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Businesses Technology

In Midst of a Tech Boom, Seattle Tries To Keep Its Soul 394

HughPickens.com writes: Nick Wingfield has an interesting article in the NYT about how Seattle, Austin, Boulder, Portland, and other tech hubs around the country are seeking not to emulate San Francisco where wealth has created a widely envied economy, but housing costs have skyrocketed, and the region's economic divisions have deepened with rent for a one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco at more than $3,500 a month, the highest in the country. "Seattle has wanted to be San Francisco for so long," says Knute Berger. "Now it's figuring out maybe that it isn't what we want to be." The core of the debate is over affordable housing and the worry that San Francisco is losing artists, teachers and its once-vibrant counterculture. "It's not that we don't want to be a thriving tech center — we do," says Alan Durning. "It's that the San Francisco and Silicon Valley communities have gotten themselves into a trap where preservationists and local politics have basically guaranteed buying a house will cost at least $1 million. Already in Seattle, it costs half-a-million, so we're well on our way."

Seattle mayor Ed Murray says he wants to keep the working-class roots of Seattle, a city with a major port, fishing fleet and even a steel mill. After taking office last year, Murray made the minimum-wage increase a priority, reassured representatives of the city's manufacturing and maritime industries that Seattle needed them., and has set a goal of creating 50,000 homes — 40 percent of them affordable for low-income residents — over the next decade. "We can hopefully create enough affordable housing so we don't find ourselves as skewed by who lives in the city as San Francisco is," says Murray. "We're at a crossroads," says Roger Valdez. "One path leads to San Francisco, where you have an incredibly regulated and stagnant housing economy that can't keep up with demand. The other path is something different, the Seattle way."
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In Midst of a Tech Boom, Seattle Tries To Keep Its Soul

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  • by alvinrod ( 889928 ) on Thursday October 08, 2015 @04:15PM (#50688735)
    What Seattle really needs is better mass transit. The bus system is decent as far as U.S. cities go, but the traffic is some of the worst in the nation. If they're going to continue growing the metro area, they need some kind of mass transit that makes it possible to get around without adding even more cars to the highway.
    • by b0bby ( 201198 )

      And if they put their new housing development near the transit, so much the better. It seems to me, as an East Coast observer, that San Francisco's high prices are due to physical limitations (like Manhattan lite) and rules against new development. If there are 100,000 homes, and 150,000 households wanting to live in them, you are going to have high prices. It should be possible for Seattle to avoid that.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Hadlock ( 143607 )

        I've been looking in to this lately. Apparently in the late 70s early 80s they passed a law that says property taxes can only increase at a MAX of 2% per year. Inflation is 4% per year so over 10 years your effective taxes drop by HALF. This means you can't pay for infrastructure improvements as density increases, and there's no incentive for people to sell, which means there's no property to develop in to higher density residential stuff... if you can even get the local city council to approve such a proje

        • This was on top of 15 years of ridiculous increases. In the early 2000s my house went up $500 a year. When I moved out after 10 years, the last two of which had a similar 2% max, the taxes had gone from $4200 to $7800.

          Greedy politicians can suck it. Taxes are not even yet down to where they should be. Politicans ripped off citizens for years for amounts tied to house prices AKA housing bubble inflation rather than general inflation.

        • by fche ( 36607 )

          "This means [government] can't pay for infrastructure improvements as density increases"

          Perhaps there is a market for a privately funded transit system then.

          • by imgod2u ( 812837 )

            Privately funded transit systems always have the problem that their most needed resource -- land tracks to build rail/road/etc. -- is a public resource and require a functional government to grant them right-of-access. Something local multi-millionaires, NIMBY suburbanites and just about everyone has a vested interest in stopping.

            It's the most classic example of "I got mine, so screw you" attitude there is; despite all the BS about altruism and "making the world a better place" that Silicon Valley seems to

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by bobbied ( 2522392 )
          Which is why Cali is loosing businesses in droves... They are moving out of the tax obsessed high rent areas into places like Texas, where the likes of Toyota has moved it's corporate headquarters and other businesses are shifting their staffing. It's happening in Illinois, New York, Massachusetts and many of the traditionally blue areas of the country, business is leaving and heading to states with low tax burdens and low cost of living.
          • Property taxes and housing prices in those "low tax" states are increasing at a pretty good clip. I see it happening around the Triangle region of NC. People move in and want services, so the taxes just keep on going up. Lack of mass transit and low density development leads to housing shortages near job centers and people are commuting from further and further out.
        • There's more jobs than housing

          Because companies like Google, Facebook, etc., insist on locating themselves in an area that can't accommodate the 100,000 employees they've hired.

        • by Lakitu ( 136170 )

          I've been looking in to this lately. Apparently in the late 70s early 80s they passed a law that says property taxes can only increase at a MAX of 2% per year. Inflation is 4% per year so over 10 years your effective taxes drop by HALF.

          dude, what? Property tax is a rate, and unless it's legislatively prescribed that the rate is lowered every year (so as not to increase the dollar total which was paid by more than 2%), then your post is all kinds of wrong.

          If the property values stayed exactly the same in nominal terms, then they're actually losing real value because of inflation, and are therefore being taxed less.

    • I came to say this same thing. Seattle growth is somewhat constrained by geography. Lake Washington, Lake Union, and Elliot Bay make it difficult to just "build out." Those same features, combined with a bunch of hills, make also make it difficult to get in and out. I commute to Downtown Seattle via bus on a regular basis. Since the carpool lanes are full the bus frequently doesn't move any faster than the rest of the traffic. It's not unheard of for the bus to take 90 minutes to cover the 20 miles of

    • by LynnwoodRooster ( 966895 ) on Thursday October 08, 2015 @04:44PM (#50689001) Journal
      Putting "light rail" at-grade wasn't a very smart move. Neither is using rail in a city with grades that cannot be climbed by rail. Bus Rapid Transit with dedicated lanes would have been the smart move: lower cost, faster to roll out, and when the next big one hits (and it will) you can route buses around damaged lines - not so easy to do with tunnels hundreds of feet underground. But Seattle wanted to be a "world class city" and were blinded by rail (to the tune of nearly $200,000,000 per mile).
      • > LynnwoodRooster

        Howdy, neighbor!

        • ;) Born and raised in Ballard. Then moved to Lynnwood. Then moved to Edmonds. Now down to Ventura, CA - I like the sun and the warmth... :)
          • ;) Born and raised in Ballard. Then moved to Lynnwood. Then moved to Edmonds. Now down to Ventura, CA - I like the sun and the warmth... :)

            Born and raised in DC. Then moved to Renton. Then moved to Bothell. In a few years we're emigrating to Phnom Penh. If you like sun and the warmth, there's plenty of it there, lol. :)

            Cheers

      • Light rail is ALWAYS expensive no matter how you do it, doubly true if you choose to bury it. It will NEVER be financially viable and will suck the tax payer dry trying to live up to the dream.

        Busses are better and more adaptable, but even then are rarely financially viable.... You just loose less money funding them as the tax payer because a buss and some roads to drive them on is ALWAYS cheaper than laying track and buying a train to run on it....

      • by ewhac ( 5844 )

        But Seattle wanted to be a "world class city" and were blinded by rail (to the tune of nearly $200,000,000 per mile).

        Ah, yes, fsck rail, because the SR99 tunnel project [bloomberg.com] has worked out so well so far...

    • Seems to be a common problem these days, a combination of NIMBYs who don't want any development, and a local govt with no vision for growth are causing an massive imbalance in supply/demand. The only solution for large growing cities is high density and mass rapid transit. I've lived in both Singapore and Hong Kong so have seen it working first hand. When done properly, most city dwellers shouldn't need to own cars as you can walk/train everyhwere. High density also means more convenience since everything y
    • by Ichijo ( 607641 ) on Thursday October 08, 2015 @04:59PM (#50689169) Homepage Journal

      If they're going to continue growing the metro area, they need some kind of mass transit that makes it possible to get around without adding even more cars to the highway.

      Except it doesn't work that way in real life [streetsblog.org]:

      two University of Toronto professors have added to the body of evidence showing that highway and road expansion increases traffic by increasing demand. On the flip side, they show that transit expansion doesn't help cure congestion either.

      (emphasis added)

      • It isn't a matter of curing the existing problem. That never really goes away because as you decrease the load, it becomes a more feasible travel option for individuals. You could have a free, fast, and efficient public system and people would still drive because it's a little more convenient to have a personal vehicle and the less congested the roads are, the faster you can get there and the more the roads fill up, the more convenient the alternatives become.

        The problem is that if you add more traffic t
  • Houston (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Look at Houston for guidance. 25% of our workforce is oil and gas, many of whom are engineers. There's 18000 people at the Space Center. Then there's all the other stuff downtown.

    Housing here is quite affordable despite the abundance of high paying jobs. Driving is a necessity (and traffic kinda sucks and things are really spread out), but $3500 would lease you a 5000+ sq ft house here in a really nice area within a reasonable drive to work.

    • Re:Houston (Score:5, Funny)

      by HornWumpus ( 783565 ) on Thursday October 08, 2015 @04:47PM (#50689057)

      So one vote for leveling all the hills, filling in all the water and requiring everybody drive pickups.

    • There is absolutely nothing I envy about the city of Houston, it is easily my least favorite city in the United States and I have lived in many of them. In every category of relevance to me, Houston is horrifying.

      - It is filthy
      - Much of it is falling apart
      - Traffic is bad, and the roads are perpetually under construction
      - The culture/people are really the worst combination of South-East combined with the worst combination of Texas, with no redemption whatever. Right to the bottom line every time, disregardi

  • Don't tear down neighborhoods to build commercial zones. In fact, make a concerted effort to keep a sensible ratio of residential to commercial zoning and the housing prices don't shoot through the roof.
    • Between the mountains and the sound, I expect development-ready land is kind of at a premium. The best place to look is where it's already developed, in a low-rent ready-gentrify way.

      When the developer dollar speaks, who can gainsay?

      Because ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT.

      • Sure, gentrification is an option. But only to a point. Gentrifying every neighborhood leaves you with San Francisco level housing costs, which is what they're trying to avoid.

        This is the problem with allocation of scarce resources. Demand goes up without a corresponding increase in supply and price goes up. Getting a bunch of tech companies to relocate to Seattle along with all of the workers and you're going to get higher prices because land is in finite supply. There's no way around it except to sta

    • by ranton ( 36917 )

      Don't tear down neighborhoods to build commercial zones. In fact, make a concerted effort to keep a sensible ratio of residential to commercial zoning and the housing prices don't shoot through the roof.

      Limiting commercial zones causes a similar problem, since companies with more money will force others out of the city. And if all of the non-tech companies start to leave the city, non-tech workers will have to leave to. You have the same problem with a slightly different cause.

      • My point was that you have to maintain a balance. If you do like what was done in California, and tear down neighborhood after neighborhood to have commercial development, you drive the people out into the remote suburbs because you drive housing costs through the roof and the people have to keep moving farther and farther away from their jobs just to be able to afford to live. Then again, if you go to far in the other direction, you can drive away too many jobs and that doesn't help your city either.

        The

  • "Counterculture"? Is that something that runs counter to your culture? Why would you want to keep that?
    By definition, that which is preserved and fostered, or "cultured", IS "culture".

  • iirc Seattle has the highest male to female ratio in the country. Maybe some single women will move there once they realise how heavily the economics lean in their favour, until then I think I'll give it a miss, thanks.

  • Seattle: Huge problems with traffic. Amazingly, amazingly, Seattle residents often mention that there are areas with poor internet service!

    Portland: Unlivable. The traffic is 10 times worse than 2 years ago. The slowly, slowly moving cars make the pollution far worse. The Portland city government has been allowing the construction of huge apartment buildings with no parking. The parking problem lowers the value of all the buildings in the area.

    There are many other areas of corruption. Here is just one: The Portland law against plastic bags favors a nearby company that makes paper bags. Paper bags are far worse for the environment because someone has to cut trees, trucks then bring the trees to a plant where they are processed with chemicals that also cause pollution. The paper bags cost grocery stores 10 times more than plastic bags and are so weak they often cannot be fully packed. Paper bags become weak when wet in the frequent rain. People who don't want the problems shop outside of Portland; Portland is a small city of 609,456 people (2013).

    Often humans are not good at taking care of themselves.
  • Who will... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Clean the office buildings at night
    Work at shops and restaurants
    Take care of your child
    Police your city

    This list can go on and on. People above can't afford to live the same city they work because of housing prices. I once asked a night janitor, who had his two sons with him at work that day, where he lived. He told me he lived more than an hour out of the city. I don't have any solutions but this isn't a good thing. Think about something catastrophic accident happening in the city and more than half the em

    • People above can't afford to live the same city they work because of housing prices. I once asked a night janitor, who had his two sons with him at work that day, where he lived. He told me he lived more than an hour out of the city. I don't have any solutions but this isn't a good thing.

      Was recently looking at a potential job in the area.

      The job looked great. Then I started looking for a home within 15 minutes of the workplace. Nothing family sized (4+ bedroom) shows up on Zillow for anything less than $800,000. Many homes comparable to my $200K current residence were selling for well over a million dollars. Zooming out a bit, finding family homes even remotely affordable (under $300K) would require a full hour commute.

      I went on to the next job listing, in a more reasonable cost city.

  • by Nova Express ( 100383 ) <lawrenceperson.gmail@com> on Thursday October 08, 2015 @04:39PM (#50688943) Homepage Journal

    ...because of multiple government regulations that have choked off supply, namely:

    * Rent Control
    * Excessive environmental regulations
    * Excessive land use regulations
    * An institutional hostility to landlords (so bad that many landlords simply refuse to rent at all [americanmo...iation.org] since renters could tie them up in court for years when they tried to sell the property).
    * California's general hostility to development [battleswarmblog.com].

    And now San Francisco has said they'll try to limit price increases by restricting supply [calwatchdog.com]. Looks like someone failed Economics 101.

    Bonus: Did you know that the Rev. Jim Jones (yes, that one) once served on San Francisco's Housing Authority [salon.com]?

    • 'Working people' haven't lived in SF for _decades_. Rich and a few poor hos for the rich.

      The current complaints are from trust fund kids who's trusts are no longer big enough to keep them in SF.

  • "One path leads to San Francisco, where you have an incredibly regulated and stagnant housing economy that can't keep up with demand. The other path is something different, the Seattle way."

    Where the linked article points to Seattle's mayor pleading for more regulated housing economy ("25% affordable"), it doesn't seem that different.

    The other aspect of focus on transportation seems sound.

  • If you say you're going to make houses for the lower income people but then they get bid up and bought out by people who'd rather not have to pay 500k for a house when they don't have to.
  • by madsenj37 ( 612413 ) on Thursday October 08, 2015 @04:45PM (#50689029)
    Assume that tech money will come and go. Use the money coming in now to invest in future Seattle. Build subways, railways, etc. Beef-up the infrastructure of public transport with the money you have now. Whether or not tech stays, people will want to live in place where they can get around fast and will not need a car. Logistics and housing are the answers.
    • by PPH ( 736903 )

      Build subways, railways, etc.

      The number one tool of the developers pushing gentrification. The first Sound Transit light rail project cleaned the poor black people out of Rainier Valley. The next extension will push the hipsters out of the University District and Ravenna neighborhoods. Then it's northward, clearing the working class folks out of Northgate.

      Meanwhile, King County Metro bus service is being eliminated where it parallels the rail lines. We don't want any stinkin' bus riding hobos in our shiny new neighborhoods.

  • by Kohath ( 38547 ) on Thursday October 08, 2015 @04:49PM (#50689077)

    How many whines about too many tech jobs ruining Seattle [slashdot.org] for the workin' man do we need to see?

    Every town without a tech boom wishes they had your problems.

  • Portland isn't a tech hub. Washington county to the West of Portland, across the West hills is.

    • Waaaay off topic here so that mod option is clearly appropriate....but regarding your sig: "why not try an all meat diet?". Because it would be a disaster of epic proportions (if we all did it).

      The average American eats 270lbs of meat/year (http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2012/06/27/155527365/visualizing-a-nation-of-meat-eaters). The 2 guys in the study ate 800g meat/day (1.7lbs). Thats 620 lbs/year or a 230% increase. They were adult males so the average consumption would probably be a bit lower but sp

      • Trying reading the paper. It's very interesting. It's also interesting how I lost 50lbs and my cholesterol numbers were fixed and my dental health improved while on such a diet. To further test it, I tried going back to a traditional Western diet and the weight came back, the cholesterol numbers went back and my dental health deteriorated. So I'm going back to the diet. By meat I actually meant animal products .. meat, fish, egg, dairy, coffee with very little plant matter.

  • I have figure out why there is loud classical music coming through my headphones, interfering with what I was listening to. And it's a stupid commercial on the NYT site. I was lucky enough to guess the on one of the first tabs I closed, but jeeze. Fucking annoying!

  • As a Seattleite... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by JustAnotherOldGuy ( 4145623 ) on Thursday October 08, 2015 @05:25PM (#50689351)

    After living in Seattle for 40+ years, I can tell you that this place lost its "soul" a long time ago.

    There are still remnants here and there but they're being cleaned up as quickly as possible.

    And as bad as it is in many ways, it's still one of the better places to live on the west coast.

  • It lost it in the 90's. Now Portland has been destroyed. Austin and Colorado are gone as well. Boston, San Jose and area also were lost long ago. We don't know if it is airborne, blood borne, or due to some weird radiation a space probe returned.

    We just don't know.

    • It lost it in the 90's. Now Portland has been destroyed. Austin and Colorado are gone as well. Boston, San Jose and area also were lost long ago.

      So what's left?

  • This should not be an issue. Poor neighborhoods have always had the means to keep rich people out and housing affordable. A city should be able to support a diverse range of people, and will do so unless something prevents it. Sounds to me like this is more of a side-effect of every expanding police power than a tech boom.
  • They are doing all the right things:
    1) Raising the Minimum Wage (Raises the cost of everything including taxes).
    2) Stupid projects like the light rail (Must be funded with more taxes, is already a huge multi-billion dollar boondoggle)
    3) Talking about Rent control and anti-gentrification (Nothing like preventing new development to limit supply and thus raise costs).
  • Where does Seattle think the "soul" of a city comes from?

    It comes somewhat from architecture, though that is just shape.

    The main area where the soul of a place is from, lies in the businesses that are located there - and I'm specifically talking about the smaller local shops that provide maximum "flavor" to an area.

    Those are EXACTLY the places driven to close by a minimum wage hike. They can no longer afford to pay workers, many of whom might have been teens - why should TEENS get $20/hour? They don't nee

  • More like $650k (Score:3, Interesting)

    by WillAffleckUW ( 858324 ) on Thursday October 08, 2015 @07:20PM (#50690119) Homepage Journal

    You can't really get a decent place for $500k in Seattle.

    Now if only we would permit Tiny Houses in the driveways of retired SFH zoned properties, so they could keep their house, and rent/lease the land, people could easily buy a Tiny House for $30k and have equity in the actual house. This would double population but allow people to keep their older giant houses with unused garages that they no longer use.

    Most of use use transit, bike, or walk to work here. Car driving is something the suburbanites do.

  • by NostalgiaForInfinity ( 4001831 ) on Friday October 09, 2015 @04:44AM (#50691779)

    "It's that the San Francisco and Silicon Valley communities have gotten themselves into a trap where preservationists and local politics have basically guaranteed buying a house will cost at least $1 million. Already in Seattle, it costs half-a-million, so we're well on our way."

    Seattle mayor Ed Murray says he wants to keep the working-class roots of Seattle, a city with a major port, fishing fleet and even a steel mill. After taking office last year, Murray made the minimum-wage increase a priority, [...] and has set a goal of creating 50,000 homes — 40 percent of them affordable for low-income residents

    Sounds to me like Seattle is following in San Francisco's footsteps, with "preservationists and local politics" doing pretty much the same things they did in San Francisco.

    I just wish they'd stop blaming the "tech boom" or software developers for their failed policies.

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