PSRC seeking public comment on scope for region’s 2050 growth plan

VISION 2050 Scoping comment through March 19

PSRC is seeking public input on the scope for the VISION 2050 plan and State Environmental Policy Act environmental analysis. The public comment period will run from Friday, February 2, 2018, through Monday, March 19, 2018 at 5 pm. The scoping notice is available online. An ADA reader-accessible version of the scoping notice is available here.

The region is preparing for growth in the coming decades — about 1.8 million more people and 1.2 million more jobs by 2050. VISION 2050 will build on the region’s existing plan to keep the central Puget Sound region healthy and vibrant as it grows and will consider updated information and perspectives about a changing region. The plan will identify the challenges the region should tackle together and renew the vision for the next 30 years.

VISION helps to coordinate the local growth and transportation plans developed by cities and counties to make sure they are consistent with the Growth Management Act and regional transportation plans. It is an integrated, long-range vision for the future that lays out a strategy for maintaining a healthy region - promoting the well-being of people and communities, economic vitality, and a healthy environment.

PSRC is seeking community input to shape the plan. What important regional issues should be the focus of the update?  How should the region’s growth strategy be updated to plan for 2050?  What impacts and actions should be evaluated through environmental review?

In addition to seeking written comments, PSRC will hold listening sessions in King, Pierce, Snohomish, and Kitsap counties to hear more input on the plan update from jurisdictions, agencies, and the community:

  • February 13, 3-5 pm at the Union Station Ruth Fisher Board Room, 401 South Jackson Street, Seattle
  • February 20, 3-5 pm at the Fife Community Center, 2111 54th Avenue East, Fife
  • February 22, 3-5 pm at Lynnwood City Hall, 19100 44th Avenue West, Lynnwood
  • February 27, 3-5 pm at the Norm Dicks Government Center, 345 6th Street, Bremerton

PSRC’s Growth Management Policy Board will review comments submitted and is expected to adopt a project scope in spring 2018.

More information is available on the project website: https://www.psrc.org/vision

How to Comment:
SEPA Responsible Official: Erika Harris, AICP, Senior Planner
E-mail: VISION2050@psrc.org
U.S. Mail: ATTN: VISION 2050 Comment, 1011 Western Avenue, Suite 500, Seattle, WA 98104
In Person: VISION 2050 Listening Session (more information) and March 1, 2018 at PSRC’s Growth Management Policy Board meeting, 10 am
Fax: ATTN: VISION 2050 Comment, 206-587-4825

Comments

Thank you for the opportunity to provide feedback, comments and questions on the VISION 2050 scoping notice.

The scoping notice states that cities are thriving. This is not completely true. This notion is founded in cognitive biases based on the premise that “what you see is all there is.” The current conditions found within the “Seattle/King County purview” does not exist uniformly across the Puget Sound area. Rather, there is an immense deal of variability throughout PSRC member jurisdictions. This variability has historically not been well-incorporated into PSRC’s assessment and decision making structure. In past two decades, the greater Puget Sound area has witnessed increased polarization and socio-spatial inequity. This has, in turn, produced an unprecedented level of uneven development in our area. Simply, there are increasing pockets of “haves” and “have nots” throughout the Puget Sound. This uneven development, coupled with the continued retrenchment of centralized national and state programs, places cities in an extreme bind. Cities are increasingly faced with new fiscal constraints due to the downward re-scaling of social welfare programs by the federal and state government. As a result, most communities and cities as municipal organizations are struggling with a number of issues, including: negligible revenue growth; unfunded mandates from the state and federal government; and, increasing responsibility for what should be multiscalar responses to crises such as homelessness, mental health, and opioid addictions. From a regional standpoint, we are not doing a good job in protecting and preserving our environment, natural areas & open spaces, and farmlands. As part of the VISION 2050 process, will there be any outreach to learn of the current challenges and struggles facing in particular counties, cities and towns that are PSRC members?

As currently presented, VISION 2050 is intended to “build on the region’s existing plan,” and under the SEPA review process, VISION 2050 is technically an update to VISION 2040. However, there are problems in Puget Sound urban areas related to transportation, natural environment, economic geographic diversity and equity, housing affordability, and housing proximity to jobs that have been exacerbated by and even resulted from planning policies included within, and resulting funding decisions due to, VISION 2040. One of the alternatives to be reviewed under SEPA and as part of PSRC’s serious consideration must be a regional planning “reboot.” Instead of assuming the regional growth strategy is a success and should be simply extended another decade, current transportation, housing, and economic development conditions should be used as a new baseline for planning into the future. Existing infrastructure and economic viability deficiencies across the region must be addressed before future capacity can be assumed and funded in specific “success areas.” The philosophy that economic growth and transportation funding should be concentrated into certain geographic areas (i.e., Regional or Metro Centers) needs to be questioned, and the opportunity to relieve transportation congestion and housing accessibility shortfalls by expanding investment in smaller jurisdictions and areas should be included in VISION 2050.

VISION 2050 should include policies focused on helping current residents and communities versus the projected 1.8 million yet to arrive. Likewise, VISION 2050 should include policies to govern, slow or stop growth until existing infrastructure deficits are eliminated. Other states do this, why not us? Why is this conversation not taking place?

A key principle of the Growth Management Act (GMA) is that growth is to be managed and infrastructure is to be developed that supports that growth. We are not keeping up with current growth in the Puget Sound. PSRC and the VISION 2050 project should first and foremost address existing infrastructure needs followed by current growth issues; only then should policies, strategies, and funding processes focus on accommodating another 1.8 million people.

As presented, VISION 2050’s scope does not address its members’ existing infrastructure capacity requirements. Vision 2050 must incorporate policies that address filling regional - and local - current infrastructure system gaps (i.e., water, sewer, storm water, roads, schools, public safety, public transit, etc.) while protecting and preserving our area’s natural resources. For instance, the City of Lakewood continues to deal with significant deferred capital infrastructure needs after incorporating just over 20 years ago, pursuant to GMA policies. Less than 20% of Lakewood’s roads have sidewalks, and even less than that have bike lanes. Regionally, there exists $2 billion in storm water culvert replacement needs, the costs of the Puget Sound Imitative, and additional billions in road and transit capacity deficits.

The scoping notice states that between 2010 and 2017, 375,000 people have been added to the region, at a rate of roughly 53,600 annually. Yet, between 2020 and 2050, VISION 2050 estimates a population increase of 1.8 million, or 60,000 annually, a yearly increase of 12%. What are the underlying assumptions that substantiates this model in which the area is experiencing this level of growth. Given all the challenges we have today, where specifically by county, city, and neighborhood will they reside? What happens to the people living in this area currently? Where will this unsustainable growth go? For Lakewood, our adopted population estimate is 72,000 and could perhaps be lowered given that our community includes an air corridor zone vital to ensuring the national security of our nation coupled with humanitarian and disaster relief efforts nationally and internationally. Our analysis shows our population growing to perhaps no more than 66,000 to 68,000. How do conditions unique to cities and communities, like this, factor in with 1.8 million new people in our region?

The scoping notice states that between 2000 and 2017, 290,000 jobs have been added to our economy, or at an average of 17,000 per year, most along the I-5 corridor. VISION 2050 projects that 1.2 million jobs will be added between 2020 and 2050, or 40,000 per year, more than double the current annual rate. How is that possible; what are the underlying assumptions for this huge and sustained economic growth, and in what industries is the growth anticipated? Where specifically, by county, city and neighborhood will the jobs be located? How are the decisions PSRC is making today going to affect the distribution of jobs and what are the underlying implications for cities within the Puget Sound area? Do these decisions continue the on-going socio-spatial inequity and uneven development of the area?

Considering VISION 2050’s scoping population and job growth estimates together, how does a population increase of 60,000 annually translate into 40,000 new jobs annually between 2020 and 2050?

What policies are being contemplated to ensure adequate affordable & low income housing can be provided within all member agencies? For example, with the exception of the very wealthy, Seattle and many parts of King County are not affordable to the “middle class” and are inaccessible to low and lower income families almost completely. Yet, how do we ensure the protection and preservation of our single-family neighborhoods? What social justice policies are needed to ensure affordable housing is part of the equation in our major metro areas such as downtown Seattle and the eastside?

The reasons the region has a housing problem is because of: 1) escalating rents and home prices; 2) escalating construction costs; 3) existing regulatory barriers; 4) lack of available land, in part, as a result of this region’s geography; 5) the ‘not in my backyard’ mentality is alive and well in the Puget Sound; 6) limited public funding for affordable housing; and 7) development capacity because the basic infrastructure is inadequate or does not exist. The following is an example of a situation that happened in Berkeley, California, in which a mixed-use project was developed exemplifying many of these points. Trader Joe’s located in the downtown near the UC campus on a one-acre lot. The property was acquired in 2002 and was not ready for occupancy until June 2010; eight years later. Project was controversial from the very beginning. Issues were with traffic, lack of adequate parking, vehicle deliveries, and low-priced alcohol sales. The grocery part of the business is on the first floor with 4,000 square feet retail. No building setbacks of any kind. Above the grocery are four stories with 148 apartments. Twenty-two of the apartments (15%) have been set aside for lower-income persons. One-bedroom rent is $2,800; two-bedroom rent is $3,300. As of January 2018, one bedroom apartments in Seattle rent for $1,964 a month on average, and two bedroom apartment rents average $2,684. There are a total 116 underground parking spaces and that’s for the tenants and the grocery store. To this day, parking remains a controversial issue, and has been a regular topic of discussion; seven years after the project was completed. The point is, that it is easy to talk about mixed-use development and the promotion of higher densities. However, it is much more difficult at the local level, particularly in most areas of the Puget Sound to make it work so that it is successful. In the Berkeley case, they placed ‘too much stuff’ on a one-acre lot, and in the process, alienated the entire neighborhood. At the macro-level, with 1.8 million people proposed to reside in the Seattle-Tacoma Metro area, how is it possible that the quality of life will remain the same or improve? More likely, the quality of life will continue to deteriorate, and specifically, available housing will be limited and pricey.

What policies are needed to ensure there is a balance of housing and jobs across each county, city and neighborhood? Policies promulgated by PSRC over the past twenty years have not engendered equitable development across the board. Why is it that current policies have created the “haves” such as exists in Seattle and the “have-nots” such as exist in some of the poorest neighborhoods in Lakewood and other parts of Pierce County? What will be included within VISION 2050 to address this intensifying polarization of disparate economic conditions? Geographic equity in economic development is contemplated in the recently updated Regional Economic Strategy; this concept must be incorporated into VISION 2050 as well.

Our position on housing is that PSRC should not be involved; this is a local matter best handled at the neighborhood level. This allows PSRC membership to focus on allocating federal funding coupled with coordinating local land use policies.

Lakewood, along with the majority of other member cities, needs financial assistance to address current needs before we can even think about growing as assumed in PSRC’s Macroeconomic Forecast, Land Use Vision, VISION 2040 and VISION 2050’s preliminary scope. The state Office of Financial Management’s population allocations predict continued net migration and birthrates increasing Washington’s population. PSRC should be functioning as a regional body helping local governments meet baseline service levels for existing communities before these 1.8 million additional people arrive and put further strain on local governments and the natural and built environment.

Has PSRC asked its membership how much funding is needed to address current infrastructure needs just to address today’s population and jobs? Has PSRC evaluated how federal transportation funds can be more effectively and equitably directed to communities to address the basics? How about allocating federal transportation funds (Transportation Equalization) to ensure all communities are on equal footing and that we all have an equal opportunity to make the needed improvements to our respective community?

GMA was adopted to ensure the quality of our life for our region. How does VISION 2050 assist local government in meeting this legal mandate and by doing so, ensure improved quality of life for our residents?

We appreciated the opportunity to attend a two hour listening session in Fife on Tuesday. There are almost 60,000 residents and over 4,300 businesses in Lakewood and almost 900,000 residents in Pierce County, what other types of community outreach will there be to allow the public to participate in providing the same feedback and input into VISION 2050’s scope? Are listening sessions scheduled at member Planning Commission meetings, member City Council meetings, the myriad of service clubs that exist in our region, schools, business organizations, home owner associations, etc.? What role will social media play in obtaining feedback and comments? Will there be an online survey to obtain feedback and input? If so, how is that being rolled out? Has there been outreach and coordination with member communication teams? Are listening sessions scheduled in each community, or perhaps localized area meetings throughout PSRC’s geographies, such as Lakewood, Steilacoom, DuPont and University Place? How about communities outside the main I-5 corridor, like Eatonville and Roy, what steps are being taken to obtain their feedback and input?

Thank you for your comments. We'll follow up with you directly to answer your questions. 

"The philosophy that economic growth and transportation funding should be concentrated into certain geographic areas (i.e., Regional or Metro Centers) needs to be questioned, and the opportunity to relieve transportation congestion and housing accessibility shortfalls by expanding investment in smaller jurisdictions and areas should be included in VISION 2050."

John, I understand your concern for the members of your community, however, respectfully, I believe this is the incorrect mentality to approach regional planning to the scale that the Puget Sound region is slated to grow. We're not talking about what we "want" to happen. I'd prefer it if the PNW could be frozen in a drop of amber today as well, but that simply will not occur. We've got to roll with the punches, and it's the broad consensus across the planning community that building densely near transit works. It allows more people to remain mobile without continuing to burden our beleaguered automobile infrastructure, and live healthier/happier lives to boot. I'm sorry Lakewood isn't able to get the funding it needs, and I frankly wish you the best of luck, but we've got to face facts here. We're not talking about haves/have nots, but rather just good planning.

PSRC should stay the course. There are a set of sustainable planning paradigms that need to be followed if we're going to whether this storm and maintain and improve the quality of life for all those who live in the Puget Sound Region. That includes building fewer highways, more high capacity transit, and more high rise housing near that transit. In fact, I would encourage PSRC to play a bigger role in these discussions. Public transit and land use are not stand alone subjects; they build off of each other. Conditioning PSRC dollars on good land use could make a lot of sense, and should at least be considered. We need strong regional leadership currently that is not swayed by local opposition if we are to address regional problems. John spoke of a development in Berkeley, and I think that's a great example of a project that needed far less local control. Local NIMBY interests reducing the scope of Transit Oriented Development and raising the number of parking stalls is exactly the opposite of what we need here in the Puget Sound Region at this moment.

Light rail to Lynnwood is planned for N/S bound commuters, however accessibility points along E/W roads are overly congested and unfriendly for commuters in Lynnwood due to commuters who also travel from areas in Bothell. I believe adding a Park and ride, (and grocery store) between Bothell-Everett Hwy and the East side of 196th, along with a tram that goes from one end of 196th by EdCC to the other East end of 196th by a possible Park and ride would allow commuters to avoid driving into Lynnwood station, limiting E/W bound congestion. I also believe planning should consider passing ordinances on aesthetics for new buildings in suburban cities which include greater green belts, fewer high-rises, and architecture that reflects a cohesive cultural element in a city, such as Downtown Edmonds and Mill Creek City planning does.

Thank you for your comments. They will be included with the rest of the public comments received on the Scoping Notice. 

Anything you could do to make sure dense development happens near urban/transit cores (i.e. around Link Light Rail stops, streetcars, bus rapid transit lines) would be appreciated. Dense development in cities + no-build "greenbelt" zones outside of cities in the Puget Sound area will preserve our wonderful PNW nature.

Thank you for your comments. We'll include them in the public comments on the VISION 2050 scoping notice. 

PSRC’s Vision 2050 Plan is being developed at a time of immense and urgent challenges for our region. We are in the midst of the sixth mass extinction on the planet, largely caused by human activity, and our human impacts are legion: the “blob” of warm water off the coast of Washington last summer, increasing flood risk, rampant wildfires threatening wildlife and communities. The list goes on. The extent to which we are able to respond to those challenges in the future will be shaped by the actions we take today. Now is the time to courageously face these challenges and define a bold new trajectory for our region, one that builds resilience and creates hope. The alternative is bleak.

As the pace of ecological, social, and technological change accelerates, the past is a less and less reliable guide for understanding and shaping the future. Ecological disruption in particular, of which climate change is the most pressing symptom, has reached a tipping point. If we are to be successful, our 21st-Century vision cannot be bound by a 20th-Century mindset.

The list of challenges we can anticipate if current trends continue is a long one. Technologically, robots and artificial intelligence are doing more of the work once done by humans; as our gadgets and infrastructure are increasingly networked, our vulnerability to hackers and terrorists increases; and as technology increasingly intermediates our interactions with the real world, our social and ecological relationships suffer. Socially, the risk of social and political unrest is increasing as wealth inequality stifles the economy and social mobility; and our food system will become less reliable as the climate becomes less predictable. Ecologically, our impacts on the ocean and Puget Sound are decimating coral reefs, salmon habitat, and shellfish. Carbon outputs resulting in climate change are increasing extreme weather events, forest fires, and other natural disasters.

The Vision 2050 Plan should acknowledge in clear terms the gravity of the challenges we are facing. Without a clear-eyed assessment of what we are facing, we will not be able to grapple head-on with the challenges and the opportunities they present.

Given the stark nature of these challenges, what are the opportunities? The big opportunity is to envision a different trajectory for our future, based on decisions we can make today. Our children’s survival and well-being depends on it. For example, we can prioritize the communities and natural systems in our region. Regenerating our forests and streams is critical, but there is also an opportunity to creatively expand nature into our buildings and urban areas. If now is not the time to begin regenerating the natural systems and ecological diversity of our region, when is?

There are many opportunities to regenerate our communities, including redefining work to encourage more time with our families and friends and greater involvement in community. Working less is probably the best way to reduce our ecological impacts and increase our sense of well-being, particularly as robots do more of the work. We can also expand our definition of community wealth to value the things that really matter to us as individuals, families, and communities. A focus on civics at the city level could breathe new life into civic affairs. This new civic energy should have a far-reaching focus on social equity and inclusion, ensuring that the wealth of diversity in our communities is tapped for energy and ideas. At the same time, increasing wealth and income equity has to be a priority. The massive and growing gap between the haves and have nots cannot end well if the trend continues unabated. There are multiple ways to increase equity, including through reform of our regressive tax structure, more worker ownership of enterprises, greater access to affordable housing, and a diverse ecosystem of local businesses. Tackling structural and institutional racism at the same time is vital. It is a festering wound in our body politic.

The future is coming, whether we choose it or not. The PSRC Vision 2050 Plan cannot change everything, but it can provide a bold vision for the future that sets a new trajectory based on the challenges and opportunities we face in this third millennium. Let’s choose a future where we work together to make this place better than when we found it and in the process become more resilient to whatever comes next.