Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Live blogging from the Transit Oriented Communities Hearing

House Bill 1490, Transit Oriented Communities, is being heard in the House Local Government and Housing Committee. The bill’s prime sponsor, Sharon Nelson, sits on the committee as do bill co-sponsors Reps. Geoff Simpson, Dave Upthegrove, Mark Miloscia. The meeting just started at 8am and HB 1490 is the second item on the agenda. The room is packed so stay tuned as I report on the testimony and the surely heated debate.

Right now the committee is getting a report from Community Trade and Economic Development (CTED) on the findings that came out of the Land Use and Climate Change Advisory Committee. One of the Climate Change Committee’s primary suggestions was encouraging growth in Transit Oriented Communities. The proposed Transit Oriented Communities legislation grew out of the climate change committees work.

So far Rep. Miloscia asked CTED staff about how affordable housing was included in the CTED report.

Rep. Angel asked a pointed question about unfunded mandates on local government.

Just moments ago Rep. Ericksen (R-42nd LD) asked a pointed question essentially questioning climate change in general and expressed his ‘interest in the cooling and heating on earth.’

Also note that if you go to TWV right here you can watch the hearing live on the internet, just click on the House Local Government and Housing Committee.

Our friends at the Quality Growth Alliance are giving a presentation to the committee. In short; currently in Washington there is more demand than housing stock available in transit oriented areas and a shift to "compact, complete, and connected neighborhoods" will reduce greenhouse gas emissions and is the smart way to accommodate future growth.

Rep. Miloscia brought up another question about affordability in housing plans that were presented. One of the presenters from the Quality Growth Alliance brought up the point that total household expenses include rent/mortgage and transportation costs combined. By creating compact transit oriented communities household transportation costs will be greatly reduced helping lower income families.

Rep. Ericksen then asked if we need these strategies if we have nuclear power and clean cars in play, thus solving all of our emissions problems. The quality growth folks essentially responded that smart-growth land use strategies are things we can implement to reduce emissions today.

The hearing on HB 1490 is starting. House staff is giving an overview on the bill. There is one hour left in the hearing and 36 people to testify so people are going to have to race through their comments.

The environmental panel is taking center stage. Bill LaBorde from Transportation Choices, Cliff Traisman from Washington Environmental Council, and Sara Nikolic from Futurewise. They are using a very spiffy and informative power point, which I will try to get up here shortly.

The low income housing alliance testified in favor of the legislation. Their spokesperson, Nick Fredici, claimed that currently affordable housing planning around station areas is disjointed as best. He want on to stay HB 1490 will provide a good framework for ensuring affordable housing around high capacity station. Also the cascade bicycle club voiced their support.

John Fox, director of the Seattle Displacement Coalition and anti-rail advocate, testified against the legislation. He claimed that HB 1490 would cause be a "blueprint for gentrification".

The association of Washington Cities voiced some some concerns aroud manditory zoning rules and also stated that they are excited to work with the committee on the bill. The City of Bellevue stated that in many areas they are meeting the 50 units per acre but they are concerned about a "one size fits all" zoning approach. The city of Auburn voiced many of the same things as Bellevue. The Mayor of Tacoma, Bill Barsma, spoke in support of the goals of HB 1490. He notedthat we need compact communities around our high capacity systems in order to make them as efficent as possible.

Sound Transit testified that they would want to continue to work with the committee on the bill. They also provided some background on their surplus properties and brought up some issues around the resale of surplus properties.

A Seattle citizen said the bill would mandate densities higher that Mumbai, India, which simply is not true. We are talking about average buildings heights around three stories around the station area. Not quite the image I think of for Mumbai, India. Here is an example of new construction in Mumbai.

The committee is going long so many of the Olympia lobbyists will have to testify at a later date. Chair Simpson is trying to ensure that out of town citizens have an opportunity to speak.

A Priest from Federal Way testified that he thinks Transit Oriented Communities would be great for the common human good and livable communities. Then the President of the WA Realtors claimed that Vehicles Miles Traveled (VMT) is a obsolete measurement of emissions. His logic was that cars no longer produce emissions thanks to the development of the electric car. As we heard earlier in the hearing transportation emissions are responsible for 50% of our state's greenhouse gas emissions.

The last two speakers were two Seattle citizens. Martin Duke from the South Seattle area where light rail will be travelling. He said he wants a more walkable liveable community. Another resident of Northgate testifed about the benefits of recently moving into a transit oriented development, where his family reduced their vehicles miles traveled by 50%.

I am signing off for now but stay tuned as I keep you posted on HB 1490 and its progress through the legislative process.

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