferential to RNA. Calling that balanced just means you have a strong bias.

  10. I, too, appreciate the open-eyed assessment of the process that occurred here. Everyone involved shares some responsibility for it being so messy and nonlinear.

    I think is starts with the Comp Plan, the City’s stated goals and targets for accommodating growth, which provides no specific direction to suggest that RNA, DPD, or anyone else should be thinking in terms of the density that many on this blog have promoted, and that I happen to agree should be considered for the long term in this area. So what should DPD have done, tell the community to go plan for some number they have dreamt up because it was suggested by some passionate and seemingly well-intentioned bloggers?

    Blogs are great for getting people of like minds together, just as neighborhood planning tends to attract people of common background and interest in a specific location. If we are really going to empower neighborhoods to plan for growth in a manner that meets both local concerns and regional needs, we need to pass some clear policy statements about what is expected through a political process that will give those statements some legitimacy. If someone told RNA plan for “x” thousand new units, the outcome, or at least the disussion, could well have been different.

    1. That’s kind of ironic because that’s exactly how the process enfolded. The RNA was given density and unit targets by the city (way back in 2006) and went about with a lot of internal angst along the way about how to best channel the growth.


  11. I’m not a supporter of the RNA plan, but – aside from the three blocks South of Roosevelt High School – what’s the big difference between the RNA plan and the mayor’s plan?

    1. Maybe the problem is that it’s the neighorhood’s idea and not the mayor’s idea? Come on, McGinn, don’t you have any political skills at all? You’ve got a neighborhood full of people who really care a lot about where they live. They come up with a plan that’s pretty dang good.

      What do you do? You s*** all over it, and send your political allies (the few who remain, anyway) out onto the Internet to call them NIMBYs, racists, and too old. And then you wonder why they flock to a community meeting and tell you exactly what they think of you.

      Michael McGinn, turn in your resignation. The sooner the better!

  12. On the topic of inclusivity… It should be noted that the developer who is proposing new development on 65th and 15th (two full blocks) asked the RNA if he could at least be at the table during the SLRP meetings and was told no…

    1. Exactly. Special interests were allowed to decide who was at the table, they then decided what the conversation was simply by being allowed table stakes. Disaster.

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