SEPA Reform Advocacy Meeting

Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, D-34Today I had the opportunity to meet with State Representative Joe Fitzgibbon (D-34th Dist, West Seattle/White Center/Burien/Vashon Island). He is the chair of the Environment Committee and is dedicated to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, reforming Washington’s land use laws, expanding transit, and making walking and bicycling safer.

In a previous post I talked about some of the short comings of our State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA). After doing some homework, I wanted to follow-though on my observations and make some recommendations to the legislator who is leading the charge on SEPA reform. I was hoping to met with him before the 2014 legislative session ended on March 13th, however there was no pending SEPA legislation and no time in his schedule in early March. I did manage to share with Rep. Fitzgibbon the following letter today, including some of my suggestions to consider for SEPA reform.

We had a great conversation and he updated me on some of the reform that is in process. We discussed how there is a unique opportunity to bring together environmental and development interests to rally around the same reforms. I was glad to hear that one place for targeted reform was on the focus of automobile level of service. Rep. Fitzgibbon suggested that perhaps a different regulatory tool could be used to measure those impacts, and/or they would be balanced with the level of access to bicycle, pedestrian and transit service. He also suggested that I look at some of the reform to the California equivalent of our SEPA (California Environmental Quality Act or CEQA) and how this is an issue in many states.

Moving forward it is clear that incremental reform will be necessary. Rep. Fitzgibbon mentioned that Rep. Sharon Nelson attempted larger scale reform in 2009.  HB-1490 sought to reform both the Growth Management Act (GMA) and SEPA to support transit oriented development and reduced carbon emissions but it did not pass. One hurdle he mentioned that is a frequent issue is how SEPA is a way that cities collect mitigation funds for projects. While some cities have moved to collect fees through the GMA instead of through SEPA, Seattle and Tacoma are among those cities who have not yet implemented this approach.

Representative Fitzgibbon said that he would be working with environmental and development representatives as well as Seattle City Council moving forward with reform on both a state and local level.  I look forward to seeing progress in how SEPA can more holistically protect our environment.

__________

3/20/14

Dear Representative Fitzgibbon,

Thank you for taking the time to meet with me today regarding reforms to our State Environmental Policy Act. I appreciate your leadership on this issue. While your experience and knowledge of this legislation is far greater than my own, I wanted to highlight a few issues and suggestions from the perspective of a new designer, as you move forward with your policy work and reform.

My interest on the issue has been stimulated by classwork in my graduate studies in landscape architecture and urban design at the University of Washington. I was particularly inspired by some of the recommendations by A-P and Al Hurd in their book, The Carbon Efficient City.  I have synthesized some of their suggestions with my own.

General

  • Incorporate performance targets into the SEPA checklist and the EIS and require measurement (Ex. carbon emissions, energy use, stormwater management)
  • Incorporate criteria that consider how the projects performs at a larger scale, beyond the project limits, at neighborhood, city or regional levels
  • Create more flexibility and transparency on how a project goes from a determination of significance to a determination of non-significance (possibly by using a points system)

Transportation

  • Shift the focus from automobile level of service and expand the criteria to include pedestrian, bicycle and transit access.
  • Provide credit for projects that decrease vehicle miles traveled

Density / Land Use

  • Structure SEPA to encourage urban density and infill and discourage greenfield development and low density development
  • Create a separate checklist or standard for projects in an urban vs. rural setting
  • Ask what is the highest density allowed by zoning and why a party chooses to not build to that level

Many of these ideas help to reconcile SEPA and the Washington State Growth Management Act. I hope that moving forward you are able to modernize and craft SEPA into more holistic legislation. I would also hope that reform addresses some of the legal issues related to NIMBY thinking, and reduce the potential for repeated litigation as a result.

Thank you again for your time and work on behalf of your constituents, the City of Seattle, and the State of Washington!  Your service is appreciated.

Sincerely,

Mike Schwindeller
Landscape and Urban Designer

Sources:
Hurd, A-P., and Al Hurd. 2012. The Carbon Efficient City. Seattle: University of Washington Press.

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