Gov. Jay Inslee should veto House Bill 1923, a measure that weakens the State Environmental Policy Act and prevents residents from appealing projects that might harm their communities.
It would be especially disappointing to see the most pro-environment presidential candidate sign a bill prioritizing special interests over the public’s ability to seek redress under his state’s signature environmental policy.
HB1923 includes a mishmash of positive-sounding proposals to streamline housing development, some of which have merit. But much of the bill is aimed at Seattle, where residents are in a pitched battle with City Hall and developers over whether to preserve single-family neighborhoods.
With appeals pending over the city’s weak planning, real-estate investors turned to Olympia for help. Several bills were proposed to neuter opposition and grant developers the wish list they’re seeking in Seattle.
The compromise was HB1923. It doesn’t mandate upzones like a noxious Senate bill that failed to advance. Instead, it provides a menu of options cities can choose to increase density. It would also allow cities to write blanket growth policies preventing residents from appealing individual projects that might have significant transportation impacts.
Growth and density done right are good, and more housing is needed. But in Seattle, this fight is about profitability, not affordability. Seattle has more than enough capacity for all projected growth, especially after the city in March upzoned and expanded urban villages, massively increasing its development potential.
Even so, developers, unions, nonprofits and politicians they support are still angling for citywide upzones to allow virtually every single-family lot to become a multifamily rental property with little to no parking. This wouldn’t make Seattle affordable, according to the city’s analysis, but it would be a windfall for investors. It would also make it even harder for middle class families to ever buy a house in Seattle.
The city’s housing crunch is largely by design. The state’s 1990 Growth Management Act deliberately funnels growth into urban areas, making it challenging for them to preserve livability. Seattle also failed to utilize GMA tools to balance housing and infrastructure growth with new office construction.
A task force reviewing GMA performance will report later this year. It should prompt a broad conversation about how to revise the act and address any implementation failures. That’s another reason to hold off on HB1923, which tweaks GMA to boost density without mitigating impacts.
Project this onto the national stage.
Would President Inslee sign a law barring states from challenging offshore drilling projects, as long as the projects aligned with a blanket federal energy policy? The world does need more plentiful and affordable energy, especially for the poor. Some would argue that trumps local concerns about environmental impacts of individual projects.
There are better ways forward. Legislators made great strides on housing this session, budgeting more than $200 million for affordable housing projects and assistance programs. Next year’s session is likely to go even deeper into growth-management challenges.
In the meantime, let Seattle sort out its land-use issues on its own — and let residents have their say on environmental impacts — by vetoing HB 1923.