Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Under Winter Moon

How do you warm up on a bitter cold night in Seattle? You put on a blue polyester choir robe and join 59 other singers on stage, under hot lights, and put on a holiday concert!

On Sunday night, our SSCC Community Choir presented a show that offered something for everyone: Traditional Christmas carols, a community singalong, a beautiful classical piece sung a cappella in Latin, a rhythmic African carol accompanied by drummers, a series of Moravian carols, a rousing gospel rendition of Go Tell It On The Mountain that brought the house down and a lush ballad, Under Winter Moon, with a cello accompaniment.

I can't begin to tell you how much fun this music was to learn. And our audience obviously enjoyed the show. Some neighbors of mine were so inspired, in fact, that they have decided to join the choir!

For me, choir is the gift that keeps on giving. Rehearsals are a highlight of each week. The shows are great fun to do. And remembering the harmonies coming together and the smiling faces in the audience leaves me in a happy glow for days afterward.

I am very grateful to our talented music director, Paula Herd, who finds a way to plan a program each quarter that challenges and entertains us. We are also blessed to have Edie Martin, our patient pianist, who repeats difficult passages over and over and over until we get them right.

In 2014, we will celebrate the Community Choir's 30th anniversary. I can't wait for the first rehearsal!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

I'll Bet You've Never Eaten a Yam

We are days away from Thanksgiving, and as we prepare for our annual feast, the perennial question comes up - is a yam the same thing as a sweet potato? I've wondered about this for as long as I can remember and this year, I decided to do some research.

As it turns out, yams and sweet potatoes are not related botanically. Yams are monocots, related to lilies, and belong to the family Dioscorea. Sweet potatoes (Ipomoea batatas) are dicots, from the Convolvulaceae family, the same as morning glories.

As near as I can tell, true yams are not grown in the United States, at least not commercially. They are a staple crop in West Africa, where 95% of the world's production is cultivated. There are many varieties of yams, including those that produce tubers over 4 feet long, weighing over 150 lbs! I've never seen any of those at the grocery store.

Sweet potatoes, on the other hand, are grown in the US: with  North Carolina, California, Louisiana and Mississippi leading the way in production. Apparently, those "candied yams" that people serve on Thanksgiving are in fact sweet potatoes.

So now the question is: Why do we call sweet potatoes "yams?" It makes no sense. We don't grow them in the US, so most of us have never seen, never mind eaten, a true yam.

I found the answer on The Kitchen Daily blog. It happens that sweet potatoes resemble certain varieties of yams. When slaves were brought to the US from West Africa and saw sweet potatoes, they thought those tubers were yams. And that's what they called them. The name stuck - and now you know why.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

What If the Whole World Really IS Conspiring to Shower You With Blessings?

Every Wednesday morning, I get up, make coffee and sit down at the computer to read my weekly horoscope. Not just any horoscope, mind you, it's Rob Brezsny's Free Will Astrology Horoscope.

His horoscopes have nothing in common with those generic readings you find on the comics page of your local newspaper. Brezsny's are a unique blend of mythology, mysticism, history, science and humor.

Here is an example. My birth sign is Aries and this is my horoscope for the week of October 31.
Once when I was hiking through Maui's rain forest, I spied a majestic purple honohono flower sprouting from a rotting log. As I bent down close, I inhaled the merged aromas of moldering wood and sweet floral fragrance. Let's make this scene your metaphor of the week, Aries. Here's why: A part of your life that is in the throes of decay can serve as host for a magnificent bloom. What has been lost to you may become the source of fertility. Halloween costume suggestion: a garbage man or cleaning maid wearing a crown of roses. 
My rising sign is Capricorn, so I always read that one, too. Here is this week's message.
I invite you to try the following exercise. Imagine the most powerful role you could realistically attain in the future. This is a position or niche or job that will authorize you to wield your influence to the max. It will give you the clout to shape the environments you share with other people. It will allow you to freely express your important ideas and have them be treated seriously. Let your imagination run a little wild as you visualize the possibilities. Incorporate your visions into your Halloween costume.  
See what I mean? Even if you think astrology is hooey, you have to admit that these horoscopes give you something to think about. Over the years that Free Will Astrology has been part of my Wednesday morning routine, I have been entertained and inspired by Brezsny's inventive ideas. His messages are my weekly exercise in learning to think outside the box.

His inspired writings don't stop with horoscopes. Brezsny's book, "Pronoia Is the Antidote for Paranoia," offers 400 pages of evidence that this world of ours is perfect and that "all of creation is conspiring to shower us with blessings." This idea runs contrary to the common belief that the world is a dangerous place, a belief that is reinforced in our culture by what passes for "news," combined with the litany of complaints that, for many people, passes for conversation. But what if Brezsny is right? Can you put your ingrained, reflexive criticism of such ideas on hold long enough to simply entertain the possibility?

Pronoia includes advice (Play a joke on your fear. Sing to the birds. Kill your own death.); sacred advertisements; and PNN, stories from the Pronoia News Network. It is a workbook with assignments that include, "Experiments and exercises in becoming a rebelliously kind, affably unpredictable, insanely poised Master of Supernal Mischief," with generous space provided for notes and drawings.

According to Brezsny, we have the opportunity to "ignore the cult of doom and gloom and embrace the cause of zoom and boom." I invite you to take up his challenge. Turn off the evening news, put down the newspaper, close your laptop and spend some time learning to see the blessings all around us.  It's a perfect project for November, the month we celebrate Thanksgiving.

Friday, October 25, 2013

It Ain't Over Till It's Over

In my last post, I told you about the short notice we were given to file an appeal to challenge the city's decision to allow the Alki 11 row house project to go forward. I described mounting an appeal in just 9 days as a "nearly impossible task."

But not completely impossible, it turns out. Thanks to neighbor, Marty McQuaid, an appeal was filed yesterday, citing the city's failure to meet state SEPA guidelines, and irregularities in the city's granting of lot boundary adjustments (LBAs), among other issues.

Read the appeal document, filed by land use attorney, Cynthia Kennedy. And the declaration from Marty McQuaid. The appeal was filed on behalf of the Alki Neighborhoods for Sensible Growth, a newly formed association comprised of residents affected by the Alki 11 development. The filing was covered by the West Seattle Blog.

For those of us involved in the controversy, it was a great relief to hear from the land use attorney that we have grounds to challenge the LBAs. It was clear to us from the beginning that two sets of row houses back to back, as the Alki 11 is proposed, would be illegal. The city clearly states that row houses cannot have principal residences behind them. But by rearranging the lot lines and declaring each set of row houses to be on a separate piece of property, the developer was able to turn an illegal project into a legal one.

This, not surprisingly, infuriated the neighbors who saw these LBAs as sneaky and underhanded. We were further frustrated by the fact that the city told us we couldn't address the issue of boundary adjustments in the review process. We were told that the project wasn't under land use review, only a SEPA review. Our objections had to be limited to the environmental aspects of the project. Period. We were told that our comments regarding design or land use would be disregarded. I felt like we had been issued a gag order.

It is clear to everyone that if the LBAs were not granted, this project would not be a row house project. It would be a town house project. If it were a town house project, subject to the same guidelines and requirements as the other town house developments on our street, there would not have been a protest.

If nothing else, appealing the city's decision will give us the opportunity, at long last, to bring attention to the LBA issue and let our objections be known.

No date has been set for a hearing. When it is, I will let you know.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The City Has Reached A Decision on The Alki 11 Rowhouse Project

Three months after the public meeting requested by Alki neighbors, the city has handed down a decision on the SEPA review of the Alki 11 rowhouse project. They have approved the project, over numerous neighborhood objections, with "conditions." The conditions all relate to conduct during construction and have no bearing on the design.

The city published the decision on the DPD website on October 10, but neighbors did not receive notification of the decision until October 15. We were given a deadline of October 24 for an appeal - just 9 days in which to review the decision and decide what, if any, grounds there might be for appeal. A nearly impossible task.

Needless to day, neighbors are very disappointed with the city's decision. Moreover, late notification for some people, with many names misspelled, and no notification at all for others, gives the impression of lack of respect on the part of city officials. None of this sits well. And we are not alone. All over the city, citizens are organizing and protesting runaway development and lack of consideration from the city. It will be interesting to see what affect this will have on the upcoming election in which we choose a mayor and members of city council.

Coverage of the decision on the West Seattle Blog contains links to the relevant documents. 

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Alki Beach Sunsets

We have beautiful sunsets year around at Alki, but some of the best are now in late summer. Here are a few photos taken during recent after-dinner sunset walks. Most were shot looking across Puget Sound toward the Olympic Mountains.

Red sky at night, sailors delight.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Will Today's Mega-Storm Cause Sewage Overflows in Puget Sound?

A major "weather event" is predicted for our area over the next 24-48 hours. For the details, take a look at UW meteorologist, Cliff Mass' blog post for today:  Unusual Rain Event to Hit the Northwest.  From one to 5 inches of rain is expected in various parts of the region, more rain than we typically get in the entire month of September around here.

In my neighborhood, the runoff goes into storm drains that tie directly into the sanitary sewer. The combined sewer lines carry all that waste water to pumping stations that send it to a treatment plant.

Because stormwater runoff is the major source of pollution in Puget Sound, you might think that sending that stormwater off to a treatment plant is a good idea. But it isn't that simple. When we have big storms, like the one heading our way as I write this, the extra volume of waste water can overwhelm the sewer system. To prevent flooding and sewage from backing up into people's homes, Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs) release combined stormwater and raw sewage into the Sound.

Is a CSO near you discharging raw sewage? You can find out by checking this real-time map showing CSO status. The information is updated every few minutes. The time of the most recent data capture is shown at the top of the map. I've linked this to my area, SW Seattle. To check other locations, look for the options listed in the upper left hand corner of the page.

I took a walk last night at sunset and saw a man swimming in the Sound. I can't imagine that he will be out there again tonight, but he and anyone planning to swim, wade or fish in these waters might want to check the local CSO status first.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Who You Gonna Call?

I was leaving the grocery store this afternoon and saw a police car parked there. I started to drive away but thought, "Wait a minute. There's something odd about that car."

The antenna looked kind of strange and there was a bumper sticker on the back. Since when do cop cars have bumper stickers on them? I had to stop and take a closer look.

The bumper sticker reads, "Volunteer Search and Rescue." The license plate says, "Law Enforcement Memorial." OK, I get it. This is not an official Seattle Police Department vehicle. But what is it?

According to what it says on the door, it belongs to the Zombie Response Team. I googled them when I got home and found their FaceBook page, which shows all sorts of vehicles, although not this one. Apparently the mission of the team is to provide transportation in the event of a Zombie apocalypse. I wonder though - who will they provide transportation for? The zombies or people trying to get away from them? Let's hope we never have to find out. 

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

We Had Our Meeting With The City, Now What?

The public meeting my neighbors and I requested to express our concerns about the proposed Alki 11 rowhouse project was held last Wednesday, July 17. We had a good turnout - my guess is between 50 and 60 people. This was a SEPA meeting and we were directed to offer comments on environmental issues only.

Initially, 12 people signed up to speak, but as the meeting went on, a few more signed in and spoke. Close to 20 people had their say. Topics included those covered on this blog: lack of stormwater mitigation, more cars parked on the street, more congestion, inadequate infrastructure to handle all the waste and stormwater, the potential for flooding,  and contributing to sewage overflows into Puget Sound. Older residents who have lived here for many years, some whose family has had property here for generations, talked about how this project fails to consider the character of the neighborhood. Several people reviewed the developers SEPA checklist and pointed out inaccuracies and incomplete answers. Others lamented the loss of wildlife habitat, challenging the developer's statement that there is no wildlife present in this area. Lack of green space, and blocking light and air for neighboring properties was mentioned, as was the lack of transit options available here. Between the oral and written comments, I believe we explained the negative environmental impacts pretty thoroughly.

The meeting organizer and Department of Planning and Development (DPD) planner in charge of this project, Tami Garrett, said that she would be reviewing all of our comments, along with the reviews still to be completed by other planners, before writing her decision. She will accept written comments for about one more week. If you have anything you would like to submit, email it to her at tami.garrett@seattle.gov. Obviously, the sooner she gets comments the better.

She will write her decision, it will be reviewed by her supervisor, and then it will be published. She expects this to be done within the next two months. After the decision is published, the neighbors will have two weeks to appeal the decision if we aren't happy with it.

The mood as we left the meeting was subdued. We get it. There's not much the DPD can do for us. They don't make policy or write ordinances, their job is simply to enforce the rules. The rules are made by the city council, with input from the mayor.

Since the meeting, several neighbors have written to Richard Conlin, the city council member who chairs the Planning, Land Use and Sustainability Committee. He has agreed to look at how the zoning evolved that could allow this project to happen. But he says there's nothing he can do about this now. Here's a quote from one of his emails:
"I am trying to be really, really clear on the permitting process. The Council cannot legally take any action that will affect a permit that has been filed with DPD. There is no action that we can take that will affect or stop the project you are concerned about. Only DPD has the authority to do that. 
If, in reviewing the zoning, there is a case for changing it, that could apply to prospective projects in the future, but it cannot be applied retroactively."
So there you have it, the DPD punts to the City Council and the Council punts the issue back to the DPD. In the meantime, projects like the Alki rowhouses and other egregious developments are sprouting up all around us. At some point, city officials may see that mistakes were made and change the rules, but for now, these projects are going to get built. Once they're here, they're here to stay - for decades - along with the problems they spawn. There has to be a better way to manage growth and development in Seattle.

Related posts:

What Does SEPA Mean, Anyway?

The Environmental Impacts of the Alki 11 Rowhouses

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

What Does "SEPA" Mean, Anyway?

This question has come up often when neighbors have been discussing the Alki 11 review process. We were told that the project was under SEPA review; that the developer had filled out a SEPA checklist; that the meeting the city was granting us was called a SEPA meeting. But what the heck was SEPA?

Here is the definition, taken from the first paragraph of the City of Seattle's Department of Planning and Development's SEPA Checklist. Developers have to fill one of these out as part of the permitting process.
"The State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA), Chapter 43.21 RCW, requires all governmental agencies to consider the environmental impacts of a proposal before making decisions. An environmental impact statement (EIS) must be prepared for all proposals with probable significant adverse impacts on the quality of the environment. The purpose of this checklist is to provide information to help you and the agency identify impacts from your proposal (and to reduce or avoid impacts from your proposal, if it can be done) and to help the agency decide whether an EIS is required."
Prior to our public meeting last Wednesday, several neighbors reviewed the SEPA checklist the Alki 11 developer filed with the city. They found inaccuracies and incomplete responses which they have addressed in both written comments and in their oral comments at the meeting.

If a project in your neighborhood is under SEPA review, this is what it is all about. To access the developer's checklist for that project, follow the instructions here. Fill in the project's Master Use Project (MUP) number. When the records come up, scroll down to find the SEPA checklist.

Related posts:

How To Access Permit and Property Records for Seattle Development Projects

The Environmental Impacts of the Alki 11 Row Houses

Will the Alki 11 Row Houses Cause Flooding?

Saturday, July 13, 2013

The Sustainable Alternative to the Alki 11

"It is better to light a single candle, than to curse the darkness." -- Eleanor Roosevelt
I've pointed out numerous problems with the proposed Alki 11 rowhouse development. Question is: How could I do it better? 

I've been thinking about that since the DPD's land use sign first went up in front of the property. And I've come up with a simple plan that takes into consideration what neighbors have said they want to see. It also offers a reasonable increase in population density without compromising the environment. We don't have to trade one for the other. I've highlighted in green type the features of this design that would be an improvement environmentally over the existing rental houses, showing that development can improve, not degrade the environment.

Here are the main features:

  • Three 3-story duplexes (6 units in all) would replace the three rental houses there now. The footprint of each housing unit would be 20' x 30'.
  • These units would provide housing for 18-20 people, a 3.5- 4x increase in population density.
  • The duplexes would be set back 20' from the street on both the 55th Ave SW and Wickstrom Place SW sides. 
  • A total of 12 off street parking spaces would be provided under Units 3, 4, 5 and 6 (see illustration below). This would mean that no cars associated with this property would park on the street. This would be an improvement over what we've had in the past, with at least 3 cars associated with the rental properties parked on street. 
  • These would be easy-to-negotiate, green, carport style parking spaces, each approximately 9' wide and 20' long. The parking area would be "green" because the stalls would angle downward slightly toward green spaces, or bioswales, that will capture and filter stormwater runoff that comes across the parking area. 
  • All downspouts from the buildings would empty into these bioswales, thus managing all stormwater runoff onsite and keeping stormwater out of the sanitary sewer on Wickstrom Place.
  • This project would have 3,600 s.f. of roof area. One inch of rainfall would result in 2,244 gallons of stormwater coming off those roofs. If the bioswales in this design are at least 6 inches deep, they will have a holding capacity of 4,937 gallons - enough to hold more than two inches of stormwater. 
  • There would be a significant increase in the amount of plant material on this site. The bioswales will be mostly shaded by the buildings, thus providing good places for shade loving native plants, including vine maple, red and yellow twig dogwood, ferns, sedges and so much more. Residents will also have garden space to enjoy in front of each unit. 
  • This increase in plant material will provide more habitat for wildlife than what currently exists. Our neighborhood has traditionally been home to eagles, great blue herons, osprey, raccoons, opposums, assorted songbirds and river otters. In the past couple of years, as more development has taken place, we've seen a reduction in the wildlife population. One of our two herons has abandoned its nest, the eagle is gone and it has been a while since we've seen the river otters. 
  • 4' wide sidewalks along each bioswale will provide easy access for residents taking out recycling/trash, getting in and out of storage units and for gardeners tending to the planting area. 
  • This parking arrangement combined with the building set backs will make it easier for residents to see pedestrians and other cars as they exit the parking area, making this much safer than the rowhouse alternative. 
  • Residents who have only one car will find that they can easily find a neighbor nearby happy to rent their extra space because many rentals do not have off street parking. 
  • Permeable pavement would be used for the driveway and parking area thus reducing the percentage of impervious surface on this site to 25%, as compared with the ~45-50% currently and a huge improvement over the 73% that would happen with the Alki 11 proposal. 
  • A total of 6 locked storage spaces, located under Units 1 and 2, would be created. Each would measure approximately 9" x 18'. 
  • The layout of this plan would make it easy to add bicycle parking on both the 55th Ave and Wickstrom sides. 
  • The buildings would probably top out at about 35',  below the 39' limit allowed. This could allow room for the installation of solar panels on the rooftops. 
The drawing below shows how access to the parking area would work coming in from the 55th Ave side. The same configuration would be used on the Wickstrom end. 

This drawing shows a cross section of one of the bioswales and one side of the parking area. 

This beautiful rendering, drawn by my talented neighbor, Lynn Shimamoto, shows how this plan for higher density, sustainable housing might look.  I don't expect for a moment that the developer of the proposed Alki 11 rowhouses will adopt this plan or even take the time to read this post. But I have very much enjoyed thinking about how this could work, taking into the consideration the neighborhood, the need to make better use of the land we have and the need to protect the environment that we so appreciate and enjoy at Alki Beach. 

Drawing of the alternative "Alki 6" as it might look from 55th Ave SW.
Design by Marie McKinsey. Color rendering by Lynn Shimamoto. (c) 2013

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Will the Alki 11 Rowhouses Cause Flooding?

If you've been following these posts for a while, you are familiar with the math: for every inch of rainfall, nearly 5500 gallons of stormwater will come off the roofs and paved surfaces of the Alki 11 rowhouses and be piped into the combined sewer system. You are also familiar with how this volume of stormwater can contribute to sewage overflows into Puget Sound

Now let's look at how this project can cause flooding. The drawing below shows, in general terms, how stormwater drainage will be handled. Note that the garages will be partially underground (the entrance/exit from the parking area will be on 55th Ave SW). The only way stormwater can get out of the parking area is through the drain in the center of the autocourt. 

To get an idea of what 5500 gallons of stormwater would look like, consider this: a standard bathtub holds 50 gallons of water. So one inch of rainfall would produce the equivalent of 110 bathtubs full of stormwater. We don't often get an inch of rain in a day, but a big storm can easily drop half-an-inch on us, which would mean 55 bathtubs full. Add that to the 80 gallons of waste water per person per day (2,640 gallons or another 53 bathtubs full) that will be generated by this development and that's a lot of volume going down the drain in a single day!

With that in mind, take a look at what the the engineer who submitted the storm water drainage report for this project has to say (to read the entire drainage report, follow these directions): 
"...stormwater from roof, footings, and pavement areas will be collected in an onsite storm drainage system and discharged to the 8-inch combined sewer pipe located in Wickstrom Place SW. 
Due to the elevation of the garages, driveway, and autocourt, the discharge pipe to the combined sewer line needed to be designed at 1%. A Hold Harmless Agreement will be recorded since this pipe is under 2% as required by the Side Sewer Director's Rule SPU DR 2011-004/DPD DR 2011-04. Likewise, we were unable to design to storm outfall pipe at 1' above the crown elevation of the sewer main at the property line, so we are providing a backflow valve for this pipe as required by the Director's Rule cited above." 
I asked an attorney and a structural engineer to explain the Hold Harmless Agreement in this situation. Both said that since the sewer connection is out of compliance with city requirements, the developer is agreeing to assume financial responsibility if a problem occurs. Ominous, considering that the developer is doing business as a Limited Liability Corporation (LLC), and that buildings have a typical design life of something like 75 years. Will his company assume responsibility for damages over the life of the project? Seems doubtful. 

Developers often form separate Limited Liability Corporations for each of their projects. When a project is finished and the last unit is sold, they dissolve the corporation. When the LLC disappears, who is responsible then? The owners of the rowhouses? Or will it come back on the city, despite the hold harmless agreement, because officials were negligent for allowing this sub-standard sewer connection to be installed? These are questions that need to be answered.  

So what are the implications of this improper sewer connection? For one, drainage will be slow under the best of conditions because the stormwater drain will be almost level with the sewer line. Any amount of sediment that accumulates in the line from roof and autocourt runoff will slow drainage even more. The backflow valve will prevent sewage and stormwater from flowing back into the drain line, but if there is a big storm that sends a lot of volume into the system all at once, it's easy to see how that 8-inch sewer pipe would be overwhelmed and stormwater would back up in the garages waiting to drain. Where else can it go? 

Secondly, the combined sewer line mentioned in the engineer's report is the wild card in any discussion of how much volume can drain at any given time. Wickstrom Place SW is at the base of a steep slope. Underground streams flow off this slope year around, especially during the rainy season. This water carries sand and silt which washes into the storm drains along the street. As a result, the sewer line always has some amount of sand in it, which reduces the volume of combined sewage it can carry. The city pumps sand out of it from time to time, but during the rainy season it accumulates quickly. 

To get an idea of how much sand there can be, I talked to a neighbor on Wickstrom who had a sewer camera inspection done earlier this year. She says that the drain from her house to the main sewer line was in pretty good shape, but the technician couldn't get the camera into the main sewer line because it was so clogged with sand. 

There are only two maintenance holes on Wickstrom where the city can access the sewer line to clean it out (see sewer map here). One is at the end of the street where it dead ends at the edge of the bluff and the second is where Wickstrom bends to join 54th Ave SW. There are 5 storm drains (two on the street and three on private properties) that empty into the long stretch between maintenance holes. I doubt if there are backflow valves installed on those storm drains. So if the system is overwhelmed with waste/storm water and the sewer line is clogged, the overflow will escape through those storm drains and into garages and then into the street. Where else can it go?

Third, our climate is changing. We are beginning to experience heavier rainstorms with greater frequency. A few days ago, a storm estimated to have delivered between 0.20 and 0.50 inches of rain caused major flooding at both the Westfield Southcenter Mall and Bellvue Square Mall. It isn't far fetched to imagine that the quantity of stormwater the Alki rowhouses will dump into our sewer system will do the very same thing. 

Big storm = half an inch of rain = 55 bathtubs full of stormwater coming off the Alki 11 Rowhouses into a clogged sewer pipe = high probability of flooding. 

The Alki 11 Rowhouse project needs to go back to the drawing board. It is too large a project on too small a piece of land. Hyper-density should be accompanied by hyper-mitigation of environmental impacts. This project should be redesigned to provide space to manage all stormwater runoff on site. It should provide adequate, usable parking so residents don't have to park on the street. The number of housing units should match the carrying capacity of the waste water infrastructure. The 53rd Ave Pump Station was recently upgraded to increase the volume of waste/storm water it can handle by 2 - 3 times, but this project increases waste/storm water volume 8 times over what it has been historically. This is not sustainable development.

Related Posts:

Thursday, June 27, 2013

We Have A Meeting Date!

Meeting date: Wednesday, July 17. 2013
Time: 6:30 - 8 p.m.
Youngstown Performing Arts Center
4408 Delridge Way SW
Seattle, WA 98106

This meeting is facilitated by DPD for a land use application (3014675) that has an associated Type II MUP (Master Use Permit) component-SEPA (which refers to environmental issues).  DPD will provide a brief overview regarding the proposal; discuss the SEPA process and project milestones; and allow the public to submit verbal (limited to 2 minutes per speaker) and written comments. All comments should be directed towards the environmental aspects of the project. 

Friday, June 21, 2013

Over One MILLION Gallons of Waste Water - Where's It All Going to Go?

In my last post, I explained how the Alki 11 rowhouse project on 55th Ave SW will add more than one million gallons of combined waste and stormwater to our local sewer system every year - 8 times the volume generated with the previous housing configuration. Where is all of that polluted water going to go?

Sewer manhole cover on Wickstrom Place SW

Our Alki Beach neighborhood has a combined sewer system, meaning that storm drains tie directly into the sanitary sewer. Buildings built in the past 10 years or so also have their downspouts and parking area drains tied into the sewer. 

The drainage and waste water map of 55th Ave and Wickstrom Place shows how this works. (55th Ave is the street shown on the left. Wickstrom is the dead end street on the right.) Water lines are shown as blue-black, sewer lines are red and stormwater drain lines, turquoise. The little black rectangles are storm drain catch basins. You can see that the older buildings do not have turquoise drain lines around them - they have natural drainage for stormwater runoff from roofs - downspouts empty into yards. This keeps a lot of stormwater out of the system, which reduces the likelihood of sewage overflows into the Sound, as I will explain later. 

According to documents filed by the developer with the city, all waste and stormwater from the Alki 11 rowhouse project will empty into the sewer line on Wickstrom Ave SW. From there, it will go to the 53rd Ave Pump Station, two blocks away. Waste and stormwater is pumped from this station to the West Point treatment plant

53rd Ave Pump Station on Alki Ave SW
Considering that stormwater runoff is now the number one source of pollution in  Puget Sound, you might think that sending it all off to a sewage treatment plant is a good idea. Unfortunately, it isn't that simple. When we have heavy rains, that extra volume of water overwhelms the system. To prevent flooding and sewage backups into homes, Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs) release combined stormwater and raw sewage into the Sound. This 53rd Ave Pump Station is one of those CSOs. Here's a map of CSO locations in Seattle. Want to know if a CSO near you is discharging sewage? Here's real-time map showing CSO status.

The 53rd Ave Pump Station was recently upgraded to add two or three times the capacity it had before. But you have to wonder: how many projects like the Alki 11 rowhouses - which adds 8 times the volume and does nothing to absorb and mitigate stormwater onsite - can the system take on without serious environmental consequences?

Sign posted next to the 53rd Ave Pump Station

Related posts:

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

How Much Sewage Will the Proposed Alki 11 Rowhouse Project Generate?

In an earlier post, I explained how to calculate the amount of stormwater runoff this project will produce. Now let's look at the amount of waste water (aka sewage) that will be going down the drain if these rowhouses are built.

According to a King County study done in 2010, per capita water usage in our area is 80 gallons per person. Nearly all of that water ends up in the sanitary sewer system by way of showers, baths, toilet flushes, handwashing, toothbrushing, dishwashing, cooking, laundry, etc.

The developer of the Alki 11 expects that this project will house 33 people.
33 people x 80 gallons of water = 2,640 gallons of waste water generated per day 
2,640 gallons per day x 365 days in a year = 963,600 gallons of waste water per year
In addition to all that wastewater, stormwater runoff from this development will flow into the sewer system, too.

As I explained previously, every inch of rain running off the buildings and autocourt of the Alki 11 will produce a combined total of 5,457 gallons.
Rainfall in Seattle averages 38 inches per year. 
38 inches x 5,457 gallons of runoff per inch = 207,366 gallons of stormwater per year
The grand total of waste and storm water from these rowhouses 
= 1,170,966 gallons per year

Compare that number with the volume that has historically been generated on this site:
Zero storm water drains into the sewer because downspouts empty into yards and off street parking is on a permeable surface
5 residents x 80 gallons per day = 400 gallons waste water per day

The grand total of waste and storm water from previous housing = 400 gallons x 365 days in a year = 146,000 gallons per year

If built, these rowhouses will introduce 8 times more waste/storm water into the sewer system than before. Even with the recently completed upgrade to the 53rd Ave Pump Station (which increased capacity by two or three times, depending on which page you look at on King County's website), this 8-fold increase is way too much. If sustainability is a goal for the city of Seattle, this is not the way to get there.  

Related posts:

The Environmental Impacts of the Alki 11 Rowhouses

How to Calculate the Amount of Stormwater Runoff the Alki 11 Rowhouses Will Produce

Monday, May 27, 2013

Here's Where Things Get Serious - the Environmental Impacts of the Alki 11 Rowhouses

To really measure the environmental impact of a project, you have to look at what it replaces. When you compare the before and after, side by side, you can see the true impact on environmental factors such as: population density, number of cars, street parking, stormwater runoff, air flow, noise and light.

The spreadsheet below describes what exists on this property now and how each of these elements will change if this project is built. All items in red type indicate ways that this project will have a negative environmental impact as compared with what is there today. Note in particular how many more cars will be parked on the street and the amount of stormwater runoff this project is expected to create. Stormwater runoff is the #1 source of pollution in Puget Sound.

How To Calculate the Amount of Stormwater Runoff the Proposed "Alki 11" Rowhouses Will Produce

Here are the steps you can use to evaluate any project you are concerned about.

First, take the square footage of the roof area. In this case, we're going to use the square footage of the combined building footprints since we don't have actual roofs to measure. According to the developer's Environmental (SEPA) Checklist, this is 5,511 sf.

Now multiply the square footage by 144 to get the number of square inches.
5,511 X 144 = 793,584 sq. in.

Multiply the number of square inches by the amount of rainfall to get the number of cubic inches. In this case, we'll use one inch.
793,584 X 1 = 793,584 cubic inches

There are 231 cubic inches in one gallon of water. So to find the number of gallons of runoff that will come off these buildings after one inch of rain falls, divide the number of cubic inches by 231.

793,582 cubic inches divided by 231 = 3,435 gallons of runoff from rowhouse buildings

Using the same process, here's the amount of runoff that will come off the Alki 11 autocourt.

The square footage, again according to the developer, is 3,244 sf
3,244 X 144 = 467,136 square inches
467,135 sq. in. X 1 inch of rainfall = 467,135 cubic inches

467,135 cubic inches divided by 231 = 2,022 gallons of runoff from rowhouse autocourt

Buildings + autocourt combined total = 5,457 gallons of runoff for every inch of rainfall 

For comparison, this rowhouse project would replace housing that has zero runoff - all stormwater from roofs and parking is currently absorbed on site. 

Saturday, May 25, 2013

How the Proposed Alki 11 Fails to Meet City Parking Requirements

In an earlier post, I showed a map of the Alki Parking Overlay. Within this area, developers are required to provide 1.5 parking spaces for each dwelling unit. This supersedes other city-wide parking regulations which allow for fewer off-street parking spaces. The reason for this is that Alki Beach is a destination for the rest of Seattle, especially in the summer months. If you live here, you know that it is nearly impossible to find street parking, even when there aren't visitors. This special parking requirement is intended to provide more off street parking and reduce congestion.

The site of the proposed Alki 11 is located inside this parking overlay. So following this formula, 1.5 spaces for each dwelling unit, the developer of this project is required to provide 16.5 off street spaces. In the developer's SEPA statement he claims that there will be two parking spaces for each unit, for a total of 22. But is that even possible?

The standard size for a parking space is 9 feet wide and 18 feet long. "Compact" spaces are 8 feet wide and can work in open parking lots where there is more room to maneuver. They are too narrow for garages because drivers have to contend with garage doors and walls. And once they are inside the garage, there's not much room to open car doors or walk around vehicles. Developers often fudge on garage sizes in townhouse autocourts in order to cram more units onto the property, which is why people who live in those buildings park on the street. There's no reason to expect that this project will be any different.

The minimum size for a 2-car garage is 20 feet wide and 20 feet long. But it is difficult to park SUVs and pickups in garages that size, so builders and architects are now recommending that garages measure 24 feet wide and long.

Each rowhouse in the Alki 11 will have an attached garage, located under the unit. In order to accommodate 22 cars, there would have to be space for a two car garage at the base of each rowhouse.

However, only three of these units are wide enough for a minimum-sized 2-car garage.

The architectural plans filed with the city show the following dimensions for the various units:

The units in the triplex facing 55th Ave SW
20'4" wide - 28'6" long
Number of cars that can fit in each garage: 2
Total number of cars that can park in this building: 6

The units in the duplex facing 55th Ave SW
18'6" wide - 28'6" long
Number of cars that can fit in each garage: 1
Total number of cars that can park in this building: 2

The units in the 4-plex facing Wickstrom Place SW
17' wide - 28'2" long
Number of cars that can fit into each garage: 1
Total number of cars that can park in this building: 4

The units in the duplex facing Wickstrom Place SW
16' wide - 23'8" long
Number of cars that can fit into each garage: 1
Total number of cars that can park in this building: 2

Here's the math --- > 6 + 2 + 4 + 2 = 14 cars can park off street

This is in violation of the Seattle Municipal Code requirement of 16.5 spaces.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

How To Access the Permit and Property Records for Seattle Development Projects

If you are curious about a project and want to review the documents filed with the city so far, go to the Department of Planning and Development (DPD) search page. On that page you have two choices for searches.

On the left, you can enter the Master Use Project number, which you will find listed on the Notice of Proposed Land Use Action sign posted on the project site. The project number for the Alki 11, for example, is 3014675. The second search option is to enter the address of the project.

When you bring up the project records, you will be able to view: documents submitted by the developer, including architectural plans, an environmental check list, comments submitted by the public during the comment period, correction notices from DPD planners, and more. There can be up to three days lag time from when a document is received by the city and when it is posted on the site, but eventually it is all there for the public to review.

If you want to find out if a permit has been issued or if complaints have been filed, go to the DPD's Permit and Complaint Status page. You will have the same search options.

When you bring up those records, you will find out: the name of the developer, when the permit was applied for, what the zoning is, legal description of property, description of project, related building permits, etc.

Between the two searches, you should be able to get a good idea of where things stand. We have a right to know this information and knowledge is power!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

How Many Parking Spaces Are Developers Required to Provide in the Alki Neighborhood?

The short answer is this: For every dwelling unit within the Alki Area Parking Overlay (see map) developers are required to provide 1.5 parking spaces. 

For the long answer, follow the link below to Chapter 23.54 of the Seattle Municipal Code. When you get there, you will find a long document that explains parking requirements for buildings and institutions throughout the city. For specific mention of the Alki neighborhood, scroll down to Table B, "Parking for Residential Uses," then scroll down to item "O." 

Reference: Title 23 - LAND USE CODE

Subtitle III - Land Use Regulations
Division 2 - Authorized Uses and Development Standards 

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

What Would the Alki 11 Rowhouses Look Like?

I can tell you that the proposed Alki 11 rowhouse project is way out of scale for the neighborhood, but words can't communicate just HOW much out of scale. For that, you need pictures.

Let's start with what's on that property right now.
These three little cottages were home for a total of 5 people, all of whom were evicted to make way for this project. The Alki 11 is expected to provide housing for 33 people. 

Here is an architect's rendering of what the Alki 11 rowhouse project will look like on the 55th Ave SW side, with 5 units facing the street. 

And this is what it will look like on the Wickstrom Ave side, with 6 more units facing the street. The project is so densely built, that only 14 to 16 of the 22 cars it will add to the neighborhood will have off street parking. An estimated 6-8 cars will have to park on the street. 

For comparison, here are two multi-family buildings on the same block. They do not have additional houses behind them. There are 5 households (10 residents), plenty of green space and off street parking for all but one car. 

Density doesn't have to mean sacrificing green space or parking. Right sized developments, thoughtfully designed, can improve a neighborhood. If you have examples of good design in your area, please leave a comment and give the address. Let's use those positive examples to create a vision of what we want for our community. 

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Adversity Builds Community

A proposed "row house" project has mobilized my Alki Beach neighborhood in a way that few events, short of natural disaster, can. We knew for several months that development was planned for three lots on our street. The rumor was that it was going to be a townhouse complex. No one seemed upset by that. But when the land use sign went up and neighbors started looking at what was being proposed, the consensus was, "Whoa!"

Townhouses are one thing. Row houses are another. Townhouse developments are required to provide off street parking for their residents and include green space to mitigate environmental impacts. But row houses are not. Our little beach community has serious parking problems because it is a destination for Seattlites on sunny days. The runoff from this development will flow directly into Puget Sound, 1/2 block away. If this development is allowed to go forward as proposed, it will add to our existing parking and water pollution problems. It will block views for many neighbors, with 3-story buildings set just 5 feet from the sidewalk.

I could write a lengthy post about all that is wrong with this proposal. But for me, the most interesting thing about the situation has been how neighbors have come together to express their concerns and communicate them to the City.

It began with one neighbor photographing this sign and emailing it to others, alerting us to the fact that the comment period was pretty short. Several people wrote the city to request a two week extension and we were granted that. Then at least 6 people wrote to Seattle's Department of Planning and Development, expressing their concerns about various aspects of the project. Their comments (including mine) are part of the public record, which can be accessed at the DPD website.  Enter project number 3014675 and wait a minute for the records to come up. You'll find all documents pertinent to the project there.

After the comment period closed, we asked the city when we would get a public hearing to discuss this project. We were told that public hearings are not part of the process for these types of projects, but that the city planner might give us a hearing if we submitted a petition with at least 50 signatures. I remember saying to neighbors when we got the news, "I can easily see us getting 20, but 50?"

The great thing about this neighborhood is that we are a close community. We get along well, many of us have become friends over the years, and we do things together like summertime potlucks. Because I've been one of the potluck organizers, I have email addresses for many neighbors. So I sent an email to my list, explaining my concerns about the project and that we needed to get a petition circulated ASAP. Over the next couple of days, 10 people came forward to offer to gather signatures. We quickly got the required 50 (one neighbor collected 55 by himself!) and went on to collect 2-1/2 times that many before the deadline.

In the process, friends became closer and acquaintances became allies. We were drawn together in a way that made me appreciate this neighborhood more than ever.

Will we get our hearing? It's only been a few days since we submitted our petition and we haven't heard anything yet. But whatever happens, we are a better community for having had this experience.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Getting Rid of Black Ants with Listerine

Our neighborhood has been overrun with little black ants. These are what some people call "sugar" ants, even though they seem to like protein as much as anything. They're also called  "odorous" ants because of the odor they give off when you crush one of them. That name naturally morphs into the best name of all: "odious" ants. If you've ever had an ant problem, you know what I mean.

My neighbors and I have tried countless sprays, traps and gimmicks. The only product we've found that works with any consistency, and is relatively non-toxic to humans, is Terro liquid ant bait. When the ants come marching in, we put out the bait traps, and in a few days the ants are (mostly) gone. A few weeks later, though, they come back and we repeat the process all over again.

This system worked well for me until last fall, when I had the worst infestation ever. I put out the traps as usual, but this time the ants completely ignored them. There were billions of the damn things crawling up and over every surface of my kitchen.  Putting food away immediately, cleaning countertops, sealing up trash containers - nothing discouraged them. I was so frustrated I was ready to resort to using the most toxic spray I could find, and then I came on a bit of inspiration. I had been reading posts on the People's Pharmacy website about off-label uses for Listerine. People have reported good results using it to relieve shingles pain, get rid of dandruff and cure toenail fungus. I figured that if Listerine could kill a fungus, maybe it would kill ants, too.

So I bought a big jug of good old-fashioned amber Listerine and tried it. Crazy as it might sound, it worked. I put some in a spray bottle to zap the ones on the kitchen counter. (Seems like anything you can use as a mouthwash should be safe to use around food.) The Listerine kills the ants on contact. That was a step in the right direction, but every hundred I killed was replaced by two hundred more. It was time play amateur exterminator and go outside to figure out where they were coming from.

That's where I got the best results, pouring Listerine into ant hills, like the one you see above. I found hills in a few places along the foundation of the house and a huge one near our garbage and yard waste containers. I took a stick, made a little well in the top of each hill, and poured in some Listerine. Then watched and waited. Whenever I saw more dirt pushed up around the hill, usually within a day or two, I added more Listerine. If I saw more ants in the house, I made the rounds again, topping up each nest with more of the golden mouthwash. The more I did this, the fewer ants I found in the house. This took maybe a couple of gallons of Listerine, all told. After a while, there was just the occasional stray and then there were none.

I went for months without seeing a single ant. Then in just the past week, we had a weather change (which does seem to be a trigger for them to start marching) and suddenly there was a trail of little black ants crawling along my countertop again. I put out the Terro ant bait, which they went for this time, sprayed the Listerine, went outside and poured more Listerine into old ant hills, and within two days, no more ants.

From what I've read about these ants, they build deep nests and are adept at adding new colonies. I don't expect I will ever be ant-free. But thanks to Listerine, I think I'll have the upper hand.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Limerick Contest!

My R-Rated Horticultural Limerick post, which languished here for months with hardly any readers, has suddenly become one of the all-time, top-10 most popular posts on this blog. I don't know what accounts for this sudden popularity, but there you are - one of the many mysteries of life online.

If you are one of those mystery limerick fans, and you happen to like writing limericks as much as you like reading them, then maybe you should enter this contest. Here's the info I found in my email today:

Bainbridge Island Limerick Contest: 2013 Edition 
Deadline for Entries:
March 31st   
Eagle Harbor Book Co.
The silly season is back! After a hiatus of a couple of years, the world-renowned Bainbridge Island Limerick Contest has returned. This year the theme is "Bainbridge-O-Rama"--which pretty much encompasses anything specifically having to do with Bainbridge and our idiosyncratic ways here on "The Rock." Break out your rhyming dictionary and brush up on the form--proper syllable count and scansion will come to play in the judging--and let your creative juices flow! Bring your poems to the store and give them to Ann or John, or mail them to Limerick Contest / Eagle Harbor Book Co. / 157 Winslow Way E. / Bainbridge Island, WA 98110. Winners will receive gift certificates, and a gala reading with winners, Honorable Mentions and Editors' Choices will take place on April 18 at 7pm--right in the heart of National Poetry Month! 

I don't think you have to live on Bainbridge Island to enter, but you can ask the folks at Eagle Harbor Book Co. to be sure. Find contact information on their website

Related post:

Saturday, January 19, 2013

How To Sing Those High Notes

The more I practice singing, the more I learn about technique. We sopranos need all the help we can get to reach and sustain high notes. If you are straining to sing at the top of your register, try these tips:
  • Stand up straight. If you must sit, sit as tall as you can.
  • Breathe deep into your belly. Shoulders should not come up around your ears when you inhale.
  • Use your abdominal muscles, including the diaphragm, to support your breath as you sing.
  • Relax your chest, shoulders and throat.
  • To sing high, think low. Imagine singing down into the high note, not reaching up for it.
  • Bend your knees.
  • Tighten your glutes.
  • Look straight ahead. Don't tip your head back to "look up" into a high note.
  • Drop your chin (not your head, just your chin). Open your mouth wide, top to bottom. 
OK, if you can remember to do all of that and still keep track of your music - start singing! These tips do work. They just take some practice.

Need more coaching? Check out Rae Henry's free video series.

Related posts:

Highlights from the SSCC Community Choir Holiday Concert

Harmonizing With The Beaconettes

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Cynthia Lair on "How to Cut An Onion"

Can cooking be a form of mindful meditation? I think so, and so does Cynthia Lair, who has been teaching cooking for 30 years. Furthermore, she discovered that when she instructed her students to cook in silence and be "present" while cooking, the food actually tasted better. If it is true that sharing food is sharing love, this delightful TED talk explains how that happens.

Related post:

Spiritual Not Religious: What Does That Mean?
A Pie for Mikey

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Carrot Ginger Soup

I've been craving fresh ginger lately. And when that craving strikes, this soup hits the spot. Making it is SO easy, just combine ONE of everything, cook, blend and serve.

ONE tablespoon butter
ONE onion, chopped
ONE tablespoon fresh grated ginger
ONE pound carrots, chopped (to save on prep time, buy a one pound bag of peeled, organic baby carrots and give them a rough chop)
ONE quart of liquid = 3 cups of chicken broth + 1 cup of either regular milk or, even better, coconut milk.

To make the soup:
Saute the onion in butter.
Add the carrots, ginger and chicken broth.
Simmer until the carrots are cooked through and soft, about 25 minutes.
Puree, using a blender, food processor or, my favorite, an immersion blender. (Use the immersion blender to puree the soup in the same pot you cook it in. Really cuts down on clean up.)
Add the milk or coconut milk. Stir to combine.
Add salt and pepper to taste. I usually find that the broth provides enough salt to suit me.

Ginger is a warming herb, making this a welcome addition to the winter menu. Ginger is also good for digestion, relieves nausea and reduces pain and inflammation. Let your food be your medicine!

Related post:
Spaghetti Squash and the Blood Type Diet

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Highlights from the SSCC Community Choir Holiday Concert

I love to sing, and for some time I've been searching for a choir that feels like a good fit for me. I believe I've finally found it. I started singing with the South Seattle Community College's Community Choir in the fall of 2012. We performed our "Mostly Messiah" holiday concert in early December. We sang 5 pieces from Handel's  "Messiah," along with a French carol, a Hanukah song, an a cappella gospel song and a lush, contemplative ballad.

I am neither a trained nor an accomplished singer. (Lucky for me, the Community Choir is a non-audition choir.) The Messiah pieces were the most difficult I've ever sung. It took a lot of practice and I had to google "breathing exercises for singers" to learn how to support those high notes and runs. But it was so worth it! The experience of singing that magnificent music was an absolute joy.

Below are links to a few highlights from the concert. I hope you enjoy listening to them. The man doing the sound for us was sitting with young children, so you will hear them "accompanying" us. Their little voices make for a more of a "live" experience and well, like I said, we are an inclusive, non-audition choir.

Many, many thanks to Paula Herd, our ever-patient Choir Director, and Edie Martin, our brilliant Pianist, for making this experience possible. 

Hallelujah Chorus- Messiah SSCC .MP3

Il est ne le Divin Enfant.MP3

Rise up-Fall 2012.MP3

Related posts:

Harmonizing with The Beaconettes

What Do The Lyrics To The "Alouette" Song Mean In English?

How To Hit A HIGH Note