About Joel Sisolak

Joel is the Sustainability Director at Capitol Hill Housing. He also directs the Capitol Hill EcoDistrict, a neighborhood sustainability initiative.

Capitol Hill Community Post | Vision Zero By 2030 (in case I live that long)

Last December, an idiot sideswiped me when he cut into the southbound bike lane to park his car by Seattle U. The accident cost me a concussion and scars on my nose and leg.

Last night, another idiot, this one on a bicycle, pulled a Jersey left at the intersection of 12th with Union and Madison. Again, I was traveling south on 12th on my way home from work. Both of us ended up sprawled on the street just a couple of blocks from the site of my December accident. No major injuries this time, thank God. My bike took some damage, but mostly just cosmetic. Steel frames are amazing.

I’m not damaged, but it may be a while again before I bike to work. Before December, I rode pretty religiously 3-5 times per week. After the concussion, it was about 3 months before I got back in the saddle and then it was only for the occasional sunny day ride. My bike commuting went from 3-5 times per week to 3-5 times per month. Last night was one of those rare rides.

It’s a little ironic, at least Alanis Morisette ironic, that as I walked my bike out of the office yesterday, I mentioned to a co-worker that I don’t ride as much as I used to since my December crash. She wished me a safe ride home. Continue reading

Capitol Hill Community Post | Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that

Screen Shot 2016-06-24 at 10.42.00 AM

Brian Steen at Thursday’s Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence benefit

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. — Martin Luther King, Jr.

The horror in Orlando has rocked the LGBT community here and everywhere.

“All of us are on high alert,” says Brian Steen, a member of the local Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence and staffer at Capitol Hill Housing. “We need to be aware of our surroundings at all times.” Steen planned to attend one of this week’s active shooter trainings on Capitol Hill.

A resident of seven years and leader in Capitol Hill’s LGBT community, Steen has experienced first-hand the violence that can stalk hand-in-hand with bigotry, especially when the bigots have been drinking. Two years ago, he was attacked and knocked unconscious on Pine Street near the parking garage owned by Seattle Central College. It was the middle of the afternoon after a Seahawks game.

But Steen is not one to be intimidated, and neither is the Seattle LGBT community. Steen says that Capitol Hill’s gay bars saw record numbers out this past weekend. “We’re not going back into our closets to hide,” he says.

Steen recounted conversations he had while out with friends on Saturday night. Most focused on how to help the victims in Orlando. Brian hosted a fundraiser Thursday to raise money for the Orlando Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, who will fund funerals for victims whose families won’t claim the bodies of their slain children.

Mayor Murray also was out last weekend along with Councilmembers Bagshaw and Burgess to show solidarity with the rattled LGBTQ community. “It was fun,” the mayor reported, “though most of the young crowd was just coming out (to the bars) as I was leaving.”

The mayor also appeared this week at a public safety forum hosted at Poquitos by the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce. Murray was there with Chief O’Toole and other city staffers. He spoke briefly about the city’s commitment to additional police, better lighting and “activation” of Cal Anderson Park, then wished everyone a “Happy Pride.”

More foot and bike patrols are definitely needed, according to Brian Steen. Lighting also is an ongoing problem, especially later at night as the bars are emptying and in and around Cal Anderson Park.

“We go around it,” says Steen about the Park. “Everybody does.”

Cal Anderson Park, named for Washington State’s first openly gay legislator and the primary open space for the Hill’s thousands of straight and queer residents, has developed a wide reputation as a scary place after dark. Earlier this year, Seattle Neighborhood Group (SNG) analyzed safety in and around the park using a framework called Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED).

According to the SNG study, City crime data indicates a dramatic rise in 911 calls between 2014 and 2015 from in and near the Park. Park users and neighbors interviewed for the study expressed “deep dismay at the amount of graffiti, trash, open drug and alcohol use, and the unpredictable and sometimes threatening behaviors of some of the site’s visitors.”

This is a sad legacy for an important figure in the City and region’s history. Not only was Cal Anderson Washington’s first openly gay legislator, he was a strong champion for LGBT civil rights and gun control. One must wonder if he would feel safe today on Capitol Hill or in the park that bears his name.

SNG’s report offers a set of recommendations for improving safety in Cal Anderson Park, which include creating a paid position for coordinating care of the park, increasing bike and foot patrols, improving wayfinding, quickly and consistently enforcing park rules and civil and criminal laws, activating the park especially in problem spots, and aggressively addressing the park’s bad lighting.

Last year, the Cal Anderson Park Alliance and Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce commissioned a master lighting plan to address the same issues identified in SNG’s CPTED study. That plan is now in the City’s hands. We hope that Mayor Murray will commit to implementing it and the other CPTED recommendations. These are concrete steps to make the neighborhood safer for everyone beyond this Pride weekend.

Capitol Hill Community Post | Why renters matter

Renters must be engaged about HALA. After all, renters comprise nearly half of Seattle’s citizenry and it is renters who face getting priced out of neighborhoods by rising rents.

Late last month, Mayor Murray hosted a cheerleading session for the City’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda or HALA. It was a packed room filled with enthusiasm for implementing the 65 recommendations that emerged last July in response to Seattle’s housing crisis. Comments by Sara Maxana, a homeowner in NW Seattle, were a highlight. Referring to the rapidly escalating value of homes like hers and the resulting impacts on renters, Maxana said:

“I don’t see why one class of people, homeowners, should be getting a windfall from the same phenomenon that is causing other people in Seattle to struggle,” she said. “I don’t think that’s okay.”

Before closing the meeting, Murray took a handful of questions from the crowd. “Guy in the Striped Shirt” asked an important question: “How will renters be engaged in discussions about HALA?”

The mayor responded very generally, saying that we need to engage everybody: owners and renters, young and old, etc. and etc. I would respond more directly. Renters must be engaged about HALA. After all, renters comprise nearly half of Seattle’s citizenry and it is renters who face getting priced out of neighborhoods by rising rents.

But engaging renters to address neighborhood issues isn’t easy. Continue reading

Capitol Hill EcoDistrict | Rent control, yes or no and why?

15-0709 POLL on Rent Controlby Joel Sisolak, Capitol Hill EcoDistrict

How do you feel about rent control? We want to know. Participate in the Dialogue.

Kshama Sawant and Nick Licata are squaring off against Smart Growth Seattle Director Roger Valdez (and a player to be named later) on the topic of rent control. Scheduled for July 20th, this free-to-view cage match (kidding about the cage) promises to be bloody.

Both sides are passionate and articulate advocates from opposite sides of one of the most hotly debated topics in Seattle. Rent control, love it or hate it, is a possible intervention being considered for addressing the skyrocketing rents in Capitol Hill and across King County.

Where do you stand?

Mr. Valdez contends that we don’t need rent control; that rent control feels good (“who doesn’t want to the cost of rent to just stop?”) but actually makes housing prices go up and is, by the way, prohibited by state law.

Councilmember Sawant wants tenants, unions and community organizations to organize to pressure the state to remove its ban on rent control. Councilmember Licata agrees.

There are thousands of people in Seattle already living in rent controlled apartments, also known as affordable or subsidized housing, like the 47 buildings operated by Capitol Hill Housing. But there are far more apartment buildings that are not subsidized where rent rises and falls with the market.

How do you feel about rent control? Do you believe the City of Seattle should institute rent control as a partial solution to skyrocketing rents?

PARTICIPATE NOW IN A PUBLIC DIALOGUE ON RENT CONTROL: https://capitolhillecodistrict.consider.it/Rent_Control


Capitol Hill EcoDistrict | Communal living on Capitol Hill — Calling all ‘Building Ambassadors’

coverA couple of years ago, I helped to facilitate a retreat at an old Boy Scout camp near Monroe. It was a cold wet November weekend and the accommodations were Spartan, which is generally code for uncomfortable and in this case, moldy.

Somehow the weather and smelly cabins didn’t faze the participants, a few dozen bright eyed volunteers with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps (JVC). These 20-somethings had agreed to be paid $100 per month and live in shared housing for a year while working in various direct service jobs in the Pacific Northwest. The theme of the retreat was “living in community.”

(Image: PRAG House)

(Image: PRAG House)

Some folks love communal living. PRAG House on Capitol Hill is “an urban housing cooperative that seeks to foster community and sustainable lifestyles” and many others live on Capitol Hill in less formal shared arrangements because it’s more affordable than a 1-bedroom apartment and it can be nice to have a ready group to hang out with on the weekends.

At the retreat I opened my talk with a quote from Heraclitus of Ephesus, aka the “Weeping Philosopher,” who said, “Nothing endures but change.” Heraclitus was a recluse with few friends, which is not so surprising. He reminded everyone that the universe is dynamic, ever changing, and that shit happens. That makes for a good bumper sticker, but isn’t a very popular message. Continue reading

Capitol Hill EcoDistrict | Metrics for Capitol Hill –- Version 1.0 of the EcoDistrict Index released

We’ve asked Joel Sisolak, project director for the Capitol Hill EcoDistrict, to contribute to CHS about the district and the environment on a semi-regular basis. If you’re an expert and want to share with the community in a recurring CHS column, we’d like to hear from you.

IBM estimates that 2.5 quintillion, that’s 2.5 billion billion (2.5 x 1018) bytes of data are created every day. The bulk is from social media, machine data (e.g., coming from automated sensors like the ones on the Capitol Hill Community Solar project), and transactional data from when we buy stuff. Companies like IBM are racing to improve their ability to sift, interpret and sell this data as a commodity. In 2015 the market for data analysis services will reach $16.8B and is expected to grow exponentially into the foreseeable future.

The promise of big data, according to Steve Lohr at the New York Times, “is smarter, data-driven decision-making in every field.” The private sector is cashing in. Community activists are catching on and seeking ways to access and analyze data for the public good. Maurice Mitchell, a community organizer in Manhattan, claims that “prescriptions for our most pressing social issues emerge from the patterns found in the bonanza of collected data points.” He points to how analyzing data from the NYPD’s stops and arrests helped to uncover the racially disproportionate application of stop-and-frisk.

City Council set to formally recognize the Capitol Hill EcoDistrict
The Seattle City Council will vote Monday on Resolution 31562 formally recognizing the Capitol Hill EcoDistrict. The district plan moved forward in 2013 as Capitol Hill Housing partnered on programs to encourage green building and retrofitting and reach out to local businesses to encourage waste reduction and water savings. “City departments are encouraged to explore tools and incentives that may advance the Capitol Hill EcoDistrict and remove identified regulatory barriers that thwart EcoDistrict initiatives in the context of the City’s broader sustainability and neighborhood development goals,” a portion of the resolution states.

On Capitol Hill, we will use publicly available data to help track progress in meeting the goals of the EcoDistrict. Last month we launched the Capitol Hill EcoDistrict Index, a set of performance metrics backed by data from a variety of sources, from local street counts to the U.S. Census. Performance targets are set for the year 2030. We aligned the timeframe with our partners at the Seattle 2030 District, in part because we share a commitment to reducing the water and climate impacts of buildings, but also because 15 years seems long enough to make real progress and short enough to express urgency in addressing serious challenges related to climate change and neighborhood health.

Continue reading

CHS Community Post | EcoDistrict solar project is part of an energy (counter) revolution

screenshotWe’ve asked Joel Sisolak, project director for the Capitol Hill EcoDistrict, to contribute to CHS about the district and the environment on a semi-regular basis. If you’re an expert and want to share with the community in a recurring CHS column, we’d like to hear from you. This is his first post for CHS.

Last week, construction wrapped up on the 25-kilowatt community solar project at the Holiday Apartments (10th and E John) and the system went “live” just before Thanksgiving. While many of us enjoyed turkey dinners, electrons from the sun began spinning the Holiday’s electric meter backwards as clean power flowed out onto the grid.

Why should we care about a little solar project? 90% of the electricity we use in Seattle is from hydroelectric dams, including City-owned dams on the Skagit, Pend Orielle and Cedar Rivers.  As energy sources go, hydro is already low carbon and renewable. You might say, “90%, that’s great!  A solid ‘A-minus!’”

But where does the other 10% come from? Some of it is wind power, but about half is nuclear and coal fired energy purchased from Bonneville Power Administration by City Light. Nuclear and coal power bought and sold by the “nation’s greenest utility?!” Continue reading