Seattle City Hall is reaching peak absurdity as outgoing Council Member Mike O’Brien rams through harmful, extremist policies before leaving office.
Citing concerns about global warming and the environment, O’Brien and temporary council appointee Abel Pacheco are trying to gut bedrock environmental protection rules and reduce opportunities for civic engagement.
Don’t be fooled by their greenwashing: It does the environment no favors to weaken the State Environmental Policy Act as proposed with Council Bill 119600. This will mostly benefit real estate investors trying to further cash in on the Amazon boom.
Other council members and Mayor Jenny Durkan should stop this runaway train and prevent the council’s lame ducks from causing further harm.
Seattle’s environmental community should also urge the council to reject this faux-environmental policy. They must resist the siren song of developer-friendly think tanks, telling tales of how the earth will be saved by bulldozing houses, cutting trees and replacing them with big apartments.
CB 119600 is not about increasing density or transit-friendly projects. Those things are happening as fast as possible in Seattle. This is about weakening policy written to protect the environment and quality of life for everyone. It reduces costs for the few who profit off land speculation.
If Seattle wants to advance environmentally beneficial projects, it should defend a public process requiring thorough analysis and deliberation to assess and mitigate impacts. Or should it let rich and powerful special interests override citizen concerns and fast-track project reviews?
Land speculators have been trying to weaken SEPA and limit appeals since before Pacheco was born. They finally found a winning formula: Say it’s needed for climate change and equity, get labor on board, and it’s catnip for Seattle pols.
Look around Seattle — this ploy is working like a charm. The city is a free-for-all, with epic levels of housing and office construction. O’Brien has been a ringleader, championing upzones and rules that now let investors build apartments just about anywhere they want. The giveaways were delayed by appeals, but also because City Hall was sloppy and had to correct a flawed environmental analysis that residents called out.
This fight continued in Olympia, where Seattle-area legislators tried to override local land-use rules and give developers even more runway. They ended up passing a law that lets Seattle inflict this harm upon itself, enabling cities to carve holes in SEPA themselves.
Now, O’Brien is following through, with legislation that would exempt transportation impacts of residential and mixed-use developments from SEPA appeals and speed the hearing-examiner process. It would also exempt some land-use policymaking from SEPA appeals.
Recall that last year O’Brien proudly voted for a resolution urging more government process, further environmental reviews and additional input for those who felt left out of decision-making. But that was because his friends were concerned about the potential impacts of a natural-gas facility in Tacoma.
There’s no such consideration for middle-class and working-class residents O’Brien represents in Seattle. They may be adversely affected by a big project and want further environmental review and a chance to be part of the decision-making. Tough luck.
Anyone concerned about the environment and climate change should be ardently defending local, state and federal laws that enable the public to challenge projects with significant impacts and seek environmental review. Those laws are the most powerful tools people have to challenge those making money off the land and wanting less scrutiny and environmental analysis.
In the Trump era, Seattle and Washington state should strengthen their landmark environmental laws, increase appeal opportunities and encourage more analysis and data collection to make informed decisions about the impacts of large projects.
Does it help or hurt when the public gets involved, holds government accountable and seeks further analysis of environmental impacts? If you think it helps, tell the council and Durkan to reject this duplicitous attack on SEPA.