Category: City Council

Two Candidates With Roots In Central Seattle Council District Will Seek Sawant’s Longtime Seat

Alex Hudson
Alex Hudson

By Erica C. Barnett

Two longtime residents of City Council District 3, Alex Hudson and Joy Hollingsworth, have announced they’re running for the council seat occupied for the last 10 years by Kshama Sawant, who announced earlier this month that she won’t seek reelection.

In conversations with PubliCola on Wednesday, both Hudson and Hollingsworth said they planned their campaigns assuming they would be taking on Sawant directly. Now that the firebrand socialist is no longer a factor, both said they feel a sense of relief that they’ll be able to talk more about their own priorities, rather than defending themselves against an incumbent whose fiery denunciations of “corporate Democrats” (including all eight of her council colleagues) have a tendency to suck all the air out of the room.

Although there are months to go before the filing deadline, Hudson and Hollingsworth are both well-positioned to be frontrunners in the race for District 3. Hollingsworth, whose family owns and operates a cannabis farm in Mason County, was born and raised in the Central District; her grandmother, Dorothy Hollingsworth, was a civil rights trailblazer and the first Black woman to serve on a school board in Washington state.

Hudson, the director of the Transportation Choices Coalition, is a longtime renter on First Hill who led the pro-density First Hill Improvement Association before working to pass big major transportation policy and funding packages, including last year’s Move Ahead Washington statewide funding bill.

If elected, Hudson would bring a long history of transportation advocacy and expertise to the council at a time when the city is failing to make progress toward Vision Zero, a plan to end traffic deaths and serious injuries in the next seven years. To get there, Hudson said the city needs to stop debating how to implement its Vision Zero goals and start implementing strategies it already knows are effective.

“There should not be as many fatalities, near misses, or injuries on our roadways as there are right now in the city, and that should be the primary focus of the Seattle Transportation Plan that they’re putting together now,” Hudson said. For example, she said, the city could easily install bike lanes, curb bulbs, spaces between parking and bike lanes, crosswalks, and lighting—design changes that slow down drivers and provide redundant protections for others on the road—without going through the usual years-long public process.

“Ludi’s”—a now-shuttered downtown diner, formerly known as the Turf, that mostly served low-income patrons—”was a place where you could go and get a hot meal and some protein and kick it in community. And I don’t know another place right now, anywhere in downtown, where you could do that.”

In our conversation, Hudson emphasized her experience building coalitions while also pushing boundaries. As head of First Hill’s neighborhood association, Hudson defied stereotypes about neighborhood activism, pushing for dense affordable housing at a Sound Transit-owned property and organizing to bring two new homeless shelters to the neighborhood. While it’s common to see organized neighborhood opposition to shelters or services, Hudson said that “with deep organizing, [by the time] we had the community meeting about it in the basement of First Presbyterian, site of one of the two shelters, every single person who was there spoke up and was like, ‘We want it. How can we help you?”

Hudson said she’s still learning about the city’s current response to homelessness, which consists largely of disruptive, traumatizing encampment sweeps. (The city-funded King County Regional Homelessness Authority, whose policies the city can influence through its annual budget, now controls all homeless service contracts). In general, she said, “there’s no point in just pushing people around, if what that is going to do is just further traumatize someone, disinvest them from what little belongings and stability and community that they have, and create a further cycle of distrust in the system.”

At the same time, she added, “unauthorized encampments in our parks isn’t a solution that works for everybody, including the people who want to use those parks.” For example, she supported the removal of a large encampment in and around Miller Park, which is next to Meany Middle School. One solution, she said, might be allowing more authorized encampments where people can connect with services and get on a path to housing. “Homelessness is a housing problem, and we need more housing,” she said. “But that doesn’t solve the problem for people sleeping in a tent tonight.”

Although downtown Seattle isn’t in District 3, policies to address homelessness downtown could impact every other district, because the KCRHA and the city have made a policy decision to focus most of their housing resources on downtown, through a public-private partnership called Partnership for Zero—”zero” referring to the number of people sleeping outdoors in the area for more than a brief period.

Hudson said the emphasis on downtown makes sense—”having some resources that are specifically targeted to downtown to support people, is a good and important thing”—but she said it needs to be coupled with efforts to give lower-income people, including those experiencing homelessness, places to go during the day besides social service providers.

“Ludi’s”—a now-shuttered downtown diner, formerly known as the Turf, that mostly served low-income patrons—”was a place where you could go and get a hot meal and some protein and kick it in community. And I don’t know another place right now, anywhere in downtown, where you could do that.” Commercial rent stabilization, city programs to support small businesses that cater to people who aren’t white-collar office workers, and partnerships with landlords trying to fill empty storefronts could help fill that need, Hudson said.

Hudson didn’t commit to a specific set of policies on policing, such as an ideal number of police officers or a path toward hiring more non-police responders, although she said that as a resident of First Hill, she often witnesses situations, like people in crisis, where police would only make the problem worse.

She was unequivocal, however, about another “public safety hazard”—the large concrete blocks, known as “ecology blocks” or eco-blocks, that businesses dump in public rights-of-way to prevent people living in RVs from parking in the city. Although blocking public streets and parking areas is illegal, the city has indicated it will not enforce the law, effectively allowing businesses to take over public space with impunity.

“The public right-of-way is for everyone, and so we can’t just [let businesses] drop hostile architecture all over the place, and call it good,” Hudson said. How would she propose making that happen, when the Seattle Department of Transportation has said it would be too difficult to remove the hundreds of heavy blocks that now litter the city? “Forklift comes, picks them up and moves them away. I don’t think it’s that complicated.”

“We’ve got to do better,” Hudson added. “If people can’t trust the city to move a piece of concrete, how can people trust the government to solve problems?”

Joy Hollingsworth

Joy Hollingsworth

Hollingsworth, too, told me she was frustrated with the city about its slow response to road safety issues—so much so that she installed a camera at 23rd and John and recorded every crash at the intersection, posting clips on Youtube. It took five years to get the city to add turn signals and pedestrian safety improvements, Hollingsworth said. “There has to be a sense of urgency to take care of this stuff,” Hollingsworth said. “When a kid got hit on a scooter”—a crash her camera captured—I feel like that’s when the city started to pay attention to this corner.”

In our conversation, Hollingsworth emphasized her deep roots in the Central District and Capitol Hill neighborhoods, where she went to school (at Meany Middle School and Seattle Prep) and has lived all her life except during college, when she studied and played basketball at the University of Arizona. During that time, the Central District has lost most of its Black residents, gentrifying rapidly without meaningful anti-displacement measures that could help people stay in the area.

“The density has been very extreme in District Three,” Hollingsworth said. “And I say that because I don’t think we think of the impact that that’s had on certain neighborhoods. Seattle is very, very good at protecting white neighborhoods and not Black neighborhoods.”

As neighborhoods have gotten more multifamily housing, she continued, infrastructure hasn’t kept up.

“As we think about density, we have to also think about how it’s going to impact that neighborhood. How does it impact our water, our sewer, our garbage, our electricity?” Several current council members, including Lisa Herbold (D1) and Alex Pedersen (D4) support requiring developers to pay impact fees for the perceived negative impact of new density. Hollingsworth said impact fees might be part of the solution. So, she said, could programs to help homeowners convert their single-family houses into duplexes and triplexes without “changing the façade of the home.”

Hollingsworth said new residents have also impacted the availability of parking and clogged neighborhood streets. “We’ve gotten a lot of new congestion” because of new residents who live in buildings without parking, she said. “We thought people would come here and not bring their cars and just live in apartments” car-free, she said. “That’s not the case.”

“As we think about density, we have to also think about how it’s going to impact that neighborhood. How does it impact our water, our sewer, our garbage, our electricity?… We thought people would come here and not bring their cars. That’s not the case.”—District 3 candidate Joy Hollingsworth

Hollingsworth endorsed now-Mayor Bruce Harrell in 2021, and is widely expected to receive his endorsement. Asked whether she supports the mayor’s encampment removal policies, she demurred. “It’s a health hazard to people who are there for them to be living in those conditions… and we have to do better as a city,” she said.

What about hiring more police officers, another priority of both the mayor and most members of current council? Hollingsworth said her focus would be on hiring “good officers” at a rate that can produce “great response times,” not a hard and fast number. “We need to be  investing in things that create safe neighborhoods,” like Byrd Barr Place and the Central Area Senior Center, she said, in addition to hiring officers. “It’s a holistic approach— not just ‘Joy wants more police.’ I think that’s a notion that’s been significantly put out there to scare people, and I think I’m thinking of community safety holistically, in a different, thoughtful way.”

Hollingsworth expressed frustration at being portrayed, in her view simplistically as the candidate who “wants to repair relations with police. That relationship has to be rebuilt, and there’s also some places where … we can’t deny that there has been overpolicing.”

“But we also know that they are a piece of the public safety” picture, she continued, adding that ideally, “we’d have our EMTs responding to medical, medical emergencies, we’d have health care providers or social workers responding to our unhoused neighbor… and we’d have [police] responding to potentially violent crimes.”

If elected, Hollingsworth would be the only Black councilmember since Harrell left the council in 2019, and one of the only queer Black women in the council’s history. She said her identity as a Black queer woman would add an important perspective to the council, because “a lot of the policies… we’re trying to do are based on dismantling systemic racism, and that comes from anti-Blackness.” But, she added, “I don’t want to be just the Black candidate, I want to be the best candidate. Being black is just a part of who I am, being queer is part of who I am, being a female is just part of who am. It’s my identity, but it doesn’t define me.”

Editor’s note: This post has been corrected to reflect the fact that Sherry Harris was the first out queer Black woman on the council, as a commenter pointed out.

Seattle Center, Which Will Run Waterfront Park, Issued Dozens of Year-Long Parks Exclusions; City Will Let Private Buses “Share” Up to 250 Bus Stops

1. On Wednesday afternoon, the Seattle City Council’s public assets committee approved plans to have Seattle Center take over management of, and security at, the new waterfront park—an agreement that will bring stricter enforcement of park rules to the waterfront than at other parks throughout the city.

Under a “parks exclusion” ordinance dating back to 1997, the city’s parks department has the authority to ban anyone from a park for violating parks rules for up to a year. Since 2012, however, the department has voluntarily agreed not to trespass violators for more than a day, except when their actions threaten public safety. 

As PubliCola reported last week, Seattle Center operates under different rules, excluding people from the campus for longer periods and for lesser violations. Last year, outgoing director Robert Nellams told us, Seattle Center barred 37 people for periods ranging from a week to a year.

In response to questions from Councilmember Lisa Herbold, Seattle Center provided a more detailed list of those exclusions. Of the 37, the vast majority—24—were for 365 days, for violations ranging from showing up again while barred from the campus for a shorter period to serious criminal allegations, such as arson and assault. One person was banned for six months after passing out in the bathroom of the Armory building; another person, who had at least seven previous run-ins with Seattle Center security, was barred for a year for being intoxicated and panhandling. 

Four people received seven-day trespass notices for “camping” after “multiple warnings.” Nellams said Seattle Center’s policy on people sleeping at Seattle Center is to “respectfully and graciously ask people to move along.”

The committee approved the proposal unanimously; Herbold said she was convinced to support the plan after REACH, the outreach agency, endorsed the proposal in a letter to council members. Friends of the Waterfront, the nonprofit group that has led much of the planning for the new park, pays for two REACH staffers to provide outreach along the waterfront; the group will also pay for four “ambassadors” to answer questions and respond to minor issues once the park is open. Seattle Center will also provide 15 security officers.

2. Also this week, a council committee approved plans that could dramatically expand the number of public transit stops that King County Metro buses will “share” with private shuttle services run by companies like Microsoft and Children’s Hospital. The private buses parallel existing bus routes, using limited city-owned curb space for a system that only their employees can use.

Since 2017, Children’s and Microsoft have paid $300 per vehicle each year to share a total of 12 bus stops with the county’s public transit provider. The new rules, which the full council will consider Monday, would increase the potential number of new shared stops to 250 citywide, with no more than 50 stops reserved for any single employer.

During the meeting, Councilmember Tammy Morales asked rhetorically whether it makes sense to hand over limited curb space so that private companies could exempt themselves from the public transit system. “I see these shuttles everywhere,” Morales said. “I would much prefer that people ride a shuttle rather than drive a single-occupancy vehicle, and I would prefer to see that our public system was serving these folks instead of having a private system.”

Morales also asked, less rhetorically, why the city couldn’t just remove a couple of parking spots near transit stops so that buses and shuttles wouldn’t have to compete for space. SDOT planner Benjamin Smith responded that removing parking might harm nearby businesses—a familiar argument that assumes people won’t use transit to get to businesses even if the city makes it more convenient.

The new rules would limit which bus stops the private shuttles can use, excluding those “with the highest potential for conflicts with transit and other modes.” They would also require employers to pay a nominal fee of $5,000 per stop, per year, ora total of up to $250,000 per employer.

Ultimately, Morales voted to approve the new rules, which passed 4-1, with Councilmember Dan Strauss abstaining because, he said, he hadn’t had a chance to look at the rules in detail. The full council will also take up the bus stop sharing plan on Monday.

In Reversal, Council Poised to Preserve Landmarked Drive-Through Walgreen’s

Joe Mabel, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

By Erica C. Barnett

Update on Tuesday, Jan. 10: The council voted to adopt Councilmember Lisa Herbold’s amendment, described in more detail below, to impose controls and incentives preventing any changes to the landmarked Walgreen’s building on Denny Way while removing the surface parking lot from the area subject to landmark protections. Herbold’s “compromise” plan also included a new amendment from Andrew Lewis that added the driveway and a few other small elements of the property to the part of the lot that won’t be subject to restrictions, increasing the non-protected part of the property to around 14,000 square feet.

Council members who voted for Herbold’s proposal cited various reasons for doing so. Lewis said he supported preserving the façade of the building (seen above) while allowing development; however, the protections the council imposed actually bar changes to the entire building unless the city’s landmarks board approves them.

Kshama Sawant railed against the council’s “Democrats” and housing developers in general, raising a straw-man argument about the fact that any potential housing on the site wouldn’t be affordable to low-income people, which no one suggested it would. And Sara Nelson, who voted against protecting the Walgreen’s just last week, justified her change of heart by saying that aligning the city’s housing goals with historic preservation would take a “long time” and would need to be done at some later date. Ultimately, the legislation passed unanimously, with Tammy Morales and Teresa Mosqueda voting against the initial Herbold amendment but supporting it once it was the only option on the table.

Original post follows:

In a reversal of a committee vote last week, the Seattle city council appears poised to preserve a drive-through Walgreen’s on the edge of South Lake Union, after Councilmember Tammy Morales (who previously opposed preservation) accepted as a “friendly amendment” a proposal by Councilmember Lisa Herbold to “protect” the one-story building and driveway, but not its parking lot. The legislation on the council’s agenda Tuesday afternoon would require Walgreen’s, or any subsequent owner, to obtain approval from the city’s landmarks board before making any visible changes to the building.

PubliCola has written extensively about the 1950 structure, which was originally a drive-through bank—a novel convenience at a time when American car culture was just ramping up. The building was one of many copies of a 1946 prototype created for Seattle-First National Bank, many of which are still standing in Seattle and across the region.

A lot of things have changed since the former bank building was landmarked in 2010. An explosion of jobs brought a need for new housing in Uptown and South Lake Union, and the council voted to upzone the area in 2017, allowing new apartment towers to serve the thousands of new people working in the burgeoning tech hub. The site where the Walgreen’s stands, for example, was rezoned to allow a 160-foot tower. Today, the building stands out as one of the only car-oriented, single-story businesses in the area.

How could it be that a parking lot that makes up less than half of the Walgreen’s site could yield more housing than the entire property? The answer is: It can’t, except on paper.

Morales, along with her colleague Andrew Lewis, appeared convinced Monday by a staff analysis that concluded a developer could actually fit more housing on the Walgreen’s block if the housing was squeezed onto the 12,000-square-foot parking lot—up to 310 units, or even more if the building included amenities like a school, which many downtown residents have been trying to site for years.

“Compared to what is possible if we completely remove the controls and incentives or if we leave the legislation as is, there are additional 30 to 60 units possible,” Morales said at the council’s weekly briefing.

“I really appreciate the the creativity of Councilmember Herbold in presenting all these incentives together to show the potential of what the maximum number of units could be,” Lewis added.

How could it be that a parking lot that makes up less than half of the Walgreen’s site could yield more housing than the entire property? The answer is: It can’t, except on paper.

Setting aside the unlikely possibility of a new school inside a skinny residential tower, getting to 310 units requires some creative math. To build that many units, a developer would have to qualify for every incentive available under city law, including one that allows a development to cover more of a lot if their building includes at least ten units of “family sized” housing with three bedrooms or more. In practice, apartment developers rarely build units that size, because they don’t pencil out—two-parent families who can afford to pay $5,000 to $12,000 a month (the going rate for the handful of available three-bedroom apartments in new buildings near South Lake Union) would usually be better off buying a place instead

Even in the analysis Herbold used to argue that a smaller building would have more apartments, a council staffer acknowledged that it “would be hard to fit [that many units] on the lot without building above the bank building”—that is, demolishing the Walgreen’s and putting up a new building in its place, perhaps preserving the façade. This alternative is basically the same as not preserving the building at all—except that it couldn’t happen without  the approval of the same landmarks board that requested protections for the building in the first place.

Another scenario would be a skinny tower on the site of the current parking lot, which, at just 11,700 square feet, would be among the smallest tower locations in the city. This would be unlikely to pencil out under any circumstances, because so much of the oddly-shaped site would be taken up by the building’s elevator shaft, but the presence of the SR 99 tunnel directly underneath the site would make building a tall, thin tower even more of an underground engineering challenge. For this scenario to pencil out, the building would almost certainly be limited (like many others in the area) to studio or micro-units, which rent for more per square foot than larger apartments—great for young tech migrants, but less ideal for producing a neighborhood with a diverse range of ages, incomes, and family types.

Even in the analysis Herbold used to argue that a smaller building would have more apartments, a council staffer acknowledged that it “would be hard to fit [that many units] on the lot without building above the bank building”—that is, demolishing the Walgreen’s and putting up a new building in its place, perhaps preserving the façade. This alternative is basically the same as not preserving the building at all—except that it couldn’t happen without the approval of the same landmarks board that requested protections for the building in the first place.

The other alternative—the one that preservationists like Historic Seattle and Herbold seem to actually support—is to allow Walgreen’s to sell off the development rights for the lot to another developer in the neighborhood, preserving the building and its drive-through lane in perpetuity while allowing development elsewhere.

The problem is that selling the development potential of the Walgreen’s site almost certainly wouldn’t lead to an equivalent number of new apartments. That’s because when property owners sell development rights, what they’re really selling is extra floor-area ratio (FAR), a measure of how much of a piece of land a building can occupy. The more FAR a developer has, the taller or wider the building, depending on the rules in that area. In the Uptown, where 160-foot building are already allowed everywhere, additional FAR will allow developers to build outward, eliminating amenities they would otherwise have to include, like open space, green streets, and setbacks between sidewalks and the building.

The council will vote on Herbold’s proposal tomorrow afternoon. So far, only Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda has publicly expressed reservations about the plan, saying she worried that Herbold’s proposal “would reduce the site to such [an extent] that it would not be feasible to build to build multifamily units on this site.”

Alex Pedersen Wasn’t the “Voice of Reason” on the Council. He Was the Voice of “No.”

Councilmember Alex Pedersen responds to written questions at a public meeting in January 2020.

By Erica C. Barnett

In preparation for sparring with Sandeep about Alex Pedersen’s record on Seattle Nice this week, I looked back through our coverage of the one-term council member, who recently announced he won’t seek reelection.

Pedersen’s decision to join his frequent ally Sara Nelson in voting against the city’s 2023-2024 budget was freshest in my mind, and not just because the move brought the city within one vote of a funding crisis.

Instead, it spoke to Pedersen’s penchant for spinning up misleading narratives to flatter his conservative-for-Seattle base. (Pedersen, like most of the technically nonpartisan council, is a Democrat). In a statement explaining his vote to reject the budget, Pedersen accused his council colleagues of defunding the police—an inflammatory (and patently false) claim that council budget chair Teresa Mosqueda called “a willful attempt to spread misinformation.”

Pedersen’s throwback agenda went beyond putting as many cops on the streets as possible. The former Tim Burgess council aide consistently treated new housing like a burden to be borne by existing homeowners, rather than an asset that keeps neighborhoods lively and neighborhood businesses alive. Even before he ran for office, Pedersen argued in his newsletter, Four to Explore, that “density ideologues” were trying to shove housing into neighborhoods that were already full; unsurprisingly, he vehemently opposed the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA), which allowed modest density increases in a tiny swath of Seattle’s dominant single-family areas.

Pedersen picked up on this theme as soon as he was elected, using one of the city’s most enviable attributes—our (inequitably distributed) tree canopy—to argue against new housing. One of his first acts as council member was to call a meeting to discuss future legislation to “protect” individual trees on privately owned land by preventing development of denser housing where single-family homes now stand. Draft legislation to make it harder and more expensive to remove trees is still moving forward with support from Pedersen and his Northwest Seattle colleague Dan Strauss. Pedersen has also consistently supported “impact fees” that would make dense rental housing more costly to build—an anti-affordability strategy wrapped in an anti-displacement façade.

One of his first acts as council member was to call a meeting to discuss future legislation to “protect” individual trees on privately owned land by preventing development of denser housing where single-family homes now stand.

Even when Pedersen supported legislation that would be beneficial to renters—such as a bill, also backed by socialist District 3 Councilmember Kshama Sawant, that would have required landlords to disclose the rents they charge—his rationale was still anti-development. In the case of the rent transparency bill (which Mayor Bruce Harrell ultimately vetoed), Pedersen said the data would be a useful argument for preserving development restrictions in the city’s upcoming comprehensive plan update. Separately, Pedersen opposed statewide legislation that would have allowed fourplexes and sixplexes in more areas, calling it an “ill-conceived” preemption of local control that would destroy “naturally occurring” single-family affordable housing in Seattle.

Advocates for nonmotorized transportation were understandably concerned when Pedersen became chair of the council transportation committee, a position he still holds. Years before his 2019 election, Pedersen argued against renewing the city’s transportation levy, in part because it supposedly prioritized bike lanes over “basics” like sidewalks, “traffic congestion,” and bridges. He also opposed Sound Transit 3, the 2016 light-rail expansion measure, and the completion of the downtown streetcar, arguing that buses are cheaper and more flexible—a familiar argument that is also, ultimately, an argument against transit-oriented density.

Pedersen’s term as transportation chair was largely dominated by the closure and subsequent repair of the West Seattle bridge. Still, during a time when pedestrian and cyclist deaths reached unprecedented levels, his lack of enthusiasm for bike lanes never diminished. In his first year on the council, Pedersen opposed a protected bike lane in his district, saying the safety upgrade was unnecessary because cyclists could simply zigzag from street to street, using disconnected short stretches of future bike-friendly “greenways” to avoid busy Eastlake Ave. He expanded this argument to apply to the city as a whole, arguing year after year that bridge maintenance should be a higher priority than bike and pedestrian infrastructure. 

Few things, however, got Pedersen quite so worked up as the council’s habit of expressing their views on various issues via nonbinding resolution, a practice he found so irksome that he proposed (and passed) not one but two bills intended to curb them.

Pedersen’s political supporters (like my friend Sandeep) argue that he has served as a “voice of reason” on the council, preventing the council’s left wing from running amok. In reality, Pedersen generated little original legislation and spent much of his time arguing against his colleagues’ proposals.

For example, Pedersen consistently opposed even modest reductions to the police department’s budget; legislation allowing more food trucks in commercial areas; a proposal that would have allowed defense attorneys to argue that a defendant’s poverty played a role in crimes such as shoplifting; protections for renters facing eviction; a program allowing motorized scooter sharing in Seattle; funding for health services for drug users; an increase in the levy that funds city parks; and raises for city employees.

Few things, however, got Pedersen quite so worked up as the council’s habit of expressing their views on various issues via nonbinding resolution, a practice he found so irksome that he proposed (and passed) not one but two bills intended to curb them. The first, in response to a Sawant-backed bill condemning an anti-Muslim citizenship law in India, was a sarcastic resolution condemning “all forms of oppression affecting communities throughout the world.” The second allowed councilmembers to refrain from voting on nonbinding resolutions entirely—an option he and his closest ally Sara Nelson have exercised repeatedly ever since.

In his announcement that he won’t seek reelection, Pedersen padded his list of geniune accomplishments (progress toward banning leaf blowers, more speed cameras in school zones, a new tiny house village in his district) with squishier stuff: Supporting Harrell’s agenda on police funding and homelessness, the renewal of a transportation tax for bus service, the approval of two Harrell appointments, and working to stop the sale of the National Archives building at Sand Point, a Trump-era decision that President Biden reversed in 2021. The modesty of these achievements suggests Pedersen’s true legacy on the council: Not a voice of reason, but the voice of “no.”

The Era of Rubber-Stamp Landmark Preservation is Over

1. The era when Seattle leaders routinely rubber-stamped requests to protect old buildings from development without regard to context (is it in an area where new housing is needed and allowed?) or uniqueness (are there many examples of similar buildings elsewhere?) may have come to an end.

Exhibit A: Councilmember Tammy Morales’ amendment to legislation that would otherwise have made it difficult or impossible to build housing at the site of a former drive-through bank building in South Lake Union that the city’s landmarks preservation board designated as a historic landmark in 2006. The building is now a drive-through Walgreen’s store.

Last month, a council committee voted unanimously (with Councilmember Kshama Sawant absent) against imposing “controls and incentives”—restrictions on alterations or demolition and tax breaks or other financial incentives, respectively—on the building.. However, Morales said, that vote may not have gone far enough to ensure that Walgreen’s wouldn’t have to go back to the landmarks board to renegotiate a new agreement.

To prevent that, Morales’ amended legislation says explicitly that there will be “no” controls or incentives on the building.

“[S]nce the original designation of the Building, the Uptown Urban Center has been rezoned, and the area that the Building is located in has been rezoned to allow significantly larger buildings, including residential development,” the amended legislation reads, and “the benefits of allowing development on this site outweigh the preservation of the Building.”

The 1950 structure —which now houses a Walgreen’s—is one of several copies of a prototype that can still be seen around Seattle drive-through concept, which was new at the time, helped usher in 1950s car culture, which is one of the arguments preservationists have made for saving it.

The building will retain its landmark status. “The role of council in this whole process is not to modify the landmark designation itself,” Morales said. “Our role is to decide whether to accept the controls and incentives agreement, given the disagreement over whether this [building] is significant at all.”

The full council will take up Morales’ legislation on Monday.

2. Also this week, members of the council’s public assets committee raised questions about another landmarked property, a 95-year-old, six-unit apartment complex in the University District that was landmarked in 2018. The owner is seeking a property tax exemption that would reduce the assessed value of the undeveloped half of his property by 50 percent in exchange for preserving the “open space resource” at the site. The open space in question: A small strip of lawn around the building.

The law granting this kind of tax exemption is fairly obscure. Basically, it provides a property tax reduction for open space buffers around landmarked buildings by taxing these areas at their “current use”—undeveloped open space—rather than the “highest and best use” for the property. The point of the program, according to King County, is to “encourage the conservation of natural resources in King County by conserving its land and water resources, which include important wildlife habitat, wetland and streams, working forests and productive farmlands.”

Council members questioned how a small, grassy private yard in the middle of the city qualified as open space. ” This just feels like a slippery slope to be offering these reductions for something that isn’t really contributing to public space,” Morales said. A council staffer said the grass served as a kind of “visual buffer” between the building and the street, prompting Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda to note that many apartment buildings, including buildings with far more housing, include strips of grass and shrubs.

I just want to make sure that when we’re thinking about promoting and preserving public space, that we really are creating accessible public space that can be used and enjoyed by members of the public in the area, especially if there’s a tax benefit argument tied to this,” Mosqueda said.

Despite those concerns, the committee approved the application unanimously, along with another open-space application for a (non-landmarked) house in Wedgewood that backs up onto a ravine.

State Could Eliminate Jaywalking Law; Right-Wing Group Attacks Seattle Council for Addiction Program They Had Nothing to Do With

1. If you’ve ever lived outside the Pacific Northwest, or spent time in virtually any big city elsewhere, you may wonder why the state of Washington still has, and enforces, laws against “jaywalking”—the practice of crossing the street midblock or while the light is green but the road is clear. (“Jay-walking” is an antique slur for a rube who doesn’t know enough to keep out of the road). Crossing the street in an area other than an intersection or against a signal can set you back $68, and you’re far more likely to be targeted if you’re Black; according to a 2017 analysis, more than a quarter of jaywalking tickets issued between 2010 and 2016 went to Black pedestrians, even though just 7 percent of Seattle residents are Black.

This year, legislators plan to propose a bill that would eliminate the specific law against jaywalking—or “crossing not at a crosswalk,” as the state’s 57-year-old jaywalking law describes it—which would make it legal to cross the street as long as it’s safe to do so. During a recent Transportation Choices Coalition-sponsored forum, state Sens. Javier Valdez (D-46) and Marko Liias (D-21), the head of the Senate Transportation Committee, noted that legislators laid the groundwork for getting rid of the jaywalking ban by specifying that pedestrians, like drivers, must exercise “due care” when using roads and sidewalks.

Now, Liias said,  “I don’t think we need a specific violation for jaywalking, because if law enforcement sees someone that’s violating that duty of care, just like if they see any other user [doing so], they already have tools to hold that person accountable. When you look at the history of how these laws were used, it’s clear that there’s been disproportionate enforcement against low-income and BIPOC communities.” Basically, Valdez added, the change would give people the ability to use common sense when crossing the street without risking an automatic penalty. In areas where stoplights are far apart, the rational choice is often to cross midblock rather than walking a quarter-mile or more each way just to get to the other side of the road.

TCC, along with Commute Seattle, the King County Department of Public Defense, and other groups have started a coalition called Free to Walk Washington to support the elimination of jaywalking laws, which would follow similar changes in California, Virginia, Nevada, and Kansas City, MO.

2. Change Washington, a “strategic communications organization” funded by the right-wing organization Project 42, often makes and promotes some pretty outrageous claims about the city of Seattle on its website, which includes cross-posts from Project 42-funded ventures like the podcast of a well-known former local FOX reporter. Last week, though, they got the attention of a Seattle City Council member with a post that not only mischaracterized a well-established addiction management technique called contingency management, but accused the whole city council of proposing a “giveaway to drug addicts”—a claim without even a passing connection to reality. (The post uses the sneering slur “addict” no fewer than seven times.)

Contingency management is a method of helping a person reduce their drug consumption by offering them small rewards, such as money, a gift card, or a small prize, for a negative drug test. In numerous studies, contingency management has been found to be one of the most effective methods for reducing or eliminating drug use, particularly among people whose main drug of choice is stimulants, for which there are no broadly effective medications. There is longstanding, research-backed scientific consensus that contingency management works. Even so, the city council has never proposed funding it.

“The budget that City Council passed last month does not include funding for a contingency management program,” Herbold wrote Change Washington in an email. “I am unaware of any City Councilmember that has a proposal for a contingency management program,” she added, since the city doesn’t fund public health care programs—the county does. King County’s DCHS Behavioral Health and Recovery Division got approval last year to fund a contingency management pilot project.

After mischaracterizing contingency management as a frivolous “giveaway to addicts” that will just give them money to buy drugs and mocking its proponents for supposedly thinking “gift cards cure mental illness,” the conservative group also trashed needle exchanges, which prevent the spread of diseases like HIV and hepatitis, and said a better solution would be to force addicted people into (presumably locked) mental health facilities where they could be “monitored” to make sure they changed their ways. The post ends with a warning to council members about next year’s elections. But it looks like the election disinformation has already started.

Diaz Almost Permanent Chief; Sawant Wants Impact Fees; Another Residential Treatment Center Shuts Down

1. Members of the city council’s public safety committee, which voted unanimously to appoint interim police chief Adrian Diaz to the permanent police chief position on Tuesday, were mostly effusive about Diaz’ performance at the final public hearing on his appointment, praising him for his efforts to recruit new officers, reinstate the community service officer program, and work collaboratively with the council. Council members did have a few pointed questions, though, about Diaz’ commitment to replacing police with civilian responders.

Like many other cities across the country, Seattle committed to creating new community-based alternatives to traditional policing amid protests against police violence in 2020; since then, other cities have moved forward with new strategies while Seattle has bogged down in process.

“Around the same time that members of this council were talking about creating a third public safety department and civilian alternatives to police, Albuquerque also started their journey. The difference between them and us is that we have two years of resolutions, workgroups, promises, talking, [and] misrepresentations [from the previous administration].”—Councilmember Andrew Lewis

“Around the same time that members of this council were talking about creating a third public safety department and civilian alternatives to police, Albuquerque also started their journey,” Councilmember Andrew Lewis said. Albuquerque, Lewis noted, has a similar budget to Seattle’s and has also seen its police department shrink from around 1,400 to fewer than 1,000 officers.

“The difference between them and us is that we have two years of resolutions, workgroups, promises, talking, [and] misrepresentations” from the previous mayoral administration, while Albuquerque stood up its new public safety department in 2021 and has diverted thousands of calls from the police department.

As we’ve reported, SPD is still in the middle of a lengthy risk analysis that is supposed to determine which kind of 911 calls are safe enough for a civilian response. That process is expected to stretch into 2024. Meanwhile, according to SPD’s latest hiring projections, the department will only grow by 18 fully trained officers in the next two years.

While transferring some low-risk work to trained civilian responders would be one way to free up SPD officers for police work and investigations, another option could be reducing the amount of overtime police burn through directing traffic and providing security for sports events, which added up to more than 91,000 hours through October of this year. Diaz didn’t seem particularly open to this suggestion, either, noting that there is always a risk of violence at large events, such as someone trying to drive through a barricade.

2.  Also on Tuesday, the city council voted unanimously to move forward with a plan to exempt many affordable housing projects from the design review process for another year—effectively signing off on the once-controversial view that design review leads to unnecessary delays that makes housing more expensive.

However, one of those “yes” votes, Councilmember Kshama Sawant, voted “no” on a separate package of amendments to the city’s comprehensive plan because they did not include “developer impact fees,” which some cities levy on housing developers to offset the toll new residents create on urban infrastructure like roads and sewers. One reason such fees are controversial is that they imply that new housing has a negative impact on the city, without considering the positive impacts (such as reduced traffic congestion, less sprawl, and more customers for local businesses) of dense, vibrant neighborhoods.

Since the city can’t pass developer impact fees until they’re included in the comprehensive plan, Sawant said, the vote to approve the amendments “means that we need to wait another year to make big developers pay for the impacts they have on our city infrastructure and for the profits they make without paying even this minimum of compensation for the city’s working people.” During the 2020 budget deliberations, Sawant joined her colleague Councilmember Alex Pedersen in seeking $350,000 for a study of impact fees; although Pedersen is generally far to the right of socialist Sawant, a shared opposition to most development frequently puts them on the same side of housing-related issues.

Low-income people and people experiencing homelessness often have to wait weeks or months before getting into residential treatment—a fact that flies in the face of calls to force more people in crisis into treatment under the state’s involuntary treatment law.

3. Pioneer Human Services, which offers treatment to low-income people with substance use disorder, is closing its 50-bed Pioneer Center North facility in Skagit County next month amid an acute regional shortage of residential treatment beds for low-income people and people seeking treatment during or after serving time in jail.

According to agency spokeswoman Nanette Sorich, there were a number of reasons for the “difficult decision,” including the fact that “the building has been operating on a short-term lease and the facility is past its useful life. Additionally, like many behavioral health providers, we have faced significant challenges with staffing and these labor force shortages have become more acute over time,” Sorich said.

The Sedro-Wooley inpatient clinic had 77 beds before the pandemic. Pioneer Human Services will now refer potential clients to its other clinics in Everett and Spokane, Sorich said.

Low-income people and people experiencing homelessness often have to wait weeks or months before getting into residential treatment—a fact that flies in the face of calls to force more people in crisis into treatment under the state’s involuntary treatment law. Since 2018, King County has lost more than 110 residential treatment beds and is now down to 244 beds countywide. A countywide levy, on the ballot next April, would restore the number of residential beds in King County to 2018 levels; the bulk of the $1.25 billion proposal would go toward five new walk-in crisis stabilization centers across the county.

For a Welcoming City, Design Review Reforms Must Go Further

Image via Phinneyflats.com
This four-story building, the Phinney Flats on busy Greenwood Avenue North, was delayed for years by design review meetings in which critics called it “Soviet-style” architecture and said renters would disrupt their peace and quiet with loud rooftop parties.

By Laura Loe

Editor’s note: This is a followup to It’s Time to Ditch Design Review.

I’ve been advocating for reforming Seattle’s design review process, in which appointed boards impose aesthetic requirements (and delays) on dense new housing, since 2016. I’ve attended many hours-long design review meetings, hosted lunch-and-learns about this gate-kept and arcane process, and created user-friendly advocacy documents to help community members participate in the process. But design review is irreparably broken. It’s a way to object to new neighbors, not an opportunity to make neighborhoods better.

The city appears to agree: In 2013, the Department of Construction and Inspections recommended simplifying the process in response to public feedback. “Most complaints [during public comment for design review] are NIMBY-ism,” one focus group participant put it.

On December 8, 2022, the City Council’s land use committee unanimously passed legislation from committee chair Dan Strauss that will extend COVID-era rules exempting some affordable housing from design review for one year. While the bill is a rare win for Seattle’s future, it does not address the scale and scope of our housing crisis.

But why don’t we want to make all housing less affordable? Market-rate housing doesn’t deserve the punishment of the often capricious design review process, either.

Exempting affordable housing from design review is a win for those of us who have advocated for reforms—a clear acknowledgement that design review makes affordable housing less affordable.

But why don’t we want to make all housing less affordable? Market-rate housing doesn’t deserve the punishment of the often capricious design review process, either. Multi-family, market-rate development in Seattle provides essential housing for Seattle renters. It contributes to Mandatory Housing Affordability, a program that requires developers to fund affordable housing either elsewhere or on site. And it increases our overall supply of housing—a necessity if we’re going combat the housing scarcity that leads to homelessness, as housing scholar Gregg Colburn and data journalist Clayton Aldern documented recently in the book Homelessness is a Housing Problem.

There have even been recent examples where market-rate housing has become available to those with deep housing insecurity through “rapid acquisition” by affordable housing developers.

A few weeks ago, Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell announced that the one-year extension of the design review exemption will allow the city to conduct a full environmental review of legislation that would permanently exempt some affordable housing projects from design review and begin two new pilot programs, each lasting two years.

The first pilot would exempt from design review any projects that use the city’s (highly effective) Mandatory Housing Affordability program to produce new units on-site, instead of contributing to a housing fund. The second would allow developers of all kinds of housing, including market-rate housing, to choose whether to participate in the full design review process or a shorter Administrative Design Review (ADR) by city staff.

ADR follows the same steps as full design review; the difference is that the applications are reviewed privately by a Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections (SDCI) planner, not a public design review board.

The interim legislation, which is expected to pass at the tomorrow’s city council meeting, is an acknowledgment that design review is a superfluous hurdle to addressing our housing crisis. We hope to see additional bold proposals from Strauss.

While we celebrate this rare win, we are disappointed that Harrell’s announcement does not address the flaws in design review generally and doesn’t address challenges with the administrative design review (ADR) processes at all.

Merely exempting subsidized housing projects from the current design review process doesn’t come close to meeting the breadth of recommendations from community coalitions in September 2021 to fix this onerous, costly, and undemocratic process. We would like to see a complete overhaul of the program instead of the pilot Mayor Harrell has proposed, including a transformation of administrative design review itself.

One architect said the administrative process provides “no dialogue or recourse” that would help builders understand “why a planner asks you to do things.” Because of this risk of delays, many builders may opt for the “devil you know” public design review process.

Although ADR is less onerous than the full design-review process, it’s still no picnic for professionals trying to build housing. One study documented delays at a high level. After initial community engagement in the early stages, projects that go through administrative review are not visible to the public. This means NIMBY neighbors can’t interfere, but it also means advocates like myself lack insight into internal deliberations and can’t to counter potential NIMBY objections from city staff.

According to several builders I’ve spoken to, ADR can be significantly more unpredictable, lengthy, and costly than going through a design review board. Builders describe city staffers interjecting their personal aesthetic tastes as they pick and choose which design guidelines to enforce— an ineffective and unjust way to apply policy. One architect said the administrative process provides “no dialogue or recourse” that would help builders understand “why a planner asks you to do things.” Because of this risk of delays, many builders may not opt for administrative review and will continue to participate in the “devil you know” public design review process.

Design review is not making our city more resilient, more climate-friendly, more affordable, or more welcoming. Let’s not continue to conflate nostalgia and anti-renter calls for preserving neighborhood “character” with livability and wellbeing for all. The city must follow this rare win for Seattle’s future with the comprehensive reforms outlined by Seattle For Everyone, a pro-housing coalition that includes developers and housing advocates, with a particular focus on reforms to administrative design review.

The council will take public comment on its design review reform legislation at 2pm tomorrow, December 13. Please write or call in to support the provision to exempt low-income affordable projects from design review while pushing the city (and the mayor) to systematically fix the process.

Laura Loe is the founder of Share The Cities Organizing Collective, an all-volunteer advocacy group.

No Historic Protections for Drive-Through Walgreen’s, More Delays for Sound Transit, Food Trucks Will Face Extra Scrutiny

Joe Mabel, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

1. A city council committee declined to impose restrictions on a one-story former bank in South Lake Union Friday, arguing that the building, which now houses a drive-through Walgreen’s, is not historic enough to merit long-term preservation. The proposed restrictions, which were approved by the city’s Landmarks Preservation Board, would have given the landmarks board veto power over any changes to the interior or exterior of the building. The city has repeatedly increased allowed building heights in the area around the building, which is now surrounded by towers as tall as 160 feet.

The landmark designation for the 1950 building says the structure epitomizes mid-century banking architecture, which focused on convenience for middle-class consumers with cars, and says it also constitutes the outstanding work of a single designer. In fact (as the landmarks board also noted) the bank was just one of many similar structures in Seattle based on a prototype for a drive-through bank. Walgreen’s, which owns the building, had hoped to sell off the development rights for the property, keeping the building as-is but enabling another developer to build densely in a “receiving site” elsewhere in the city.

Neighborhoods committee chair Tammy Morales, who set the Walgreen’s building aside for further discussion back in April, said she saw no reason to prevent future development of the Walgreen’s site, given that there are four other similar buildings in Seattle. “Preserving this particular one-story building doesn’t make sense, given the housing crisis that we’re in and that the neighborhood has changed dramatically since 2006,” when the building got its landmark status.

The committee’s unanimous (four-member) vote against preserving the building also marks a dramatic change, as elected officials (and even the landmarks board) increasingly acknowledge that the need for housing often outweighs preservationists’ desire to see every old (and not-so-old) building protected.

2. In another sign of the times, another council committee agreed to extend the city’s “cafe streets” program, which allowed restaurants to create outdoor dining spaces during COVID, and impose new fees on businesses that take advantage of the program. (Originally, the permits were free).

Advocates for the proposal were concerned about an amendment by Northeast Seattle Councilmember Alex Pedersen to reinstate a rule that banned food trucks within 50 feet of any brick-and-mortar restaurant. Before COVID, this rule effectively prohibited food trucks in business districts all around the city—basically all the areas where people might actually be around to patronize a food truck.

Although the legislation that passed gets rid of this protectionist provision, it still subjects food trucks to extra scrutiny, requiring the Seattle Department of Transportation to report back on any “potential impacts from food trucks or other vending activity occurring in close proximity to brick-and-mortar businesses.”

Pedersen, who sponsored the amendment imposing this extra scrutiny on food truck operators, said the intent of the original 50-foot rule was “to mitigate the potential effects to small existing businesses that take on the risk of additional expenses, of capital improvements, inventory, and wages for workers to keep their brick-and-mortar operations afloat.”

Morales responded that by applying special scrutiny to food trucks, the council would be saying that food trucks—which are often run by immigrants and people of color—have a negative impact on other businesses. “The presumption with this amendment seems to be that we should protect existing businesses from competition,” Morales said, yet “we don’t ask anything of the corporations in this city that regularly squeeze out independent businesses through mergers and acquisitions.” The amendment passed, with Morales voting no, Dan Strauss abstaining, and Pedersen and Kshama Sawant voting yes.

3. Sound Transit, the regional transit agency, announced on Thursday that the extension of its existing Tacoma light rail line, which runs between downtown Tacoma and the Tacomadome, will be delayed for an unknown period due to “quality and safety issues” with the project. In a blog post, agency CEO Julie Timm said Sound Transit has already addressed multiple previous “quality issues” with the project, adding that the latest problem, which involves “track geometry,” will push the opening date until later in 2023.

“We have some folks flying in to look at some of the issues that were identified,” Timm said, but did not specify what the issues are, saying ST will have more to announce next week.

This isn’t the first time Sound Transit has identified shoddy work by its contractors since the pandemic began. Earlier this year, the agency announced it would have to delay the opening of the East Link line connecting Seattle to Bellevue because of multiple quality issues with the light rail extension across I-90. Those problems included problems with “nearly all” the concrete plinths and fasteners that affix the rails to the bridge, cracking concrete supports, missing rebar, and other structural and safety issues.

Because of those significant delays, Sound Transit has proposed changing the order in which it will open new light rail extensions. Under the new proposed schedule, the extension of the existing 1 line to Lynnwood would open in 2024, and the new line to Bellevue and downtown Redmond would open in 2025. Sound Transit doesn’t have a new opening date for a southern extension to Federal Way, which was delayed after a 200-foot section of embankment along the route slid nine feet earlier this year.

Prompted by a request from King County Councilmember and Sound Transit board member Claudia Balducci, Sound Transit staff drafted a plan to open an eight-station, Eastside-only “starter line” connecting downtown Bellevue and Redmond that will provide Eastside residents with some rail transit starting next year while Sound Transit works out the problems with the I-90 crossing.

Nelson, Pedersen Vote to Reject City Budget Because It Doesn’t Fund Everything They Want

Councilmember Alex Pedersen and Sara Nelson
Seattle City Councilmembers Alex Pedersen and Sara Nelson

By Erica C. Barnett

Seattle City Councilmembers Sara Nelson and Alex Pedersen voted against the city council’s amended 2023-2024 budget proposal at a council budget committee meeting Monday, joining socialist Kshama Sawant—who votes against the budget every year—in an ideologically split three-vote minority. The budget, which goes to the full council for a final vote tomorrow, requires a six-vote majority to pass; if even one more council member sided with Nelson, Pedersen, and Sawant, the entire budget would fail.

Nelson and Pedersen, who frequently formed a two-vote mini-bloc during the council’s budget deliberations, explained their decision in similar terms: They couldn’t vote for a budget that doesn’t fully fund Harrell’s public safety priorities. “I cannot in good conscience endorse a final budget that, I believe, fails to learn from recent public policy mistakes on public safety and fall short on public safety for a third year in a row,” Pedersen said.

That argument would hold more water if the council had proposed actually cutting SPD’s budget. Instead, the council fully funded SPD’s (and Mayor Bruce Harrell’s) entire hiring plan, and used savings from vacant SPD positions to provide the department with an additional $17 million a year to pay for, among other things, the recruitment and retention proposals Nelson and Pedersen have supported. No other department received this kind of kid-gloves treatment; in fact, many departments face dramatic cuts next year.

The council’s budget also returns the city’s parking enforcement division to SPD, another one of Harrell’s top budget priorities.

“Minor reductions [to proposed new SPD programs] are being emphasized and exaggerated. This is the harmful rhetoric that is likely to continue to negatively impact hiring and retention.”—City Councilmember Lisa Herbold

In contrast to previous years, such as 2020, it’s virtually impossible to make the argument that the council didn’t work with the mayor to craft a budget that retains most of what he wanted—a point Councilmember Lisa Herbold made when she accused her two colleagues of contributing to a “false narrative” about public safety.

“It’s normal to debate budget issues,” Herbold said. “But these false narratives don’t make us safer.”

“Ninety-nine percent of the mayor’s proposed budget is included in this balancing package,” Herbold continued. “SPD hiring is fully funded, and they’ve begun to show some promising trends. Minor reductions to the remaining 1 percent of the budget”—the elimination of new programs, such as a gunfire surveillance system and a marketing consultant—”are being emphasized and exaggerated. This is the harmful rhetoric that is likely to continue to negatively impact hiring and retention.”

Eliminating these new programs from next year’s budget helped the council close a late-breaking general-fund budget shortfall of $4.5 million, on top of the $141 million shortfall announced earlier this year.

Nelson and Pedersen also objected to the council’s decision to eliminate, or abrogate, 80 of the 240 SPD positions that are currently sitting vacant; these vacant positions, which the city will use to augment the budget and fund new SPD spending next year, receive funding every budget cycle. The council’s budget will retain funding for at least 160 of these “ghost” positions going forward, and can add more positions in the future if SPD hiring suddenly skyrockets past the department’s own rather optimistic projections. Nonetheless, both Pedersen and Nelson have characterized this as an example of “defunding” the police. 

Nelson also criticized the council for failing to fund an expansion of the city’s graffiti abatement program and for moving homeless outreach workers out of Harrell’s new Unified Care Team (which the council fully funded) and into the King County Regional Homelessness Authority.

The two council members’ votes against the budget seem even less justified when you consider the concessions the rest of the council made to fund their priorities. 

Nelson, for example, got unanimous approval for a last-minute amendment that commits the city to spend some of the proceeds from a recent settlement with opioid distributors on abstinence-based rehab, marking the city’s first foray into the kind of public health decisions that are usually made by King County’s public health department.

Nelson was elected last year, and is staking out a position on the budget every bit as absolutist as Sawant’s: If the rest of the council doesn’t support her specific priorities, she’ll vote to reject the city’s budget wholesale.

In an op/ed earlier this year, Nelson expressed her view that medication-assisted treatment, such as the use of suboxone (an opioid) to treat opiate addiction, is “not aimed at long-term recovery.” This is the opposite of scientific consensus (the federal government’s substance abuse agency, for example, has a far more expansive definition of recovery that embraces long-term medication), but in line with Nelson’s general opposition to harm reduction programs— like the Public Defender Association’s LEAD and Co-LEAD programs, which provide case management and housing to people with addiction and other behavioral health issues.

Pedersen, meanwhile, managed to wrangle $3.5 million a year for bridge maintenance out of the Seattle Transportation Benefit District tax, which is supposed to fund transit, by arguing that because buses and bikes also use bridges, funding for bridges is a transit investment. That amendment passed 5-4—a major win for Pedersen at the expense of future transit projects.

Nelson was elected last year, and is staking out a position on the budget every bit as absolutist as Sawant’s: If the rest of the council doesn’t support her specific priorities, she’ll vote to reject the city’s budget wholesale. Time will tell if she continues down this all-or-nothing path.

Pedersen, in contrast, has apparently had a dramatic change of heart. Just two years ago, Pedersen wrote in a Seattle Times op/ed that it would be irresponsible for him to vote against the 2020 budget—which included far more dramatic changes than this year’s plan—just because he didn’t like everything that was in it.

“People are yearning for functional government. If the budget does not pass, nothing gets done,” Pedersen wrote. “No budget is perfect. Our constituents have diverse and conflicting views. A budget with positives and negatives is a natural result.”

“And to my constituents who ask, ‘Why did you vote the same way as Kshama Sawant?,” Pedersen concluded,
“I didn’t. She voted No.” This year, so did Pedersen.