Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Election positions as proxies for the "growth machine" and big business

I had forgotten to write about Bellevue, Washington in the context of this week's election. Different initiatives became proxies for pro- or anti- transit positions. But pro- vs. anti-transit positions are most often positions about greenfield development ("sprawl") vs. more intensified development in already existing places.

Or about the politics, policies, and subsidies for greenfield development come at the expense of maintaining healthy cities. (See "The American suburbs are a giant Ponzi scheme" by Charles Marohn of the Strong Towns Institute, via Grist.)

In Bellevue, real estate developer and shopping mall owner Kemper Freeman Jr. doesn't want to see light rail service, because he sees that as disadvantegous to his investments, even though they'd benefit from the addition of transit service. He is a fervent supporter of automobility.

I guess I can understand because at one level, automobility supports the development of town centers throughout a region, and Bellevue has developed at the expense of Seattle. On the other hand, rail transit ends up favoring town centers--when it serves them--in the face of further sprawl and deconcentrated development, and you would think he would see the benefit in maintaining the prominence of his current assets, through beneficial complementary transit investments. Apparently, Bellevue's downtown is very much car-oriented and not very walkable, active or vital at the street level.

See "Kemper Freeman is suing to stop light-rail expansion to Eastside," "Bellevue Square rebounding after first-ever down year, owner Kemper Freeman says," "Developer Kemper Freeman's backing a boon to toll initiative," as well as this 1997 article, about the family's historical opposition to rail transportation and their support of highways, "A Long Road To Opposition -- Kemper Freeman Jr. Vs. The Rta," all from the Seattle Times.

So he bankrolled (gave $1.1 million) Washington State's leading referendum gadly Tim Eyman's initiative to limit tolling on freeways (I-1125, which lost), to put authority for rate increases within the State Legislature instead of an independent toll authority (which is how it is done everywhere else, and not related to tolling, a provision in I-1125 would have banned use of the I-90 bridge for light rail service to Bellevue and Redmond, Washington.

Simultaneously, Freeman backed challengers with anti-transit positions in the Bellevue City Council election.
Election factions in Bellevue, Washington
Graphic from the Seattle Times.

See "Impact of Bellevue election will affect region" from the Seattle Times. From the article:

...Land-use decisions are rarely free of such battles for influence, whether one sees it as a business fighting for its legitimate interests or the American sprawl machine at work, resulting in what urbanist James Howard Kunstler has called "perhaps the greatest misallocation of resources in the history of the world."

In Bellevue's case, especially thanks to the reporting of The Seattle Times' Keith Ervin, the machinations are out in the open.

Kemper Freeman Jr., who along with his father created much of today's Bellevue, wants politicians friendly to his plans to continue building downtown. If you haven't noticed, he fiercely opposes light rail and is spending money on anti-rail candidates, as well as a reported $1.1 million to support Initiative 1125 on tolling, which also seeks to kill light rail to the Eastside.

In the other corner is Wright Runstad, which wants to build 36 acres of transit-oriented development on the Bel-Red Corridor, between downtown and Microsoft's headquarters in Redmond.

You can see Freeman's point, that intense development in the core is better, and you could argue that the Runstad development is a form of sprawl. But in any case, relying on auto-centric transportation for the future, as demand for oil increases globally (even with increases in supply, specifically in the U.S., from improved production technology, prices will increase to a point where sprawl is even more uneconomic) is an unsustainable strategy.

Also see "Bellevue council elections divide developers," "Kemper Freeman helps fund mailer targeting Bellevue candidate John Stokes," "Light-rail views drive Bellevue council races," "Balducci second target of campaign by Freeman, others," and "Laing, Stokes in tight battle for council seat."

It appears as if all three pro-transit candidates Balducci, Chelminiak, and Stokes won, although the vote between Stokes and his opponent was incredibly close.

For once I'd like to see reporting like this in the Washington Post.

In other Washington State growth machine news, after repeated tries, Costco was successful in geting a referendum passed that would require the State of Washington to get out of the liquor sales business. Costco spent almost $21 million on the campaign!, while other large companies like Safeway and Trader Joe's chipped in a little. See "State out of the liquor business with passage of Initiative 1183" and "Initiative 1183: Thar she blows, Captain Sinegal" from the Seattle Times.

The law requires that to sell liquor, establishments have to be at least 10,000 s.f. in size, meaning that unlike in most places, where liquor is sold by relatively small shops, instead liquor sales in Washington State becomes a business not for indepedent businesses, as it is in most places, but an almost exclusive domain for supermarkets and big box retailers, although there is an exception for smaller communities without extant stores at least 10,000 square feet in size.

Beer Business Daily reports ("COSTCO WINS: NOW WHAT?") that Costco is interested in taking this campaign process on the road, to other states where liquor distribution is still controlled by the state.

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