So far, garbage, its burning at the incinerator, and the associated fee structure has got lots of attention. Others will have, and have had, more to say.
So let's look a little at housing, whose details deserve at least as much attention, if not more, than garbage.
|Staff Report: Expand MUHTIP
(yellow in original)
The Staff Report reads very much as something determined to "stay within the box." It identifies three options for improving the production of housing:
- Waiving or deferring system development charges
- Adopting or amending criteria for property tax exemptions
- Assessing a construction excise tax
Are there more creative, "outside the box," options available?
Within the constraints of the box, still more creativity and effectiveness seems possible.
Even with the revised approach to SDCs from 2019 (previous notes here and here), we should revisit and more substantially revise the fees, with a schedule of variable fees that align better with our planning goals. We should get beyond the binary of waiving/collecting. And some projects should have even higher SDCs.
On the property tax concept discussion, the Staff Recommendation is to expand the boundaries of the MUHTIP area.
But why aren't we looking more closely at the effectiveness of the MUHTIP itself? It's not at all clear it's actually and consistently an incentive, something that makes something happen that wouldn't otherwise happen.
If it is kept, there are administrative details that need a closer look. The micro-apartments on State and Commercial applied for the exemption significantly before construction started. Either they were well-organized, or the MUHTIP was in fact an incentive. The smaller mixed-use project on Broadway applied near the end of construction, and it is very difficult to argue the MUHTIP functioned at all as an incentive.
Deadlines and other program requirements should be written so they are more clearly operating as an incentive to make stuff happen that otherwise wouldn't happen. A successful incentive program would have a longer list of projects that used it.
The list of public benefits should also be tightened up. Maybe State law restricts the City's ability on this, though the Staff report mentions only SRC 2.815; to the extent that it is possible, the check list deserves a closer look.
On the Broadway project, for example, it supposedly met the "public benefit" for open space, but it's not clear what "public" means here: "The building will feature an open courtyard for residents." That looks rather more like a private benefit. The word broad in "Unit sales prices or rental rates accessible to a broad range of mixed incomes" also may not correspond to what we think the word signifies in ordinary usage: "Rental rates will range from $950-$1,600 per month." Is that really so broad? The benefit on transit probably needs to be rewritten for adjacency to high-frequency routes: "Provision of amenities and/or programs supportive of the use of mass transit." Additionally, the whole rhetoric of support/supportive is empty, and we should eliminate it throughout City ordinance and planning documents in favor of more specific and objective criteria. (We are seeing support/supportive in the Climate Action Plan process right now.) Generally the program eligibility checklist needs a new look.
There's no detail on the mention of a construction excise tax, but we should consider again a variable approach. Construction on the edges of the city and distant from transit should be more expensive than construction near the city center and near high-frequency transit.
On the whole, the Staff Report reads tepidly rather than something with verve and promise.