Seattle Week in Review: Upzone, Apple, Washington Resistance, & More

This week, a welcome sign of spring: the first crocuses poked out of the ground near here. More construction is sure to follow. The U District upzone was approved, making way for more development near the University of Washington. Apple made a donation to UW, and revealed Seattle expansion plans. More on those stories below, but first, a look at the events this week—including some with a connection to the innovation economy—highlighting local resistance to the Trump agenda:

—Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, whose national profile has risen with the state’s fights against Trump administration immigration policies, took another stand this week. Inslee fired off an executive order Thursday (PDF) directing stage agencies not to inquire about or discriminate based on a person’s immigration status, aid federal immigration agents or make arrests solely for violations of federal immigration law, or participate in the creation of religious registries. There are caveats, but the overall thrust of the order was to ensure that “Washington shall remain a welcoming jurisdiction that embraces diversity with compassion and tolerance and recognizes the value of immigrants.”

Last week, Inslee and Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions requesting a meeting about the administration’s posture toward state laws legalizing marijuana (PDF). An answer came Thursday when White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Americans can expect “greater enforcement” by the federal government of laws prohibiting recreational marijuana use, which “rattled” the $6 billion legal marijuana industry, as Bloomberg reports.

—“Where the president spreads darkness, Seattle will shine a light, and offer a different vision,” said Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, in his state of the city speech, delivered from a Seattle mosque on Tuesday. He also began an effort to get specific information from federal agencies on their approach to sanctuary cities, called for new taxes to address homelessness and education, and asked the business community to raise $25 million over five years, “focused on disruptive innovations that will get more homeless individuals and families into housing.” Civic activist and investor Nick Hanauer was assigned to lead an advisory group tasked with funding a significant increase in city spending on homelessness.

“Developing a national housing and homelessness agenda is not a priority for the new president’s administration,” Murray said.
“We are the ones who must prioritize the lives of the people struggling in the Other Seattle.”

—While a new partnership between the University of Washington and the University of British Columbia is not overtly political, the underlying spirit of international collaboration and the shared values articulated by the universities’ leaders run counter to the nationalist, America-first direction the Trump administration is pursuing. UW President Ana Mari Cauce, introducing the Cascadia Urban Analytics Cooperative on Thursday, said the cities of Seattle and Vancouver are trade-dependent, frontier communities, “that have been made successful through immigration.”

“We face outward at the world,” she said. “And I would say that we’re on the right coast in terms of what’s happening in the world at this moment.”

—Developers can build taller buildings in the neighborhood west of the UW’s main Seattle campus, after a city council vote Tuesday in favor of an “upzone” of the University District. As part of the upzone, developers will be required to build or fund affordable housing in connection with projects in the neighborhood, which is fast becoming Seattle’s next “innovation district,” as tech companies look for scarce office space and locations near the UW, and near new light rail stops. See coverage of the zoning vote from The Seattle Times. And here’s a piece we did in 2014 looking at Startup Hall and the innovation district taking shape around it.

—Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) is ramping up its machine learning and artificial intelligence efforts in Seattle. As GeekWire reports, the company is using the machine learning company it acquired last summer, Turi, as the kernel of a larger office in downtown Seattle. The office is headed by Carlos Guestrin, a University of Washington computer scientist who founded Turi (formerly known as GraphLab and Dato), now director of machine learning at Apple.

Meanwhile, Guestrin, who is an Amazon Professor of Machine Learning at UW (a nod to the $2 million Jeff Bezos put up in 2012 to recruit Guestrin and his spouse, Emily Fox), is the namesake for another endowed professorship at UW. Apple provided $1 million to establish the Guestrin Endowed Professorship in Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning.

The Apple expansion and endowment promises stronger ties between the Cupertino, CA-based company and the UW, according to a UW news release Thursday.

Benjamin Romano is editor of Xconomy Seattle. Email him at bromano [at] xconomy.com. Follow @bromano

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