Category Archives: Commentary

Washington State’s Broken Tax System

by John Stafford

Washington State has a dysfunctional tax system – arguably the nation’s worst.  It is critical to understand the mechanisms by which this flawed tax system adversely impacts progressive public policy development in our state.

Washington is one of just seven states with no personal income tax.  This leads to an excessive reliance on the highly regressive sales tax.  It is also one of just three states that tax corporations based on their revenues (the business and occupancy, or “B&O” tax) rather than their profits.  This penalizes unprofitable firms (often start-ups), who would not pay taxes until they were profitable in other states.  And Washington is the only state in the nation that uses both of these inferior approaches.

This taxation system has numerous drawbacks.  First, as is commonly known, Washington has the most regressive tax system in the country.  Washington’s poorest 20% pay 16.9% of their income in state and local taxes, compared to 2.8% for the top 1% — a ratio of six, the worst in the nation (source:  Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy).  The business tax is regressive as well.  The conservative Washington Policy Center writes:   “The problem is that the base includes unprofitable businesses, so if you readjusted the base to exclude unprofitable businesses, those who are profitable would see their tax rates rise.” The business tax structure also contains numerous exemptions, whose benefits are skewed toward large, profitable firms with lobbying clout.  Second, it is the regressive nature of Washington’s tax system that precipitates the ongoing stream of voter initiatives to limit tax increases (e.g., I-695, I-747, I-960, I-1033, I-1053, etc.) as lower and middle class citizens seek to limit the burden placed on them by the regressive system.  Even though some initiatives fail and others are overturned, the movement-at-large is influential.  The Economic Opportunity Institute comments on this connection between regressivity and tax reduction:  “…the disproportionately high tax burden placed on middle and low income families by Washington’s regressive tax system has led many to support tax cutting initiatives that hobble state and local government.”  Third, and consequently, Washington State has become a low taxation state.  Higher income states tend to have higher state and local taxes per capita.  But this is no longer true in Washington State.  Despite being a high income state (13th in the nation), Washington fell from 11th to 37th place in state and local taxes as a percentage of personal income between 1995 and 2011 (source:  Washington State Office of Financial Management).

This decline in tax position is hindering the state’s ability to adequately fund its most important obligations – a recurring phenomenon that is on constant display in our daily news.  Washington’s K-12 education spending per pupil as a percent of personal income is 44th in the nation.  This has brought forth the State Supreme Court’s McCleary decision, calling for a significant increase in spending.  Predictably, Washington’s legislators are having a difficult time complying with this decision.  Washington is 49th in the nation in mental health treatment capacity.  This has also triggered a judicial intervention.  Higher Education suffered major reductions in state funding during the Great Recession, which gave rise to the second highest tuition increases in the country.  State employees and teachers have forgone cost-of-living wage increases for years.  And so on.

Washington State is generally seen as one of the most progressive states in the nation, and yet it has the most regressive tax structure in the nation.  It becomes important to ask:  is this merely an ironic dichotomy, or is there more to it than that?  Here, it is worth noting a loose parallel between national and state tax dynamics.  In Washington D.C., a common conservative tactic is to reduce taxes in order to deprive the government of the funding needed for liberal programs (“starving the beast”).  In a more roundabout way, Washington State’s tax structure engenders a similar dynamic.  A poorly designed tax structure drives intense regressivity, which foments efforts to constrain taxes, which has contributed to a decline in Washington’s rank in tax revenue as a percent of personal income, which has led to a series of institutions to be underfunded.  To address this challenge, legislators, with progressive taxation options off the table, are forced to consider additional regressive taxes.  In this manner, Washington’s tax structure forces the progressive agenda to work in opposition to itself.  That is, there is the desire on behalf of liberals to fund progressive priorities – K-12 education, mental health, higher education, cost-of-living wage increases, etc.  But to do so, they must decide whether to inflict further financial burden on the lower and middle classes — the very classes that these programs are intended to support.

In Washington, our dysfunctional tax system frustrates the progressive policy agenda – to the detriment of the state.  Indeed, it is hard to imagine the state successfully meeting its basic institutional funding obligations over the long term without fundamental tax reform.

John Stafford is a substitute teacher for Seattle Public Schools and a former management consultant in corporate strategy.  He recently completed a run for State Senate in the 37th District.  He will be writing a monthly article on public policy for the South Seattle Emerald

Cinema Verite: The Real Stars Aren’t on the Screen, They’re in the Seats

by Devin Chicras

Fade in: Interior, Skyway VFW, late July. West Hill residents pour single file into the basement for a community meeting called to address the growing concern for public safety in the wake of a recent spike in gun violence – including one memorable incident where two groups exchanged dozens of rounds across the main street, injuring six.

One woman is overheard mentioning “it’s a good thing it’s still light outside, or I wouldn’t have came. Not safe to be out here at night”. Older gentleman over her right shoulder nods in agreement.

They’re not alone. While the level of violence was analogous to many other surrounding areas, many residents and businesses had seriously considered moving out of the area, the tension and anxiety was palpable and online discussion was exploding. On top of an already difficult situation, we had just lost our beloved Storefront Deputy, someone many looked up to and regarded as a change maker in our community with his compassionate community policing model. He had given us hope, and now many felt lost.

If you had watched the news coverage of the meeting you would have assumed that it was entirely about how devastated the community was about Deputy Barnes’ departure. What you didn’t see was that the majority of the event was actually dedicated to brainstorming solutions to crime, and specifically, gun violence among youths. What the cameras didn’t catch was the incredible energy, empathy and problem solving that our neighbors brought to the meeting. Some mentioned that they wanted to do something for their community, but they seemed to be waiting for some direction.

I was in the crowd that night. I didn’t have a grand solution to end the violence. As a board member of the nonprofit, volunteer-run West Hill Community Association (WHCA) I felt inclined to focus on the positive side of our neighborhood and shared a list of opportunities for folks to get involved and contribute to a safer, more vibrant neighborhood – from work parties, annual cleanups and ways to get connected to neighbors, to an upcoming event called Skyway Outdoor Cinema.

I (among others) made a similar speech at an earlier WHCA meeting immediately following the police captain’s update on the recent major shooting (and neighbors asking what they could do about it) but the camera also stopped rolling after they had gotten the footage they came for, lest they complicate their neat paradigm of Skyway as lawless, crime-ridden area – a stigma perpetuated by the media which has not only been embedded in the consciousness of those that do not dare visit Skyway for fear of their own safety, but also in that of our very own neighbors. It breeds mistrust and serves to further isolate an area that already suffers from a severe lack of resources due to its unincorporated status and creates major challenges in building unity and expanding communication within our richly diverse, wonderfully unique neighborhood.

Two days after that public safety meeting – just two days after hearing folks say they wouldn’t want to be caught on the streets after dark – the 14th season of Skyway Outdoor Cinema kicked off behind the 7-Eleven on Renton Avenue South to an all time record crowd.

Myself and Mary Goebel served as the two lone volunteer organizers of WHCA’s Skyway Outdoor Cinema, and we’d worked all year, but still SOC2had much to do just before the opening day. The majority of expected funding had fallen through, and the timing couldn’t have been worse as by last season we had already doubled the crowds with a complete re-brand, expanded marketing efforts and a comprehensive overhaul of the whole event. Our ultimate goal was to continue making the event sustainable by securing sponsors and purchasing our own equipment, rather than renting.

To that end, we decided that we needed our own A/V equipment. While a grant from King County covered a bit less than half of an all-in-one unit we intended to buy, we were still about $4k short. So we turned to the community. We started an Indiegogo campaign, uploaded a silly but heartfelt video and put our fate in the hands of our neighbors. We didn’t have much money available to rent equipment, so the stakes were high. We received an incredible response, and in less than a month, we surpassed our goal by a total of 9%, thanks to some amazingly generous folks.

Similarly, calls for volunteers were met with responses from some of the kindest, most hard-working folks I’ve ever met.

As the emcee for the event, I needed some impromptu volunteers to help raffle off prizes after the film. The request had barely finished transferring from the mic to the speakers when a sea of tiny hands shot up. I quickly selected a group of children at random – not immediately realizing that some couldn’t have been much older than six or seven – to help hold the prizes up, spin the raffle drum, draw tickets and call out numbers over the microphone in front of hundreds of people. I have rarely seen the level of professionalism shown by these tiny humans displayed by fully grown adults. I’ve now repeated the same process over three nights with a completely different group of kids each time, with the same exact result.

We had no idea how many people would show up after seeing all of those negative news stories. We didn’t expect 300 attendees, from babies to seniors, to show up at a 7-Eleven in Skyway and stay until 11pm on a Friday night in August. And we certainly didn’t expect whole families to flock to Skyway of all places from Redmond, Burien, Des Moines, Federal Way and beyond.

While there may be some people that are quick to write us off, we are a community of leaders and compassionate supporters, who are simply searching for an opportunity to get involved. Something special is happening here in Skyway, and I think it’s only getting started.

——

Skyway Outdoor Cinema is showing “Frozen” for its final event of the season is this Friday, 8/22 behind the 7-Eleven on Renton Ave. S. & 76th Ave. S. Preshow fun runs from 8-9pm, with a free prize wheel, silly photo booth featuring Olaf the snowman made out of balloons and a free ticket for the raffle after the film. Concessions range from 50-75¢, so bring all the change in your couch cushions. Don’t forget to bring your own chair, beanbag, blanket or picnic table. Princess costume optional.

Facebook.com/SkywayOutdoorCinema

MyWestHill.org/SOC

Emerald in the Rough: When The Dog and Pony Show Came to Town

By Cindi Laws

Special to the South Seattle Emerald

Find it, FIx It walks

The latest tools of the City of Seattle, Find-It/Fix-It walks, were designed to have regular citizens meet their city leaders, to chat with police officers, and to point out things like graffiti and trash. Those need to be pointed out because, obviously, no one from the City has noticed these things recently.

These walks were designed to assuage the fears of people living and working in South Seattle. To show that city leaders were indeed paying attention. Attention to the fact that, since April 19, more people have been killed in the 37th Legislative District, which South Seattle dominates, than in the War in Afghanistan. Attention to the fact that, while violent crime has fallen city-wide, gun violence in the South Precinct is up 165 percent over all of 2013. Attention to the fact that the South Precinct has its 8th new police captain in five years. Attention to the fact that 75 percent of robberies in the South Precinct occur within 250 feet of transit stations, and that robberies are way, way up.

On Tuesday, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray joined in the fifth “Find-It/Fix-It” walk, the second in the Rainier Beach area. It was gratifying to see the Mayor in the neighborhood, especially since he missed the July 22nd Rainier Beach event. Tuesday’s walk was also attended by Councilmember Sally Clark (a resident of the Brighton neighborhood), and Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes (who lives south of Seward Park). Councilmember Bruce Harrell, a lifelong resident of South Seattle, participated in the first three walks.

But residents of South Seattle should be very concerned that none of the other seven members of the Seattle City Council have bothered to show up at the Find-it/Fix-It walks. Not the only member who served as a police officer. Not the only member who served as a Deputy King County Prosecutor. Not the Vice Chair of the Public Safety Committee.

Of the 80 people participating in Tuesday’s walk, more than half are paid city employees, representing the departments of police and fire, parks, neighborhoods, transportation, and lots of young interns and junior staff from the Mayor’s office. It was uplifting to show such a huge city contingent that the Seattle city limits extend beyond McClellan Street. Welcome to Rainier Beach, Mr. Mayor.

One could be forgiven for being skeptical that these walks would accomplish much. Since the first Rainier Beach walk two weeks ago, we’ve had numerous drive-by shootings, the home break-in and sexual assault of a child, and the pistol-whipping of a young woman in the Rainier Beach Public Library. Within hours of the Find-it/Fix-It walk around the Genesee Station, teen girls were robbed at gunpoint. More shootings here, there, everywhere in South Seattle.

Refreshingly, newly-hired Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole walked side-by-side with real neighbors genuinely excited by her presence. But while it was great to rub elbows with police brass, there was a disturbing disconnect.  Capt. John Hayes seemingly wanted to fill Robin Williams’ void by serving as jovial entertainer-in-chief. If he was describing, at any point, the violence that occurred in our library a few hours earlier, it wasn’t apparent because his demeanor was nothing but casual and flip. DJ, play me some Bobby McFerrin.

The first Rainier Beach Find-it/Fix-It walk had us leaving the light rail station, heading east on Henderson. Tripping on overgrown, unkempt street trees and broken sidewalks, my friend, who is blind, could see more blight and decay than city staff.  A nine-year old girl was bleeding from overgrown blackberry vines arching over sidewalks and onto city streets. I asked a representative of the Department of Transportation why the city couldn’t take care of this, especially when it’s on a block served by light rail and several bus lines. “This is private property,” she said. “It’s the owner’s responsibility.”

“I don’t (expletive) care,” I exploded in exasperation at her arrogant, let-them-eat-cake attitude. “Take care of it! Look at this bleeding girl and a fallen blind man; this is a hazard that needs to be fixed.” She argued with me, sputtering excuse after excuse why SDOT couldn’t help. Worse, with a straight face, she said that Rainier Beach gets the same resources as Queen Anne. And so goes the denial; so the lies are framed.

It’s one thing to ignore problems in South Seattle, as city leaders have done recently. But to take us on a stroll around a neighborhood, acting as if all is under control, as our city leaders praise their own responsiveness, is simply a Dog & Pony Show. We need the promised increase in police presence; we need those officers out of their cars and meeting youth and families; we need city administrators who won’t make excuses and will make progress; we need elected leaders who care as much about South Seattle as they do about South Lake Union.

Cindi Laws is a resident of the Rainier View neighborhood and a long-time activist.

Analysis of Seattle City Council’s Approval of Mount Baker Rezone

 

by Young Han Rezone Mt. Baker

Council Vote

Yesterday, the Seattle City Council voted to approve the Mount Baker rezone by an 8-1 vote, with Councilman Bruce Harrell in opposition (http://www.seattlechannel.org/videos/video.asp?ID=2021450). The legislation allows for greater urban density, a wider range of commercial uses, and tighter design standards around the Mount Baker Link Light Rail station.

The rezone’s intended effect is to transform an area currently dominated by strip malls and parking lots into a pedestrian-friendly hub of commercial and residential activity. Spurred by a neighborhood planning process that began in 1999 and a design framework developed 10 years later (http://www.seattle.gov/dpd/cityplanning/completeprojectslist/northrainier/documents/default.htm), the rezone is a culmination of nearly 15 years of consideration. It also represents the city’s commitment to fostering growth in areas now served by investments in Link Light Rail. This is a major win for the future of Rainier Valley.

The Future/Back to the Future

Speaking of the future, two other developments stood out at this meeting. The first is Councilwoman Sally Bagshaw’s enthusiasm for further positive changes that can be made to the area, now that the rezone issue has been decided. She cited the original Olmstead Brothers’ plan for Seattle parks (http://www.seattle.gov/parks/parkspaces/olmsted.htm) and her interest in “reclaiming North Rainier’s Olmstead parks and boulevards.” The Olmsteads’ 1903 plan initially called for 20 contiguous miles of parks and green space throughout our city. While the city built out much of this plan in its early years, including space along Lake Washington Blvd and in the heart of Mount Baker, it breaks down into a sea of congestion and concrete along Rainier Ave S. Many area residents have called for the beautification of this area by bringing more of the Olmstead Brothers’ original vision into fruition and making concurrent traffic changes at the intersection of Rainier Ave S and Martin Luther King. They may have an ally in Councilwoman Bagshaw.

Opposing Views

The second thing that stood out at this meeting are the opposing votes by the two Councilmembers who reside in Southeast Seattle, Sally Clark and Bruce Harrell. With district-based elections starting next year, both Councilmembers will be up for re-election. Harrell has already registered to run for the district-based seat, Position 2, while Sally Clark is running citywide, for Position 9. Even while withholding all opinions about districting, which I mildly supported/still loosely support, it is nonetheless interesting to note.

Sally Clark voted in support of the rezone, along with seven other Councilmembers, while Bruce Harrell voted against it. In opposing the legislation, Harrell echoed the opponents of the rezone in saying that it shouldn’t occur until the city can identify developers who have an intention to build. “There are no pending development projects contingent upon this planned rezone… It would seem to me that this is when you start talking to the developer community,” he said. Later he also claimed that, he had not heard a single comment in support of a 125 foot height allowance for a parcel currently occupied by Lowe’s Home Improvement.

Both claims came across as strange.As Clark herself pointed out earlier in the meeting, by the time a developer has intentions for an area or a particular parcel, the city is already behind the curve. “The city will not act fast enough in order to change the land use map to make sure the neighborhood gets what it has been asking for.” This seems prima facie evident considering the duration of the current process. The Mount Baker rezone, from the time the city released the 2009 Design Framework, has taken five years to approve. This is just for theoretical development. Perhaps, as Harrell says, the city can wait until developers draw up specific plans. The question is, then what? There is no reason to believe the process will be any less drawn-out or contentious in the future. Furthermore there is a question of whether the city wants to get into the business of micromanaging future development. This is a recipe for years of added uncertainty and chaos, not greater democratic participation.

Harrell’s claim that he has not heard any support for raising the height allowance for the Lowe’s parcel is also confounding, given that he attended the same Planning, Land Use, and Sustainability Committee meeting that many of my neighbors and I did. Some of us, myself included, spoke directly about this issue. Either way, Harrell will find political support among the vocal opponents of the rezone should he run again next year. This may be exactly the point. He appears to have taken a less reasoned policy stance to gain well-organized political backing. Clark took a simultaneously more principled and practical position by recognizing long-standing planning principles and supporting means to ends on which most Valley residents can agree: we needs smarter growth and more jobs. For that she should be commended.

Young Han is a Columbia City resident interested in economic history and the economics of technological change as well as an advocate for cooperative development, and expanding economic democracy

Race Matters: The Misrepresentation of Race In The Media

by Sam Louie

Courtesy NY Daily News
Courtesy NY Daily News

 

As an Asian-American therapist with a multi-cultural focus, I can attest that an ethnic person’s identity can be mired in self-hatred and self-loathing during the process of integrating into mainstream American society.

In therapeutic circles there’s a process known as the Minority Identity Development Model.   The first phase is one called the “Pre-Encounter Stage” where a minority member devalues himself, his ethnicity (i.e. culture, customs, the way he/she looks) in comparison to the accepted, mainstream culture.  In the U.S., minorities may think the country or region they live in is anti-minority or non-minority and may act or behave in ways to be more “American” as a means to fit in.

The complexities related to Elliot Rodger’s mental health is vast and speculative but from his writings it’s clear it hinges on three prongs: race, class, and gender.  Mainstream media has expounded on the class and male entitlement aspect of Rodger’s life but very little is mentioned on the racial component.

If anything, it seems race is the last subject they want to address.  While his Asian background didn’t directly lead to his carnage, according to his manifesto it was clearly one of the contributing challenges he faced as someone who struggled with his mixed Chinese heritage as early as nine years old.

On top of this was the feeling that I was different because I am of mixed race. I am half White, half Asian, and this made me different from the normal fully-white kids that I was trying to fit in with…my first act was to ask my parents to allow me to bleach my hair blonde. I always envied and admired blonde-haired people, they always seemed so much more beautiful.”

Rodger’s desire to fit into mainstream society and be accepted as a minority during this vulnerable stage can not be understated or ignored (like it currently is by the media).  He was looking for acceptance from numerous sources: blonde women, his father, and peers but felt rejected or “not good enough” without the acknowledgment that one the biggest rejections he was grappling was his rejection of self.

His struggle while ostensibly looking like a young man plagued with a number of mental health issues should not be relegated to that classification alone.  Instead, we as a society need to understand Rodger was a young man who was stuck in a process where he was not able to integrate his ethnic Chinese side with his Caucasian side.  His writing of his ethnic self-hatred is evident even if it’s cloaked by his veiled attempt to bolster himself with his grandiosity (itself a defense mechanism).

I came across this Asian guy who was talking to a white girl. The sight of that filled me with rage. I always felt as if white girls thought less of me because I was half-Asian, but then I see this white girl at the party talking to a full-blooded Asian. I never had that kind of attention from a white girl! And white girls are the only girls I’m attracted to, especially the blondes. How could an ugly Asian attract the attention of a white girl, while a beautiful Eurasian like myself never had any attention from them?

This is why his race matters.  Because we as Asian-Americans hurt knowing he was never able to get to the second phase of the minority identity development known as the “Encounter Stage” where an ethnic minority learns to see himself as valuable, loved, and cherished not in spite of his culture but because of it.  In other words, minorities in this stage learn to embrace their heritage despite the surrounding that may convey contrary messages.

This explanation isn’t to simplify Elliot Rodger’s malicious actions, rather it’s to shed light and understanding to the public that race matters.

 

Sam Louie is an Asian-American psychotherapist with a private practice in Seattle and Bellevue.  He focuses on issues of culture, race, and addictions.  He is also a Los Angeles Emmy-Award Winning former t.v. news journalist and can be reached at:www.samlouiemft.com. sam@samlouiemft.com and on Twitter @SamLouieSpeaks  

Race Matters

Editor’s Note: Race Matters is a new column which provides a nuanced take on race and its impact on the culture of the South Seattle area.

by Sam Louie, M.A., LMHC

Mark Cuban, owner of the NBA team Dallas Mavericks provoked controversy following his interview with Inc. Magazine regarding his views on race and culture.

“I mean, we’re all prejudiced in one way or another. If I see a black kid in a hoodie and it’s late at night, I’m walking to the other side of the street. And if on that side of the street, there’s a guy that has tattoos all over his face — white guy, bald head, tattoos everywhere — I’m walking back to the other side of the street. And the list goes on of stereotypes that we all live up to and are fearful of. So in my businesses, I try not to be hypocritical. I know that I’m not perfect. I know that I live in a glass house, and it’s not appropriate for me to throw stones.”

His comment comes after the NBA’s actions against Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling was caught on audiotape making racially charged comments.  The NBA banned Sterling for life and fined him 2.5 million dollars after he told a female friend, V. Stiviano, not to bring Black people to Clippers games.  Sterling is in the midst of having the NBA force him to sell his team as well.

Some have accused Cuban of being a bigot but I think this misses the point.  In the interview he adds, “While we all have our prejudices and bigotries, we have to learn that it’s an issue that we have to control.”  Control and how we handle our prejudices is the operative word here.  Just because Cuban has prejudices doesn’t make him racist.  Being aware of race, culture, context and the implications it poses to us personally is much more valuable than people ignoring the subject matter by hiding behind the veil of being blind to color when they say, “I don’t see color”.  What these people are implying is that their decisions and how they treat someone aren’t based on another person’s ethnicity, skin tone, or appearance.  I believe for the most part, Americans don’t discriminate in hiring practices, housing, and other significant racial issues, but when it comes to issues of socialization and our own personal comfort zone, we do discriminate and have our prejudices.

Despite our best attempts to not think about race, there will be times and situations where race, culture, image, and stereotypes form our decision-making.  I believe if we deny this part of ourselves, we deny our humanity.  We are at our core, primal creatures.  We make automatic decisions that are unconscious, reflexive, and based on our need for survival.

There’s an almond-shaped part of our brain in the temporal lobe, called the amygdala, that is hard-wired to any threat (real or imagined).  The amygdala, controls autonomic responses associated with fear, arousal, and emotional stimulation.  This is the “fight or flight” portion that we hear about and as much as we may want to turn this part off in the name of cultural sensitivity, the neurons that fire in this region are automatic and can’t be shut down.  Now I believe we can learn and grow in our sensitivity to threats but that takes much effort since what you perceive as a threat is based on your upbringing and as adults hard to change without significant work.

For example, I grew up in South Seattle and graduated from Rainier Beach high school.  I lived, played, and went to school with African-Americans for my formative years.  Consequently, in my adult life I gravitated towards Black journalists when I was working in t.v. news because I felt most comfortable around them.  This didn’t make me a racist but since I never knew or was surrounded by “middle-aged, white men” growing up (except teachers), I had no context of how I would be treated and hence saw white men as more threatening to my sense of security.  I remember at one point, my girlfriend at the time asked me, “Why do you only hang out with Black people from work?”  I got defensive because I wasn’t purposely ignoring White folks but had just gravitated towards African-Americans since I thought had more in common with them.

This same logic applies when I’m in other urban areas around the U.S.  I don’t have fear being in ethnic communities (i.e. Asian, Black, Latino, etc.) because there’s a certain familiarity I’m accustomed to.  However, if this isn’t your upbringing you’re going to feel uncomfortable, wary, and possibly scared or fearful.  The same applies to people who present a certain stereotypical image.  Whether it’s the stereotype of an Asian gang-banger, a White Supremacist, or a Black thug, I know for myself these images create different responses to me depending on the context.  In all the conversations and stories I hear about race, context is often left out.  Context is vital because context is what make the amygdala in the brain is searching for on a real, everyday, moment-by-moment level.

For example, if there’s a group of young White men with tattoos and shaved heads walking around South Seattle, I’d think they were lost and this wouldn’t trigger my amygdala as a source of threat.  Same thing if they were walking around downtown Bellevue.  However, if I’m in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho, a city close to the original headquarters of the Aryan Nations, and saw this same group walking down the street, my fight and flight response would be screaming at me.  I’d be foolish to ignore it.  This same response comes up when I see Asians who dress and look like gang members driving or hanging around South Seattle.  I am vigilant not to look at them in any way that could be misconstrued to provoke them.  Am I being racist?  I don’t think so because based on the context, it’s simply my sympathetic nervous going into autopilot.

I will acknowledge there are times when clients I work with have undergone significant childhood stressors and threats to safety (i.e. consistently getting bullied, beat-up, teased, etc.) that in adulthood they remain in a hyper-aroused state of fight or flight around men of any ethnicity.  Even if the perpetrators were of one race, the level trauma can be so damaging that any man, regardless of race, is seen as a threat.  The same level of trauma happens to women who are raped.  If race was a role then there may be extra sensitivity to the offender’s race but the damage can be so encompassing that the women don’t discriminate on race per se but the entire male gender could be seen as a threat.
Issues of race need to be further explored instead of simply compartmentalized or having people ostracized for their views.  Honest discussion, openness, education, and socialization can break down our preconceived notions of those we know little of or know only through caricatures or stereotypes.  It behooves us all to know where we fall on the continuum of prejudice, racism, and bigotry.

Sam Louie is an Asian-American psychotherapist with a private practice in Seattle and Bellevue.  He focuses on issues of culture, race, and addictions.  He is also an Emmy-Award Winning former t.v. news journalist and can be reached at: www.samlouiemft.com. sam@samlouiemft.com and on Twitter @SamLouieSpeaks  Sam Louie

Committee Amends North Rainier Rezone

originally appeared in the Seattle Transit Blog

by  Martin H Duke

 

Last week the Seattle Council’s Planning, Land Use, and Sustainability (PLUS) committee once again took up the North Rainier Rezone, last seen inspiring a diverse set of public comments earlier this month. There were more public comments that are by now quite repetitive, although the latest tactic is calling for yet another 2-year delay while companion parks, economic development, and transportation plans develop. I predict approximately zero current opponents would suddenly accept the plan then, as it still won’t address their fundamental desire to limit the number of low-income neighbors and preserve effortless parking at local businesses. Meanwhile, rents spiral upward and the Rainier Valley continues to suffer.

Afterwards, the committee approved three amendments to the legislation and tabled a fourth proposed by Councilmember Bruce Harrell, who was out of town. Unfortunately, one of the amendments requires a title change to the bill, so the committee will have to wait until June 3rd to vote on the legislation and send it to full council.

The three attendees (Mike O’Brien, Nick Licata, and Tim Burgess) approved the following three amendments:

1) Amend the proposed zoning to exclude the parking maximums currently operative in other “Seattle Mixed” Zones (basically just South Lake Union and Lower Queen Anne). This triggers the required change in the bill title, and addresses the fear that the proposed maxima “might be too low” for certain businesses, like grocery stores, envisioned for the area.

north_rainier_rezone2) Change the “Class I” pedestrian street designation to “Class II”  on McClellan and Rainier. Class II allows “more flexibility” for street interface. It would keep transparency requirements, but permits more uses at ground level for a “greater range of businesses.” Rather than forcing nothing but eat/drink and retail, health care, light industrial, and office applications would also be allowed on the first floor — but not residential. The council is concerned about vacant storefronts, reflecting many comments from residents.

Even Class I setbacks are flexible in the design review process, but Class II allows 12 ft. setbacks as a matter of course. DPD thought “more suburban, less active” might be appropriate given the traffic on these streets. Notably, on-street parking on these streets would improve the pedestrian environment, possible if SDOT uses the “bowtie” street reconfiguration here to greatly improve bus/rail transfers.

3) The committee added a few blocks east of MLK and north of McClellan to the upzone (the blocks labeled LR3 and NC1-40 in the upper right), due to a request from the landowner, the nonprofit Mt. Baker Housing Association. These parcels are already developed to LR3 (Low Rise-3), but MBHA would like to tear this down, add more affordable housing, and simultaneously deal with residual contamination from a dry cleaning business there. The parcels would become MR2 (Midrise 2) and SM-65 (Seattle Mixed 65′), respectively.

From my perspective, these three amendments range from wonderful to mixed. The expanded housing on the MBHA site is unmitigated good news. Meanwhile, it’s clear that parking minimums create a whole suite of bad effects, but maximums are debatable, particularly in a place where redevelopment might take a while to get off the ground. As for the pedestrian classification, allowing a broader diversity of businesses is probably a good idea.

The Harrell amendment, on which the committee decided to delay deliberations until Mr. Harrell could be there to discuss it, would lower the 125′ limit on the Lowe’s site to 85′, although a contract rezone could raise it again once the City knew would would go in. As always, height is a flash point, but this amendment would simply reduce the site’s potential and add yet more veto points to its best possible use. DPD believes residential will not utilize 125′ under current conditions. Reducing the height will make residential more competitive, and is likely to subvert the often-expressed community wish for the site to be focused on job creation.

Mr. Burgess specifically asked for neighborhood feedback on this amendment, via public comment at the next meeting or via email. Let him know what you think.

Mr. O’Brien closed by asking about the lot immediately south of the station but not affected by the rezone, currently LR3-RC. Across a quiet street from the station, any sensible framework would upzone these extremely aggressively. Last decade these blocks fell out of the plan because they might cast shadows on deserted Cheasty Blvd., there were single family homes on the other side of the greenbelt, and there were commercial uses nearby that have since largely disappeared. I wish I was joking about any of these “problems.”

Since this terrible decision, the status of these blocks has changed. Capitol Hill Housing purchased the southern block. The northern block will be split between an underground King county sewer overflow storage tank (!!!! – hopefully it’s buildable above) and a northern half split among several parcels. Mr. O’Brien asked for input from DPD and the public about making some or all of this area SM-85 or SM-65. Good for Mr. O’Brien to bring up this common-sense revision. Thank him and let him know this is a good idea.

As a side note, Lyle Bicknell of DPD said there is already interest in redeveloping the Rite Aid/QFC site immediately north of the station while preserving those tenants. Good news!