Thank you Jeff Bezos! With one public comment, Amazon has opened the door to rational and humane development in our city. How did Bezos manage to do this? Simply by stating that he would halt construction of a new Amazon building downtown and not occupy another building already under construction.
We seem to see this as some kind of threat. It actually creates a great incentive for the city council to go forward with the employee tax. This is where intended and unintended consequences need to be understood.
We already have a downtown overflowing with Amazon workers, with Amazon’s employment growing from about 5,000 in 2010 to 45,000 now in downtown Seattle. What has been the consequence of this rapid and concentrated growth? If you drive into downtown, you can expect to sit in traffic in quarter hour increments. And good luck finding a parking place. Construction to enable Amazon to operate and build new buildings intrudes on pedestrians and bicyclists and drivers. It is not safe to bicycle downtown. Buses into and out of downtown are standing room only, and sitting in traffic as well.
The influx of highly paid workers has rocketed up housing prices and rents over the past five years. When housing costs go up, the number of people who become homeless increases as well. In our city, we have seen the homeless CHILDREN in the Seattle Public Schools increase from less than 1,500 in the depths of the Great Recession to over 4,000. This rising tide of economic activity actually is more like quicksand, with islands of prosperity among masses of regular workers facing stagnant wages and increasing costs for health care and higher education, while others are sucked into the void of losing a place to live. Some recovery!
Bezos’ planned stoppage will reduce the stream of workers into downtown. This is a good thing. We can’t handle the current Amazon workforce. This gives the city some breathing room to actually figure out how to create a liveable city for all of us. The city could plan and implement rapid transit within the next five years, as opposed to the current plan of getting light rail to Ballard two decades into the future. The city could figure out how to build housing for regular workers, not just the high income high rises for high tech employees. The city could figure out how to create actual homes for the homeless, in place of righteous and racist paternalistic policies.
If Mayor Jenny Durkan doesn’t veto the City Council’s employee hours tax, and Bezos stands by his offer to halt employment growth in downtown Seattle, then we get a brake on the rising cost of housing and a chance to enable transit to catch up to our city’s workforce and residential growth. That’s a good pathway forward!