Capitol Hill, Central Seattle lose in updated bike master plan

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The Seattle Department of Transportation has released the updated, $64.1 million Seattle Bike Master Plan Implementation Plan (PDF) — the agency’s most recent annual blueprint for rolling out bike infrastructure projects over the following five years. But to the frustration of local bike advocates, many infrastructure projects (like protected bike lanes and greenways) have been delayed or dropped altogether from SDOT’s game plan. And Capitol Hill wasn’t spared.

In Capitol Hill and broader Central Seattle, key protected bike lane projects and a number of greenways were either slashed entirely or postponed in the updated BMP implementation. To name a few, the protected bike lanes linking downtown to Capitol Hill on either Pike or Pine has disappeared from the updated BMP entirely (this project was slated to be completed by the end of 2016), along with the protected bike lane on South Jackson street (scheduled for 2019), the East Pine street greenway and the East Denny Way greenway linking the new Capitol Hill light rail station to the eastern residential heart of the neighborhood (both projects were supposed to be completed in 2019). Then there’s the protected bike lane extension on Broadway, which got bumped to 2017 after originally planned to be finished in 2016.

Capitol Hill did, however, gain a planned greenway on E Republican, linking the north end of Broadway to the Central Area Neighborhood Greenway that runs the length of 23rd avenue on parallel streets. But the win isn’t enough to offset the losses for local bike advocates.

“Like everyone else we’re frustrated,” said Brie Gyncild, co-leader of Central Seattle Greenways. “These sorts of [changes] make you wonder, how accurate is any of this?” said Gyncild. “We’re always just about get our next project.” Continue reading

With transgender politics on national stage, 11th Translations film festival to screen across Hill theaters

Major! -- a documentary about transgender activist Miss Major Griffin-Gracy -- opens the festival. Miss Major is slated to attend the Thursday night screening (Image: Major!)

Major! — a documentary about transgender activist Miss Major Griffin-Gracy — opens the festival. Miss Major is slated to attend the Thursday night screening (Image: Major!)

The 11th Translations, the Seattle Transgender Film Festival, will kick off three days after U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced that the Justice Department is suing North Carolina for implementing its notorious bathroom law which implicitly prevents transgender individuals from using bathrooms per their identified gender — or lack thereof.

Transgender discrimination issues have been front in center in national public discourse over the past year, including here in Washington, where Initiative 1515 — a rebirth of a push in the Republican-controlled state legislature to roll back bathroom and locker room preference protections for transgender individuals in Washington — is picking up signatures to be put on the November ballot. So this year’s 11th annual Translations film festival will have particular political and social potent relevance.

Starting May 12th, this Thursday, theaters around Capitol Hill—including the Northwest Film Forum, SIFF’s Egyptian on Pine, and 12th Avenue Arts—screen over thirty films, both shorts and feature-length, concerning all things transgender and genderqueer. The first film of the festival is Major!, a documentary about the life and work of black transgender elder, veteran of the Stonewall Rebellion and activist Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, who advocates for trans women of color and against mass incarceration.

Among the slated films is One Word: Passing, a four minute short of interviews with transgender Seattleites responding to the word “passing,” the act of conforming to the expected appearances and behavioral traits of a cisgender man or woman while transgender or genderqueer. Gerri Desouza, an agender Art Design student at Seattle Central, First Hill resident, and volunteer at the Translations film festival, is one of the interviewees in the film. Continue reading

Here’s what designing a new lid over I-5 between Capitol Hill and downtown looks like

On Saturday morning, Capitol Hill’s 12th Ave Arts was buzzing with a different type of creative energy as local architects, designers, and urban planners, as well as interested neighborhood residents sketched out their visions for what a lidded I-5 would look like.

“Look at all these designers go!” John Feit, chair of the Pike/Pine Urban Neighborhood Council, architect, and a key organizer within the Lid I-5 campaign, happily quipped as he moved amongst the work groups observing their discussions.

Powered by coffee and sweet and savory pastries from High 5 Pie, and armed with markers, tracing paper, and maps of central I-5, eight groups of around six people tossed around ideas and sketched out concept designs for several hours on Saturday morning. Feit said that there were around fifty attendees (which was more than they had originally hoped for), a third of whom didn’t come from professional architecture or design backgrounds.

The eight work groups’ visions were big and ambitious. All shared the baseline and assumed goal of creating a large, winding green space atop I-5, accessible to pedestrians, cyclists and cars alike with bike paths, fixed recreational equipment and trees. Continue reading

How Capitol Hill can get a safe consumption site

syringe found outside my car in capitol hill

It has been nearly two months since local elected leaders announced the formation of a King County Heroin and Prescription Opiate Addiction Task Force to address the regional and national heroin epidemic, and Seattle leaders have talked of establishing safe consumption sites for drug users around the city. Could Capitol Hill — a neighborhood that experiences a high number of drug overdoses — get a safe consumption site?

Safe consumption sites, which would be a first for Seattle — let alone the United States — may end up getting the green light from county’s task force. Brad Finegood, co-chair of the heroin task force and assistant division director of the King County Behavioral Health and Recovery Division, told CHS that the task force is considering safe consumption spaces and including them in their final set of recommendations that they will present to regional leaders later this year. The task force is made up law enforcement, representatives from the criminal justice system, public health and addiction experts, as well as homeless and drug policy reform advocates.

“There’s no other such facility that’s sanctioned and operating [in the U.S.],” said Finegood. “It’s definitely something that we are trying to be thorough in vetting.”

While alien to the United States, supervised drug consumption sites have a three-decade long history in other nations. The Netherlands, Germany, and Switzerland opened what were then dubbed “Drug Consumption Rooms” or DCRs, back in the 80s and 90s to address public order issues associated with open-air drug use by providing addicts and users (mostly targeting users who inject) with low-threshold access to a supervised space to consume pre-obtained illicit drugs, clean equipment, emergency care in the case of overdoses (namely application of the heroin overdose antidote, Naloxone), and referrals to healthcare and drug treatment services if desired by the user. DCRs served as a public health response intending to prevent overdose deaths, reduce disease transmission, and connect addicts with health and drug treatment services. Spain, Norway have since then joined the pack and opened their own DCRs (a safe injection site has also opened in Sydney, Australia), and last year, France moved forward with opening pilot DCR’s in three cities.

“There is no evidence to suggest that the availability of safer injecting facilities increases drug use or frequency of injecting. These services facilitate rather than delay treatment entry and do not result in higher rates of local drug-related crime,” a summary report of DCR implementation in Europe by the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction reads.

Closer to home in Vancouver, Canada, health workers opened Insite — North America’s first safe injection site — in the city’s Downtown Eastside neighborhood back in 2003 to address concentrated public drug use and high HIV infection rates with a harm-reduction, public health-minded approach. And, after more than a decade in operation and more than 30 independent studies on the impacts of Insite, the research indicates that fatal overdoses in the neighborhood went down along with drug-related crime and public order in the neighborhood improved. Use of HIV-risk behaviors like syringe sharing declined alongside neighborhood HIV infection rates, and intake at local drug detox treatment facilities went up, and there was no noticeably increase in drug use or drug trafficking in the area.

In addition, Insite has never lost a user to an overdose on its premises since its founding despite experiencing around thirty overdoses per month.

“They [Insite] haven’t had any overdose deaths, and that’s amazing,” said Finegood.

“The public health arguments are absolutely irrefutable,” said Kris Nyrop, national support director for the Law Enforcement Diversion Program (otherwise known as L.E.A.D),  Public Defender Association drug addiction expert, and safe consumption proponent.

Outside of the county’s official heroin task force, most everyone is just starting to dip their toes in the issue. But drug policy reform advocates have been ramping up their calls for safe consumption sites. Last month, Vocal-WA, a group of grassroots activists who are promoting safe consumption sites, brought the founders of the Insite to Seattle to give presentations around the city (including one to city council) on the project and its impact. Vocal-WA held a rally calling for safe consumption sites that also allow for smoking.

The Capitol Hill Community Council has endorsed safe consumption sites and plans to support Vocal-WA’s lobbying efforts, in addition to conducting outreach with other neighborhood councils.

“We’ve heard lots of anecdotes about public drug consumption [in Capitol Hill], people are finding needles on the ground,” said Zachary Pullin, president of the council. Continue reading

Vulcan eyes tax breaks to include affordable housing at 23rd and Jackson

Vulcan's 23rd and Jackson project will go in front of the design board for the first time on May 10th

Vulcan’s 23rd and Jackson project will go in front of the design board for the first time on May 10th. The “12th Fan” will be pleased.

Vulcan’s $30.9 million acquisition at 23rd and Jackson is seen as a bellwether for development and increased gentrification set to continue its march across the Central District. It may, indeed, be a significant representative — but that doesn’t mean the development will be purely market-driven. The real estate giant plans to use a tax break to help create affordable housing in the new development that replaces the Promenade 23 shopping center. But a plan to create what could be even more significant requirements for affordable housing in Seattle developments isn’t yet part of the plan at 23rd and Jackson.

Instead, Vulcan is proposing to use Seattle’s affordable housing incentive program, the Multifamily Tax Exemption, to make 20% of its units affordable. That would include some true family housing (two and three bedroom units), but that could change.

In a statement, the developer described the affordable element of its planned development to CHS:

Vulcan’s proposed development project at 23rd & Jackson will contain 566 units that will contribute to the mayor’s goal for 30,000 new market rate and 20,000 new affordable housing units in the next 10 years. We have planned the development under existing zoning and are electing to participate in the MFTE program. Under our current design we will produce approximately 113 affordable units including 49 units affordable to households earning 65% of Area Median Income ($41,145 for single person, $58,695 for family of 4).

A new ordinance proposed by Mayor Ed Murray would require all projects in certain areas of the city like Vulcan’s to either include “five to eight percent of units as affordable for residents earning up to 60 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI) for 50 years” — or pay the city to build affordable housing elsewhere. Continue reading

12 things CHS heard at Sawant’s Law Enforcement Diversion forum

There is funding enough to start the process of bringing a successful alternative to old-school drug policing to Capitol Hill and the Central District. But the future of the movement is murky.

Thursday night, City Council District 3 representative Kshama Sawant and the Capitol Hill Community Council held a forum at Miller Community Center in Capitol Hill on the Law Enforcement Diversion Program, or LEAD, and how to expand and implement it in her council district encompassing Capitol Hill and the Central District. The forum was approached as an opportunity to discuss mass incarceration and how programs like LEAD fit into broader efforts to roll back the impacts of the war on drugs and tough love policing.

Featured panelists included one of the original architects of the lead program, Lisa Daugaard, director of the Public Defender Association, LEAD program supervisor Najja Morris, Scott Lindsey, the mayor’s Public Safety and Police Reform Advisor, Turina James, a LEAD participant and former heroin user, along with Sheley Secrest of the NAACP and executive director of the Gender Justice League and statehouse candidate for the 43rd Legislative District, Danni Askini.

While praise for the LEAD program was abundant, speakers routinely stressed the importance of building on LEAD’s successes with more investment to ensure Seattle’s budding experiment in harm-reduction policing doesn’t fade away.

Last year, Mayor Ed Murray allocated one-time funding in his 2016 budget to help expand LEAD into Capitol Hill. Additional expansions and enhancement of LEAD services will require more money.

Advocates said that LEAD needs to be expanded equitably into areas like South Seattle and the Central District, and that more robust services for LEAD like housing for participants who are still actively using drugs is needed to fully realize the program’s potential. In line with her usual rhetoric, Sawant framed societal problems of drug addiction, mass incarceration, and homelessness as systemic ills of capitalism, and called on the audience to advocate for LEAD and other services and to “hold every politician at city hall accountable.”


Here’s more of what CHS heard at Thursday night’s forum.

  • “There are activists who may be uncomfortable with the authority that LEAD places in individual officers to decide who is good for LEAD and who is not,” said Sawant. “Remember that SPD is still under investigation of the consent decree of the U.S. Justice Department. We have to remember that we are not arguing for this program as a license to whitewash the systemic issues we have in the police department.” Continue reading

What some Capitol Hill businesses are saying about the Seattle minimum wage study

Researchers from the University of Washington presented before a full City Council their early analysis of the impact of Seattle’s gradual march to a universal $15 minimum wage. The report — the first in a series of several commissioned by the council in tandem with their passing of the original wage hike ordinance — showed that, aside from a roughly 7% price increase in Seattle’s restaurant industry, there hasn’t been runaway cross-industry price inflation like some critics predicted. So, what do Capitol Hill’s bar, restaurant, and retail business owners have to say about the findings?

The report surveyed 567 Seattle businesses (the majority of whom have less than 500 employees, the city’s definition of ‘small business’) and 55 employees between the months of January 2015 and May 2015. During that period, the ordinance raised hourly wages to eleven dollars for non-tipped workers and ten for those receiving tips or medical benefits. And while the report didn’t find substantial price inflation (a look at grocery store, gasoline, and retail prices showed no noticeable increase), in addition to the recorded uptick in restaurant prices, a majority of employers surveyed said that they have or plan to raise their prices in order to accommodate the new labor costs.

“The bottom line is if there’s any place we can find price impacts, it is in restaurant sector,” research Jake Vigdor from the University of Washington Evans School of Governance and Public Policy told the council.

Capitol Hill business owners say these findings aren’t shocking. “We all knew that prices would go up and we’re seeing that as a result,” said Pike/Pine nightlife entrepreneur David Meinert. “I don’t think anyone should be surprised at that.”

Rich Fox, co-owner of Poquitos restaurant on Pike and the Rhein Haus on 12th, agrees. “What I see [in the report] is pretty consistent with what we’re dealing with at this point,” he said. “We’ve raised prices to account for the increase in labor.”

Both Fox and Meinert say that they haven’t raised prices universally (like bumping everything up 2% or what have you), but have strategically looked at what has been selling and where they think they can push consumer spending limits. “You pick your battles, where there is acceptable room to move and what you’ve sold in the past,” said Fox. Continue reading

Interim president Edwards Lange has inside track to lead Capitol Hill’s Seattle Central

Sheila Edwards Lange  (Image: Seattle Colleges)

Sheila Edwards Lange (Image: Seattle Colleges)

With the Capitol Hill community college undergoing a period of transition, Seattle Central is vetting candidates to permanently fill its presidency.

It’s been almost a year since former Seattle Central College president Paul Killpatrick stepped down from his position after five years on the job and Sheila Edwards Lange began her tenure as interim president. The college search committee responsible for finding replacement candidates started looking in December, and, in early March, announced their pool of three finalists, including Edwards Lange, the current interim president.

The three candidates are appearing at campus forums taking place throughout April to meet with students, faculty, and staff, in addition to meeting with the Seattle College District’s Board of Trustees, outgoing chancellor Jill Wakefield, and her executive cabinet. Continue reading

V2’s promising start as Value Village art space could be a blueprint for other empty buildings

Resident Kate Wallich holds a rehearsal for Industrial Ballet inside V2. (Image: Kate Wallich via Instagram)

Resident Kate Wallich holds a rehearsal for Industrial Ballet inside V2. (Image: Kate Wallich via Instagram)

It’s only been a month since Velocity Dance Center officially opened the V2 “temporary arts space” in the old Value Village building on 11th Ave, and the new residents have already churned out an impressive display of creativity.

“It’s exciting what’s already happened,” said Tonya Lockyer, Velocity’s artistic director and former executive director. “And only more is in store.”

Since Value Village departed from the auto row-era Kelly-Springfield Motor Truck Company building on 11th and E Pine last year, Legacy Commercial’s plans for a mixed-use development on the site have been significantly slowed due to a landmark protections decision. While the project gets sorted out, the 12th Ave dance studio signed a six-month, below market-rate lease with Legacy in February and opened V2 in early March.

V1 of the V2 space when it was still Macklemore's thrift shop. (Image: CHS)

V1 of the V2 space when it was still Macklemore’s thrift shop. (Image: CHS)

Initiated by the Capitol Hill Arts District, and propped up by a $20,000 grant from the city’s Office of Arts and Culture, the 30,000-square-foot space is being put to use for dance performance, offices, rental studios, and storage. It is also home to the event company One Reel, which will be staging its Bumbershoot operations out of V2 this year.

Lockyer says it’s been a “fast turn around” to get V2 up and running and there is still a lot of work to be done, including painting the walls and getting city permits for public events. Even so, Velocity has already hosted visual artists, dancers, and choreographers through their in-house residency program, which allows residents to work out of V2 for free or at highly subsidized rents.

Residents have included local dance choreographer Kate Wallich, who recently sold-out Seattle’s Moore Theatre with her one-time show Industrial Ballet — Velocity’s largest production to date. Dance choreographer Alice Gostia worked in the space as she gears up for of a large production at the Seattle waterfront this summer and Seattle-based drag queen and dancer Cherdonna Shinatra collaborated with local street artist 179 to do a mural in V2. Continue reading

City report: Pike/Pine street closures can continue following community meetings

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Last summer’s pedestrian zone had mixed reactions in the neighborhood (Image: SDOT)

The City of Seattle has released its comprehensive report on last summer’s experiment with a Pike/Pine pedestrian zone. In a decision that’s unlikely to please supporters or opponents of the project, the city is reccomending more community discussions before any more street closures take place.

The report released Wednesday touts the promising impacts of the project and the predominantly positive neighborhood feedback it received, but also notes the vocal opposition lodged by some local businesses and property owners. Ultimately, the Seattle Department of Transportation recommended that a “diverse group of neighborhood stakeholders” be convened by the city this spring to discuss the report’s findings and determine the “best way to move forward” in the aftermath of the pilot.

“That’s exactly what we had been calling for,” said Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce director Sierra Hansen, who previously asked the city hold off on doing another street closure in 2016. “One of the things that we recommended is that we get all the diverse perspectives at the same table. We want to foster a conversation between critics and supporters.”

While the report indicates that the city—SDOT and the Office of Economic Development in this case—is not shelving the project for good, the agencies are definitely pumping the brakes. “Further conversation is needed with leadership in Capitol Hill about what a pedestrian street concept can become in Pike/ Pine,” the report says.

Updated-map-image-1024x6301-400x246-400x246The three-block pedestrian zone on E Pike between Broadway and 12th Ave originated as an attempt by the city and the Capitol Hill EcoDistrict to address issues of pedestrian congestion, aggressive crowd behavior, and LGBTQ visibility and inclusivity in the nightlife core of Capitol Hill. Funded by $30,000 of a $160,000 Only in Seattle grant awarded to the CHCC, the street closure was held over four separate saturday nights in August of last year. The first two nights were dedicated to a car-free street and the last two featured festive programming like a drag show, late night musical performances and queer-friendly partner dancing.

It appears the city landed on its talk-it-out recommendation primarily through analyzing its mixed feedback. Overall, 66% of 272 post-pilot survey respondents said they would like to see more weekend street closures, but favorability varied greatly when broken down among different groups.

Only 48% of business and property owners said they would like to see more weekend street closures (44% were opposed), compared to 70% of residents, underlining the mixed feelings in the Pike/Pine business community. When asked if they would prefer to see a street closure at other times of day, 44% of businesses and property owners said they would (37% were opposed), as did 60% of residents.Screen Shot 2016-04-13 at 11.54.28 PM

The most common response to the question “what did you dislike most about the project” was that it catered too heavily to “bars and partiers” and “encouraged bad behavior.” Conversely, the most common response to the question “what did you like most” was that the street closure “made the project safer for pedestrians,” followed by “less street congestion.” Continue reading