Creating a Local Improvement District to tax downtown Seattle property owners to help pay for the waterfront park is inherently unfair and will be unaffordable for many homeowners.
The Seattle City Council has discovered a new way to raise hundreds of millions of dollars of new revenue that circumvents limits on property taxes and bypasses the need for citywide voter approval: a Seattle Waterfront Local Improvement District, or LID.
Use of a LID to fund a park is unprecedented in Seattle. Local Improvement Districts usually result from the request by a neighborhood to pay for a specific improvement for a localized benefit. The Waterfront LID is different — it encompasses just 2 percent of Seattle households and commercial properties, which will be asked to pay $200 million for improvements that benefit all Seattle citizens, visitors and tourists.
Not only is this unfair to those living within the assessment district, it will also create a terrible precedent that could be exploited by the City Council for future projects in other neighborhoods.
Downtown homeowners reflect residents throughout the city, including retirees on fixed incomes, families with children and working individuals. We already are paying our share of the cost to remove the Alaskan Way Viaduct, construct a new Alaskan Way boulevard and promenade, and rebuild Pier 62 for public events and water access. Many of us are already struggling with the affordability of our homes due to unprecedented property-tax increases and will be unable to absorb another assessment.
The Waterfront LID will also have serious negative consequences for our neighborhood. Commercial property owners will raise rents to recoup the cost of the new assessment. This could drive out small businesses serving local residents and drive up rents for people living in the neighborhood, making it even less affordable.
The LID, plus $100 million from philanthropy, along with state and city funding, will fund a “Waterfront Park for All.” In reality it does not serve downtown residents but rather is focused on moving people between the waterfront and downtown core. The true beneficiaries will be retail businesses serving the thousands of cruise-ship passengers who disembark at Bell Street Pier. Without the LID, we still will have a beautiful waterfront, and we will have time for the entire city to decide which additional components should be added and how to pay for them.
The LID feasibility study concludes that new parks increase surrounding property values, leading to increased property-tax revenue, which can be used to retire bonds needed to build the park in the first place. The authors of the study have convinced our City Council that they should not rely on this process taking its natural course. The LID as proposed will assess half of an estimated future increase in property value attributed to improvements yet to be built. Payment will be due either as a lump sum or in annual payments.
If we let the council succeed with the Waterfront LID, it will only be the beginning. Your neighborhood will be next. Is the infrastructure along Lake Washington Boulevard crumbling? Why not assess an LID on property owners in Madison Park? Does the Woodland Park Zoo need a new parking garage and street improvements to make it more accessible? Why not assess a LID on the Phinney Ridge homeowners to pay for it? Is there inadequate holding area in the streets around the Fauntleroy ferry terminal? Why not levy a LID on West Seattle homeowners to pay for it?
I urge readers to send a strong message to city leaders to rethink the waterfront LID. Using this approach to increase city revenue circumvents limits on property taxes and bypasses the need for citywide voter approval. It unfairly burdens a small percentage of homeowners and renters and is completely at odds with making Seattle an affordable city.