Feeling special in Central Area

Let's be frank—there is no phrase more ridiculous and overused in City Hall than "win/win solution."

But the proposed expansion of the Branch Villa Health Care Center at 2611 S Dearborn comes close to benefitting all the parties involved. Owner Andrew Branch would like to expand his existing business by adding an assisted living facility for seniors; but he needs to get a zoning change and purchase two city-owned lots to complete the project as planned. A quick review: City policy encourages assisted living facilities; there's significant unfilled demand for such a facility in the neighborhood; the neighborhood plan for the area endorsed the rezone; and community leaders are backing the project to the hilt.

Despite all these potential wins, the city seems completely paralyzed. The rezone proposal was pulled from the Central Area neighborhood plan for separate consideration by both city building regulators and the City Council.

At a recent hearing, a parade of well-known African-American community leaders trooped up to the microphone to praise the good work of Branch Villa and stress the need for assisted living facilities so Central Area seniors can leave their homes but stay in the neighborhood. "I think any city and any nation will ultimately be judged by how it treats its elderly," said Central Area resident Clarence Williams.

Of course, a perfect "win/win solution" doesn't exist, and some people would definitely lose out on this project. The new assisted living facility would be a big, long building on a neighborhood street, with single-family homes next door and across from it. Peggy and Gary Clark, who live just south of the project, both testified at the hearing, questioning whether the rezone fits city criteria or is an evil "spot rezone," where a specific property is rezoned to benefit a planned project.

Even if approved as proposed, the project would hardly constitute a complete giveaway. The city would impose a ton of extra conditions on the Branch Villa expansion.

Ten years of struggling with city red tape hasn't robbed facility owner Branch of his sense of humor. "If I'm getting favorable treatment from you, I want it to stop," he joked as audience members chuckled. Based on his experience as the focus of the city's "special treatment," he continued, "I'd like to be on your hit list."

Traditionally, the city has been a big giver of special treatment. Branch just doesn't fit into the two groups that usually benefit: billionaires and the city itself. Microsoft rich guy Paul Allen is currently building what will certainly be the ugliest museum in the continental US on public property at the Seattle Center; the city granted its own Benaroya Hall a special exemption from several requirements of the stringent downtown code.

As always, there's more: Less than two weeks after the Branch Villa rezone hearing, the council listened as two consultants discussed the disposition of four parcels of city property at South Lake Union. The two hired guns seemed enthusiastic about the marketability of these properties, purchased in the 1960s for the proposed but never built Bay Freeway Project. But these parcels would be all the more marketable, the consultants confided, if the city could rezone them to push the height limit from the existing 40 feet to 65 feet. Nobody shouted "spot rezone" or "special treatment."

Perhaps this means the council would be more enthusiastic about the Branch Villa rezones if a note of self-interest were injected into the proceedings. Rev. Samuel McKinney, known for his way with words, did his best to oblige at the hearing. "I know that you are fair-minded folks—whether you run for reelection or not—and I know that you will do the right thing," he said. Doesn't that rezone seem more appealing already?

Fire us, please

The conservative Evergreen Freedom Foundation needs its own lesson as to the concept of self-interest.

The foundation, which has battled the state teachers' union over its practice of making political contributions using money from member dues, blasted the "union bosses" for their financial support of the campaign against tax-cutting state Initiative 695. True, unions did donate more than $470,000 to the No on I-695 campaign, but the muddled right-wing think-tankers forget that public employees make up a large percentage of unionized employees. In fact, most of the union groups on a list provided by the foundation itself are obviously public employee unions. In order to truly appreciate the foundation's quest for "paycheck protection," it helps to have a paycheck to protect.

Last-minute thinker

Why do political strategists always seem so tired and forlorn? Here's a quick tale from the front: At the roaring victory party for I- 695, one young man was front and center, cheering and waving his arms. (At one point, Mr. No-Taxation-Without-Representation even shouted "Remember Boston Harbor!")

However, he later admitted to a Seattle Weekly photographer that he wasn't a longtime petition-toting loyalist but a recent convert. Two weeks before the election, he continued, he was still undecided, but came around to the I-695 side because he thought the doomsday claims of government and media were vastly overstated. That's direct democracy for you.

Citizen Chong

Former council member Charlie Chong, whose bid to return to the council fell short earlier this month, isn't going to be mayor either.

Pike Place Market merchant Michael Yeager had offered up his unofficial title of Market mayor to the neighborhood populist, but Charlie graciously declined the honor. "I told Michael that I don't work there [at the Market] and I don't live there and I don't want any resentment from people who do," he explains. Well, he's still the King of West Seattle.

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