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.
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Today’s interview: Citywide Position 9 candidate Bill Bradburd, a neighborhood activist in the Central District. I sat down with Bradburd at Lottie’s in Columbia City.
[Note to readers: Bradburd doesn’t leave a lot of room for questions. He talks pretty much nonstop, bouncing from idea to idea and grabbing pieces of paper to illustrate what he’s talking about. By the end of our interview, I think he had sketched out an entire neighborhood, his vision for Seattle.]
The C Is for Crank [ECB]: You came through the primary with just 15 percent to Lorena Gonzalez’s 65 percent. What’s your goal for the rest of the campaign, assuming you don’t have a realistic shot of winning? Are there issues you especially want to get Lorena on the record about?
Bill Bradburd [BB]: The way I look at it is, I am 50 points behind. Obviously, we like to think we could rise to the challenge, but it’s a stretch. If we were able to execute a traditional campaign, we would be able to do mail, but because we’re so far behind, it’s going to be difficult to raise the kind of money we want to raise. We’re going to be talking about messaging. We still have the opportunity to do that. We have a Seattle Channel interview with Lorena coming up tomorrow. We still have the ability to express opinions and ideas. We still have alternative methods of reaching people, through social media, for example. I’m still reaching out to neighbors at neighborhood meet and greets. We still can differentiate ourselves from Lorena. She hasn’t come up with any strong policy positions. She’s the mayor’s candidate, so her policy positions are pretty cookie-cutter and aligned with the mayor. I talk about a different vision for the city. Healthy communities are important to a good urban environment, everything from supporting local businesses and the local economy, to restorative justice, which requires a very strong community.
Seattle is in a way nationally unique, in the sense that the neighborhoods were very powerful groups in the 1990s. They coalesced under the Community Council Federation. The Community Council Federation has withered and gone away, but 25 years ago, they elected a mayor, Norm Rice, and everything you see today, the urban village strategy, the neighborhood plans, came out of the neighborhood movement. How do we grow in a way that respects neighborhoods? The urban village choices weren’t made up. Since the Rice administration, since the creation of the community council system, the neighborhoods have become disempowered.
A lot of this stuff that happened with microhousing, for example—nobody gets told about this stuff, it just happens. A lot of it now is, you let the community come in and look at the maps and put up stickers saying what they want, but it’s already done. A lot of that happens behind the scenes. Part of the problem is that we don’t engage citizens in an open way. Twenty-some years ago, they went to the neighborhoods and said, “How do you want to change?” The neighborhoods talked about what they wanted, and the city listened and made all these neighborhood plans. We don’t do that anymore, and that’s part of the problem. We go through a veneer of public engagement. This happened when they were doing planning for the south end light rail station areas. They did all these public meetings that were all just for show. They took a lot of photos of ethnic minorities sitting in circles around tables playing with blocks, when they already knew what they were going to do.
When you look at the constituents in the neighborhood, they are: People who live there, businesses that are there, families, kids, and property owners. Developers have an inherently different interest. Developers and property owners have an interest in making money off the land. They don’t think of the interests of the people in the community. They don’t think of neighborhoods in terms of the things that most people think of. They think of it as an investment.
In single-family areas with a broad base of constituents, there’s not a lot of economic activity generated by that single-family home, but there is a lot of non-monetary value that’s good to the whole neighborhood in a single-family house. You have people who are friends with their neighbors, their kids play with the kids down the block, they’re part of the community. If you take that down and build four townhomes, you have a bank, a developer, a contractor, and the building trades [union]. That’s the economic activity. The downside is that these people lost their neighbors. We need to be helping neighborhoods do community building. We need to invest in block watches and restorative justice so that we have common idea of how we build.
This is all skewed by this definition of density. We’ve taken it and used it to say it means the number of people in a building. You can put in 20 microhousing units on one square block on Capitol Hill and you’re not going to affect the overall density of the neighborhood more than a tiny bit . The question should have been what the community wants to see in 20 to 50 years. Then the question becomes, if this is what 4,000 units per square mile looks like, which is a single-family neighborhood, what does 8,000 units look like? Then you can look at building forms and say, these are the building forms we support at this density, and wouldn’t it be great if in 50 years our neighborhood could look like Barcelona?
When you have a hodgepodge [of building forms], it’s a fucking disaster. If you want row houses, you can create a new zone called row house, where the only thing you can build is a row house and you can do Row House 1, 2, 3, or even 4 and 5 like New York. We can tell developers, “This is what you have to build. We want great neighborhoods for kids. We would like to see more families here.”
ECB: You don’t support the HALA plan, and you signed off on [Position 8 candidate] Jon Grant’s proposal to charge a maximum linkage fee on new residential development and to move toward rent control. What’s your issue with HALA?
BB: HALA doesn’t do a goddamn thing to solve our crisis. If 10 percent of the houses put in mother-in-law apartments or build cottages, that’s 16,000 units of housing, and it’s definitely affordable housing. We’re giving away all this development capacity and not getting anything in return. We’re building these huge luxury apartments downtown and they’re not contributing to the city with linkage fees. Amazon just bought 1.8 million square feet of office space at $650 a foot, and Vulcan says it cost them $450 a square foot to build. So they’re making $200 a square foot in profit, and none of that comes back to community. That’s absurd.
What about, if you’re building affordable housing, you’re exempted form the linkage fee, or it’s a sliding scale? The whole point of this thing is, we have a housing crisis. It’s not going to be a permanent thing, but we need affordable housing now. I think we should have community-based solutions. In HALA, they came up with those recommendations that do nothing.
ECB: What’s your response to people who say the growth targets established in the neighborhood planning process aren’t caps, they’re just targets?
Richard Conlin used to say that. Well, we are on a shooting range, and there’s the target, and we’re just, Pop! Pop! Pop! shooting all over everywehre. If population is growing more than the expectations, if you blow through the roof, you have to figure out how to grow at a more modest level.
[The Department of Planning and Development] can’t plan their way out of a paper bag. I do have a problem with the idea that everybody has a right to live on Capitol Hill. No, they don’t. If people who have only been living here for five years are saying they no longer recognize their neighborhood, you ought to look at that as a barometer. It’s not that people don’t like change—they don’t like no longer recognizing their neighborhood.
We do have growth targets. That means we should aim for it. But at the same time, we want to be cautious. We don’t want to gentrify Rainier Beach. We want a community that’s going to be responsible about growth. Gentrification is like photosynthesis. It happens all the time. The problem is that it used to happen over a 20-year period. Now it happens over a five-year period. Gentrification is an economic phenomenon that happens to have racial overtones because people of color tend to be lower-income.
The question is not, how do you stop it, but how do you not have it be invasive, and how do you have it happen over a period of time so that people get their bearings back? The community in the Central Area was shellshocked by the pace of the changes.
ECB: How do you respond to charges that neighbors who oppose people who aren’t like them coming into their neighborhoods are being racist or classist? I’m thinking of the Ballard encampment and the out-of-nowhere crackdown on hookah lounges.
BB: With the hookah lounges, no one talked to the community. The city should have done community outreach [before shutting them down]. Donnie Chin was killed two hours after that hookah lounge closed. Hookah lounges had nothing to do with his death. There’s a concern about the changing face of the ID. Certainly there are racial aspects as well. When Casa Latina wanted to come into our community in the CD, the Japanese community didn’t want the Latinos there, but we talked about it and had a process, and that, to me, is community building.
I’m not denying that there are some white people who don’t want to live next door to black people. But with Casa Latina, their greatest concern was, what’s it going to do to the character of our neighborhood? Their concern was, we don’t want to look like the outside of Lowe’s, where men in backpacks are just lined up along the sidewalk. Casa Latina came in and reassured the neighborhood, they made changes, they volunteered to have people walk the block.
A statement was made that there is racism in the development codes and that’s just not true. There were community covenants. To say this neighborhood is zoned by racism is absurd. The city was platted when the houses were built, and the neighborhoods put in covenants on top of that zoning. If you’re going to look at zoning in a certain way, you could say that downtown zoning is racist. There aren’t a lot of black people living there. People live the community they’re in based on their quality of life. Part of that is perception.
When they tried to put a mental health crisis center on my block, that had people protesting who live a mile away. The problem was that people thought this was going to be a negative thing in the neighborhood. Some might have said that their property values were going to decline, but it was mostly about place value and quality of life. What people were saying was that we’ll have hookers and drugged-out people in the streets. Is that racist or classist? Maybe. I think it’s not driven by racism or classism. It was driven by what the neighborhood thought would happen in their neighborhood.