About - No Waterfront LID
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The City of Seattle is proposing to spend $700 million on waterfront improvements such as new sidewalks, trees, bike lanes, parks, and pedestrian overpasses. This plan, launched in 2012 by Mayor Mike McGinn in anticipation of the Alaskan Way Viaduct’s removal, is a grand vision of new open spaces throughout the waterfront with no real long-term budget to ensure the improvements and public spaces are safe, attractive, and welcoming to the tens of millions of future visitors.

This September, Mayor Jenny Durkan will be sending legislation to the City Council to form a Local Improvement District to raise between $200 and $418 from downtown property owners to pay for these improvements. Asking downtown property owners as far east as Interstate 5 and as far south as Pioneer Square to pay for infrastructure, the bulk of which will primarily benefit a handful of tourist destinations such as the Pike Place Market and the Seattle Aquarium doesn’t make much sense. For example, more than half of the budget – $100 million – is reserved for Overlook Walk, a huge, concrete pedestrian overpass connecting the Pike Place Market to the waterfront and Seattle Aquarium. To make matters worse, the City has a poor track record of delivering projects on time and on budget, and it is likely that the overrun costs will be huge over the life of the project. And, cost overruns will be the responsibility of  all City taxpayers.

We are all eager to see a post-Alaskan Way Viaduct waterfront, and existing mitigation money from the state will cover significant improvements to the sidewalks, roadway, bike lanes and street trees. However, new public spaces and costly enhancements such as Overlook Walk designed to primarily benefit seasonal tourists don’t make sense in 2018. When thousands of people are living without shelter, streets are clogged with unprecedented traffic, and many other needs remain, these 2012 plans seem out of step with 2018 priorities.

The Waterfront Park

The waterfront improvements outlined include miles of new sidewalks, bike lanes, street improvements, new park spaces, and Overlook Walk, a huge, concrete pedestrian overpass connecting Pike Place Market to the waterfront. These investments will benefit the 12+ million visitors to the area, but it is less clear how they will benefit the people paying between $200 and $418 million dollars for the improvements.

We support many of these investments, but we oppose the extravagant additional features that the city simply can’t afford and are out of line with 2018 priorities.

The photo below, from the Waterfront Seattle website, substantially depicts what the Seattle Waterfront will look like without the proposed Local Improvement District, or LID.


What the LID Funds

The money raised from the LID is meant to bring literally millions more tourists and shoppers to the downtown Seattle waterfront by providing:


million to create an elevated ramp from the Pike Market to the waterfront


million to demolish and rebuild the existing park at the base of Union Street


million to add plantings and kiosks to the existing waterfront walkway


million to improve streets around Pioneer Square


million to improve streets along Pike and Pine up to 8th Avenue


million for a viewpoint and elevator access to the waterfront from Union Street

Who is in the LID Area?

Many people equate downtown property owners with large multinational corporations. There are about 1,000 commercial properties and 5,000 individual households in the LID assessment area. Many households include retirees and other people living on fixed incomes, freelance workers, and families who are struggling to keep up with the rising costs of living in Seattle. Many have lived downtown for a decade or more, purchasing their property when downtown was one of the more affordable neighborhoods. While the current proposal allows people to defer the assessment based on income, disability or other hardship issues, if the property is sold, the new owner will be responsible for the assessment.

Why it May Cost More than $200 Million

The City of Seattle commissioned an expensive and lengthy appraisal study, which shows that downtown property owners could pay as much as $418 million towards the LID because the improvements would allegedly increase their property values. (Incidentally, the special appraiser hired by the City of Seattle acknowledges that none of the examples from their study of other cities are closely comparable to Seattle.)

The City of Seattle made the decision to take roughly half of that, or $200 million, from property owners. City officials have reassured us that the LID assessments will be capped at $200 million, however state law is very clear that projects funded by a LID must be completed. When the Waterfront project goes over budget and additional funds are necessary, the City taxpayers on the hook for overruns.

When the $700 million waterfront project goes over budget, the City Council is legally bound to pay for it.

How Much are the Assessments?

Downtown property owners may look up their proposed assessment on the city website.

The average commercial property owner is projected to pay $117,000.

The average residential homeowner is projected to pay $5,434. For homeowners who cannot afford to pay a lump sum, with interest, the assessment would grow to approximately $8,000. The interest rate in this calculation is based on the City of Seattle’s April 2018 presentation.

The LID: Is it Legal?

Washington State law allows municipalities or their property holders to create LIDs. LIDs have, in fact, been used for nearly a century. They are usually created when property owners petition local jurisdictions to form a LID to build much smaller projects that directly benefit them, such as fixing local roads or sewer pipes. Examples of recent LID-funded projects include Seattle’s South Lake Union Streetcar and Third Avenue bus tunnel project.

The Waterfront LID is different. Driven by the City of Seattle, rather than property owners, it is the largest LID proposed in state history.

A Dangerous Precedent

The waterfront LID establishes a terrible precedent for Seattle neighborhoods. If the City is successful in creating a LID to tax two percent of residents to fund improvements that will benefit a broader audience, Seattle could establish additional LIDs to pay for capital projects.

Let’s keep the city honest