October 8: The LID Becomes Law?
You pay $200 to $418 million plus increased taxes forever. We have one month to stop the LID by sending in a protest. Here is the no-LID progress to date.
In 2012, Mayor Mike McGinn proposed redeveloping the Waterfront with an extensive set of parks, boulevards, and pedestrian walkways after the Alaskan Way Viaduct is demolished. These improvements are estimated to cost $700 million and draw from several funding sources, including state and city dollars, philanthropic contributions, Metropolitan Parks District funds, and a Local Improvement District (LID = another fancy term for a targeted property tax on nearby property owners). Two mayors later, the City is moving forward with this plan, which involves raising a minimum of $200 million dollars and up to $418 million dollars from downtown property owners.
As part of the LID process, the city conducted a special benefits study that calculated the special benefits to all property owners within the area at $418 million dollars. Under state law, the City cannot charge more than the special benefit, but they can assess property owners the maximum $418 million. While the city claims they will only assess $200 million, if the project costs overrun, the Council can reassess property owners up to the additional $218 million dollars. Given the City’s track record on transportation projects over the past five years, the likelihood of cost overruns is very high.
While a plan to spend $700 million in public money on this project may have made sense in 2012, Seattleites in 2018 have different priorities addressing homelessness, improving mobility, addressing climate change, and most importantly, ensuring our tax dollars are spent wisely. Since 2012, Seattleites also have increased concerns over the City’s lack of fiscal responsibility and whether this project is a legitimate LID.
This summer, downtown property owners approached the Mayor’s Office and leadership in the Office of the Waterfront over their concerns about the project, including cost controls, public safety, and paying for long-term operations, maintenance, and capital improvements. They asked the City to consider:
- Lowering the LID assessment from $200 million to $100 million and exploring other funding sources to distribute the burden across all area users, not just downtown property owners.
- Signing enforceable contracts with individual property owners to prevent the City from coming back to property owners to raise up to $418 million in future assessments.
- Giving property owners oversight over operations and management of the waterfront park, and ensuring there is adequate, dedicated funding from the City.
Last week, the City responded with a measly $25 million reduction to the initial LID, amounting to a 12 percent reduction to individual assessments. The City offered to sign individual contracts with every property owner to prevent future LID assessments, but it is questionable if this is legal and binding under state law, which allows a LID district to assess ratepayers up to $418 million. The City also agreed to give downtown property owners a decision-making role in park operations and maintenance. The City is hedging on firmly committing necessary law enforcement or operation/maintenance dollars. The City Council is not bound by the recommendations of the Mayor.
The City Attorney’s office is writing the ordinance now. City Council is tentatively scheduled to vote on the LID on October 8.
We remain opposed to the LID as a funding mechanism for improvements on the waterfront; we believe the City should pause, determine the 2018 scope and costs for the project, consider alternate ways of financing, and then proceed.
The City of Seattle has an abysmal record of underestimating the costs of major projects and failing to control costs as they are built. For example, the bike lanes in the Move Seattle levy were estimated at $840,000 per mile but cost as much as $12 million per mile in some parts of downtown Seattle. When the Waterfront plan goes over budget, the City of Seattle is legally bound to build it as designed, which means tapping the general fund, passing a new city-wide levy, and/or reassessing the LID property owners up to the $418 million limit.
The proposed waterfront plan will benefit everyone visiting the area, which includes one of the biggest tourist destinations in the US: the Pike Place Market with an estimated 10 to 12 million visitors each year. In this case, $100 million is designated to create the Overlook Walk a huge, multi-story walkway connecting the market to the but only downtown property owners are being asked to pay a special assessment that will benefit a few iconic Seattle tourist destinations. Two percent of the City’s property owners should not be saddled with a $200 to $418 million investment in tourist attractions.
Downtown residents, employees, employers, and property owners are struggling with increasing public safety issues around encampments, open-air drug dealing, as well as property and violent crimes. Current public spaces are poorly managed yet there is no plan to manage the 19 blocks of waterfront sidewalks, gathering areas, and public parks. If we are going to do it, let s design a plan that will work.
What Happens Next?
Filing protest letters before October 8 is our only way to stop the LID and force the City to redevelop a plan that is right-sized and realistic for the challenges Seattle faces in 2018.
Currently, the City Clerk has approximately $60 million worth of protest letters. We need to hit $120 million to stop the current LID proposal.
Every protest letter will matter.
A LID protest letter is not a waterfront plan protest letter. The City claims it already has the money needed to build the new boulevard and associated walkways, bike lanes, plantings, and lighting, and the area will be dramatically improved after the Alaskan Way Viaduct is demolished. Stopping the LID will prompt the City to develop a more realistic plan for the future of the waterfront, including project cost controls and a robust, long-term operations and maintenance plan. You can retract your protest letter anytime if you are undecided, but you cannot turn in a protest letter for very much longer.
What You Can Do Today
- If you haven’t filed a protest letter yet, do it now so it can be counted before October 8.
- Please tell us if you have turned in your protest vote (thanks to everyone who did already).
- If no one in your building has organized a letter drive, we want to hear from you. Tell us which building you’re in. We can help.
- Talk about the LID with your neighbors and ask them to visit our website or reach out to us for more information.
- Help a neighbor file a protest vote.
- Talk about the LID on social media.
Thank you to everyone who has shown up, spoken out, and written to elected officials. The next month is crucial to our grassroots campaign to stop the LID. Take a few minutes today to do one more thing to help our collective effort to stop this unjust plan. We have the power to stop the LID; let’s exercise that power.