Tug of war on Commercial Rent Control – SB5286

tug of war

I had not expected on a trip to the Capital Buildings in Olympia, to find them to be so beautiful, nor that I would tip- toe into a piece of history.

Olympia Capital bulidlings

The pillared entrance easily let you know you were under dressed. I straightened upright, and immeidately whispered as we walked through the high-ceiling-ed corridors.

Gentlemen on tall leather stools pointed this way and that, obediently steering us closer to the senators’ offices.

I had shied away from posters nailed against trees demanding “Rent Control Now!”. Today, I considered the impact of gentrification through no commercial rent control, on local, small, well loved businesses through SB 5286.

GentrificationCharming, character-filled, historic neighborhood icons, were being displaced by loud-signed, national chain retail stores without commercial rent control in place.

In the stately office of Senator Kuderer, I listened to how political forces control bills, such that some had no chance of being changed.

I found myself considering the alternatives, of either voting for, or against a bill to effect change.

Your opinion

California State’s Proposition 13 , impacted local commercial rent control inadvertently, as it controlled property tax hikes instead.

I remembered how influential leverage points within systems, can make critical changes, if acting at the right point.

systems Theory

I left the State Capital knowing that if I could understand all the pieces of how the legislative process works, I definitely could make a difference.  I just had to try, as the system was set up so that I could raise my voice. I too could do something extraordinary, I just had to try.

making a difference

Bossy Uncle Sam

It turns out people don’t like being told what to do. That, in a nutshell, is what I learned yesterday in Olympia.

tony homes

…Okay, that sounds worse than it is. Perhaps I should start from the beginning. House Bill 1085 is currently making its way through the 65th Legislature of the State of Washington. It’s known by some as the “Tiny Homes Bill,” others as the “Mother-in-law Bill,” and still others as the “Micro-housing Bill.” In reality, HB 1085 removes a state-mandated restriction upon the minimum required size of single-family residences. Great idea, right? Well, HB 1085 has hasn’t made it out of the House…in 4 years.

In the span of a ten minute discussion with Representative Brian Blake, Aberdeen Democrat and author of HB 1085, I learned more about the fickle intricacies of politics than any high school civics class could cover. Having served since 2002, Rep. Blake has authored bills, voted for and against them, and sat on dozens of committees to revise and re-write them. HB 1085, though, is a thorn in his side. Over the course of four years, he’s heard dozens of concerns from colleagues and constituents alike: the need for regulation to ensure healthy living conditions and structural integrity of tiny homes, the fear of promoting population growth in “already overpopulated” areas, the ownership of liability…this goes on. He’s faced resistance from large cities and rural counties alike, all with different concerns about removing the residential size restriction. What started as a bid to allow folks in rural Grays Harbor County build small homes on large lots has turned into a state-wide war over housing codes. But it has also taught us a lot. In 2014, Seattle representatives ensured the bill went nowhere because their constituents were worried about a tiny home free-for-all. In 2015, the bill was re-written to exclude major metropolitan areas, but that also missed the mark. The came Representative Blake’s revelation: leave police powers to the local authorities.shared-responsibilities

Where a local government is no longer restricted by binding state codes, they are
empowered to tailor regulation to their respective constituents. By authoring the bill to be permissive rather than binding – to eliminate the state mandate, without requiring localities to adjust their codes – we accomplish just that.

So, HB 1085. Do you like the idea of tiny homes? Think micro-housing is a solution to Seattle’s housing crisis? Call your representative about HB 1085. It’s still alive, and rallying support is the first step towards a very real solution.

Perhaps more importantly – want to sell someone on an idea? Make it their idea. Discuss the why’s. Address the concerns. Share the responsibility to find a solution. And ultimately, lead them to draw their own conclusions (– your conclusions). Responsibility is a powerful thing, but knowing when to abdicate it can be truly transformational.

Olympia, Representative Jessyn Farrell, and HB 1144

For my final project, I visited Olympia to meet with my district (46th) representative Jessyn Farrell, and to attend the legislative session that same afternoon. Being that Representative Farrell is actively involved with several environmental related bills, and is the Vice Chair of the Transportation Committee, I found several bills that she had either primarily or secondarily sponsored that piqued my interest, as well as related closely to class discussions. I ended up focusing on HB 1144, currently having undergone 2 substitutes, which focuses on greenhouse gas emission limits “for consistency with the most recent assessment of climate change science” and amending RCW 70.235.020. The amendments focus on to what degree the State of Washington will decrease its greenhouse gas emissions. RCW 70.235.020 currently reads that emissions will be reduced 25% of 1990 levels by the year 2035, and 50% below 1990 levels by 2050. The proposed amendments will increase those targets to 40% below 1990 levels by the year 2035, and 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. Further amendments require strict reporting of per capita greenhouse gas emissions and total greenhouse gas emissions as compared to other states. Further, the commerce “department shall survey the agencies of state government to determine each agency’s annual expenditures made during the biennium to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to support the achievement of the greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals identified in this section, as well as each agency’s annual reduction of greenhouse gases during the biennium, and shall include that information in its report, along with a tabulation of the cost per ton of greenhouse gas emissions reductions undertaken by each agency.” Lastly, the amendment would include that the Department of Natural Resources report on the amount of carbon dioxide released by forest fires, and to promote active fire prevention such as thinning and prescribed burning.

I was not so interested in changing the language of the bill, but was more interested in how Representative Farrell and the other sponsors concluded that those numbers should be changed so drastically. Has Washington been especially effective in mitigating greenhouse gas emissions that lawmakers now think we can set more aggressive goals? Or does the evolving climate science simply demand that we more dramatically diminish emissions?

Before heading to Olympia, I spoke several times with Nigel Herbig, Representative Farrell’s assistant, who was very helpful in coordinating my visit. He encouraged me to come on the 8th because the legislature would be in session, therefore allowing me some time to watch the proceedings, and that Representative Farrell would be available to come out and speak with me for a few minutes that afternoon. Mr. Herbig was very adamant, however, that he had “no idea” how the day would progress, what would be discussed on the floor, and if the Republicans “would be filibustering” all day.

I arrived around one o’clock in the afternoon on the 8th and was happy to find the legislature in session. The session was not all that entertaining, as I had no background on the bills being commented on, but could follow along (somewhat) by following proceedings online (which Nigel encouraged). After 45 minutes to an hour, I asked security if they would be kind enough to notify Representative Farrell that a constituent of hers was in attendance and that I would like to speak to her for a minute or two. I was surprised by how quickly she met my request, and I met with her for 3-5 minutes in the foyer. I introduced herself, and told her about my studies at the UW. I was then able to ask her opinion of HB 1144 and how she saw the amendments progressing, and whether she thought we could meet the thresholds outlined. Representative Farrell was extremely positive and optimistic about the changes, and although she felt Washington has been a thought leader in climate change, she maybe felt more strongly that the bill amendments were out of necessity, not simply because we were so far ahead of current goals. She emphasized the need for private industry to be more accountable, and for a more uniform way of accounting for, and reporting, climate impacts. The amendments are currently in House Committee and will need to be specifically funded through the appropriations act by June 30, otherwise the bill will be void.

Out of curiosity, I also quickly asked about the cell phone handling bill that passed the House the previous day, a bill for which Representative Farrell as a sponsor and vocal supporter. The bill prohibits any handling of cell phones in cars, which Representative Farrell felt was an extremely urgent issue, and could go a long way in preventing fatal and non-fatal auto accidents across the state. A similar bill passed the Senate, so a joint bill must be agreed upon and passed before being enacted possibly late this year or early next year.

After my meeting, I took in another 30 minutes or so of the session before making my way back to Green Lake. Through this experience, I learned more about the legislative process than I originally thought I might. I knew it was no easy task to pass a bill, but after understanding more about the sponsors, substitutes, amendments, committees, votes, etc. I’m surprised anything can get passed through. Regarding the bill HB 1144, I was not too surprised to hear Representative Farrell’s responses about the need to limit our climate impact. I did, however, find it fascinating that her emphasis on accounting and reporting of emissions was directly in line with our class discussion on frameworks and systems of measurement. Without a unified way to report emissions, types of emissions, sources and costs of emissions, it makes it exceedingly difficult to come up with a plan to reduce them. So to me, in many cases it seems, there may be more of a problem in holding people to account for their emissions more so than getting emissions reduced.

Overall, I came away excited and motivated by my trip to Olympia, and maybe more motivated by the willingness of my Representative to take a few minutes out of her jam-packed day to meet with me. Given the relative ease of the experience, I won’t hesitate to contact my lawmakers in the future, and if they are all as receptive as Representative Farrell, it is not out of reason to think my input could make a difference in the outcomes of future bills.

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Strengthening Washington’s Families

My interest in meeting with my legislators was focused on paid family leave. When I think about the issues facing the State of Washington and downtown Seattle in particular, paid family leave for the birth or placement of a child is central. It relates to the Urban Growth Boundary and desire to focus growth in urban areas, the housing affordability crisis, and the State’s mandate to fully fund public education. As a state, we are trying to focus our growth in urban areas, which are becoming increasingly unaffordable. These areas also typically do not have the best educational options, when compared with suburban areas.

At a time when these issues are permeating our political discussions, our nation is lagging behind most other countries in the provision of paid family leave for both parents. When young families are facing all of the difficulties listed above, how can we ask them start families without providing them the support that they should have? It places our families at a disadvantage from the beginning.

These are the issues that I raised with my Senator, Jamie Pedersen, and Representative, Nicole Macri. I was unable to meet with either of them, but emailed with both of their assistants and met with Senator Pedersen’s Legislative Assistant, Eleanor Comyns, in Olympia.

There are competing bills to address this issue moving through the legislature right now in Washington. Republican Senate Bill 5149 does little to help. It requires individuals to fund their own leave, so on its face it provides a solution, but realistically it does nothing. SB 5032 and its counterpart HB 1116 go further to help working families, but they both still fall short. None of these bills will likely go any further this year, but Senator Pedersen hopes to move his co-sponsored bill through the Legislature next year.

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My Day in Olympia- Final Project

For the final project for this class I decided to schedule a meeting with a representative and go over a bill that I found particularly interesting, HB 1234. This bill is nicknamed “12 months of contraceptives” and is attempting to get the private insurance sector up to speed with the federal and state insurance agencies. I’ll go more into detail about this bill later on, but first I’d like to talk about my experience scheduling a meeting and getting to Olympia.

After hearing some of the problems my classmates were having with scheduling a meeting, I was pessimistic about what my own experience would be like. I reached out to the assistant of Representative June Robinson, hoping to get an email back. Within 24 hours I had a response from a friendly and helpful woman by the name of Courtney Smith. Courtney promptly responded to each of my emails and was very accommodating. In this aspect, I believe I was much luckier than some of my other classmates.

My meeting was scheduled for Friday, March 10th , at 3:15 pm in room 332 in the John L. O’Brien building (Representative Robinsons office). After speaking with a variety of people, I decided that leaving the UW campus at 1:30 would leave me plenty of time to get down to Olympia. Unfortunately, due to an accident on the freeway, I did not arrive in Olympia until 4:30. When I realized I would not get there in time for my meeting, I called Courtney and explained my situation. Representative Robinson and Courtney were extremely understanding and helpful. I arrived in Olympia at 4:30, and was able to have a brief meeting with Representative Robinson (about 15 minutes) before she had to leave to get to another meeting. At this time, Courtney and I had a meeting to go over the bill in depth.

As previously stated, the main objective of HB 1234 is to get private insurance agencies to offer some of the same benefits as state and federal insurance agencies. Currently, state and federal insurance agencies are required to offer their enrollees 12 months of contraceptives all at once, whereas the private insurance agencies are only required to provide their enrollees with one month of contraceptives at a time. This means that women are required to go to the pharmacy every month (though some insurance agencies offer three months at one time) in order to fill their prescription. Studies show that when women have access to their whole years worth of contraceptives, unintentional pregnancies are much lower than if they are required to fill their prescription each month.

The main objections to this bill come from the private insurance agencies. Providing 12 months of contraceptives all at once is a large lump sum. My suggestion to improve the bill, and to increase its probability of getting passed, was to allow for a transitional period of 1 year for the insurance agencies to make the switch. During this transition period, the insurance agencies would only be required to provide their enrollees with six months of contraceptives at once, as opposed to all 12 months. After this period they would be required to provide the full 12 months, as the bill currently states. Courtney recognized this suggestion as a good idea, however because the bill was recently passed out of the House and into the Senate, there will be no further changes to this bill unless it does not get passed this year.

Overall, my experience in Olympia was pleasant and informative. If there’s ever a bill in the future that I feel strongly about, I won’t hesitate to go speak with someone about it!

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A memorable experience: our first visit to the Washington State Capitol in Olympia

On March 3rd, I drove to Olympia with Sharon and Si to attend a public hearing in Washington State Capitol. Fortunately, we also got a chance to talk to assistants of representatives about the bills that we heard during the public hearing. I must say this was an impressive and amazing experience, everything seemed so fresh to us and we’ve learned a lot during the “trip”.

 

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To attend the hearing (which began at 8am) on time, we got up at 5:30am and departed to Olympia at 6:00am. Even though it was super early, there were lots of traffic on I-5. On our way to Olympia, we were excited but also nervous since this was our first time to “participate” in legislative process. We arrived at Washington State Capitol at around 7:30am. When we first arrived there, we couldn’t find the parking lot and hearing room so we asked a staff for help, then we experienced how the staffs welcome the public to know about the place and the legislative process. They were all very friendly and helpful, which gave us a great first expression of the place. By the way, I was so excited since I’ve learn these legislature buildings in another class and I got the chance to see them, it felt amazing that different classes have such connection.

 

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Before the public hearing began

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The public hearing began at 8:00am in first floor of John L. O’Brien Building. There were not many people but these people seemed so familiar with each other, we supposed they may follow these bills since the very beginning.  There were six bills which had been discussed and decided by ballot in that hearing. The HB 1797 and HB 1913 were two bills that I’m most interested in. HB 1797 concerning encouraging affordable housing development and preservation by providing cities limited sales tax remittance for qualifying investments, providing cities and counties authority to use real estate excise taxes to support affordable housing, and providing cities and counties with council manic authority to impose the affordable housing sales tax. After 20 minutes discussion, this bill finally got 9 ayes, 4 nays and 0 excuses. HB 1913 concerning creating a leasehold excise tax exemption for certain leasehold interests in facilities owned or used by schools, colleges, or universities. During the hearing, representatives pointed out that this is a serious and useful bill to promote the development of education system; they also emphasized that this bill should only focus on higher education level such as university and colleges since they played crucial role in our society. The bill was adapted.

 

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The hearing was efficient so it did not take us long time. Since we still had many time left, we started to seek if there was other hearing. We asked the staff who helped us at the beginning and he told us there would be a Caucus debate in Capitol building which began at 9am. We went to the House Gallery on the 4th floor of the building and joined the morning pray. After that, all the representatives left and started their caucus which took more than an hour. During the break, we considered that we may had chance to talk to the representatives or at least their assistants. So we decided to talk to three different people: Si and Sharon talked to the assistants of two representatives of 43rd district. The senator and his assistant of 43rd district was in a meeting so I decided talked to Megan Walsh, the assistant of the representative of 49th district since her desk was next to Curtis Knapp, legislative assistant to representative Nicole Macri, 43rd district and she would like to have a short conversation with me. I told her that I’m interested in the bill- HB 1797 and I appreciated that their effort and decision; the effort on affordable housing is at least moving toward a right direction. I also suggested that adjusting building codes and allowing developer to promote higher density community can be other useful methods for creating more affordable housing. Though Sharon Wylie, the representative of 49th district is more focus on transportation system and public health, her assistant Megan told me they still appreciated that we came all the way down to Olympia and shared our supports to them. She also wrote down my name, the number of the bill that I mentioned and my short suggestion. I don’t know if they would consider my suggestion, I was still very happy that I got a chance to express my idea.

 

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During the debate

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After the short conversation, we went back to the House Gallery and listened the debate. The bills that they talked about that day were more about public housing such as the control of the use of Marijuana and other medicine. It was such a fascinating experience that watching representatives debate and voted. The whole process was transparent and I could clearly know who supported or objected the bills.

 

Overall this was a memorable experience and I really appreciated that I could have a chance to visit the Washington state capitol buildings and “participated” in these serious but interesting process.

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Further info:

HB 1913 http://app.leg.wa.gov/billsummary?BillNumber=1913&Year=2017

HB 1797 http://app.leg.wa.gov/billsummary?BillNumber=1797&Year=2017

A Journey to the State Capitol

Hello? Is anyone home?

At first, I thought that it would be easy to schedule a meeting with my state legislative representative. After all, I am one of their constituents and don’t they have an obligation to listen to voting members of their district? Perhaps this is an incorrect assumption, but I’m guessing my neighbors, their constituents, are not knocking down their doors to discuss State legislation. But I could be wrong.

I live in District 37 represented by Senator Rebecca Saldana and Representatives Eric Pettigrew and Sharon Tomiko Santos. After 8 email meeting request and a voicemail over the course of a month, I heard nothing. Maybe none of them wanted to discuss House Bill 1536. Maybe none of them wanted to talk about creating an economically diverse neighborhood by preserving affordable housing stock in existing buildings. Maybe none of them wanted to talk about how to incentivize private apartment owners to set-aside 25% of their building for low-income tenants (at 50% and 60% of Area Median Income). I will never know.

But all was not lost. Although I was not able to get an in person meeting, I did see Representative Sharon Tomiko Santos at the Education Committee Hearing in House Hearing Room A in the John L. O’Brien Building in Olympia, WA. As chair of the Education Committee, Representative Santos was presiding over a hearing on House Bill 1705.

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Representative Sharon Tomiko Santos presides over the Education Committee Hearing in House Hearing Room A in the John L. O’Brien Building.

Representative Kirby, the house bill’s prime sponsor made a few remarks to start the discussion. In a half-joking manner he said that the bill would fix public education once and for all and that the bill was more important because it had a higher number (than another bill on the same agenda). He mentioned, anecdotally, that he spent time with kids and parents in charter schools last year and that the parents were happy with charter school. He said that over the last couple of decades there have been more laws put into place in an effort to make schools better, but he alluded to the fact that this may have the opposite outcome. Charter schools are exempt from, according to him, “almost everything”. The bill he sponsored would allow public schools to be flexible by opting into a program – thus the bill’s title, to authorize flexibility schools and flexibility zones.

Before the bill hearing, there was a working session to first understand, what is a flexibility school?

The Education Committed was presented information about non-traditional education programs in Washington Public School System. These programs include STEM Lighthouse Schools, dual credit programs (Advance Placement, Running Start, etc.), the Highly Capable Program at the University of Washington, among others. The committee members were all given time to question the presenter and to ask for follow up information. Just behind me in the audience, there was a young, African-American teenager that was raising his hand to speak. The Committee Chair called him to the stand to speak.

Eldridge is a senior at Big Picture High School, an Alternative School, in Burien. He spoke very eloquently about the close teacher/advisor relationship with each student, the ability to learn through exploring your own interests, career exploration through outside internship, and a competency-based evaluation system rather than grades/credits. Two other students in the audience joined Eldridge. The Committee was then questioning all three students about their experience at Big Picture High School. The questions including:

  • How does a competency based evaluation program work?
  • How do you get to school?
  • Who determines competency?
  • Why did you choose to go to an alternative school rather than a traditional school?
  • What role did your parents play in making that choice?

The Committee was enamored with these students.   At one point, Committee Chair Santos had to do a time check move on with the agenda.

I’m fairly certain that those students did not take the day off of school to travel from Burien to Olympia to share their story in front of the House Education Committee on their own. At the committee hearing, I witness the power of a strong testimonial. The student’s testimonials eclipsed, by far, the Power Point presentation with bullet points and data. Testimonials have a place in our lawmaking process, but should they become more important than results and data? In a public forum, which is our legislative process, it is much more compelling to tell a story, than to present a data table. Welcome to the legislative process.