Morning Crank: Half a Loaf

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Sen. Joe Fain (R-47)

1. City council member Lorena Gonzalez reportedly hopes to introduce legislation in the next few weeks that would require businesses to provide paid family leave to their employees—a significant expansion of a new law, adopted on Monday after a months-long delay, guaranteeing 12 weeks of paid parental leave to city employees. (Employees who need time off to care for other family members can receive up to four weeks off).

Expanding family leave to private employees—as Gonzalez talked about doing when she ran for office in 2015—would likely be far more controversial, especially among small businesses and those that primarily employ service workers, than the city-employee-only law. But the real opposition may come from Olympia, where state legislators are considering a fairly toothless family leave bill that includes a preemption clause that prevents any city from adopting a family leave policy more generous than what the state requires.

The Republican-backed bill, sponsored by 47th District Sen. Joe Fain, would provide up to eight weeks of family leave, increasing up to a maximum of 12 weeks by 2023. Employees who took the time off would be paid just half of their regular wages (rising to a maximum of 67 percent in 2023), and the program would be funded entirely by employees’ own contributions, making it more of a self-insurance policy than an actual benefit. It also requires employees to work for 26 consecutive weeks for a single employer before they receive benefits—a requirement that Economic Opportunity Institute policy director Marilyn Watkins says doesn’t acknowledge the current economic reality, where many people work multiple jobs or switch employers frequently. “It just leaves a lot of people out who are going to end up paying the premium but are never going to meet the qualification to get leave,” Watkins says. “Why should we put things in there that we know are going to be problems—that we know are going to cause inequities?”

According to the bill, “Cities, towns, and counties or other municipalities may enact only those laws and ordinances relating to paid family leave that are specifically authorized by state law and are consistent with this chapter. Local laws and ordinances in existence on the effective date of this section that are inconsistent with this chapter are preempted and repealed.” That means that if the bill passes, any city law providing more leave (and it wouldn’t be hard) will be repealed.

Preemption bills like this aren’t uncommon; they pop up pretty much any time  Seattle passes or discusses progressive policies, such as rules allowing safe-injection sites, encampment sweeps policies that Republicans view as soft on homelessness, or a $15 minimum wage. What could be different this year is that Fain’s bill has bipartisan support; in addition to the usual Republican suspects like Michael Baumgartner (R-6) and Mark Miloscia (R-30), the bill is sponsored by Democrats like Steve Hobbs (D-44) and Guy Palumbo (D-1). A competing bill, sponsored by Sen. Karen Keiser (D-33), would provide more extensive benefits and does not include a preemption clause.

Fain said at a hearing last month that he hopes advocates recognize that “nobody ever went hungry on half a loaf”—meaning, some progress toward true paid family leave is better than none. But advocates may decide they want a full loaf after all, and take the family leave issue directly to voters if legislators offer them only crumbs.

2.  Miller Park Neighbors member Jonathan Swift, who emceed a Wednesday-night prep session for an upcoming city-sponsored meeting about proposed upzones in Northeast Capitol Hill—said he was interested in a balanced discussion. Then he characterized the two sides in the zoning debate as those who liked neighborhood character and those who didn’t. (A flyer distributed with anti-upzone talking points drove the point home, claiming that the  city’s proposal, part of the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA), would “destroy the character of the neighborhood” and asserting that “family-sized housing is most appropriate.” )

Anti-HALA architect Greg Hill followed the soft-spoken Swit, telling the crowd of about 100 people that HALA was dominated by an unnamed “right-wing” group and insinuating that HALA, which calls for expanding the city’s urban villages and allowing more multifamily housing along transit corridors, is a sinister, profit-driven developer plot that will decimate Seattle’s environment by reducing the city’s tree canopy. In reality, building housing near transit is the definition of green urbanism, reducing reliance on cars, maximizing energy efficiency, and reducing water usage.

One of the few African-American people in the room—as HALA pointed out, single-family zoning tends to exclude people of color from “character”-filled neighborhoods like Northeast Capitol Hill—was Spencer Williams, a staffer for urbanist city council member Rob Johnson. Johnson has openly criticized Seattle’s brand of reactionary utopianism, which stars NPR-style liberals who denounce Trump for wanting to build a wall to keep newcomers out while defending zoning codes that have the same effect.

If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site! 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 substantial time I put into it as well as costs like transportation, equipment, travel costs, website maintenance, and other expenses associated with my reporting. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

Morning Crank: Not an Act of Bravery

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1. City council member Rob Johnson caught flak last week from anti-density activists like John Fox, of the Seattle Displacement Coalition, after questioning self-identified liberals who say they welcome immigrants and refugees and oppose zoning changes that would create more housing. Speaking at a forum sponsored by the Transportation Choices Coalition, which Johnson directed prior to his election in 2015, Johnson said, “[I]t’s really disturbing for me when I hear … somebody talking about how glad they were to see the neighborhood district councils stand up for single-family zoning and then, in the next breath, disparage the president for wanting to build a wall between the US and Mexico. I see those two things as actually linked.”

Fox, along with fellow activist Carolee Coulter, wrote that Johnson’s comments were “intensely insulting and polarizing, not to mention wrong. He should be ashamed of himself.” Fox and Coulter compared Johnson to Trump; others who emailed me or made comments on my original post have complained that Johnson is comparing them to Trump supporters, the kind of people who chant “Build the wall!” at his Nuremberg-style election rallies. One Johnson constituent who wrote me called his comments “outrageously inflammatory and insulting”; another called it “a divisive and totally clumsy comparison coming from a white man of considerable privilege.”

I called Johnson Friday to see if he wanted to elaborate or clarify what he said last week. Speaking from a crowded bus on his way home to Northeast Seattle, Johnson doubled down. “We are a city that wants to welcome people of all races, all different economic statuses, and all different immigration statuses,” Johnson said. “If we’re truly going to be welcoming to all those different folks, we need to create more housing.”

Does he regret using the metaphor of Trump’s border wall? Not at all: “When we talk about zoning, we need to recognize that zoning is a metaphorical wall around communities. We need to talk about that. We also need to make sure that we understand the ramifications of the decisions that we make—when we choose to either rezone areas or not rezone areas, both of those decisions have real impacts.”

2. The Seattle Department of Transportation came to week’s transportation committee meeting armed with charts and stats showing that the city has made huge strides toward increasing the number of people who bike, walk, and take the bus to jobs downtown; a report from Commute Seattle last week showed that while the city added 45,000 jobs downtown, the number of car trips only increased by about 2,400 per day.

But SDOT staffers were confronted, first, by a disturbing litany of pedestrian injuries and deaths from Johnson and committee chair Mike O’Brien, who noted that even as the city has reduced the number of people who drive to work alone, it has not made similar strides toward eliminating pedestrian fatalities and serious injuries. In the past five weeks, O’Brien noted, six pedestrians have been seriously injured or killed by drivers. If that many people had been killed in the same period by gunshots, O’Brien said, “we would be convening task forces and committees to figure out what we need to do. And yet somehow, when it’s folks walking across the street or biking between jobs, it gets kind of buried in the news and we just go on about life.”

Noting that the city has committed to “Vision Zero”—that is, zero pedestrian deaths or serious injuries—O’Brien said he was asking SDOT to come back to the council in early March with a list of specific short- and long-term recommendations to address the city’s lack of progress. “We should have a city where, whether you’re walking to work or biking to go to the park or walking across the street to get groceries or go get a cup of coffee, that’s not an act of bravery but an act of daily living.”

3. Another number that jumped out at Friday’s briefing: 11 percent. That’s the percentage of Seattle residents who are eligible for a low-income transit pass, known as ORCA Lift, who have actually taken advantage of the program. In our conversation Friday, Johnson said the city should consider enrolling people in the ORCA Lift program when they sign up for other income-limited programs, the way the Seattle Housing Authority now enrolls tenants in the city utility discount program when they rent SHA apartments—or the way King County signed people up for the program when they signed up for the Affordable Care Act last year. “It just goes to show that we have a lot of work to do, not just in our marketing program—as I’m staring the side of the bus, there’s a huge ad for ORCA Lift—but in making sure that that marketing is getting through to the folks that need it most.”

Morning Crank: The Right Side of History

Peter Rogoff

In the spirit of last Friday’s Morning Crank, here are five things I heard at the Transportation Choices Coalition’s New Year’s transportation forum, held last Wednesday at City Hall. I moderated the panel, which included city council member Rob Johnson, TCC advocacy director Abigail Doerr, King County Council member Claudia Balducci, and Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff. In truth, the statements I’m quoting are from Rogoff and Johnson, whose comments dealt specifically with the political situation in Seattle; this is not an attempt to silence Doerr or Balducci, the two other women on the panel, whose thoughts on Metro, transit on the Eastside, and the future of transportation advocacy were cogent and valuable. For my Seattle politics site, though, I’ve focused on the remarks specific to Seattle politics, and encourage you to watch the whole event yourself on the Seattle Channel website; the whole thing runs about an hour.

1. Johnson, on what it will take to ensure that Metro’s expansion of Rapid Ride bus service throughout the city will be true bus rapid transit, not just express buses stuck in traffic: “We need to connect with individuals on the ground about the rationale for why [we’re building Rapid Ride]. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a conversation with somebody who articulates their strong environmental values and in the same breath talks to me about how important it is for people to have more parking spaces in the city. We need to do a much better job connecting the values of our city around sustainability, the environment, and race and social justice with the importance of capital facilities like bus-only lanes.

“The 44 is a critical bus route that runs, basically, from the very tail end of Ballard all the way through Fremont, Wallingford, and the University of Washington, and I believe we should be expanding that as a Rapid Ride corridor and running it all the way to University Village. When we do, we’re going to receive opposition not just from the community but from business owners who will say, ‘Taking away a parking space hurts my business. My argument would be that everyone who gets on and off a bus has a wallet too, and they could be spending money in your business.”

“It’s really disturbing for me when I hear somebody talking about how glad they were to see the neighborhood district councils stand up for single-family zoning and then in the next breath disparage the president for wanting to build a wall between the US and Mexico. I see those two things as actually linked.” – City Council member Rob Johnson

2Rogoff, on the long history of collisions, many of them fatal,  between light rail trains and pedestrians in the Rainier Valley—a lower-income area, populated largely by people of color, that is the only part of the regional system where light rail runs primarily at street level: “This is not just a light or rail grade crossing safety risk. It is also, quite frankly, more prominently a pedestrian safety risk. There’s a tendency for people to be walking on the streets looking at their devices with earbuds in their ears and it’s killed a whole bunch of people. It already did. There’s only so much we can do, frankly, for someone who insists on walking singularly focused on their device, with music playing in their ears, when our warnings, our available warnings, in addition to putting down gates to actually block [the crossing] is lights and alarms.” (Rail crossings in the Rainier Valley, it’s worth noting, do not include physical barriers between pedestrian areas and the tracks.)

3. Johnson, on the possibility that the city and county will lose federal funds in retaliation for remaining “sanctuary” jurisdictions that refuse to cooperate with federal immigration crackdowns: “We will fight back against those cuts. There is a strong argument that we can make that says you can’t cut our transportation dollars because of a decision that we make on immigration, but we also are prepared to lose every single penny of those federal funds to make sure that we are a welcoming city.

“The biggest concern for me is watching the appropriation process on an annual basis, making sure that the federal funds that have been allocated to us as a region actually get appropriated to us.”

4. Rogoff, on the possibility that the Trump Administration could cut federal funding, to Sound Transit (Trump is reportedly taking its cues on transportation from the Heritage Foundation, which advocates eliminating federal funding for public transit, and his transportation secretary, Elaine Chao, is a GOP insider who is closely affiliated with the foundation):  “[Trump] said a lot of things, actually throughout the campaign. … There’s a lot of upticks that come with [transportation budget] proposals in some administrations and downticks that come with proposals [in] other administrations, but often Congress levels out the upticks and downticks quite a bit. Congress is going to have to consent to the budget presented by the White House. … I would just say, watch this space and see if their proposals will be as draconian as expected.”

Rob Johnson

5. Finally, Johnson, bringing down the transit-loving, density-friendly house on the contentious University District upzone, which Johnson’s Planning, Land Use and Zoning Committee will discuss tomorrow morning:  “This is about making sure that the council members that represent those districts where we’re going to see long-term investments are also going to be willing to stand up to single-family homeowners who are saying,  ‘Don’t turn my single-family home into a place where you can build a duplex or a triplex.’

“I feel, as the chair of the committee, that it’s my responsibility to make sure that we’re a welcoming city for everybody, and it’s really disturbing for me when I hear … somebody talking about how glad they were to see the neighborhood district councils stand up for single-family zoning and then in the next breath disparage the president for wanting to build a wall between the US and Mexico. I see those two things as actually linked. I see us, as a city, really needing to build more housing for more people, because we’re adding 40 people per day but we’re only building 12 housing units per day, and that’s creating an economic circumstance where lower-income people and middle-income people are being forced out of the city, and I think we need the political will for folks to step in that space and create change for more density around those stations. I firmly believe that. It may result in me only having this job for four years, but if that’s the case, I feel like I’ll have gone down on the right side of history.”

As Task Force Proposes “Guiding Principles,” Council Considers Amended Sweeps Protocols

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Mayor Ed Murray’s 18-member Task Force on Unsanctioned Encampment Cleanup Protocols held its final meeting on Tuesday morning, a day after Mayor Ed Murray released a budget that included $2.8 million to “implement [their] recommendations” and a day before the council committee in charge of updating and improving the city’s current policy on homeless sweeps held one of its final meetings on a set of new sweeps protocols that the mayor opposes.  The legislation in front of the council, which was originally drafted by the ACLU of  Washington and Columbia Legal Services, would bar the city from removing tents and property at encampments, except those in “unsuitable,” “unsafe,” or “hazardous” locations, without at least 30 days’ notice and referrals to “adequate and accessible housing.”

Originally, the mayor’s encampment task force was charged with crafting new encampment cleanup protocols, which would be integrated into legislation that the mayor would transmit to the council by the end of September. Instead—after the ACLU and Columbia Legal Services circumvented the mayor by proposing legislation of their own, which District 6 council member Mike O’Brien sponsored—the task force ended up producing a general, innocuous list of “guiding principles” that are now supposed to guide the council as it amends the ACLU legislation.

Former city council member Sally Clark, who chaired the task force, said its mission got muddied “the moment that the task force was announced, because pretty much in the same moment, the legislation was proposed at council to change the basis of the protocols that the city uses for intervening in situations where people are living outside.” The charge of the task force, Clark says, “made lot of sense in the weeks before, but then we were like, ‘Which protocols are we supposed to be looking at? The ones in this legislation, or existing protocols?'”

Once the charge of the task force changed, Clark says, the question became, “do you want to spend five meetings looking at protocols that the council may change five days after you’ve stopped meeting, or do you want to spend your time arriving at these principles that you hope the council will use when looking at these protocols?” They went with the principles.

Downtown Emergency Service Center director Daniel Malone, who sat on the task force, says the group “definitely did not accomplish some of what it was charged with doing, which was reviewing and making recommendations on specific cleanup protocols. We never even got to that stuff.

“That said,” Malone continues, “I think the task force achieved something that may have some utility for the city, which is that it got pretty clear agreement across a spectrum of people as to these principles that I do believe go beyond what the city would consider to be its curet principles on these matters.” In Malone’s view, getting a group that included both members of the Magnolia-based Neighborhood Safety Alliance and the King County Coalition on Homelessness to agree on shared assumptions was a feat in itself. (Clark and other task force members I spoke with agreed with this assessment.)

Another reason the task force never got around to drafting its own protocols for encampment sweeps is that they spent so much time during their three-hour meetings getting members up to speed on the basics (“there was a lack of common understanding,” Clark says) and letting members reiterate their personal views on the impacts and causes of homelessness. (The NSA representative, Gretchen Taylor, was particularly fond of asking rhetorical questions about why the task force had been convened at all, given that camping is illegal.)

“[The task force] definitely did not accomplish some of what it was charged with doing, which was reviewing and making recommendations on specific cleanup protocols. We never even got to that stuff.” -DESC director Daniel Malone

The result was that the task force meetings felt at times like group therapy, and the “guiding principles” reflect it: They include broad statements such as “action must be taken to enhance and reform the effectiveness of our human services system,” and “do no more harm,” as well as almost meaninglessly inclusive statements such as “We recognize that the city’s current approach to managing and removing encampments has negatively impacted homeless individuals and neighborhoods and that new approaches are needed to make sure that our actions match our community values.”

The outcome is far from a win for the mayor, who certainly saw the ACLU legislation coming but may have not anticipated that the council would so eagerly embrace it; instead of undercutting the council with his own, more restrictive encampment bill, Murray is left, at best, with the option of claiming collaboration with the council after they “integrate” the principles of his task force into the ACLU legislation. Even Murray’s promise of $2.8 million to implement the task force’s recommendations falls somewhat flat; since no one knows exactly how the other $12 million Murray’s budget dedicates to programs addressing homelessness will be allocated, the committee couldn’t reach agreement on how to allocate the $2.8 million, particularly in the 20 minutes they had to discuss the matter at the very end of their final meeting Tuesday.

 

The council’s human services committee, meanwhile, has continued to move forward with the ACLU legislation, introducing several amendments Wednesday in response to neighborhood concerns. Specifically, commenters at last week’s meeting, along with residents who have flooded council members’ inboxes with mass emails opposing the legislation, have argued that bill as originally written would allow encampments in schools, playfields, sidewalks, and recreational areas in parks around the city. Although the bill’s sponsors and supporters said such locations would obviously be considered “unsuitable” for encampments, an amended version introduced today tightens up those restrictions, declaring schools, “improved areas” of public parks, and sidewalks in front of residences or commercial areas, as “per se unsuitable” for encampments. “A common question that I’m getting is, ‘Are we going to allow people to camp in parks or play fields where my kids are playing?'” District 4 council member Rob Johnson said. “The answer to those questions is very clearly, ‘no’.”

The new version of the bill also clarifies that the legislation only applies to city-owned property (public schools, Port of Seattle property, and other public property not owned by the city would not have to comply with the rules), removes RV and car campers from the legislation, and sets a two-year sunset date.

Although most of the council seemed pleased with the changes, at-large council member Tim Burgess, whose comments opposing the original bill sparked applause in council chambers a week ago, continued to argue that it was a waste of “energy, time, and resources,” and suggested that the council should instead work on implementing the “creatively disrupting” recommendations in a recent report that said the city could provide shelter for every homeless person within a year by simply allocating resources more efficiently. (Burgess and conspiracy-minded neighborhood activists alike are fond of the report’s somewhat simplistic, and poorly understood, conclusions.)

Burgess, along with District 2 council member Bruce Harrell, raised the specter of neighborhood micromanagement by demanding to know whether specific parts of specific parks—the grassy areas around Green Lake and the woods adjacent to proposed mountain bike trails in Cheasty Greenspace, respectively—would be considered “suitable” for camping. O’Brien countered that if the city opens up the definition of a “suitable” location to every individual neighborhood,  “I think most folks will say, ‘I don’t think right next to me is OK,’ and pretty soon we get to a place where every single place in the city is unsuitable.”

Bagshaw said she expects to spend the next week in “continued negotiations” with Murray’s office over the details of the legislation, but added that time is running short. “We want to get the decision we make here into the budget for 2017 [and] make sure there’s enough money to focus on outreach and services,” Bagshaw said. “If we miss this window, it could [be] a long time before we’re able to collectively talk about it [again.] The full council could vote on the legislation as soon as October 10.

If you enjoy the work I do here at The C Is for Crank, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter of the site! 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 run entirely on contributions from readers, which pay for my time (typically no less than 20 hours a week, but often as many as 40) as well as costs like transportation, equipment, website maintenance, and other expenses associated with my reporting. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

Johnson Defends HALA After Tough Meeting in Wallingford

What are you doing tomorrow evening at 5:00? If your answer is “screwing around on Facebook” or “sitting in traffic” or “I dunno, Netflix and chill?”, CHANGE YOUR PLANS and come down to City Hall (600 4th Ave.) in downtown Seattle to Mayor Ed Murray’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda discussion. Or just get your butt in a seat to show your support, or to learn more about HALA if you’re unconvinced–the point is, this is the first big opportunity in 2016 for the public to offer the city feedback on how they should implement HALA, and turnout will help determine whether the Grand Bargain that made the HALA deal possible survives despite vocal pushback from a small but organized group of property owners and single-family preservationists.Urban-Village-Flyer-FINAL3-300x253

Last week, newly minted city council member Rob Johnson–the former director of the Transportation Choices Coalition–showed up at a meeting of the Wallingford Community Council that was billed as a chance for neighbors to learn about the city’s nefarious plans to, among other things:

  • “Push out locally-owned small businesses that cannot afford the higher rents in new mid-rise mixed-use buildings
  • “Accelerate demolition of existing affordable housing by creating new incentives for developers and raising taxes on properties that are not redeveloped
  • “Replace affordable housing with top-dollar houses and apartments, with only 5 to 7% of new units reserved as affordable.”

Johnson wasn’t invited to the meeting, but it’s in his district (Northeast Seattle’s District 4), so he showed up. By all accounts, the freshman council member was astonished and even “traumatized” by the event, where meeting organizers showed video taken (out of context, he says) from the campaign trail showing Johnson advocating for a land value tax. The group’s leaders also criticized Johnson for positions TCC took under his leadership, including opposition to mandatory parking minimums at new developments.

Without getting into the intricacies of what the organizers, including longtime Wallingford density opponent Greg Hill, were mad about, it’s enough to say that those who showed up for the forum (physical invitations were apparently dropped off at people’s houses) were treated to a rather skewed view of both Johnson and HALA, which Hill and other community council leaders vehemently oppose.

I talked to Johnson two days after the meeting (he told me he needed a day “to process” what had happened), and he told me he was taken aback that a “presentation that I thought was going to be about planning would be so focused on me.”

Johnson says the meeting, which he says was the first neighborhood meeting many in the audience told him they had ever attended, created “a lot of confusion” about HALA and upzones, and left the impression that Johnson had no interest in listening to how residents wanted to see their own neighborhoods grow.

“[Hill] left that out of his presentation that I’ve talked a lot about giving neighborhoods the power to control their own destiny around where they want density and what they want that density to look like,” Johnson says. “I just want to say, if you’re going to take 5,000 people in this urban village, if you want it to be in backyard cottages, here are the pros and cons, and if you want it to be in tall towers, here are the pros and cons. That’s the process that I’ve been advocating for.”

I asked Johnson whether his experience bearing the wrath of Wallingford might, as some HALA advocates worry, make him a less-vocal advocate for Murray’s proposal. He said: “I ran for council on a very strong pro-HALA platform. For me, this isn’t a question about whether out not we implement the HALA recommendations, it’s a question of how we implement them and the process that guides us.

“I absolutely still want to work with people. The issue for me wasn’t about being yelled at. The issue for me was about not having a seat at table while getting yelled at.”

The C Is for Crank Interviews: Rob Johnson

Now that the primary-election field of 47 has been narrowed to a comparatively manageable 18, I’m sitting down with all the council candidates to talk about what they’ve learned so far, their campaign plans going forward, and their views on the issues that will shape the election, including density, “neighborhood character,” crime, parking, police accountability, and diversity. I’ll be rolling out all 17 of my interviews (Kshama Sawant was the only candidate who declined to sit down with me) over the next few weeks.

If you want to help me continue to do interviews like this one, plus on-the-ground reporting, deep dives on issues like affordability and transportation, breaking news, and incisive analysis, please consider becoming a sustaining supporter by pledging a few bucks at Patreon. This work costs money and (lots of) time, so I really appreciate every bit of support I receive from my readers.

Today’s conversation: Transportation Choices Coalition director Rob Johnson, who’s running against Michael Maddux to represent Northeast Seattle’s District 4. I sat down with Johnson at Cherry Street Coffee in Pioneer Square.

The C Is for Crank [ECB]: Business groups, including the Chamber of Commerce, the Washington Restaurant Association, and the Rental Housing Association have spent more than $80,000 on independent expenditures to help your campaign.  Why do you think they’re supporting you, and does their support help cement the idea, which your opponent is almost certainly going to bring up on the campaign trail, that you’re the candidate of Seattle’s business establishment?

Rob Johnson [RJ]: It’s an interesting narrative that I think Michael’s going to play up moving forward, but I don’t think it’s actually going to be much of a narrative. We had endorsements from the Sierra Club, the King County Labor Council, and the Chamber within a 24-hour period in April. A lot of us were surprised at the amount of spending there was on IEs. I expected some, but not nearly that amount. And I expected them more throughout the city, not just concentrated in a couple of races.

 ECB: Why do you think all those groups are supporting you? What are you telling them?

RJ: I think that the reason I’ve gotten a lot of endorsements is because people know me as a collaborator—as someone who has strong progressive values but can bring people along. Folks in the downtown community support me because I think they see me as someone who has worked with them on social justice issues,  like expanding the low-income ORCA card. And I think a lot of it has to do with experience. I’ve got experience working with these groups. They know my working style. They understand where I am. I’m a collaborator. I’m like Richard Conlin in that way. I can work with different sides.

ECB: Richard Conlin lost in 2013 to someone who no one thought would win. Are there ways in which you are not like Richard Conlin?

RS: Parking is one of the ways I’m different from Richard Conlin. One of the conversations we always had was around parking minimums and maximums, and whether we should allow the market to determine how much parking we needed in new buildings. He came to the council with more of a land use background than I have. I have more of a transportation background than he had.  Conlin came out of the neighborhood planning process, but I think there wasn’t the kind of growth conversation back then that we’re having now. I think that has really put a big spotlight on some of big challenges we have as a city. It challenges people’s comfort zone. I went to school for public planning at UCLA, and in D.C. for two years. I’ve got a unique set of skills.

ECB: What did you think of the mayor’s decision to abandon the HALA committee’s proposed changes to single-family zoning as soon as the report leaked and a group of vocal property owners complained?

RJ: I think he was responding to that very vocal, knee- jerk reaction from a lot of people. I would have liked to see us have a conversation with some of the neighborss before pulling back. I knocked on a lot of doors in Windermere and heard a lot about the changes in single-family zoning. People in Windermere all said they were worried about changing the character of their neighborhood. I think few of them realize that there are several duplexes and triplexes in Windermere. So I would have liked to go on a walking tour with those neighbors and show them what a duplex or triplex actually looks like. It would have been really interesting. We need a more nuanced discussion. If your interest is protecting your single-family neighborhood, we’re going to have a conversation about targeting more growth. If we’re going to choose to build lower in the University District, we’re going to need more duplexes and triplexes.

As a candidate, I was getting five to six emails a day about a variety of different topics [before HALA]. After the HALA report came out, I got about a dozen emails a day, and they were all focused on land use, about where a specific boundary line is, about the Roosevelt Urban Village moving forward. We’re going to continue to have a really big dialogue about land use. I heard from a healthy number of people who said, “I see a lot of old homes in my neighborhood being torn down and large mansion-style buildings being torn down. I would love to be able to see more of those mansions be turned into duplexes. I would love to turn mine into a duplex for my aging parents or my kids at home.” Many neighbors are rallying in support [of HALA]. I heard from a lot of folks who are supporting our campaign that they want [the HALA recommendations].

ECB: You’re fighting against the impression that you’re the conservative in the race, and against the fact that you look like the more conservative candidate. Are you running into people at the door thinking you’re too conservative based on how you look and dress? And if so, how do you counter that impression?

RJ: We did something that not a lot of campaigns do, where we did targeted our field efforts using a trusted advisor model. We did our targeting in such a way that the person that showed up at your doorstep looked like you, talked like you, and was validating me as a candidate. I think that really made a difference.

I had plenty of people at the doors say to me, “I’m not voting for you because you’re a bike Nazi,” or, “Because the Sierra Club’s endorsed you, I’m not voting for you.” So while I may visually look like the most conservative one in the race, I had plenty of people go beyond looks and say, “You’re too liberal for me.”

ECB: Now that Jean Godden is no longer in the race, you and Michael will have to differentiate yourselves from each other. What do you consider the main differences between the two of you?

RJ: Part of it’s going to be about  background. Michael’s going to talk a lot about how he’s the LGBT candidate and about how he supports progressive taxation, and I’m going to spend a lot of time talking about my experience and the diversity of my supporters and my technical proficiency in actually being able to accomplish a lot of this stuff. I think Michael’s got a good civic background with the parks levy stuff, but I’ve got a much deeper history in working with others.

ECB: You obviously know a lot about transportation, but one criticism is that that’s all you know about. Do you think that’s a fair criticism, and what issues are you interested in other than transportation?

RJ: I would say that one of the benefits of running for city council is that you have to learn about a lot of things you don’t have a lot of background on.  City Light is a great example. We’re going to have a new City Light CEO. We need to work proactively between City Light, [Seattle Public Utilities] and SDOT to do a better job of integration on constuction management and greening our portfolios. We need to reform those agencies to compete with each other to be greenest they can be.

The drought makes me really concerned about our overreliance on hydropower. We need to do more on greening the utility—more solarization and more wind energy. We need to invest a lot more in clean energy solutions. It’s not just good for our energy portfolio, it’s also good for local green jobs.

ECB: Your opponent has talked a lot about the need to achieve gender pay equity in city employment and the city as a whole. A recent report by a city consultant found that women are more likely to be in part-time jobs at the city and are underrepresented in the highest-paying, largest departments, like police, technology, and fire. What are you plans to close the gender pay gap at the city?

RJ: As a small employer [at Transportation Choices Coalition], one of first things I did was to do an analysis of people’s pay, and we’ve subsequently made a very strong commitment to hiring women and, in particular, women of color and putting them into positions where they’re in leadership. We’re a majority female office. All the people in leadership are women. As a boss, I’m really focused on that. Fifty percent of our paid staffers are people of color.

We need to do a better job of recruiting women and people of color into leadership positions in the [city] and doing targeted hires. Having SPD do a targeted hire program for more female officers and people of color builds leadership capacity in the organization. We also have to promote those folks, so that people who are starting out see a path forward in the organization. That would be a priority of mine. I think we need to do more than just have studies. We need to spend lot of time on implementation. 

Previously:

Michael Maddux, District 4

Mike O’Brien, District 6

Catherine Weatbrook, District 6

Tim Burgess, Position 8

Jon Grant, Position 8

Chamber Spends $88,000 on Braddock, Johnson

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This post has been updated.

Two new Seattle Chamber of Commerce-funded independent expenditure groups, People for Shannon and People for Rob, have spent $44,000 each on media buys (presumably cable TV ads) for Shannon Braddock​ and Rob Johnson​. The $88,000 total spend comes on top of the $48,000 the national Realtors Association dropped on long-shot North Seattle candidate Kris Kris M. Lethin​ a few days ago. (Read Lethin’s reaction when I told him about that surprise gift here.) Johnson is also, as of 5:00 this evening, the beneficiary of a $20,000 spend by the Washington Restaurant Association PAC.

Additionally, a group calling itself “NW Tribes for Debora,” funded by the Northwest Tribal PAC, has reported spending $15,000 to support Debora Juarez, a frontrunner in North Seattle’s District 5.

The ad buys, both funded by the Civic Alliance for a Sound Economy (CASE), which endorsed both Braddock and Johnson, make one thing abundantly clear: The influence of money in Seattle elections isn’t going away. If anything, it’s getting more explicit and more potent.

One argument for district elections was that smaller geographical districts would reduce the need for candidates to raise so much money (in some cases, hundreds of thousands of dollars) to communicate with voters and get elected. While this is somewhat true for individual candidates (so far, Johnson has raised $77,000 so far and Braddock has raised $59,000, though those numbers are difficult to compare to previous campaigns because of the sheer number of candidates and the unprecedented nature of this election), the independent expenditures more than make up for any fundraising disparity between, say, 2013 and now.

In fact, it’s likely that big IEs like these will become more common under the district system. With fewer eyeballs to purchase, a targeted IE can go further in a district than it could under the previous citywide system, giving moneyed interests more bang for their buck than they ever had trying to influence elections citywide. Seattle’s election laws allow unlimited independent expenditures.

Also worth noting: Both Screen Strategies Media, the East Coast film company that’s doing the ads, and Blue Wave Partners, the fundraising firm associated with both IE groups, are closely affiliated with Mayor Ed Murray. Screen Strategies did several cable TV ads for Murray back in 2013, and Blue Wave is Murray’s longtime fundraising firm. Murray has endorsed Johnson’s opponent, incumbent council member Jean Godden, so it’s interesting to see two firms associated with the mayor doing work for one of Godden’s top opponents.