Less than three weeks after we declared him “unassailable,” Mayor McGinn does something that one can certainly assail:

I understand that the developers of 4755 Fauntleroy Way South located in West Seattle have made a request to vacate the alley as part of their development proposal. Pursuant to the City of Seattle’s Street Vacation Policies, last amended in 2009, it is up to the Director of the Seattle Department of Transportation to transmit a recommendation to the City Council regarding the alley vacation request…

In this instance it is difficult to see how the alley vacation proposal meets our public benefit standards when it does not support equitable economic development as stated in our Comprehensive Plan, does not support community vibrancy and walkability, and does not support our local urban design plans. It is the position of the executive that because this project is not in the public interest, we will not forward a recommendation to approve this alley vacation request to the City Council at this time.

West Seattle Blog has an excellent review of the proposal’s context. The issue here is that the developer requires use of the publicly owned alley in the project, giving the city leverage. The mayor’s office notes that the anchor tenant, Whole Foods, pays “significantly lower than other similar businesses.” It also believes that the “large footprint,” orientation of the project, and use of the proposed “midblock connector” by trucks degrade the pedestrian environment.

Mayoral spokesman Robert Cruickshank says that “we are not saying this development can never happen” and “we continue to support new density,” but that the project did not meet the standard “when it comes to ceding City-owned property.” I asked him what it would take to change the recommendation. “We’re not going to dictate terms,” he said, but “we would support a Community Benefit Agreement, similar to what exists at the proposed Sonics Arena… We hope [the walkability issues] are addressed, but doing so alone won’t be sufficient.”

From this it seems clear to me that the mayor’s office is looking for assurances on the relative wage and/or benefit levels of employees at this site. That’s certainly consistent with McGinn’s progressive record, it seems this isn’t a underhanded way to kill the project, and getting a good price for city property is absolutely appropriate.

That said, I’m personally quite hesitant to tax density — thus deterring something with widespread public goods — to achieve unrelated societal objectives. In South Lake Union the Council did this to meet its affordable housing goals, and in both cases this is something that reasonable people of good intent can disagree on. I confess to having no idea what the socially optimal minimum wages and benefits are, but in any case barring new marketplace entrants is a costly and ineffective way to enforce them. If there’s a minimum standard in this city, enshrine it in law; to apply it inconsistently via planning tools is bad for competition, does nothing for the unemployed or those currently making minimum wage, and if it kills the project will do untold environmental, fiscal, and economic damage.

114 Replies to “McGinn Recommends Rejection of West Seattle Project”

  1. What about this part of the response “… does not support community vibrancy and walkability, and does not support our local urban design plans”?

    Debate over tenants (Walmart, etc.) is one thing, but debating land use issues seems right up your alley (no pun intended). At first glance this project seems just fine. Maybe I’m wrong and this won’t be very walkable, or will not fit in well with the local urban design plans (which are what exactly?). It seems to me that this plan was killed for these other reasons and then the mayor decided to take a shot at Whole Foods as well (which is reasonable — they deserve it). But is the plan really so bad? What do you folks think?

    1. Well Cruickshank indicated walkability improvements alone wouldn’t be enough – which indicates is using project approval to make labor market policy. If this was just about walkability I’d feel differently about it.

      1. Go to the West Seattle Blog link and scroll down a tiny bit to see the current alley. It’s literally bounded by falling over chain link fence topped with barbed wire. Not exactly pedestrian friendly.

      2. It’s common to let properties run down when there’s potential to build in the near future. If this developer isn’t allowed to buy the alley, they’ll likely put in another project that has an alley. This is valuable land, and in the long term it will not be chain link.

      3. Yeah, Patrick, there are plenty of properties that are worth a lot of money but currently fenced and ugly. :)

      4. @ Matt — I agree. The proposal is obvious better than things are right now. The question is, what could be done to make it better? I would like to more more. Specifically, about the phrase I quoted.

      5. “Yeah, Patrick, there are plenty of properties that are worth a lot of money but currently fenced and ugly. :)”

        That’s correct, and there would be public benefit for them to be developed and put to better use. Some alleys are useful parts of the urban fabric, but a lot of them are dead space. I see the benefit of upzoning unused land that’s de facto NC-0 as being pretty good for the city overall even before you get to the payments and whatever current public benefit arrangement that’s being rejected.

    2. McGinn wants to win the election. However, he is terribly unpopular especially in West Seattle. Therefore this is a political move to win W. Seattle votes………..and he keeps it progressive by attacking Whole Foods over their pay scale.

  2. In this case I’m not sure I agree with your assessment that this could be described as “taxing density.” If this was all private land and the city was making demands (which they often do as well) then it would be a different story, but that doesn’t seem to be what’s at issue. When it comes to asking that certain standards be met in return for the use or transferred ownership of public property, that’s not a tax, that’s a trade.

    Whether that’s warranted in this case I couldn’t say since I’m not familiar with the project, but I don’t think it’s the same thing as taxing density.

    1. Indeed, the mayor isn’t asking either for a scaleback or a payment in proportion to floor space. If there were a fee on development in proportion to floor space, residents, units, or some other measure, for land already owned completely by the developer, that would be “taxing density”.

  3. There’s no good reason why the right-of-way should be given up to private hands. I wouldn’t be so hard on McGinn for this. The developer wants something that it has zero right to.

  4. This is just another example of McGinn shunning his responsibilities as mayor. If this wasn’t an election year, or if he had even halfway reasonable polling numbers, he would have approved this project without so much as a second thought.

    I wonder if Whole Foods has made any contributions in the mayoral race,
    ………

    1. That’s absurd. This is about a street vacation that is unnecessary. The onus is on the developer here. They’re the ones being unreasonable.

      1. Stephen this is an alley vacation not a street vacation. Big difference. The purpose of alleys is to serve access needs of buildings on that block. The alley is being vacated and moved south to make the site layout work. Yes the loading dock for the whole foods sucks but grocery stores need loading docks and since all of the other three faces of the building are pedestrianized I don’t see any way around it.

        http://www.seattle.gov/dpd/AppDocs/GroupMeetings/DRProposal3013803AgendaID4498.pdf

      2. I believe the vacation is “necessary” to Whole Foods’ blueprints. However, the City is not *required* to turn over alleys just because someone wants them.

      3. Of course the city isn’t required to give over alleys but the developer also isn’t required to build a mid-block connection through the block either. As for the loading dock I’m not sure if the vacation is related but regardless because the square footage of the area is so large I believe a loading dock would be required by city code anyways.

        Anyways, in my opinion this issue is just over for opposing a project on political grounds.

      4. Vacations aren’t necessary for loading docks in general. I just went to the design review for the Vine and Western project, and they’ve got a loading dock and no vacation for using it.

      5. This isn’t just about the street vacation. The City is still allowing alley vacations on many other projects, such as the Amazon campus, for better or worse.

        It is the union labor issue that tipped the scales to cause the mayor to oppose this project.

  5. I have a positive read on this and a negative read on this, and I’m not quite sure which I believe. But no matter which one is right, I think it will be built and this is just a small hiccup.

    The positive read is that McGinn wants to see the project built but is looking for some extra concessions. On the one hand, a Whole Foods is an amenity that will bring a lot of activity to the Triangle and probably singlehandedly create demand for housing in an area the city wants to densify. On the other hand, it is a massive single use and not particularly good for walkability, and the company is not known for being a great corporate citizen, so there are reasons to proceed with caution. Perhaps this is McGinn just using his leverage to improve the negative aspects of the project to some degree.

    The negative read is that this is pure election-related kabuki. McGinn has certainly shown during this campaign that he’s not above that. He may know very well that the council will ignore his recommendation (a very likely prospect) and be doing this not even with the real intent to gain concessions, but just for the sake of campaign publicity. That would be disappointing, but also expected in politics.

    I’m not sure which I think is more likely.

    1. It’s not a massive single use – there are 340 apartments.

      I’m not sure “pure politics” would be a useful way to characterize it. It’s more like valuing union interests over the imperatives for density.

      1. Is it imperative to vacate city property? I think we can get more benefits along with the density, and then allow the project to move forward. If you think the deal would fall apart if wages & benefits are increased, then the project is not producing said benefits.

      2. Not so fast.

        This is yet another megablock monolith, far more devoted to the cars coming and going through its “mid-block connector” (read: driveway) than to positive activation along its street frontages.

        The details of the project — including those explicitly cited by the developer in a letter of defense published yesterday — read like a to-do list of bad urbanism: “wide bands of landscaping” instead of permeable frontage, unified signage concepts, and thousands of feet of pocket plazas and “open space” carefully arranged so that no one will ever use it! And hey, did we mention our pledge to widen — yes, widen! — both of our adjacent streets?

        Even disregarding the labor grandstanding, any urbanist should be happy to see this go back to the drawing board.

      3. Martin,

        Would forcing the developer to alter the floor plan so as not to use the alley actually result in a less dense development?

      4. I am much more supportive of walkability goals than living wage standards using these methods.

      5. I think using the phrase “living wage standards” is indefensibly narrow. It’s not just wage. It’s sick leave and PTO in general, health benefits, part time vs full time scheduling, and many other things which Whole Foods is terrible on. I should know – I used to work at Whole Foods. It’s reasonable to say “you’re going to impact city social services, so give us a better deal.”

      6. Nobody has made the argument that the alternative plans if the alley is vacated will be less dense. The developer will probably incur additional expense, but that does not necessarily mean the project will be scaled back. And this is on the unlikely outcome that the City and developer don’t come to agreement on the alley vacation.

      7. Thanks, d.p,, for pointing out the street widenings!

        I assume the City is expected to pick up the ongoing additional maintenance costs, including the higher cost for maintaning existing lanes due to increased speeds. And then there are the additional medical costs from increased accidents.

      8. They want to widen 40th between Alaska and their entrance, obviously, in order to keep the cars flowing smoothly in and out of their complex in all directions. Hardly a gift, as they tried to portray it, except to themselves.

        The offer of widening Fauntleroy is baffling, though. They claim it’s to build a bike lane. Where? What good is a single block bike lane anyway? Why can’t you just remove that single block’s on-street parking?

        Do you expect so much traffic to your garage and so many people idling outside your complex that your curb must become a full-block loading zone or turn lane? Do you expect the heavy volumes of your car-oriented project to make the door zone and the mouth of your “mid-block connector” far more dangerous than they are today?

        Anyway, Fauntleroy is already a 60-foot road with long distances between crosswalks. Widening it in the name of either bike-friendliness or a “pedestrian-oriented project” is a new level of doublespeak.

      9. If this project ends up dying, we all may be glad in a few years. Another worthier project will come along for this site.

        It checks a lot of the urbanist boxes, but the site plan and the retail are designed as if all potential customers will arrive by car. The prospective drugstore backed out of the project since the design review committee frowned on a prescription drive-through. The “pedestrian mid-block connector” is actually the parking garage entrance and truck loading dock.

        Reminds me of the Target/Lowes mega-complex planned for the Goodwill site pre-recession. The project failed, and the City got a downtown Target instead.

      10. Ben,

        If low wages and benefits are incurring social service costs then change the standards in law. To apply them only to new market entrants or new development is anti-competitive and anti-development.

      11. Likewise, any piece of city property that remains in public hands and not auctioned off to the highest bidder is anti-competitive and anti-development. All parks, libraries, bike trails, sidewalks, community centers, senior centers, and non-private streets are anti-competitive and anti-development.

    2. Trust me. Your negative read is the correct one. This is a political move….its McGinn’s second nature.

      And just for the record, W. Seattle has more than enough supermarkets. Within a 2-3 mile radius, there are two Safeways, a Metro Market, a Thriftway, a QFC, a PCC and a Trader Joe’s. We don’t need a Whole Foods on top of all that.

  6. I completely agree with McGinn on this one. Public right-of-way should never be handed over to private interests without some tangible public good. This proposed “density” is still very car-centric anyway.

    1. It is done every day. And we are talking about an alley here. Have you seen it? It is useless in it’s current state, and would be even more useless if the area gets developed around it. I’d be happy just getting it off the public books.

      1. You clearly haven’t lived next to an alley. They’re not only a great place to push services, allowing a cleaner main street, but mine is used for kids biking, soccer games, pedestrian shortcuts, etc.

        I’m not saying that I oppose all alley vacations, but they’re quite valuable. And it only seems to happen in one direction: I haven’t ever heard of a developer building an alley that didn’t exist before and giving it to the city.

      2. Also drug use, prostitution, public urination/deification. I say let the developer have it for the public good.

      3. Looking at the design (project 3013803 on the DPD website) it seems decent from the pedestrian standpoint. It seems like the mayor is after Whole Foods (which i dont dissagree with) or he just wants to get more out of the developers. BTW this is probably the largest development in west seattle: 7-stories, 370 residential units, 62,750 sq. ft. of retail space, 598 PARKING!

      4. Alleys in general are good for pedestrian paths between blocks, and are excellent places for garages so they’re not facing the street. There was a limited era when alleys were commonly built; you can see them in the U-District and University Heights, for instance. The University Way alley has the famous Allegro cafe and University Bookstore entrance. North of 50th around Roosevelt they’re between houses, with the off-street parking right there. The loss of alleys came with the rise of suburbia. One because alleys were “city” things that connoted slums, and two because the size of developments telescoped out to automobile scale (quarter-acre lots with the garage in front, strip malls, big-box stores, etc).

        They should be building alleys in new developments but they aren’t; the developers’ and public’s imagination hasn’t gotten that far yet. At least they’re starting to put pedestrian/bicycle paths through cul-de-sacs now, that’s a start.

      5. I would like to see this “public urination/deification” lazarus speaks of. Sounds like some godlike peeing.

        I don’t hear lazarus calling for the city to vacate Occidental Park because of those issues…

      6. Street vacations don’t stop public relieving. Public restrooms do…which, btw, could be one of the extraordinairy public benefits to which the developer could agree.

      7. Public restrooms sounds like a great public benefit! I’d trade the alley for that.

      8. But, Ben, that would violate the City’s de facto pay-to-pee social policy for pedestrians who wander too far from home.

        Oh, well, we could just keep the port-a-potty at the Junction in perpetuity.

      9. Brent, the city’s already installing one of the Portland-style outdoor bathrooms in Pioneer Square. People just disbelieve anything they can’t see – procurement is under way. :)

      10. The “pay-to-pee social policy” applies in too many places around the developed Seattle area. As a cyclist who starts rides before the sun rises and most places open, it’s hard to find places for such relief. Even parks are spaced too far apart and their restrooms are shuttered at night.

    2. Turning city property over to private developers for public deification might run afoul of church/state restrictions. Public defecation, OTOH, is a completely different topic.

  7. I’m not thrilled with the labor justification, but I do think we should expect extraordinary public benefit in exchange for our valuable public land. Consider the Amazon project. That’s a major employer for our city, and they still provided a new streetcar, a decade of operations cost to bring a 10-minute headway, a cycle track, and cash for a new park. What has Whole Foods offered?

    1. Ah…..Whole Foods isn’t the developer – they are a tenant. As such, McGinn has taken this debate to a new level of obsurdity.

      And there is a wee bit of difference between this relatively modest mixed use development and the 3M ft**2 phase 1 development that Amazon is building.

      1. And that’s my point. Is this project important enough to give up public land for? I don’t know the answer, but McGinn’s certainly entitled to voice his opinion.

      2. Yeah, if the Council really disagrees with him, they can just override him. They know how to do it. :)

        I think the square footage is a walkability issue, for sure. But when you build for an anchor tenant, that’s part of the development.

      3. I doubt the council will simply give the developer the alley. Rather they’ll try to one-up the mayor with an offer that appears to produce more public benefit but is quietly more to the developer’s liking. Harrell might even test the waters with an affimative action requirement for all on-site employers, and make a point that the mayor didn’t think of it first. Affirmative action is practically cost-neutral to any employers, beyond paperwork to show compliance.

  8. I have commented on this in other venues, but whats being lost in all this philosophical discussion about labor and alley vacations are the situations of this particular exchange, another commenter summed it up well:

    “Background for those just tuning in:

    The developers are buying the alley, not being given the alley. The alley is currently adjacent to a desolate, vacant car lot, a gas station, and a funeral home. It is home to West Seattle’s most scenic smashed beer bottles. The developers are not taking away the alley; the developers is remaking the alley in the new mixed-use project, fully incorporating it in a very pedestrian-friendly way. This is not about the alley. McGinn and the activists who bent his ear simply don’t like that a particular business, Whole Foods, isn’t unionized. The union obstructionists don’t even live in West Seattle. –GSDH

    This is primary politics plain and simple, and yet again West Seattle is being used for leverage for someone in the political arenas game at our own expense.

    1. Thank you. This notion that the vacation is a give-a-way, or that it doesn’t serve the greater public good is absurd.

      This is just about politics in an election year.

      1. I love election year politics. That’s about the only time the commonfolk can get (ad hominem) done.

    2. Of course they will pay for the alley; that’s not in dispute. The question is whether it’s an appropriate use to warrant a permanent vacation of city-owned property. How do you monetize that appropriately? It should be a much higher standard than a rezone.

      The person meanie quotes is making a very strange reverse-YIMBY argument – that only people in West Seattle should be able to decide to bring in or reject the project. The food and commercial workers may not live in Seattle, but will the wages at Whole Foods allow them to? If you are going to justify the project on economic development, at least address the argument from UFCW about Whole Foods rather than railing against unions. It’s a vacation of *city* ROW and those workers need to be able to live somewhere. I am glad that West Seattle residents are amenable to this type of project, but I want to see more benefits for the workers to prove that it is in the overall public interest to vacate city land.

    3. Word games and corporate spin.

      The City owns the alley. Whole Foods doesn’t have the right to just take it. The City gets to name terms. But worry not, as this is unlikely to turn out like the Battle of Thermopylae.

      Some of the beneficiaries of any labor agreement would presumably live in the neighborhood — if they can afford to do so. As a taxpayer, I see plenty of benefit from enlarging the work force earning a livable wage, and being able to buy more and pay more sales tax. I mean, really. Shopping at Whole Foods is a lot more expensive than shopping at Wal-Mart. Pay the employees a living wage, for goshsake.

      I understand why some neighbors may be peeved that the City’s terms don’t involve reducing the size of the development, as they would like the City’s terms to be. But I happen to disagree with that goal, and welcome those who want to use CBAs as a tool to stop or downscale development to vote for Peter Steinbrueck.

      As for meanie’s comment, he failed to describe a single pedestrian benefit that would be achieved by the alley vacation.

      1. “he failed to describe a single pedestrian benefit that would be achieved by the alley vacation.”

        yes, this is key. Landscaping is nice but inadequate. If they are proposing to have some sort of path through the development, can that be covenanted in the deed or rededicated as city ROW?

      2. Considering there is not a single pedestrian benefit from this current block any change is a net positive.

        People need to look at the actual streets before they decide that social justice through code abuse is a good use of time, policy or debate.

        http://imgur.com/WMg3ADm

        The developer already agreed to whichever price the city asked for the ROW. For the mayor to swing in late just before a primary and declare living wages, which aren’t defined in any real way other than the bizarre notion that everyone gets a car and single family home with a yard in city limits for any job, are now the basis of the validity of any project is frankly absurd.

        This is exactly the same grandstanding abuse that people us EIS’s for and it should immediately discredit the merit of the discussion.

      3. I agree with the anti-development folks. 400 apartments…no parking under the guise new residents will use transit. I laugh. In addition, as d.p. beat me to it, this site, will be covered with a monstrous block.

        Instead of building a bohemith with yet another grocer, why not scale back the development and create a greenspace by replacing the alley with trees and urban park. Give the developer benies for this work…since it would encourage walking. Plus, it would scale back the number of units and enourage smaller shops to move in vice a Whole Paycheck. Instead of a six story structure consider a four or five story building to save be less imposing on te neighborhood.

        My preferred site design aside… McGinn needs to keep his head out of the Whole Foods labor battle. It’s a private developer, owning private property, and the this developer wanted Whole Foods. I have a huge issue when politicians want to publically dictate what takes on private property based on a politician’s labor opinion/leanings.

      4. Charlotte,

        Did you miss the part that the developer doesn’t own the alley yet? It’s not their property. It belongs to the City.

      5. [ot]

        And yeah, Charlotte, it doesn’t even seem like you know the project? It’s got 255 parking places. Which is too much!

      6. Wow… So many fallacies in a single paragraph from our backwards elder stateman, C.R.

        1) There would be 600 parking spaces (residents + merchants) in this complex. It’s a monument to the expectation of driving everywhere. The reason it is a megablock is that it sits atop a mega-garage.

        2) West Seattle needs more “greenspace” like a fish needs an iPhone. The place is nothing but sprawl and parkland already. What it does need — on this specific we actually agree — is more places to live, congregate, and shop that are neither giant behemoths nor strips of sprawl, but a human-scaled form in between. The best way to achieve this is by removing the presumption of autocentric megablocks as a legitimate path to density or to profit. Not through more perpetually vacant “greenspace”.

        3) I don’t love Whole Foods’ labor practices, but the “Whole Paycheck” meme remains an outright lie, perpetuated by those who think Real ‘Muricans should only buy commodity corn-based everything. In fact, despite its middle-of-the-road marketing, QFC is by far the most expensive major chain to shop in the Seattle area. As much as 30% more expensive than a basket of goods at Whole Foods. Look it up.

      7. (off-topic, I know)

        d.p.,

        I don’t know what items you are indexing, but everything I buy is more expensive at the Red Apple than at either QFC or Safeway. And it isn’t as if their produce is fresher or more organic, or their products are more upscale.

      8. “removing the presumption of autocentric megablocks as a legitimate path to density or to profit.”

        Especially at the heart of the West Seattle Junction. “Junction”, as in transit center and walkable density around it. It wasn’t called a junction for nothing.

        Re supermarket prices, you have to compare identical items. A petrochemical tomato is not an organic tomato, and Cheez Whiz is not cheese. The organic (and heirloom) tomato has three times more nutrients. There are basically two kinds of supermarkets: discount and natural/gourmet. The cheapest discount supermarket tends to be Fred Meyer, then Walmart, then Safeway, then QFC. The cheapest natural foods tend to be the co-ops, then Whole Foods, then QFC. But another trend is that Whole Foods has a 360 brand that is “basic organic”. A cheaper high-volume store brand than name brands. These items can be cheaper than other natural foods, and not much more than discount brands (when considering their higher quality).

      9. Brent, the all-around winner for exorbitance is Metropolitan Market. I was mostly including just the major chains, but I guess both Red Apple and Met Market now have enough local locations to justify the same scrutiny.

    4. I’m glad STB is talking about the main issue, which the other reporting has mostly missed. How useful is this particular alley for pedestrian access to the surrounding blocks? How pedestrian-friendly will the mixed-use development be? How many and what other kinds of businesses will it have besides Whole Foods? How long will it take to walk around the building, and is there a particular reason people will do this more often than usual? (E.g., if it’s between the transit center and a popular record store/library/bistro.) These all describe the value of the alley to the public.

      I’m glad that Meanie says the development will retain a pedestrian path approximating the alley. That was my first question: why can’t the development build around the alley, or even build over it but leave the first two stories open?

      A natural foods store is an important asset for a quarter of a city, and the closer it is to the transit center and frequent buses the better. But I believe there’s a PCC nearby in the Admiral District, so Whole Foods is helpful but not vital. And I’m sure the Whole Foods will be somewhat pedestrian-friendly like the one on Denny Way, not like the one in Magnolia (which looks like it belongs in Redmond or Bothell).

      “Some of the beneficiaries of any labor agreement would presumably live in the neighborhood — if they can afford to do so.”

      This is West Seattle. Some of the cheapest rents in the city are around Delridge and 35th.

      1. It can build around the alley. But they can’t build exactly what they want to around the alley. :)

  9. I agree with Matt above that extraordinary public benefit is the key word. Fred Jarrett, formerly mayor of Mercer Island, has lamented the street vacations that have resulted in too-large blocks that are going to be challenging to navigate once light rail goes in.

    The Yesler Terrace plan, for example, includes street dedications to replace the streets that are being vacated. I’ve heard that this alley is “useless” based on its location, but street vacations are permanent, so we must consider potential future uses, such as a small park on the smaller lot bounded by the alley. It’s not relevant that the current use/disuse of the land is ugly.

    Leveraging the labor practices in this case is a great way to produce a community benefit agreement – if you are going to make an economic argument for the developer’s existing plan, you have to consider whether they could produce similar benefits without vacating the street. And then examine why this is an extraordinary case in which public ROW should be given up.

    1. No, no, no. The problem with these agreements is that they are not being evenly applied. Make the developer pay market rate for the right of way puchased. Community benefit or not… If these so-called policies aren’t being applied well, then developers should foot the bill.

      Leveraging labor practices is WRONG. It’s sleazy union mob-style tactics to force Whole Foods’ hand. ….and we wonder why Boeing jobs are headed to South Carolina.

      1. On the second paragraph, Boeing isn’t even inside the City of Seattle. Their labor issues aren’t the result of government intervention.

        CBA’s aren’t evenly applied because each is a result of a community process. But the City sure isn’t obliged to hand over land at appraised value to any private landowner who says “GIve it to me.”

      2. If the mob is trying to make sure people have paid sick leave, I’m a huge fan. I wish they paid me!

      3. There are tons of engineers in Everett and Renton, and in fact most of the Boeing Field offices lie in Tukwila.

        But this is going ot.

  10. Community Benefit Agreements are neither new nor inherently bad. One thing they aren’t is consistent, since they involve bringing the neighborhood in on negotiations.

    I believe the city has a right to pass wage laws and civil rights laws, just as it passed a sick leave law. It also has the right to tie wages to contracts and optional agreements (such as street vacations). It might even be able to get around the state ban on affirmative action when contracts and optional agreements are involved.

    For those not interested so much in how much their grocery store workers get paid or whether the staff is as lilly white as snow, let me mention a couple benefits with precedent that should perk the ears of people on this blog: parking *limits* and guarantees of transit subsidies for employees working at the site in question. It would be a simple and relatively cheap thing to do for Whole Foods and the other employers wanting to make use of this alley to promise 100%-subsidized transit passes for all their employees. (Metro’s Passport program makes this pencil out well anyway.) Whole Foods could even agree to do this for all Seattle sites in exchange for the alley vacation. Unfortunately, limiting the parking is probably something that has long since left the barn, with construction heavily under way.

    I don’t see this as a move to interfere with density at all. I see it as a clever move to make sure a business with a spotty record on paying its employees enough to be able to live in the neighborhood to actually do so. Or, to draw an historical analogy, the workers at a Ford automobile plant once demanded wages sufficient to buy the products they were building. What’s wrong with respectfully requesting that the workers at Whole Foods be able to afford some of the food they are selling? Request has been made. I suspect negotiations will be quick, and not slow down construction one bit. But the community will be enriched by allowing workers to actually make a living off of working at this site.

    1. +1

      I’m not here just for density and transit, density and transit are just tools for environmental *and* social justice.

      1. Social justice….

        OK. How’s that site in New London, Connecticut? The 3,000 jobs promised by the developer. Mixed use It was the infamous Kelo case of 2002-2004. Pfizer opened….but closed its office there and relocated 1,500 jobs, as the other developmet never took place. Now…the Kelo plot sits vacant.

        Don’t give me “transit, density and social justice.” Before being bought by the City for $78 million, many residents in the “urban blight” were forced out. …but it’s “social justice.” ….or should we say “social engineering.”

      2. Charlotte, from what I can tell, the shenanigans in New London are the sort of thing Ben *opposes*.

  11. I also support the mayor here. Making this city more affordable for working class people is just as important to our long-term density and sustainability goals as is promoting new development and walkable neighborhoods. If nobody can afford to live in Seattle, middle class people will still spread out all over distant suburbia because they have no other choices.

    As proposed, the project doesn’t include affordable apartments or enough living wage jobs. Promoting higher wages or benefits at this store will set a precedent and put positive upward pressure on wages in similar jobs in the city going forward. That’s a good thing for workers and for building a sustainable city.

    1. Great points, Jesse P. The City could require that a certain number or percentage of units be “affordable”, without altering the floor plan or capping rents. All it takes to pass the affordability test is requiring some units only be rented to applicants below a certain income level. This is a cheaper benefit for the developer to offer than it sounds, as the developer could qualify for some property tax breaks out of the deal.

  12. Shorter Martin: Just give the developers what they want, don’t negotiate with them for better terms.

    1. Negotiate about labor practices of a tenant or alley vacation for the project? Those are two very different types of negotiations.

      1. … the intersection of which is deed restrictions, a completely common practice in the development industry.

      2. If the identified anchor tenant were a gun superstore or a Deja Vu, I am certain more stakeholders would be opinionated about the project. Labor practices may not be a key issue for you and a grocery store is innocuous in comparison. But the city, employees of competing businesses etc. have an interest in labor practices on vacated city property.

      3. Adam, community benefit agreements, like most neighborhood discussions of development, involve many people and many issues. This is quite normal. It was the same way with the Amazon development.

      4. At least in this case, the mayor is trying to *increase* the public benefit in exchange for turning over the alley. In the case of Amazon, the city council reduced the public benefit.

  13. Ben Schiendelman, I assure you I am a real person, and that my opinions are my own.

    I have posted to this blog before, and I find your ad homien suggestion I work for a developer because I am not part of the usual echo chamber here to be both hilarious and insulting.

    I posted on the slog as well on this subject and it has a lot of interest to me as a live near the site in question. the previous state of blight as a car dealership has only worsened as its taken in its second life as an abandoned dis-repaired concrete jungle. The consensus on this blog, and other sites by all the pedestrian and living wage advocates reeks of limo liberalism.

    I drive and bicycle by this block almost daily, its a mess and the last thing needed is to add the grocery store union to the list of NIMBY AstroTurf groups opposed to high density projects in this area like http://gettingitrightforwestseattle.com/ and http://www.seattlenerd.org/ .

    1. Meanie,

      How is the debate over what the mayor is asking for in exchange for the alley vacation going to result in a less positive development?

      1. Aside from solidifying the impression that Seattle is difficult to work with? The political technique of attrition though process is alive and well when an anchor tenant is told that despite former approvals they will now be required to meet code blackmail over a issue as tangential to density, walk-ability and transit as living wage requirements.

        The reason most of these projects are huge multinational companies is no small company or LLC for that matter would be able to afford the endless usually vindictive delays enforced by fringe groups using EIS’s design review boards and sustainability studies as weapons.

        The waterfront post from the other day pointed this out succinctly with the quote “perfect is the enemy of good”

        Don’t mistake my contrary opinion here as believing in that I only am pro developer and dislike regulation. I am trying to show that the status quo in this area is downright terrible, and the alley everyone is forming ranks to defend is part of the blight. Believing that making hyperbolic demands of a national chain about their pay policies is a reasonable way to restart a settled debate about a alley vacation is dishonest at best and naive at worst.

      2. Most of the “code abuse” in this City involves stopping landowners from doing what they want on their own land. The developer in this case doesn’t own the alley. We, the taxpayers do. We get to ask something for it. How is that “blackmail”?

    1. Because it wasn’t his place to. He let the community negotiate with the developers. The man is a community organizer, he values what the people want first. When things went sideways, then he stepped in because the developer isn’t offering a good deal.

      1. Ben, this development just finished going through Design Review in front of a board appointed by the Mayor and City Council. It isn’t like the developer and community were off having meetings by themselves. City staff provided comments at these meetings.

      2. Excuse me, you seem like a nice guy but you have a very naive take on McGinn. McGinn is doing whatever it will take to get him votes. He is one of the most unpopular incumbent mayors to enter a primary in recent history. He will say and do whatever is necessary to win. We saw that in his last election.

      3. Can you tell me which of McGinn’s opponents are not saying or doing whatever they think they need to say or do in order to get elected?

        Can you tell me which specific politicies of his you disagree with, beyond his stance on this development?

  14. I’m with Martin.

    Perfectly legal labor policies should not enter into this discussion, period. Unless there is a clear indication that their $16/hour average wage or lack of vacation pay does not comply with the law, our progressive misgivings about Whole Foods just don’t matter. Fight for more progressive labor laws, by all means, but don’t do it through this. The ends matter, but so do the means, and using tools like this to pick a broader political fight screams lack of integrity and opportunism to me, even though I’m a solid McGinn supporter.

    Don’t like the monolithic character of the building, or the excess parking, or whatever? Perfectly reasonable, fight that during design review! Require design changes in exchange for the alley vacation.

    But when McGinn announces his opposition on labor grounds on July 15 and the UFCW announces a McGinn endorsement three days later, are we really supposed to just take this at face value and cheer our newly selective lefty NIMBYism? Steinbreuck would be proud.

    1. I’m confused about where and at what point people are supposed to be speaking up for livable wages. Having jobs in this city that pay enough for people to live here will advance transit interests, and more importantly help the people working those jobs.

      1. @aw,

        This isn’t exactly a planning decision. It’s an alley vacation.

        The City has a history of letting considerations of what type of business is done on the site (commercial, industrial, residential, lap dances); the finances of those business; and social justice issues (e.g. affordable housing); and other miscellaneous externalities (shadows and blocking views of the Space Needle or Mt Rainier) enter into consideration, even when giving up a piece of city property isn’t involved. Why should the City not try to tie public benefits of a social nature to the actual giving away or selling of city property?

  15. Could Bellevue condition an alley vacation on the tenants offering less than a living wage to keep prices low? My concern with the idea that you can tie an alley vacation to anything that you want, no matter how tangential it is to the vacation itself, is, where is the limit?

    1. The limit is what the community can get. If the developer says “Okay, then I won’t take the alley,” then they won’t take the alley and the community doesn’t get anything, so the incentive is to negotiate a good deal.

      In a lot of fights for better quality of life, especially on labor, you have to use the leverage you can get. Blame the Feds for making it darn near impossible to organize.

      1. Blame Whole Foods CEO John Mackey as well, since he has lobbied against the Employee Free Choice Bill (as well as national health care, even in the current national-health-insurers care form). One of his big sins that has drawn the ire of UFCW is that he has been vocal in his opposition to the very idea of national health care and the existence of unions. Throw on top of that Whole Foods’ history of busting unions when the employees do vote to organize, and, voila, you have a long-standing feud.

        In all fairness, Mackey’s direct salary is still under $400,000, the workers’ pay is better than, say McDonalds (but hard to find a truly neutral source on), and they seem to get benefits designed to keep employees from thinking about the benefits of being in a union, and in some cases enough to convince them to decertify unions (suckers!). But the wages and benefits they get would likely be much less if it weren’t for the existence of UFCW.

        I see others trashing the idea of having Whole Foods at all in West Seattle. That’s where I have to part ways. One tiny PCC in the Admiral District with limited transit connectivity is just not serving the potential demand for natural food stores for all of West Seattle. Any store locating in the Junction/Triangle zone is going to make a killing. I want to see Whole Foods locate there and accept their employees’ wish to unionize if they so wish. I’d also like to see more housing and less parking there, as I think the pent-up demand for the former is much greater. I also want Whole Foods to give their employees fully-subsidized transit passes instead of parking spaces. That ought to make the development even more profitable.

      2. …and now Detroit is $18 billion in the red! How will we afford to gentrify that mess?

    2. “….(Whole Foods workers) seem to get benefits designed to keep employees from thinking about the benefits of being in a union”

      Which means the employees are benefitting from the union. The same sort of thing happened when Four Seasons took over the Olympic Hotel from Westin. It had been a union house under Westin, and Four Seasons essentially agreed to pay better than union scale and have a disciplinary process similar to the union. A strong union workforce benefits members and non-members alike. (And unions had very little to do with the fall of Detroit. That was caused by racism and racist government housing programs, and municipal corruption finished it off)

      I come down on the side of McGinn on this one. Developers and corporations have big pockets, and they build here because people want to live and do business here. If they want public space given over, they should expect to pay more than “fair value”

  16. Seems like this is going to happen more and more at the outskirts of Seattle as people realize that a lot of the land is just too darned valuable to leave as working class neighborhoods. Thus a Living Wage in Seattle means redeveloping affordable neighborhoods into pricey density, and shuttling in minimum wage workers on LINK.

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