HSD Director Nomination Stalls Out; Library Levy Moves Forward

1. The nomination process for interim Human Services Department director Jason Johnson appears to be stalled due to a lack of support from city council members, who have the final say on mayoral department director nominations. It’s unclear whether or when the city council will revive the confirmation hearings.

Last week, council member Sally Bagshaw canceled a scheduled meeting of the council’s select committee on homelessness and housing affordability, which included consideration of Johnson’s nomination, and has not rescheduled it. Some council members were reportedly unsatisfied with Johnson’s responses to their questions about inclusivity, Johnson’s personal commitment to race and social justice, independence, and his vision for the department.

Mayor Jenny Durkan has been criticized by HSD’s own internal Change Team (which leads the department’s implementation of the Race and Social Justice Initiative), as well as the Seattle Silence Breakers and the Seattle Human Services Coalition, for nominating Johnson without a “transparent and inclusive process” for selecting a new HSD leader. Earlier this year, city council member Kshama Sawant proposed a resolution to halt Johnson’s nomination and start a new search for a new HSD director. That resolution failed, with Sawant, Mike O’Brien, and Teresa Mosqueda casting the dissenting votes. But concerns about the process and about whether Johnson is the right person for the job seem to have grown since the council began holding hearings in March.

At the most recent committee meeting, on March 28, Johnson attributed the results of a survey showing widespread dissatisfaction among HSD employees, particularly those in the homelessness division, to the “instability” and “immense change” that comes with every new mayoral administration. Johnson also responded to questions about whether he’d be “independent” from Durkan—first saying that the department always employs “evidence-based strategies,” then acknowledging that he wouldn’t say it’s “my way or the highway” if Durkan disagreed with his recommendations on an issue. Council president Bruce Harrell then asked Johnson if he had considered the ways in which white privilege had greased his path to the nomination. Johnson said yes, he was aware “that I was going to have a much easier time” than his African-American predecessor, Catherine Lester, then noted that Lester  “brought me to this organization and… when she resigned and was talking about next steps, offer[ed] her full confidence in my abilities to the mayor.”

Mayor Durkan’s office declined to answer questions about the nomination process or the reason for the delay. They also repeatedly requested the names of specific council members opposed to Johnson’s nomination.

An audit earlier this year concluded that HSD is not doing enough to coordinate the efforts of the agencies that do outreach to unsheltered people; has failed to identify and prioritize people who have recently become homeless for the first time; does not provide nearly enough restrooms or showers for the thousands of people sleeping  outdoors throughout the city; and does not have a good system in place for evaluating the success of the city’s response to homelessness. (Last year, the city and county announced plans to create a new, merged agency to address homelessness, which could help address concerns about coordination; at the same time, the lack of certainty around what that agency will look like, and where current HSD employees will fit in the new structure, has likely contributed to low morale in HSD’s homelessness division.)

It’s unclear exactly how many council members would vote against Johnson if his nomination came up for a vote today (Sawant, of course, looks like a pretty hard no), but sources inside and outside city hall say that he does not currently have the votes to secure the permanent appointment. Johnson has served on an interim basis for nearly a year—a fact to which Durkan has pointed as evidence that he’s qualified for the permanent position.

Bagshaw, who would have to reconvene the committee to revive the nomination process, said she had no comment “yet” about the nomination, and other council members declined to speak on the record.

Support The C Is for Crank
If you like the work I’m doing here, and would like to support this page financially, please support me by becoming a monthly donor on Patreon or PayPal.  For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers, which pay for the time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as reporting-related and office expenses.  If you don’t wish to become a monthly contributor, you can always make a one-time donation via PayPal, Venmo (Erica-Barnett-7) or by mailing your contribution to P.O. Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

2. The council added several million dollars to Durkan’s proposed $213 million library levy Wednesday and moved it one step closer to the ballot. The special committee on the library levy adopted the proposal after adding amendments that will, if the levy passes, expand the bilingual “Play and Learn” early-literacy program ($2.1 million); keep branch libraries, but not the downtown library, open an additional hour every day ($2.5 million); and add a youth services support social worker and a part-time case worker to do outreach to library patrons experiencing homelessness ($1.1 million). A couple of amendments that didn’t make it into the legislation: A study that would look into the feasibility of locating child-care facilities at library branches, and funding for two additional security officers.

The levy proposal goes to the full council next Monday, April 22.

For the basics on the levy, which would add library hours and eliminate library fines, check out my primer at Seattle magazine.

Council Campaign Fundraising: Who’s Raking It In and Who’s Lagging Behind

We’re about two months away from the May 15 filing deadline for city council elections, the point when no more candidates can add their names to the 52 (as of this posting) who have put their names in contention. Will the number grow to 70, for an average of 10 candidates per council race on the ballot? Will any of these candidates raise any money, or are the top two in most races already a foregone conclusion? How much money will be spent in this election, the first election under the new district system in which none of the candidates are holdovers from the pre-district system?

Those questions are obviously speculative, but a look at the money—who’s raising it, who’s spending it, and who’s benefiting—can provide some clues. Here are a few observations from the first month in which candidates have ramped up (or, in some cases, slacked off) on raising and spending on their campaigns.

A quick note about campaign fundraising figures: Cash on hand numbers are approximate, because campaigns only disclose expenditures at the end of the month. I haven’t provided cash on hand numbers for every candidate, because those numbers are less relevant now than they will be further along in the campaign, when candidates need money to drum up votes and every dollar really counts. Because many candidates choose to report contributions as they come in—a practice that becomes mandatory in the final days of the campaign—contributions are often more up to date than expenditures. When a candidate has not reported any contributions after their most recent monthly filing, I will note “as of February 28” to make that clear.

Democracy vouchers are a form of public campaign financing the city of Seattle first started using in 2017. To qualify, candidates must get at least 150 signatures and 150 donations of $10 or more from Seattle residents. Every Seattle resident received four vouchers worth $25 each, which they can contribute to any qualifying candidate. Candidates who accept democracy vouchers are subject to campaign contribution and spending limits, including an individual contribution cap of $250. Candidates who don’t participate aren’t subject to those limits, and can take contributions up to $500.

Support The C Is for Crank
If you like the work I’m doing here, and would like to support this page financially, please support me by becoming a monthly donor on Patreon or PayPal.  For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers, which pay for the time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as reporting-related and office expenses.  If you don’t wish to become a monthly contributor, you can always make a one-time donation via PayPal, Venmo (Erica-Barnett-7) or by mailing your contribution to P.O. Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

In District 1 (West Seattle), incumbent Lisa Herbold has raised the most from actual contributors, with $13,014 in contributions and about $11,996 on hand. Phillip Tavel, an attorney who got 18 percent of the vote in his run for the same seat in 2015, reported more contributions as of February 28—$17,571—but $10,590 of that was Tavel’s own money. Meanwhile, Tavel has spent $16,565. Once other debts are factored in, Tavel has a negative balance of $9,599.

Some of Tavel’s expenses, interestingly, came in the form of refunds to supporters who gave $500—the maximum contribution for candidates who aren’t accepting democracy vouchers. Tavel’s largest contribution is now $250, indicating that he now hopes to take advantage of the public financing program. As of February 28, he had 61 contributors from Seattle—89 shy of the 150 Seattle voters whose signatures and contributions he will need to qualify.

The other District 1 candidates haven’t made much of a play so far; one, SPD lieutenant and two-time state house candidate Brendan Kolding, has seemingly done nothing except loan himself money and pay it back. He has contributions from 33 Seattle residents, plus four out-of-towners with the last name Kolding.

In District 2, Ari Hoffman—the Safe Seattle-backed candidate who was in the news, most recently, for promoting an unfounded conspiracy theory about a beheading-by-saw in a homeless encampment near the Mount Baker light rail station—leads the pack in fundraising with $20,280, in part because he is not seeking democracy vouchers and can accept $500 contributions. (His latest contribution list includes two dozen such donations). Hoffman shares a campaign manager named Veronica Garcia with Ann Sattler, who is running against incumbent Debora Juarez in District 5. He has spent about $350 on Facebook ads so far.

Tammy Morales—who made it through the primary for the same seat in 2015 and narrowly lost to council incumbent Bruce Harrell—has brought in $17,699 in contributions so far, a number that will likely grow quickly (in 2015, running against an incumbent, she raised nearly $75,000). As of the end of February, Morales had a negative balance of $2,609; $3,075 in new contributions reported on March 13 should just push her into the black.

Christopher Peguero, a Seattle City Light employee and community advocate, has raised just $6,435 so far—$3,544 of that from Peguero himself—but is making decent progress toward qualifying for vouchers, with 118 contributors. South Seattle bike advocate Phyllis Porter has raised $2,618, but had already spent $12,212 as of February 28—most of that on consultants CD Strategic ($7,857) and Blue Wave Political Partners ($4,366), putting her $10,285 in the hole. Mark Solomon, SPD’s crime prevention coordinator for south and southwest Seattle, has raised $4,307. The majority of that money (53%) comes from outside city limits, but it also includes a large number of small, democracy voucher-level contributions of $10 or $20; so far, Solomon has 45 contributions toward the 150 required to qualify.

The race for District 3 presents an interesting financial picture because the incumbent, Kshama Sawant, is not taking democracy vouchers (she says she needs to be able to raise as much as possible in anticipation of “big-business” groups spending up to a million dollars to defeat her.) Partly as a result, Sawant is blowing her opponents away in fundraising, with $50,948 in contributions so far, including a Bernie-approved $27 donation to herself. So far, the overwhelming majority (84 percent) of Sawant’s contributions come from outside her district, with half her contributions coming from outside the city of Seattle itself. More than half of Sawant’s donations are maxed-out $500 contributions.

So far, the onslaught of corporate-backed candidates Sawant predicted has not materialized. King County public defender Ami Nguyen has raised about $11,398, mostly (72%) from out of town. Sawant’s closest competitor, Hashtag Cannabis owner Logan Bowers, has raised $30,572 so far, including $5,800 in democracy vouchers. A quarter of that money comes from inside District 3 (for incumbent Sawant, that number is 16%.) Bowers has spent a fair amount—about $1,300—to access the Washington State Democrats’ donor database.

Nine candidates are running in District 4, which incumbent Rob Johnson is abdicating after a single term, so I’ll limit my fundraising-related comments to the handful with significant contributions. (Obviously, it’s early days, so any of the candidates I don’t mention here, like Abel Pacheco and Cathy Tuttle, could have a fundraising surge later on.) First on that list is Alex Pedersen, a former aide to ex-council member Tim Burgess who expressed some potentially incendiary views about transit and homelessness on his since-deleted neighborhood newsletter. Pedersen has raised $44,954 so far, including $12,050 from democracy vouchers—a number that goes down to $26,518 once $18,436 of Pedersen’s own money is excluded. Pedersen’s contributors include 2015 District 4 candidate Tony Provine (creator of the infamous “bulldozers are coming” campaign mailer), Fremont property magnate and anti-bike-lane activist Suzie Burke; and well-known anti-density activists Toby Thaler, Bill Bradburd, and Susanna Lin (Lin and Thaler are on the board of Seattle Fair Growth, a group that helped sue to stop the Mandatory Housing Affordability plan the city council is finally adopting on Monday).

Emily Myers, a Ph. D candidate at the University of Washington, has raised $8,028 so far, including several hundred in $27 contributions (and 86% of it from outside her district). Shaun Scott, who is running as a member of the Democratic Socialists, has raised $14,884, including about 60 $27 contributions. No District 4 candidate other than Pedersen has qualified for democracy vouchers so far, although Scott appears to have enough qualifying contributions (the city’s democracy website does not indicate how many signatures a candidate is gathered until he or she turns them in). Nineteen-year-old college student Ethan Hunter, the subject of several fluffy media profiles when he announced he was running earlier this year, has reported no campaign activity since December 12.

District 5 incumbent Debora Juarez rarely lets a turn at the mic go by without mentioning her North Seattle district, and her relentless advocacy for her district has paid off in the form of a fairly frictionless campaign so far. Her opponents include two perennial candidates, plus Thornton Creek Alliance activist John Lombard, and attorney and former Seattle Supersonics employee Ann Sattler, who appears to be running on a law-and-order platform and is not seeking democracy vouchers. Sattler has raised $9,237,  a number that includes $4,137 of her own money. (Most of the remaining $5,000 is from $500 contributions). Juarez, meanwhile, has raised $10,500 and has registered, but not yet qualified for, democracy  vouchers.

District 6, the seat being vacated by 10-year incumbent Mike O’Brien, is the most crowded council race so far, with a dozen candidates competing to represent Northwest Seattle. It’s safe to say, though, that most of those candidates aren’t viable, and that one, former council member Heidi Wills, is already a likely frontrunner based on name recognition alone, even though she hasn’t raised much money (just $1,370, for a negative balance of $2,285 after the cost of building her website is factored in) since declaring her candidacy earlier this month. Jay Fathi, a Fremont doctor who hired local campaign veteran Christian Sinderman as his campaign consultant, is seeking to qualify for vouchers (he has 102 qualifying contributions so far), and is in the red, or just above it, despite $15,695 in contributions because he owes $12,769 to Sinderman’s firm.

Two other candidates raising money in District 6 are Jon Lisbin, who received 13% in his 2015 candidate for the same position (he’s raised $13,036, including $6,010 in contributions from himself), Dan Strauss, a legislative aide to District 7 incumbent Sally Bagshaw ($11,133), and Kate Martin, who previously ran for school board and mayor and was behind an unsuccessful campaign to preserve a section of the Alaskan Way Viaduct as part of an elevated waterfront park ($6,175).

District 7 incumbent Sally Bagshaw is the fourth council incumbent to announce her retirement this year, and eight candidates have lined up so far to seek her old job. So far, the clear frontrunner appears to be former interim police chief Jim Pugel, who has started racking up progressive endorsements and has raised nearly twice as much as his two leading competitors, with $35,796 in contributions (about a third of them, interestingly, from people who list “not employed” as their employment status, which usually indicates someone is retired). Pugel also appears to be using Sinderman’s firm, Northwest Passage, as his primary consultant. Andrew Lewis, the onetime campaign manager for former council member Nick Licata, has raised $19,155, which includes contributions from several former local, county, and state elected officials (Peter Steinbrueck, Martha Choe, Larry Phillips). Kidder Matthews development consultant Michael George has raised $18,325, largely from people in the development and building industry (and 51% from outside city limits). Naveed Jamali and Jason Williams also have relatively active campaigns; I’ll report more on their fundraising if it picks up significantly. So far, only Lewis has qualified for democracy vouchers (and has received $2,950 in voucher form); George and Williams are both seeking to qualify, and Jamali is not participating.

For up-to-date election information, check out the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission’s campaign website. For current information on democracy vouchers, go to the city’s Democracy Voucher page.

Early Morning Crank: Wills Confirms Council Rumors, Johnson Denies Early Departure, Incentive Zoning Delayed

Image result for heidi wills

via Twitter.

1. Former council member Heidi Wills will soon declare her candidacy for city council in District 6, after District 6 incumbent Mike O’Brien announced that he did not plan to run for reelection. The news came courtesy of Wills’ Facebook page over the weekend, when Wills posted the following in the comments to a post by—of all people—former council member Judy Nicastro, who was ousted along with Wills in the wake of the Strippergate scandal in 2003:

Heidi Wills Thank you, Judy! I ❤️ Seattle. We’re growing so fast and facing big issues. I’d like a seat at the table to elevate all our voices for a more common sense, inclusive, equitable and sustainable city. Campaign logistics will be in place soon. Stay tuned!

I first reported on speculation that Wills would run in December. After losing to one-term council member David Della, Wills spent almost 15 years as the  executive director of The First Tee, an organization that teaches golf to disadvantaged youth.

 

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2. City council member Rob Johnson denies rumors that he plans to leave his council position to start a new job advising the National Hockey League on transportation issues related to KeyArena as early as May. (A more recent rumor had Johnson leaving as early as next month.) “It’s not true,” Johnson says. “I have no plans to leave early.” However, in the next breath, Johnson appeared to leave the door open for an early departure, adding, “I’ve got a firm commitment from [the NHL] that we won’t even start talking about that until we have concluded MHA”—the Mandatory Housing Affordability plan, which will allow more density in some areas in exchange for affordable housing. That process is supposed to wrap up in mid-May.

If Johnson (or any of the other three council incumbents who have said they will not seek reelection when their terms end this year) does leave early, the council will have to appoint a replacement; the last time that happened was when Kirsten Harris-Talley replaced Position 8 council member Tim Burgess, who left the council to serve as mayor after former mayor Ed Murray resigned amid child sexual abuse allegations. Harris-Talley served for 51 days.

3. One issue that won’t come before Johnson’s committee before he leaves is a planned update of the city’s Incentive Zoning program—another density-for-public-benefits tradeoff that has been partly supplanted by MHA. Incentive zoning is a catchall term for a patchwork of zoning designations that allow developers to build more densely in exchange for funding or building affordable housing or other public benefits, such as child care, open space, or historic protection through a transfer of development rights (a program that has been used to protect historic buildings, such as Town Hall on First Hill, from demolition.) Once MHA goes through, incentive zoning will still apply in downtown and South Lake Union as well as parts of the University District, Uptown, and North Rainier neighborhoods.

The whole program was supposed to get an update this year to consolidate IZ standards across the city, strengthen some green building requirements (barring the use of fossil fuels for heating, for example), and impose minimum green building standards throughout downtown (currently, the city’s standard, which requires buildings to be 15 percent more efficient than what the state requires,  are only mandatory outside the downtown core). The proposed new rules would also remove “shopping corridors” and publicly accessible atriums from the list of public amenities allowed under incentive zoning, since these tend to be public in name only.

Last week, the city’s Office of Planning and Community Development sent out a notice saying that “Due to the volume of land use policy and legislation work that the City of Seattle is currently undertaking, the Incentive Zoning Update has been temporarily delayed.” The notice continued, “There is currently no revised schedule for release of public draft legislation or transmission to Council. While there is still a possibility that legislation could be transmitted to Council for consideration in 2019, it is likely that the legislation will be delayed until 2020.”

City staffers say the delay is largely because the city’s law department, which reviews legislation, has been backed up not just with MHA, but with a backlog of litigation, from challenges to city rules allowing backyard apartments to defending legislation gerrymandering the Pike Place Market Historical District to include the Showbox. Developers, meanwhile, may be breathing a sigh of relief. In a letter to OPCD last year, NAIOP, which represents commercial real estate developers, objected to the new green standards, arguing that they would  lead to higher housing costs and jeopardize MHA’s ability to produce more density. NAIOP also argued that because the new energy standards have advanced faster than the technology that would enable builders to comply with them, the city should reduce the amount by which it requires new projects to best the state-mandated energy code. OPCD disputes NAIOP’s characterization of the current standards, but acknowledges that there may come a time when they need to be revisited.

Dozens of Candidates Line Up in First Test of District System: Part 3

This piece originally appeared on Seattle magazine’s website.

This is the second in a series about the Seattle City Council candidates running in the August primary election—the first true test of Seattle’s new district election system. Here’s a quick look at who’s running in Districts 6 and 7.

District 6 (Northwest Seattle)

Mike O’Brien

The two-term council incumbent and national Sierra Club board member is under fire from neighborhood activists who say he has done too little to address homeless encampments, RVs, and drugs while focusing on national issues like climate change. Opponents also disagree with O’Brien’s work to implement the city’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda, including legislation he sponsored to make it easier for homeowners to add basement apartments and backyard cottages. O’Brien has said he is taking the next month or two to decide whether he plans to seek reelection. If he doesn’t run, this race could get crowded.

Kate Martin
Neighborhood activist and 2013 mayoral candidate who also ran an unsuccessful campaign for a ballot measure that would have preserved the Alaskan Way Viaduct and turned it into an aerial park.

Jonathan Lisbin
A business owner and activist with Seattle Fair Growth, which led efforts to stop the city’s proposed Mandatory Housing Affordability plan, Lisbin is seeking the District 6 seat for a second time; the first time he ran, in 2015, he was knocked out in the primary with 13 percent of the vote.

District 7 (Pioneer Square, Downtown, Queen Anne, Magnolia)

Jim Pugel
He’s a former interim police chief and department veteran who advocated for police reform and harm-reduction strategies (like the successful Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program, which provides alternatives to prosecution for low-level offenders) during a time when the city was under a federal consent decree for excessive use of force and allegations of racially biased policing. Pugel, who has been endorsed by several prominent police-reform advocates, is the best-known contender in the race so far and a likely frontrunner for this position.

Elizabeth Campbell
Magnolia activist and 2009 mayoral candidate best known for challenging city policies in court. Most recently, Campbell sought to prevent a “tiny house village” homeless encampment in Interbay and to thwart plans for affordable housing at Fort Lawton, near Discovery Park.

Michael George
Senior project manager at commercial real estate firm Kidder Matthews and first-time candidate who is raising a family in downtown Seattle and started the Parents for a Better Downtown Seattle nonprofit several years ago, after his first child was born, to advocate for “family-oriented infrastructure” downtown. He says the city needs to do a better job of supporting the work of the Seattle school district by funding early childhood education and wraparound services for families struggling to stay in the city.

Naveed Jamali
Navy reserve intelligence officer and TV news analyst whose platform includes hiring more police officers, implementing “good government” strategies, and better growth management. Jamali, who lives in Queen Anne, also opposes supervised drug consumption sites.

Andrew Lewis
Lewis, who managed campaigns for former city council member Nick Licata and now works as a deputy city attorney for Seattle, says he would commit to building 5,000 new units of affordable housing in three years and would work to expand and reform the city’s Navigation Teams. Lewis also says he’d advocate for a complete replacement of the unsound Magnolia Bridge and for moving Sound Transit’s planned light rail line to Ballard closer to Magnolia.

Daniela Eng
A Magnolia resident who was “born and raised” in the neighborhood, Eng says she decided to run because “property crime continues to go unaddressed in the city, with small business and law-abiding citizens bearing the cost.”

Isabel Kerner
A Queen Anne resident and former Garfield High School student who is currently suing the Seattle Police Department for allegedly mishandling a police report she filed about an assault she experienced on Capitol Hill. She’s promoting the use of shipping containers as a solution to homelessness

 

Dozens of Candidates Line Up in First Test of District System: Part 2

This piece originally appeared on Seattle magazine’s website.

This is the second in a series about the Seattle City Council candidates running in the August primary election—the first true test of Seattle’s new district election system. Here’s a quick look at who’s running in Districts 3, 4 and 5. Check back Friday for the update on who’s running in the remaining districts.

Missed part one? Read it here.

District 3 (Capitol Hill, Central District, Montlake, South Lake Union, North Beacon Hill)

Kshama Sawant
Incumbent and member of Socialist Alternative (SA). (Seattle Business magazine contributor Kevin Schofield wrote about the relationship between Sawant and SA here.) Sawant’s challengers will likely zero in on the perception that she is focused on national issues and party-building efforts rather than the concerns of her district. On the council, Sawant has fought for taxes on large businesses (the “head tax,” which the council passed but ultimately overturned), protections for renters such as limitations on move-in costs (which passed), and legislation that “saved” the Showbox by adding the downtown club to the Pike Place Market Historical District, preventing a planned development.

Logan Bowers
Capitol Hill resident and owner of Hashtag Cannabis in Fremont who says he’s running to “bring responsibility and achieve real progress” in the district.

Pat Murakami
Longtime Mount Baker neighborhood activist who challenged citywide Position 9 council member Lorena Gonzalez in 2017 and received 29 percent of the vote.

Beto Yarce
A onetime undocumented immigrant from Mexico and founder of Ventures, a nonprofit that specializes in developing small and immigrant-owned businesses, Yarce has criticized Sawant for being too divisive and not focusing on her district. A member of Mayor Jenny Durkan’s Small Business Advisory Council, Yarce supports reducing the business and occupation tax for low-income businesses and has said he would support a version the “head tax,” which would have raised up to $200 million for housing and homeless services, that had business buy-in a detailed spending plan. So far, he is widely considered the front-running challenger.

District 4 (Northeast Seattle)

Ethan Hunter
Hunter is a 19-year-old Seattle Central College student whose platform focuses on higher education and ending the gender and racial pay gaps.

Alex Pedersen
A former aide to former city council member Tim Burgess who went on to become a financial analyst for CBRE Affordable Housing, Pedersen is running on an “accountability” platform. In his neighborhood newsletter, he argued against the Sound Transit 3 ballot measure, against the Move Seattle transportation levy, and against a plan to increase density in the University District. Pedersen says he would bring his experience in the private sector to craft “fiscally responsible” solutions to the city’s affordable housing shortfall.

Shaun Scott
Democratic Socialist member and onetime Pramila Jayapal campaign organizer who supports local “eco-taxes” on polluters, wants the city to fund municipal broadband, and wants to allow undocumented immigrants to vote in municipal elections.

Sasha Anderson

A renter in the Roosevelt/Ravenna area who works as the director of a high school mentoring program, Anderson says she’s running to bring her “deep knowledge of consensus building and commitment to social justice to the Seattle City Council.”

Emily Myers
University of Washington PhD. Candidate in pharmacology and organizer with UAW 4121, the postdoc and student employees’ union. Myers says she will bring an “evidence-based” approach to issues as a council member.

District 5 (North Seattle)

Debora Juarez
Incumbent and enrolled member of the Blackfeet Nation, Juarez is well-known for her almost hypervigilant focus on her district, particularly during the council’s annual budget deliberations. She has fought for the expansion of the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program, which provides alternatives to prosecution for low-level offenders; worked to secure funding for the pedestrian bridge connecting neighborhoods west of I-5 to the new Northgate light rail station; and oversaw KeyArena redevelopment negotiations last year.

John Lombard
Activist with the group Thornton Creek Alliance, an environmental group that has sought the removal of homeless encampments on the grounds that they pollute the North Seattle creek. He says homeowners were left out of the deliberations that led to the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda, which includes higher densities on some land that is currently zoned single-family

Alex Tsimerman
Perennial public commenter who refers to city council members as Nazis (while giving the Nazi salute) and has run unsuccessfully for several local offices.

Ann Davison Sattler
Attorney and former Seattle Supersonics employee who has said she’s running because homelessness has gotten out of control and current laws aren’t being enforced. Sattler recently told Saul Spady, the Dick’s Burgers scion turned conservative-radio DJ, that she would focus on mental health, substance abuse, and cleaning up the streets by ramping up criminal prosecutions.

Dozens of Candidates Line Up in First Test of District System: Part 1

This piece—an early roundup of candidates for the seven open city council seats—originally appeared on Seattle magazine’s website; parts 2 and 3 will be out later this week. 

Six years ago, Seattle voters decided they wanted to elect seven of their nine city council members by geographical district, leading to the city’s first district elections in almost 100 years, in 2015.

It was a dramatic change in the way Seattle voters choose their representatives. Switching to districts, supporters argued, meant that candidates would have to reach fewer voters, which would in turn lower the financial barriers to entry and lead to more geographically focused campaigns—and a council more focused on specific neighborhood concerns than citywide issues.

It didn’t quite work out that way. In 2015, most of the “district” candidates were incumbents who were originally elected citywide, and the majority of those incumbents won. (Jean Godden, notably, lost in the primary in an election that ultimately went to District 4 newcomer Rob Johnson, and both Lisa Herbold and Debora Juarez—District 1 and District 5, respectively, won in new district seats where no incumbents were running.)

This year is different. Of the seven district races on the ballot, just one district council member who was originally elected citywide—Kshama Sawant, of District 3—will be on the August ballot. Two others from that group—Bruce Harrell (District 2) and Sally Bagshaw (District 7) are not running for reelection, and another, Mike O’Brien (District 6) has not declared his intent but is reportedly trying to recruit someone he can support to step into the race after some less-than-encouraging poll results.

Johnson, meanwhile, is bowing out after just one term. That means that at least three, and possibly four, of the seven districts are truly up for grabs. And nearly every district is in play, either because the seat is open or because the incumbent is embattled. (Lisa Herbold (District 1) and Deborah Juarez (District 5) are widely assumed to be running for reelection, with better-than-even odds to win.)

Here’s a quick look at who’s running in Districts 1, 2 and 3. Check back Thursday and next Monday for an update on who’s running in the remaining districts. The filing deadline for the August 6 primary election is May 17.

District 1 (West Seattle, South Park)

Lisa Herbold
Incumbent; former longtime aide to lefty city council member Nick Licata. Herbold is an idiosyncratic part of the council’s left wing, advocating strongly for renters and against gentrification while supporting policies that preserve single-family zoning and getting deep into the weeds on behalf of little-known West Seattle issues.

Brendan Kolding
Seattle Police Department officer who has sought office unsuccessfully several times before, running against state Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon in 2014 and state Sen. Eileen Cody in 2016 (both D-34); also sought appointment to open seat vacated by Tim Burgess in 2017.

Philip Tavel
Video game developer-turned-attorney who ran for this seat in 2015 and finished third in the primary; endorsed that year by The Seattle Times for his refreshing, pragmatic sense of analytical thinking and intellectual curiosity” and his skepticism about local tax levies.

Isaiah T. Willoughby
District 1 resident with a lengthy criminal record whose organizational title on the Seattle elections website is “Promoting Healthy Minds and Spirits.”

District 2 (Southeast Seattle, Georgetown, Chinatown/International District)

Ari Hoffman
Businessman who last year demanded $230,000 from the city for “homeless-related damages” to two North Seattle Jewish cemeteries on behalf of the cemetery board. Hoffman’s platform promotes deregulation, lower taxes, and strict law enforcement against drug users and homeless people who “who have no interest in helping themselves,” according to his campaign website.

Tammy Morales
Morales, a community organizer and member of the Seattle Human Rights Commission, came close to beating incumbent Bruce Harrell in 2015. Since then, she has become a vocal member of the Democratic Socialists of America with a platform that highlights racial equity, preventing displacement, and focusing on housing rather than “criminalizing homelessness.”

Phyllis Porter
A longtime safe-streets advocate, former Seattle Bicycle Advisory Board member and leader of Rainier Neighborhood Greenways, Porter organized a protest on Rainier Avenue S. in 2015 that galvanized efforts to improve safety on one of Seattle’s most dangerous streets for bicyclists and pedestrians.

Matthew Perkins
Pioneer Square resident who opposes supervised drug consumption sites, would end funding for homeless housing providers until they submit to city-run audits, and says he will “work to lower property taxes” in the city.

Christopher Peguero
A Seattle City Light employee who is running as a Democratic Socialist, Peguero says his top priority will be “working with community to foster transparency, equity, and cultural accessibility in government.” His platform calls for additional 24/7 low-barrier encampments for people experiencing homelessness, allowing multifamily housing in more of the city and repurposing the King County juvenile justice center instead of building a new jail for youth.

Henry Dennison
Socialist Workers’ Party candidate who, according to the SWP paper The Militant, is a rail worker who “has been active supporting farmworkers in the Skagit Valley who fought and won union recognition and a contract with one of the largest berry growers in the state.”

At Long Last, Council Takes Up Mandatory Housing Affordability Upzones

As the city council prepares to finally take up former mayor Ed Murray’s Mandatory Housing Affordability plan—which alters zoning and land use across the city, and would allow duplexes and small apartment buildings on 6 percent of the land currently reserved exclusively for detached single-family houses—today, the council’s seven district members are also proposing dozens of amendments to the plan.

Many of the amendments involve undoing or reducing the proposed density increases, although some proposals do call for higher densities in certain areas. It’s highly improbable that every one of the downzoning amendments will pass, but if they did, it would be tantamount to rejecting the very premise of MHA, which allows developers to build more densely in a small swath of the city in exchange for funding new affordable housing. If all the amendments, including both downzones and upzones, passed, the overall result would still be lower density overall than MHA proposes). And even if MHA were passed unamended, the vast majority of Seattle would still be preserved for suburban-style single-family houses.

The implications of not adopting MHA as drafted (or of downzoning the proposal, block by contested block) go beyond just density. Exempting some commercial and multifamily areas from the plan will mean that developers who build in those areas will not have to build affordable housing (either on-site or by contributing money to a city fund), which have two effects: First, it will make MHA-exempt areas more attractive to developers, not less, because they won’t have to contribute to affordable housing, making development cheaper; second, because developers who build in exempted areas won’t have to contribute to affordable housing, less affordable housing will get built, making it harder for the city to reach its goal of 6,000 units of affordable housing in the next 10 years. Council members who act to exempt certain multifamily areas from upzones in order to prevent displacement may, in other words, actually be encouraging development in those areas.

Here are some of the amendments the council will consider this week, starting at today’s special MHA committee meeting in council chambers at 2:30, listed by district. All the amendments are available in in this 100-page document, which lists the amendments in district order; amendments that are tagged “Additional Environmental review needed” are outside the scope of the city’s Final Environmental Impact Statement for the proposal (which the city’s hearing examiner recently upheld after a lengthy appeal process), and are less likely to move forward than those within the scope of the FEIS. Many of the amendments in each district are proposed by the council member for that district; however, because this isn’t true of every amendment (many of the amendments came from council central staff or from constituents in that district), I’ll refer to the amendments by district rather than author, with one exception. Also, when I refer to “downzones” and “upzones,” I am generally referring to those changes relative to what is proposed in the MHA plan, not to the current zoning.

 District 1 (Lisa Herbold)

The amendments proposed for Herbold’s West Seattle District would reduce the proposed upzones in areas that are currently zoned single-family from low-rise (a catchall term for zones that allow multifamily development) to lower-density designations. Seven of the 11 District 1 amendments call for scaling back the MHA density increases to Residential Small Lot zoning, which allows no more than one unit per 2,000 square feet of land area and limits the size of new houses to 2,200 square feet. Other amendments would undo every proposed upzone in the areas of the West Seattle Junction that are currently single-family, while upzoning a swath of land known as the Triangle, along Fauntleroy Way SW, from 65 feet to 95 feet.

In practice, Residential Small Lot, a new zoning designation, imposes a density limit of about two units on a typical 5,000-square-foot Seattle lot—far less than, say, Low-Rise 3, which is supposed to encourage “infill housing at medium to high densities,” according to the city.

District 2 (Bruce Harrell)

Areas around the Mount Baker light rail station would not be upzoned, or would receive more modest upzones, under two District 2 amendments, and a proposed expansion of the North Beacon Hill Urban Village (along with an upzone within the existing urban village, which is served by the Beacon Hill light rail station) would be eliminated. Getting rid of upzones on Beacon Hill has been a priority of the anti-density SCALE coalition, whose environmental appeals have stalled the implementation of MHA, and Harrell’s amendments would largely accomplish this goal.

The District 2 amendments also include small, specific upzones and downzones in far southeast Seattle (including lower heights and densities around the Rainier Beach light rail station).

District 3 (Kshama Sawant)

Most of the proposed MHA amendments in District 3 consist of downzones on North Capitol Hill east of 15th Ave. and north of Thomas St.—generally speaking, one of the wealthier parts of Sawant’s district, which includes the rest of Capitol Hill as well as the Central District small parts of Mount Baker and Beacon Hill. Geographically, the majority of the proposed District 3 downzones are in the Madison-Miller Urban Village, along 19th Ave. E between East Aloha and East Thomas Streets, and between 20th and 24rd Aves. E on Capitol Hill.

The District 3 amendments also include a few small upzones on individual properties and blocks—all of them, with one exception, in the Central District or further south.

District 4 (Rob Johnson)

Johnson is a vocal proponent of MHA and of increasing density in his own Northeast Seattle district. Many of the amendments in District 4, not surprisingly, would upzone parts of Johnson’s district even more than MHA calls for, particularly around the two light rail stations that are being built near the University of Washington and in the Ravenna-Roosevelt neighborhood. The amendments would also increase potential building heights near the Roosevelt station, on 12th Ave. NE between NE 65th and 67th Streets, from 65 feet to 125 feet, and would add 20 feet to the potential height of new apartments around University Village.

The District 4 amendments also include a few proposed downzones—one for the block just north of Roosevelt High School, two for a site just north of Ravenna Park, and one on the northern boundary of his district, where he has proposed reducing part of the Wallingford Urban Village from low-rise to residential small lot.

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District 5 (Debora Juarez)

The amendments proposed for District 5, which stretches from the northern boundary of Johnson’s district to the border between Seattle and Shoreline, also include a number of upzones centering on three dense (and densifying) areas of North Seattle—Northgate, where a light-rail station is under construction, Lake City, and Aurora Avenue North, in the Aurora-Licton Urban Village.

District 3 council member Sawant has also proposed an amendment in Juarez’s district that would cancel an upzone planned for commercially zoned two mobile home parks located just south of N 125th Street, which are slated for an upzone from 40 to 55 feet. It’s unclear whether Sawant consulted with Juarez on her amendment about the mobile home park, which is also the subject of a special committee meeting Sawant is holding in her renters’ rights committee on Friday afternoon.

District 6 (Mike O’Brien)The 15 proposed amendments in District 6, which includes all of Northwest Seattle, largely sidestep Ballard’s historical center and the area around a potential light rail station, along NW Market Street. Instead, the proposed changes center on the Crown Hill Urban Village, where nine amendments would reduce MHA’s proposed upzones, mostly by lowering proposed densities in areas that are currently single-family from low-rise to residential small lot.

A handful of other District 6 amendments would modestly increase density on a few specific parcels—including one block just south of Holman Rd. NW, currently the site of a Dick’s Drive-In location—but most of the proposals involve lowering development capacity in the northern half of O’Brien’s district.

District 7 (Sally Bagshaw) 

There are just three proposed amendments in Bagshaw’s district, which includes parts of the city (downtown and South Lake Union) that have already gone through their own upzone process and are not part of the current MHA debate. They include two downzones from the MHA proposal, in Upper Queen Anne, and a reversal of a proposed upzone in Magnolia, near the Kiwanis Memorial Preserve Park, just south of the Ballard Locks.

Mayor Jenny Durkan is likely to want to leave her own stamp on the previous mayor’s upzone proposal; during the campaign, she said she supported Murray’s decision to take single-family housing (mostly) off the table, and commented that in considering changes to the plan, it was important to make sure “that we aren’t impacting neighborhoods, communities, or families in ways that we didn’t think about.”

The plan has already been drastically watered down once, during the Murray administration—from a proposal that would have allowed duplexes and townhomes in the 65 percent of Seattle that is preserved exclusively for single-family houses, to the current version, which upzones just a sliver of that land and keeps the city’s single-family mandate intact. Any further backsliding on MHA will only hinder the city’s ability to create affordable housing for low-income residents, and ensure that more middle-income people are pushed out of the city simply

Campaign Crank: O’Brien Robopolls, Pedersen Hits Delete, and Rufo Writes His Own Company a Check

1. City council incumbent Mike O’Brien has not said yet whether he plans to run for reelection, although was behind a robopoll testing support for O’Brien as well as two potential candidates, state Rep. Gael Tarleton and Fremont Brewing co-owner Sara Nelson, in December.  O’Brien has not released the results of the poll, but the news was reportedly not great; the embattled incumbent has come under heavy fire over the last year from neighborhood activists who disagree with his opposition to homeless encampment removals, his support for density, and his advocacy for the scuttled $275 “head tax” on large businesses, which would have paid for housing and homeless services. All seven of the districted council positions will be on the ballot this year; so far, three of the incumbents—Sally Bagshaw (District 7), Rob Johnson (District 4) and Bruce Harrell (District 2) have announced that they will not seek reelection.

2. One of the candidates for Johnson’s position, former Tim Burgess aide Alex Pedersen, ran a blog and newsletter for several years focusing on family life and businesses in District 4. But Pedersen also used the site, called “4 To Explore,” to expound on his own political views. Although Pedersen has delated the blog’s archives from his website—which now displays a statement saying that the blog is “on hiatus” and that anyone who subscribed to the site as an email newsletter can “simply search your old e-mails”—the site lives on in the Internet archive, where it’s possible to read Pedersen’s past writings on everything from the Sound Transit 3 ballot measure (which he opposed) to local levies (he supported the housing and preschool levies but opposed Move Seattle because, among other reasons, he thought it included too much for bike lanes) to homelessness (he wanted the city to “Make it clear we will prioritize housing and taxpayer-funded services for Seattle and King County residents” because “Seattle is branded across the country as “a Mecca” for services” and “seems to be attracting homeless from around the nation”). In 2015, Pedersen endorsed longtime anti-density activist Bill Bradburd over council incumbent Lorena Gonzalez.

Pedersen also described the downtown streetcar, which Mayor Jenny Durkan has put on hold, as “incredibly expensive and redundant“; referred to the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda as “former Mayor Ed Murray’s backroom deal for real estate developer upzones”; denouncedCOUNCILMEMBER ROB JOHNSON’S TWISTING OF THE TRUTH” in a post trashing the city’s decision to allow more density in the University District; and supported impact fees on developers who add density to neighborhoods.

Pedersen’s new campaign website does not yet include an “issues” page.

3. Christopher Rufo, the former District 6 City Council candidate, contributed $10,000 to his own campaign against city council incumbent Mike O’Brien last year. After dropping out of the race in November, and after refunding about $3,700 of the $12,390 he received in contributions, he wrote two more checks—one, for $5,600, to the Union Gospel Mission, and another, for $10,000, to the Documentary Foundation—the California-based nonprofit film company that Rufo runs. In 2017, the Documentary Foundation reported revenues of $123,819 and expenses of $390,065, including Rufo’s $58,285 salary.

Rufo says he gave his contributors the option of getting their money back or having him contribute it to UGM. “After hearing back from donors, I sent checks to everyone who requested a refund, paid down the campaign’s expenses, and sent the remaining $5,600 in donor contributions to Union Gospel Mission (in that order).” Rufo says he gave the rest of the money to the Documentary Foundation “with the goal of continuing to engage on Seattle political issues,” because he could not legally refund it to himself. (Wayne Barnett, the director of the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission, says Rufo could have refunded himself up to $6,000 under state law).

Rufo says he’s now working on a new film, “America Lost,” which, according to the Documentary Foundation’s website, ” shows the dramatic decline of the American heartland through a mosaic of stories including an ex-steelworker scrapping abandoned homes to survive, a recently incarcerated father trying to rebuild his life, and a single mother struggling to escape her blighted urban neighborhood.”

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Morning Crank: Eliminating “Single-Family” Zoning Altogether

1. It’s been three years (and three mayors) since the city first adopted a plan to implement the affordable housing plan known as Mandatory Housing Affordability, which requires developers to fund affordable housing in exchange for greater density in some parts of the city. Although some aspects of the plan are now in place, the most controversial element—expanding the city’s urban villages and centers to incorporate 6 percent of the city’s vast swaths of single-family land—was locked up in appeals until late last month, when city hearing examiner Ryan Vancil ruled that the city had adequately addressed almost all of the potential environmental impacts of the proposal.

The fundamental debate about whether to upzone any of the city’s single-family neighborhoods, however, continues. On Monday, at a council committee meeting about next steps, city council members Lisa Herbold and Rob Johnson (with assists from Sally Bagshaw and Teresa Mosqueda) played out a miniature version of that debate, with Herbold taking up the banner for activists who claim that allowing more types of housing will lead to massive displacement of low-income people living in single-family houses. “My concern is that we are grossly underestimating the number of affordable units that are being lost to development” by using eligibility for tenant relocation assistance as a proxy for displacement, Herbold said. (Tenant relocation assistance is available to people who make less than 50 percent of the Seattle median income. A subsequent analysis, based on American Community Survey data, included people making up to 80 percent of median income, although as Herbold pointed out, this still may not capture people who share houses with roommates, and thus have a collective household income well above 80 percent of median). Johnson countered that while the council has dithered on passing the MHA legislation, hundreds of new apartments have been built with no affordable housing requirement at all. “Would it be fair to say that the ‘no-action alternative’ results in a whole lot of displacement?” he asked Nick Welch, a senior planner with the Office of Housing and Community Development. “Yes,” Welch replied.

Herbold also suggested that the council should adopt separate resolutions dealing with each of the city’s seven “unique” districts that would include “individual urban village commitments” in those districts. Johnson said that was certainly something the council could discuss in the future, but noted that the city has already spent years learning about the issues various neighborhood groups have with the upzone proposal. “I think we have a pretty good sense of what community issues and concerns are out there,” Johnson said. “We want to outline a process that would allow us to address some of those issues.” Herbold also said she was considering amendments that would require developers to replace every unit for which a tenant received relocation assistance on a one-for-one basis, and suggested requiring developers building in areas with high displacement risk to build affordable units on site, rather than paying into the city’s affordable housing fund.

Under the city’s current timeline, the council would vote to approve the legislation, with amendments in late March of next year.

2. As the council debated the merits of modest density increases, the city’s Planning Commission suggested a far more significant rewrite of the city’s housing laws—one that would include doing away with city’s “single-family” zoning designation entirely. In the report, “Neighborhoods for All: Expanding Housing Opportunity in Seattle’s Single-Family Zones,” the advisory commission recommends reducing displacement and increasing economic and racial diversity in Seattle’s increasingly white single-family areas with “a return to the mix of housing and development patterns found in many of Seattle’s older and most walkable neighborhoods.” In other words: Backyard cottages and basement apartments aren’t enough; the city needs to allow small-scale apartment buildings, duplexes and triplexes, and other types of housing in those areas as well. Crucially, the report notes that these changes wouldn’t represent a radical shift or a departure from single-family zones’ vaunted “neighborhood character”; in fact, both minimum lot-size requirements and “Seattle’s current single-family zoning code came into being in the 1950’s.”

At a time when arguments about development often center on the need to protect the “historic character” of Seattle’s neighborhoods, minimum lot sizes and laws restricting housing to one house per lot, this bears repeating. “Small lot houses, duplexes, triplexes, and small apartments built prior to 1957 remain in single-family zones, but building them is illegal today.” Rules restricting development in single-family areas effectively concentrate all growth into narrow bands of land along busy arterials known as urban centers and urban villages; since 2006, according to the report, “over 80% of Seattle’s growth has occurred in urban villages and centers that make up less than a quarter of Seattle’s land. Urban villages have seen significant change and new construction, while most areas of the city have seen little physical change. Overall, multifamily housing is only allowed in 12 percent of the city’s residential land—a constriction of opportunity that perpetuates the historical impacts of redlining, racial covenants, and other discriminatory housing policies by “excluding all but those who have the economic resources to buy homes,” the report says.And Seattle’s restrictive policies don’t even work to preserve “neighborhood character,” the report points out. Instead, they encourage homeowners and builders to tear down existing houses and build McMansions in their place. “Even under current zoning, the physical character of neighborhoods is changing as existing houses are replaced with larger, more expensive ones, as allowed by today’s land use code,” the report notes. “The average size of newly constructed detached houses in 2016 was 3,487 square feet, more than 1,000 square feet larger than the average for the first two-thirds of the last century.”

The planning commission offers a number of suggested policy changes, including:

• Expanding urban village boundaries to include all areas within a 15-minute walk of frequent transit lines. Currently, the report points out, many urban villages are extremely narrow—the Greenwood/Phinney urban village, pictured below, is an extreme but not unique example—dramatically limiting housing choices for people who can’t afford to buy single-family homes. At the same time, the report recommends getting rid of frequent transit service as a requirement to expand urban villages, pointing out that this becomes a chicken-and-egg problem, where lack of transit justifies keeping density low, and low density justifies a lack of investment in transit.

• Renaming “single-family” zoning as “neighborhood residential,” with various levels of density (from backyard cottages to small apartment buildings) to reflect lot size and neighborhood amenities. Areas near parks and schools, which the report identifies as amenities that tend to be most accessible to people in single-family areas, would get more density so that more people would have access to those resources.

• Eliminating or reducing parking requirements—not just in urban villages, but everywhere. Single-family-housing activists have long argued that if the city allows more housing without requiring new parking, they will have no place to park their cars. Though the planning commission report doesn’t explicitly mention a recent study that found that Seattle already has more than five parking spaces per household, they do point out that prioritizing cars over people conflicts with the city’s stated climate goals. “Requiring parking on site takes away space that could be used for additional housing or open space,” the report says. Under their proposal, “While driveways and garages could still be allowed, people would not be required to provide space for cars over housing or space for trees–especially if they choose not to own a car.”

3. The J Is for Judge himself stepped up to the mic at city hall yesterday to explain why he wants to see more of every kind of housing in every neighborhood. At yesterday’s MHA briefing, after the authors of this piece (one of whom lives in Bellevue) claimed that the council was withholding information about displacement from the public,  Josh Feit got up to speak. Here, in slightly abridged form, is what he had to say.

My name is Josh Feit, and I am not originally from Seattle.

I did not grow up here.

I’m am not a 7th-generation Seattleite.

I was not born and raised in Ballard.

I did not go to Roosevelt High School.

I am not a lifelong member of my community.

To those of us who choose to move here, Seattle stands out as an exciting 21st Century landmark that’s taking up a brave experiment in progressive city building.

I’m excited to live here.

I have a public sector job.

I am a renter.

Please stop letting some residents of Seattle’s Single Family zones play Seattle First politics by mythologizing neighborhood “character” and stigmatizing renters.

That kind of dog whistling has no place in Seattle.

Please stop letting quarter-century-old neighborhood plans that were developed without a Race and Social Justice analysis be the blueprint for Seattle’s future. (Thank you, Council Member Mosqueda, for challenging the anti-growth narrative by taking a closer look at that vaunted 1994 plan.)

As you know, the Mandatory Housing Affordability legislation and upzones in front of you today did go through a displacement analysis by income and race.

Thank you for passing the six MHA Urban Center and Urban Village rezones last year.

But to make MHA work, to address the housing affordability crisis, all of Seattle needs to be neighborly.

Please pass this small but significant first step in taking down the walls that keep too many of Seattle’s residential neighborhoods–off limits for too many residents.

I am not proud that I’m from here. I’m proud that I moved here. I hope I can continue to feel that way.

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Showbox Property Owners Respond to City, Seek Depositions from Council Members Bagshaw, Sawant

A lot has happened since I wrote about the city’s response to a lawsuit by the owners of the Showbox last month. (The lawsuit, in very brief, alleges that the city council violated land use processes in spot-downzoning the Showbox property when they expanded the Pike Place Market Historical District to include the property on a temporary basis, preventing a 44-story development, and that the historic designation represents a taking of about $40 million—the amount for which the owner, Roger Forbes, planned to sell the land to the Vancouver developer Onni.)

Back in September, the city asked a King County Superior Court judge to dismiss Forbes’s land use claims claims (technically,  an LLC created by Forbes that owns the property, but we’ll stick with Forbes for clarity’s sake) on the grounds that Onni hadn’t formally sought any permits from the city, that inclusion in the historic district didn’t constitute a land use decision restricting how Forbes could use his property,  and that in fact nothing in the “Save the Showbox” legislation said that the Showbox must be saved.

The property owners—sounding spitting mad—filed a brief last week objecting to the city’s motion to dismiss the land use claims in the lawsuit, arguing that the decision to add the Showbox property, and only that property, to the historic district—effectively reducing its development potential from 44 stories to two—constituted a “reverse spot zone” and therefore was a “classic taking.” In their defense, they cite a number of cases that reducing the height of what can be built on one piece of land is considered a zoning decision, regardless of whether a permit has been filed. (The council made it much less likely that Onni would file a permit when they started talking about killing the development immediately after the developer started a pre-application process with the city, and passed fast-track “emergency” legislation barely one week later to ensure that Onni couldn’t go forward with its plans.)

Violating almost all of its own rules for a property use decision, the City enacted an “emergency” ordinance – not to abate a public nuisance – but rather because it wanted a private music venue to be an asset of the City. To try and accomplish that, it had to circumvent and carve this parcel – and only this parcel – out of its own prior and lawful zoning actions that previously upzoned the property and surrounding properties twice for high-rise development. The most recent upzone occurred just last year when the property (and other similarly situated properties) were upzoned by the City to allow additional floors if property owners provided certain financial support to the City’s efforts to increase affordable housing. The City’s reverse spot zoning of this property, stripping only this property of the same development potential similarly situated parcels enjoy, was not an exercise of “police power” to protect the public. It was instead an eminent domain powerplay to appease a vocal “Save the Showbox” group at the expense of a single property’s development and use rights.

Forbes’ attorneys also lays out the case that the city violated the state appearance of fairness doctrine, which requires officials like council members to keep an open mind on so-called quasi-judicial land use decisions (like zoning changes for a specific property) until after all the evidence has been presented and to make their deliberations in public, not behind closed doors. If the court finds that they did, it will mean that all the public hearings and rallies and open discussions about the need to “Save the Showbox” as a music venue in  perpetuity will have happened in violation of the law.

The response to the city makes one novel point: The Pike Place Market Historical District was not only created to protect small farmers and craftspeople from commercial development in the 1970s, it was formed by the city under the power of eminent domain—and, to this day, almost every single property in the district is publicly owned by the Pike Place Market Public Development Authority. That PDA has the right to regulate virtually every aspect of all businesses in the district, down to which tenants are allowed in each building, the size and materials on their signage, and what their storefronts look like on the inside. The Showbox building across the street, in contrast, is privately owned, making its inclusion in the historic district, the plaintiffs argue, even more of a taking than if the city had simply said Forbes couldn’t sell to a developer for an apartment tower.

This week, Forbes’ attorneys also filed a request to depose five city officials, including city council members Sally Bagshaw and Kshama Sawant, to get “information about the decision to single out this property, and only this property, for inclusion in the Pike Place Market Historical District, the process that the City employed in drafting, introducing and passing the ordinance, and the City’s real intentions in passing the ordinance (to maintain the property as a music venue in perpetuity).

“This information,” the request continues, “is relevant to Plaintiff’s contentions that the ordinance is invalid as an illegal spot zone, is otherwise procedurally invalid, was improperly passed because the Council violated the Appearance of Fairness statute, and violates Plaintiff’s First Amendment rights by forcing Plaintiff to maintain the property as a music venue.”

The hearing on that motion will be held next Friday, October 19. The trial is currently scheduled for February.

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