by Toshiko Grace Hasegawa, Port of Seattle Commissioner
This month the Seattle City Council is looking at a zoning law that could decide the future of jobs in Seattle.
The Maritime and Industrial Land Use zoning package introduced by Mayor Bruce Harrell creates strong protections for Seattle’s manufacturing industrial centers. The proposal is the product of over a year of intense conversations between the Port of Seattle and the City — a reasonable compromise that balances the call to develop new business opportunities without compromising the flow of our supply chain. Our efforts are supported by a broad coalition of maritime and industrial partners including the African Chamber of Commerce, International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), the Washington State Department of Transportation, and Vigor Shipyards. This legislation is expected to create 35,000 new jobs in the region over the next 20 years.
But a recent push to incorporate workforce housing in industrially zoned areas has loomed overhead as a vote of approval by the City Council draws nearer. Proponents for housing in the working industrial waterfront argue that, simply, there is a need for housing, so we should build it wherever we can.
So why not just rezone industrial areas into residential? The answer is because people deserve better.
Industrial areas are the point of entry for goods from around the world. If the Port of Seattle is the heart of our region’s economy, then the cargo ships, trains, and trucks are the arteries, carrying goods to the shelves where people in need can access them. The thousands of workers here are our lifeblood. But the industry operations I oversee — and seek to decarbonize — are fossil fuel-based today, and neighbors let us know they are loud. People who already live around transportation hubs understand and advocate for reduction of emissions to improve air quality. The environmental justice movement founded by Communities of Color has raised public awareness and led to political action — because the equity implications of pollution on Communities of Color are tangible.
As a port commissioner, I hear from constituents how noise pollution is disruptive to a family’s quality of life. The folks of Allentown, Tukwila, who experience nonstop freight traffic in front of their homes; or people from West Seattle, who are bothered by the sound of trains sounding through the early hours of the morning; or neighbors in near-airport neighborhoods, like Beacon Hill where I live, who experience constant flights overhead, have all raised these issues with the Port of Seattle Commission.
And in District 2, we know firsthand the dangers of living alongside trains that run on the ground and arterial roads with insufficient pedestrian protections and inadequate signage.
Housing is undoubtedly a priority issue that deserves its own, dedicated strategy. It must be implemented intentionally — not haphazardly — in an equitable way that centers the rights of people to have a decent quality of life.
This is why the Port of Seattle joined advocates in Olympia pushing to expand housing density and development in residentially zoned areas, particularly those with access to mass transit.
Because on top of the right to be clean and healthy, people deserve green spaces. They deserve parks, schools, libraries, grocery stores, doctors, and all the other amenities that make a neighborhood livable. By putting affordable or workforce housing in industrial areas where amenities don’t currently exist, the City would be creating food deserts and inequitable access to schools, among other issues. Building these amenities to meet these families’ needs will compete with the flow of our commercial activities, congesting our supply chain, and inevitably causing an economic heart attack for our region.
Our working waterfront supports 70,000 union and living-wage jobs, many of which do not require a four-year degree but still provide a ladder up to lifelong careers. Keeping those jobs in our region and creating career stepping stones for our communities is fundamental to why I chose to be a port commissioner and the strategy to keep Seattle’s economy full of diverse opportunities that are accessible to all.
But all of that benefit is put at risk when billionaire developers who own large swaths of land in the SoDo district push to change zoning to maximize personal profit.
Seattle does not have unlimited dollars for neighborhood investments. Creating a new neighborhood in SoDo that has no amenities will siphon off infrastructure money that needs to go to priorities like fixing flooding in South Park, upgrading stormwater management everywhere, and installing safe routes for pedestrians and cyclists near our schools and across neighborhoods.
The Port is not opposing the compromise proposal to carve out for hotels in the maritime industrial package. More foot traffic and late-night activity means more economic development for local businesses and a safer environment. Hotel guests want a quick trip on light rail to and from the airport or local neighborhoods. They do not necessarily need convenient access to after-school activities.
The proposed plan to allow for hotels in the stadium area with a prohibition on residential housing is a reasonable approach that improves SoDo’s safety and economic vitality, while also protecting the viability of Seattle’s working waterfront and critical freight routes that service the greater Seattle region.
Attempting to create a new neighborhood that is good for people while also successfully running an efficient and safe maritime and industrial zone will create new environmental justice and equity problems before we have fixed the problems of the last century.
As policymakers, it is our job to think proactively about equity. Don’t create problems where they don’t exist. The Seattle City Council Land Use Committee should approve the Maritime and Industrial zoning package as proposed by Mayor Harrell and reject any proposal for housing development in industrial areas.
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Toshiko Grace Hasegawa is a Beacon Hill resident, vice president of the Port of Seattle Commission, and managing member of the Northwest Seaport Alliance.
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