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Regulatory Reform Will Strengthen Seattle’s Economy

2012 March 28
by David Freiboth

< A construction crane rises in Seattle's Roosevelt neighborhood; photo by Dan Bertolet >

Seattle is beginning to emerge from the longest, deepest recession in the last 60 years. We can see signs of this across the city. Projects that were stalled during the recession, leaving empty holes and vacant lots, are again under way. Hard hats are starting to go back to work. As a result, Seattle’s growth is outpacing the rest of the region. Businesses, builders, and working families want to live and innovate here.

But there’s a long way to go before we’ve built a broadly shared prosperity. More than 30% of construction and building-trades workers are still out of a job. Some of them have been out of work for three or four years. We need to look at ways to accelerate our economic recovery and help build a more sustainable city.

Unfortunately, the pace of recovery is being slowed by outdated and obsolete regulations. These rules are making it difficult for people to build sustainable projects and are keeping workers from bringing home a paycheck.

We have an opportunity to change that. Last year I worked with a panel of developers, neighborhood activists, design professionals, and environmentalists to propose a reform package to reduce regulatory burdens that hinder job creation. Mayor Mike McGinn and Councilmember Richard Conlin convened the panel as part of a broad City effort to spark innovation and entrepreneurial investment, and make it easier for businesses to be sustainable in Seattle.

That package of reforms is now before the Seattle City Council, which will hold hearings today and tomorrow to discuss the proposal (Council Committee votes on April 11). These reforms can help get people back to work, expediting up to 40 new construction projects, with 100 to 250 units each, by up to 9 months. The Seattle Building Trades Council estimates that as many as 2,400 direct, family-wage jobs in skilled construction trades could be created through this effort.

Seattle has an opportunity to clear out regulations that are no longer working and help create good jobs in the process. With a global economy that is still unsettled, it’s an opportunity we cannot afford to miss.


David Freiboth is Executive Secretary Treasurer of the ML King County Labor Council.


6 Responses leave one →
  1. JoshMahar permalink
    March 28, 2012

    Here, here.

    To me, much more than changing height limits or density allowances, this reform package really gets us back to the fundamental advantage of cities. The greatness in cities lies in their ability to bring all kinds of people and ideas together to help create new innovations. Their are like big mixing pots of entrepreneurism. The new flexibility of this reform will remove many of the anachronistic barriers we’ve put in place and make entrepreneurism easier and more accessible for individuals citizens rather than just the big players.

  2. Bill Bradburd permalink
    March 28, 2012

    “Seattle has an opportunity to clear out regulations that are no longer working”
    — no argument that SEPA isn’t working.

    “as many as 2,400 direct, family-wage jobs in skilled construction-trades could be created ”
    — are these permanent jobs or temporary construction jobs?

    It’s funny how often “growth” and “sustainability” are used together when making these arguments…

    • Matt the Engineer permalink
      March 29, 2012

      Our region’s population is growing. There are ways to build homes for these people that requires unsustainable practices such as driving long distances, or we can put these homes close to their work and schools.

      Anyway, this is pretty far off topic.

  3. Chris permalink
    March 29, 2012

    I’d love to see the math behind those jobs numbers. From what I know about the proposal, most of the proposals are sensible, yet fairly marginal changes to land use code. At best, whatever expedition of project delivery would occur now would not result in a change in the relationship between supply and demand in the market. Other “stimulus” proposals like cash for clunkers and firsttime homebuyer tax credit are example of other policy that draw demand forward only to see a later reversion to the mean. Is there anything in this proposal the substantively lowers project costs such that the relationship between income and cost is changed? That might alter demand.

  4. dan bertolet permalink*
    April 2, 2012

    Here are the estimates that were used:

    Based on historical DPD permit intake, the SEPA lift should expedite 40 projects between 100 and 250 units.

    Seattle Building & Construction Trades Council says those sites have crews of roughly 60 workers at a time. So, 60 X 40 is 2,400.

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