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Councilmembers Pacheco, O’Brien Applaud Passage of SEPA Reform, Honoring Original Intent of Protecting Environment


Councilmember Abel Pacheco (District 4,
Northeast Seattle) and Councilmember Mike O’Brien (District 6, Northwest Seattle), along with their Council
colleagues, voted 8-0 to pass SEPA reform through Council Bill 119600, updating the
City’s environmental review process to better align with the State
Environmental Policy Act (SEPA). 

Councilmembers Pacheco and O’Brien cited many examples in which
SEPA was used by individuals to try and prevent housing diversity and
sustainable infrastructure improvements in Seattle, rather than to protect the
environment, which was the original intent of the State Environmental Policy
Act. C.B. 119600 updates City codes to reflect recent changes to state law,
made by E2SHB 1923, that exempt some
environmentally-friendly Land Use Code changes from appeals under SEPA.

“SEPA is a tool meant to protect the environment. But from Fort
Lawton to Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) to the Bullitt Center, SEPA has
too often become weaponized to intentionally delay projects that had broad
consensus,” Pacheco said. “We all acknowledge that we are in both a housing and
climate crisis. SEPA reform legislation streamlines the process and cuts
through ‘red tape’, allowing Seattle to adequately respond to its housing
shortage and advance its climate goals.” 

“SEPA reform will prevent individuals from unnecessarily
delaying or blocking strong environmental policies, such as denser housing
closer to transit, or backyard cottages, which was delayed for three years due
to SEPA appeals,” said O’Brien. “This legislation was considered in response to
local environmental groups calling for common sense changes to improve SEPA,
recognizing that excessive SEPA repeals delayed hundreds of badly
needed affordable housing units from being built.”

The legislation was supported by a broad range of environmental
groups, including the Sierra Club, 350 Seattle, and Futurewise. 

“One of the most important things we can do for the environment
is to make it easier for people to live near where they work and play,” said
Sierra Club Seattle Group Chair Brittney Bush Bollay. “Council Bill 119600
smoothes the path for adding much-needed housing in our city by preventing
predatory delay of projects that are already well-studied and clearly safe and
green. In the midst of both a housing and a climate crisis, we must do all we
can to enable the creation of new homes in locations that reduce car dependency
and allow people to choose to walk, bus, bike, or roll around the city.”

Highlights of Council Bill 119600

  • Limits Hearing Examiner SEPA
    appeal hearings to 120 days, with an option to extend to 150 days if all
    parties agree 
  • Clarifies that additional and
    voluntary subjects covered in an Environmental Impact Statement are not
    subject to appeal
  • Aligns City code with changes
    to state law such as HB 1923
  • Updates SEPA thresholds for
    Urban Villages to match Urban Centers, exempting projects with less than
    200 units and 12,000 square feet
  • Allows the Seattle Department
    of Construction and Inspections to create a SEPA Handbook that provides
    guidelines for consistent analysis

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