Category: Elections

City Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda Will Run for King County Council

By Erica C. Barnett

Seattle City Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda, who’s in the middle of her second four-year term, will run for the King County Council seat longtime County Councilmember Joe McDermott is leaving at the end of the year. (PubliCola first reported that Mosqueda might run for this position on Monday). In an interview, Mosqueda said she was “pulled” by the appeal of serving on the county council rather than “pushed” out of her current job by the factors—public hostility, divisiveness, and personal attacks—that have contributed to several colleagues’ decisions not to run for reelection.

“Throughout my career, but especially on council, it is evident that I can rise above the fray, that I can pull people together who have diverse perspectives, and we can pull solutions together and pass them with near unanimous or near-unanimous support,” Mosqueda, a former labor lobbyist in Olympia, said.

As an example, she pointed to the JumpStart payroll tax, which succeeded where previous “Tax Amazon” efforts by her council colleague Kshama Sawant had failed, thanks in large part to Mosqueda’s efforts to win at least tacit consensus from groups that opposed previous efforts to raise taxes on large businesses.

“I think there really needs be a shift from thinking about ‘peak hours” to thinking about what workers need and what accessibility truly means to families,” Mosqueda said. “Also, making sure that our light rail is going to communities and not through communities.”

Similarly, Mosqueda said, she would have handled the siting of a controversial homeless shelter expansion in SoDo—which King County abandoned under pressure from advocates in the Chinatown-International District who said the county never consulted them—differently.

“Folks who were concerned about the siting [of the shelter] there are also interested in solutions— they’re concerned about people not having a place to use the bathroom or sleeping outside business establishments,” Mosqueda said. “We have shared interests… but we have to start with talking to the community first—especially in the CID and the [Asian and Pacific Islander] population who have also been on the receiving end of other services over the years.”

If voters pass a ballot measure to build six behavioral health crisis centers around the county in April, the council will play a role in deciding where those are located, a decision Mosqueda said “has to start with community conversations” about “where those six sites are going to be.”

In addition, Mosqueda said, she wants to support efforts to build “workforce housing” in places like Vashon Island (one of several parts of the district outside Seattle), improving participation in apprenticeship programs and broadening their scope, and bolstering the infrastructure that supports high-paying jobs—everything from funding to “create a career pathway for child care workers” to restructuring King County Metro’s bus system to better serve people who work outside standard office hours.

“I think there really needs be a shift from thinking about ‘peak hours” to thinking about what workers need and what accessibility truly means to families,” Mosqueda said. “Also, making sure that our light rail is going to communities and not through communities.”

If Mosqueda wins, she will be the first Latinx person to ever serve on the King County Council, and one of only four council members of color in county history—one of whom, Girmay Zahilay, represents what has historically been the council’s only majority-minority district.

Mosqueda wouldn’t take the bait on a question about whether she, like the four council members who have announced they’re leaving this year, is actually fleeing the council, rather than being “pulled” toward the county. After all, I noted, if the county council was more compelling than the city council, she could have run for that position in the first place.

Instead, she chalked up the city council exodus to the fact that seven of the nine council seats are all on the ballot at once—a recipe, she said, for instability. If elections were split more evenly—with half the district seats and one citywide seat on the ballot every two years—”then you wouldn’t see that kind of instability,” Mosqueda said. That’s something she said she plans to work on this year, whether she wins or not.

Since the Durkan administration, Mosqueda has over multiple city budget cycles to prevent the mayor from raiding proceeds from the JumpStart tax to fill a general budget hole. Without her vigilance, will JumpStart—which is supposed to fund housing, small businesses, and equitable development—become a slush fund for other priorities or a permanent emergency reserve to fill funding gaps?

Mosqueda said she was confident that it wouldn’t, citing “structural requirements” the council has codified as well as future revenues, to be identified by a new progressive revenue tax force, that will address long-term budget gaps. Even so, Mosqueda had to negotiate a deal this year that allowed some JumpStart revenues to help backfill a massive general-fund shortfall—and even with new progressive revenue on the table, there’s no guarantee that the mayor, or a future mayor, won’t try to use JumpStart taxes for purposes outside the scope of its adopted spending plan.

Mosqueda has already rounded up more than c80 endorsements, including that of current Mayor Bruce Harrell, and her decision to run seems to have neutralized some potential opponents, including West Seattle attorney Rob Saka, who was reportedly considering a run for the county council seat but now appears likely to run for the West Seattle seat being vacated by Lisa Herbold.

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.

Don’t Believe the Seattle Times—Social Housing Will Play a Vital Role in Solving Our Affordability Crisis

Editor’s note: This piece was written in response to the Seattle Times’ endorsement of a “no” vote on Initiative 135, a Seattle ballot measure that would create a new public development authority (PDA) to build, acquire, and operate publicly owned, permanently affordable mixed-income housing in Seattle. The PDA would be run by a majority-renter board, giving residents a direct influence over issues that impact their community.

The Times’ editorial made a number of bombastic, questionable statements in its argument against the initiative, including many PublICola found misleading. We offered advocates for the initiative an opportunity to respond to some of the factual claims the Times made in its editorial advocating a “no” vote on this measure.

Initiative 135 will be on the February 14, 2023 ballot in Seattle.

By House Our Neighbors! Coalition

The Seattle Times editorial board decided they were against Initiative 135 before the endorsement interview even started. It seems as though they simply worked backwards from their “no” position to find reasons that they were going to present to the public, including many they didn’t even ask about during the endorsement interview. The editorial board has yet again contradicted itself, holding I-135 to a completely different set of standards than past measures it has supported while flaunting the deeply flawed arguments we’ve highlighted here.

Yes on I-135I-135 has no funding and no accountability for public dollars.” When they raised this concern, we reminded the editorial board that they didn’t have concerns about the lack of funding in the proposal for Charter Amendment 29—the “Compassion Seattle” initiative, which would have required the city to add thousands of new housing or shelter beds with no additional funding—which they endorsed.

Unlike the CA29 campaign, we’ve been honest with the public from day one that state law prevented us from including a funding source for the Seattle Social Housing Developer in the language of the initiative. We made it clear to the editorial board that public development authorities do not have taxing authority. In fact, it would be illegal to give a PDA taxing authority. However, the new PDA would receive bonding authority, creating leverage to finance new housing without large infusions of funding.

While we couldn’t provide ongoing funding for the PDA, we wanted to secure some start-up funds so it wouldn’t start out with no financial support. This is why we included 18 months of in-kind support from the city, which the city’s own budget office has estimated at a cost of just $750,000— a sliver of the $7.4 billion annual budget the council recently passed. It is important to note that from day one, the PDA has the authority to seek out funding on its own from private foundations and all levels of government, including the state.

The Times also complains that Washington State already spends millions of taxpayer dollars on housing, which is precisely the point: Social housing, which includes housing affordable to people making between 0 and 120 percent of median income, is a model that leverages rental income to reduce the need for outside funding.

While the housing I-135 would create wouldn’t be considered “homelessness housing” in a legal sense, it would nonetheless be housing that would be available to people coming out of homelessness or transitioning out of the city’s limited supply of permanent supportive housing, including families with housing vouchers that many private landlords won’t accept.

Housing experts say it ultimately doesn’t pencil.” The editorial board makes this claim without saying who they consulted with, nor what numbers they used to reach this conclusion. There are no examples of social housing in Seattle, so it could not have been from here.

Furthermore, our research shows that the social housing model would indeed work in Seattle. Utilizing publicly accessible financial statements from an existing recently constructed housing development, affordable housing expert and PhD candidate Julie Howe, as well as economists Paul Williams and John Burbank, assisted in the creation of a pro forma that demonstrates the model remaining financially sustainable for more than 80 years.

The theory is that people would be willing to pay above market rates to subsidize the lower rents of their neighbors in the same building. Where did they get this from? Whose theory is this?

Let’s root this assertion in an actual pro forma, drafted from the financial statements and construction costs of a recently constructed apartment complex, the Station House.

If this were a social housing building, renters making 120 percent of the area median income would pay $2700 a month, compared to the current market rate of $2800 a month with utilities.  They would be living next to the light rail station in a high-quality Passivhaus building. Their building would have a resident governance board, and community spaces dedicated inside the building. They would be living in a space with no fear of retaliatory evictions or drastic rent increases, a place with inherent protections from the typical practices of predatory private property owners. Additionally, their rent would be going directly to the social housing developer to buy and build more housing (especially after the 30-year loan is paid off), not a private equity firm or for-profit rental corporation.

 Real Change has traditionally focused on advocating for those who are experiencing homelessness” and is straying from its mission. This is simply laughable and further cements the disdain the Seattle Times editorial Board has for Real Change. The board describes Real Change as “a social justice advocacy group that runs a newspaper.” The editorial board is well aware that Real Change has an Advocacy department and a separate Editorial department, and that journalists staff, and write, our paper. Real Change also served on the Times’ Project Homeless community advisory board, until the paper disbanded that board last year.

The editorial board takes umbrage with the fact the I-135 “ordinance does not concern homelessness housing” exclusively—instead, it would enable new housing for people making between 0 and 120 percent of the Seattle median income. This criticism shows how little they know about what is permissible in ballot initiatives and what isn’t. Housing for people experiencing homelessness is the direct purview of the City Council and the King County Regional Homelessness Authority, and cannot be superseded in a ballot initiative. Our lawyer advised us to make this point explicit so it couldn’t be seen “to interfere with or exercise the City Council’s powers” under state law, including the state law about homelessness housing.

And while the housing I-135 would create wouldn’t be considered “homelessness housing” in a legal sense, it would nonetheless be housing that would be available to people coming out of homelessness or transitioning out of the city’s limited supply of permanent supportive housing, including families with housing vouchers that many private landlords won’t accept. What’s more, it would help keep additional families from being pushed into homelessness by creating more affordable housing options for those struggling with unrelenting increases in housing costs.

We have to be honest with the public that our current affordable housing production levels will never meet the scale of our need. We need a new model.

We are deeply curious what the Seattle Times Editorial Board thinks the city should be doing to address the homelessness and housing crisis. They repeatedly push for the criminalization of homelessness. They speak out against increasing the housing levy so that affordable housing providers can do more. They don’t find it wise to increase our debt limit to build more affordable housing across the state. In spite of overwhelming evidence that homelessness is primarily an economic issue, they continue propping up the narrative that the homelessness crisis is actually a drug crisis. They take issue with the fact that I-135 would make it harder to evict people, in spite of clear evidence that evictions overwhelmingly lead to homelessness. They support the unlawful placement of eco-blocks in public rights-of-way, which make it harder and harder for our unhoused neighbors living in RVs to find a safe place to sleep.

Unlike the Seattle Times Editorial Board, here at Real Change we have the privilege of interacting with our unhoused, and low-income, neighbors and hearing directly from them. We know that they want deeply affordable, quality housing that won’t lose if they start making a little bit more money.

Here is what some of our Real Change vendors have to say about the need for social housing:

Darrell Wrenn, “The whole process is outdated. Housing needs to be reimagined and housing needs to be a human right. Things can’t change without social housing and Initiative 135.”

Susan McRoy: “It’s not something that is an experiment or a dream. It’s being put in place around the world. And Seattle can step up to the plate and say ‘We don’t need to be victims of gentrification. We can do something where we have stability in our community.”

Carl Nakajima: “We need to create more affordable housing for people at every income level, not only low-income, but all-income housing.”

At Real Change, we know that homelessness is a housing issue. While there are several non-profits and current public developers doing tremendous work to house our neighbors, we have to be honest with the public that our current affordable housing production levels will never meet the scale of our need. We need a new model. One that works in tandem with current affordable housing developers, to rapidly scale up housing outside the private market. Housing that is owned, and operated, as a public good. Housing that more Seattleites are eligible for. We can create a Seattle where all can afford to live and thrive. We can create this vision with social housing.

House Our Neighbors! is a political committee of Real Change.

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.”

Homelessness Authority Scrambled to Find Shelter Provider in Winter Storm; Displacement Coalition Alums Argue Against Social Housing Initiative

1. During the freezing weather earlier this month, as the city’s two downtown shelters filled up, the King County Regional Homelessness Authority found itself scrambling to find a homeless service provider who could open up a backup emergency shelter at City Hall.

The Salvation Army, Urban League, and Low-Income Housing Institute were all busy operating full or nearly-full shelters at Seattle Center, in Pioneer Square, and in North Seattle, respectively, and couldn’t spare workers to staff City Hall. So the KCRHA landed on an unusual substitute: Tender Angels, a Bellevue-based home health care and senior living operator with no experience operating shelters or working with homeless people.

According to agency spokeswoman Lisa Edge, Tender Angels is “uniquely qualified to meet the needs of folks seeking shelter from … frigid temperatures” despite their lack of experience working with homeless clients. “Their staff is experienced in providing overnight care and maintaining public health guidance in congregate settings,” Edge said. “They are trained in trauma-informed care practices, de-escalation, and conflict mitigation/resolution.”

KCRHA staff were on hand at the City Hall shelter while it was open, Edge said. However, staff availability was limited by the fact that the agency essentially shut down between Christmas and January 3, leaving severe weather response in the hands of “roughly 20 people,” including a 24/7 duty officer, according to KCRHA CEO Marc Dones. On December 20, Dones told PubliCola that KCRHA’s offices were closing “in order to provide staff with an opportunity to recharge[. T]he leadership team and the 24/7 Duty Officer will be available for any emergencies.”

The Salvation Army, Urban League, and Low-Income Housing Institute couldn’t spare workers to staff the City Hall shelter, so the KCRHA landed on an unusual substitute: Tender Angels, a Bellevue-based home health care and senior living operator with no experience operating shelters or working with homeless people.

Historically, the Salvation Army has operated a shelter at City Hall every night during the winter months. Last year, then-mayor Jenny Durkan eliminated all the city’s nightly winter shelters, arguing that the conversion of several emergency shelters to 24/7 operations was an adequate replacement for shelters like the one at City Hall, which now opens only during weather emergencies. This resulted in chaos last year, when the KCRHA ended up sending its own staff to handle transportation away from the City Hall shelter and other logistics during a late-December snowstorm.

KCRHA has lowered the threshold for opening winter shelters so that they will open more often, but virtually all the city’s winter shelters are downtown, making them inaccessible to people living unsheltered in most parts of the city. As PubliCola noted earlier this year, opening shelters downtown does nothing to help people living in areas without easy access to bus service (typically limited or nonexistent during ice and snow) or other transportation options.

2. Several longtime advocates against market-rate development banded together to write the King County Voter’s Guide statement against Initiative 135, a February ballot measure that would establish a new public development authority to build permanently affordable public housing.

The “no” statement, written by John Fox, David Bloom, and Alice Woldt, claims that I-135 would build “mixed-income” housing and that the measure “diverts attention” from the need to pass a robust Seattle housing levy next year.

“Creating another agency to compete for scarce housing dollars that costs several million to set it up before one housing unit is produced doesn’t make sense,” the opponents wrote. “The city’s housing priority must be the 50,000 individuals below 50% of median [income] and 12,000 homeless with little or no income—not prioritized mixed income housing including housing to 120% of median.”

Fox and Bloom co-founded the Seattle Displacement Coalition in 1979; Woldt is a longtime ally of both men and Bloom’s former colleague at the Church Council of Greater Seattle.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the Displacement Coalition spent much of its time fighting publicly funded mixed-income projects like the Seattle Housing Authority’s New Holly redevelopment, arguing that such projects deprioritized very low-income residents while promoting the neoliberal idea that low-income people are uplifted by proximity to wealthier neighbors. However, the group’s advocacy against new development has often dovetailed with NIMBY concerns about “protecting” exclusionary single-family zoning by banning new multifamily housing almost everywhere in the city. 

I-135 does aim to create “cross-class communities” in permanently affordable public housing, including some units affordable to people making up to 120 percent of median income, currently around $110,000 for an individual or about $155,000 for a family of four. However, unlike the Seattle Housing Authority’s controversial redevelopments, the new social housing properties would not include market-rate housing.

Seattle voters will decide the fate of I-135 in a special election on February 14.

Seattle’s Housing Levy, On the Ballot Next Year, Could Rise to $840 Million or More

By Erica C. Barnett

Next year, Seattle voters will be asked to approve a renewal of the city’s seven-year housing levy—a property tax that, since 1981, has constituted the city’s main source of funds for affordable housing. Although the Office of Housing is still hammering out the details, the proposal is certain to dwarf the current levy, more than doubling the size of the tax and almost tripling amount it will raise, from $290 million to $840 million a year. Under the latest draft, the owner of a median Seattle house would pay about $342 a year if the most recent version of the levy passed, compared to $114 today, an increase in real terms from 14 cents per $1,000 of assessed home value to 34 cents per $1,000.

What will Seattle voters get for all that money? The biggest-ticket item, at $640 million: About 2,600 new apartments, or about 200 more than the 2016 levy. Most of those units will be studios and one-bedrooms, although the final number, and mix of apartment sizes, could still change; an earlier version of the plan would have built fewer than 2,200 new homes.

Seattle’s Office of Housing is aware that number seems underwhelming, but says they have little choice but to ask voters to do less with more.

“Seattle’s affordable housing developers are contending with the same increased development costs as market-rate developers,” said OH spokeswoman Stephanie Velasco. “Simply put… it’s expensive to do any new development right now, due to inflation, high cost of land, and high cost of materials.”

Merely “meeting today’s need,” Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda said, would “mean we wouldn’t be planning for and building the housing needed for our growing population and the projected influx of residents in the near future.”

The revised levy proposal—an expansion of OH’s original, $758 million plan—would also maintain or expand funding for housing acquisition (buying up existing buildings, which both the city and King County did a lot more of during the pandemic), homeownership assistance, eviction prevention, and operations and maintenance (maintaining new buildings and providing supportive services and rent assistance to residents who need them).

“The Operating, Maintenance, and Services (OMS) program keeps the water running, the lights on, addresses regular repairs, provides maintenance and janitorial work, and supports operating and services personnel in Housing Levy-funded buildings,” Velasco said. “We have heard many times from affordable housing providers over the past year, particularly those providing permanent supportive housing, that these funds are critical to keeping their buildings running.”

One thing that has changed since the last levy renewal is that Seattle now has the JumpStart payroll tax, a tax on the wages of the highest earners at Seattle’s largest companies that passed in 2020. According to projections from OH, JumpStart is likely to produce between 1,600 and 2,200 new apartments over the life of the levy—a fact that could end up being a liability or an asset.

For those who reflexively oppose higher taxes—like, say, the Seattle Times editorial board—the existence of JumpStart could provide an argument against expanding the levy. “Say no to huge tax increase for housing,” the headline might read. “Time to go back to drawing board on bloated housing levy.”

City Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda, who proposed the JumpStart tax in 2020 and has defended it during two lean budget cycles, said the city “cannot look to JumpStart to supplant what the levy should pay for. [The tax] is intended to be additive to the housing levy base, which must still grow. [Merely] meeting today’s need,” Mosqueda added, would “mean we wouldn’t be planning for and building the housing needed for our growing population and the projected influx of residents in the near future.” Seattle continued to grow during the pandemic, and city planners anticipate our population will swell to 1 million in the next 20 years.

Mosqueda’s colleague, Councilmember Andrew Lewis, argues that the JumpStart tax could  actually help the levy pass, by showing voters that the city has a plan to build enough housing to alleviate Seattle’s affordability crisis.

“For the first time ever, when you look at all these [housing] resources”—including the city’s Multifamily Housing Affordability (MHA) program and the state Housing Trust Fund, among others—“I think we’re pretty well positioned to be the jurisdiction on the West Coast that makes a real systematic impact on homelessness,” Lewis said. “What I would want to really look at is what role does the housing levy fill in the context of all of our funding streams that are going into housing, and how can we use the levy as tool to close gaps?”

“I take the rapid public shift to a stronger levy proposal as a hopeful sign the [Harrell] administration understands this is a legacy issue, and a great issue to embrace and champion.”—Alison Eisinger, Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness

Velasco, from OH, notes that while proceeds from the housing levy are basically steady—unless home values decline sharply, it will keep bringing in reliable revenues year after year—the JumpStart tax is more variable: Payroll tax revenues fluctuate based on the number of high-paying jobs in Seattle, and that number will ebb and flow over time as big employers like Amazon shed and gain staff.  “Because of this, we consider the Housing Levy to be foundational to Seattle’s entire affordable housing ecosystem,” Velasco said. OH’s model shows the impact of JumpStart revenues ranging from $1.1 billion (the current 2023 projection) to $557 million (a 50 percent dropoff).

Some advocates have argued that the levy should be even larger, to build in long-term wage stability for housing provider staff, fund ongoing maintenance at buildings that already exist, and create more housing, especially larger, family-sized size units, which make up just 15 percent of the latest levy proposal.

Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness director Alison Eisinger said the success of the levy will depend on whether it will “stand the 2030 test. Will we look back in seven years and say: ‘Damned right! This city made the biggest housing difference possible’? … I take the rapid public shift to a stronger levy proposal as a hopeful sign the [Harrell] administration understands this is a legacy issue, and a great issue to embrace and champion.”

Source: Technical Advisory Committee presentation on Seattle Housing Levy

Housing Development Consortium director Patience Malaba—who, like Eisinger, testified in favor of a larger levy at a recent TAC meeting—said the levy still has “room to grow” before OH recommends a final proposal to Mayor Bruce Harrell. “Number one, we should invest in the buildings once we have created them. And number two, we do need to support the people who are working in those buildings” with fair wages, Malaba said. She sees $840 million as “a starting place”—one that should provide the basis for a larger levy that will build more housing and “really push the bounds of what’s possible.”

Historically, Seattle voters have approved the housing levy by increasingly wide margins—56 percent in 2022, 63 percent in 2009, and 70 percent in 2016. But the success of any tax increase depends on whether taxpayers believe the city is investing its tax dollars wisely, and the future campaign against the levy could capitalize on the widespread perception that the region continues to spend more money on homelessness and housing but the crisis isn’t getting better.

Polls, Lewis points out, have consistently showed that voters rank housing insecurity and homelessness among their top concerns—a sign, he said, that “it’s important that we have a plan to actually solve the problem. We have a tendency to get 80 percent there and then hold back a little because we’re worried about overreach. What I would like to do is create a plan and go to the people and say this is the comprehensive plan that the levy [is] a puzzle piece [in] attempting to solve.”

Velasco, from the city’s housing, declined to provide details about the latest iteration of the levy proposal, which the TAC will meet to discuss on December 16. Once OH has finalized its levy plan, it will go to Harrell’s office, and on to the city council, for approval or amendment before it heads to the ballot next year.

Magnolia Considers Suing Over New District Boundaries, Mayor Donates Auction Item to Exclusive Private School

1. Update on November 22, 2022: According to an email distributed by the Magnolia Community Council, the group “has made the difficult decision to no longer pursue an appeal” because the cost of doing so would be “prohibitive.” The group “will start planning for how we will come together to work effectively and efficiently for one community made up of two Council Districts,” the email said.

Rumors were flying this week that the Magnolia Community Council planned to file a legal challenge to a new Seattle City Council district map that divides the peninsula into two council districts. Representatives of businesses and homeowners in Magnolia argued that the map the Seattle Redistricting Commission ultimately adopted was inequitable because it “split” the neighborhood, moving the wealthier, whiter western half of Magnolia into District 6, currently represented by Dan Strauss.

An email that went out on the community council’s mailing list this week sought donations for a “legal defense fund” to request a review of the new map from a King County Superior Court judge, on the grounds that the redistricting commission did not follow rules laid out in the city charter for the 10-year redistricting process. “Our goal is to request a judge to order the Commission to follow the Charter and vote for a map that keeps Magnolia whole,” the email says.

The community council’s website praises comments made by former mayor Greg Nickels, the only redistricting commission member to vote against the map. In his statement, as PubliCola reported, Nickels called the map “retribution  [against] Magnolia because it is an older, wealthier and whiter community.”

Demographically, the neighborhood consists of two distinct, and very different areas. The west side, with its expansive views of Puget Sound, fits the stereotype of Magnolia as a suburban enclave: almost exclusively single-family and owner-occupied, with median home values as high as $1.7 million.

The eastern half of the peninsula, which includes thousands of renters in dense apartment blocks, will remain part of District 7, which includes other renter-heavy neighborhoods like Lower Queen Anne, Belltown, and downtown. According to Census data, the eastern part of Magnolia encompasses some of the city’s densest Census tracts, including several where more than 80 percent of residents are renters; overall, the part of Magnolia that will stay in District 7 includes almost 5,000 rental units.

The Magnolia Community Council did not respond to a request for comment on its plans to mount a legal challenge, nor on its fundraising efforts.

2. Mayor Bruce Harrell offered “lunch with the Mayor” for five students, complete with a photo opp and a tour of City Hall by mayoral staff, as an auction item to benefit the exclusive Lakeside School’s parents’ association earlier this month. Proceeds from the annual ROAR (Raising Our Allocation Resources) auction pay for “classroom enrichment, faculty and staff development, and financial aid,” according to Lakeside’s website.

Annual tuition at Lakeside School is more than $40,000 a year, although families that receive financial assistance pay, on average, just over $9,800 a year, according to the school’s website. The average income for families that receive financial aid is $163,730 a year.

In response to questions about the auction, mayoral spokesman Jamie Housen said Harrell has “regularly volunteered his time for these kinds of charity auctions, including to support students at Garfield and Cleveland High Schools, the Wing Luke Museum, and the Rainier Chamber. … In this case, he was asked to support a charity auction to raise money in support of students, including financial aid for underrepresented students. One of Mayor Harrell’s children is a Lakeside alumnus and his daughter-in-law currently works at the school.”

Other items available at the auction, which has now closed, included a Lake Washington Boat Adventure with “El Capitan Jefe,” an inside look at the filming of KING TV’s long-running Evening show, and weekends at several vacation houses. Lunch with the mayor sold for $225.

So Much for That Backlash: Voters Saying “Yes” to Progressive Local Candidates

By Erica C. Barnett

Anyone hoping for a continuation of 2021’s local backlash election, when Seattle voters chose a slate of candidates who promised to crack down on crime and visible homelessness, should have been disappointed by Tuesday’s early election results, which showed progressive and left-leaning local candidates defeating their more conservative opponents by solid margins.

As of Tuesday night, public defender Pooja Vaddadi was defeating incumbent Seattle Municipal Court judge Adam Eisenberg by a margin of 56 to 43 percent; embattled progressive municipal court Judge Damon Shadid was beating assistant city attorney Nyjat Rose-Akins 69 to 30 percent; and King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg’s chief of staff, Leesa Manion, was defeating Federal Way Mayor Jim Ferrell 55 to 44 percent.

In fairness, it’s tough to directly compare the results of an odd-year (“off-year”) local election to those of an even-year midterm when progressive voters, in particular, are keyed up and perhaps unusually attuned to electoral politics. (Creeping fascism and the imposition of forced-birth laws tend to inspire a renewed interest in democracy).

And there is a major dropoff between high-profile, ballot-topping national races and those lower down the ballot—people simply vote in the national races and ignore the local ones. For example, in King County, nearly 50,000 people voted in the US Senate race between incumbent Patty Murray and Republican Tiffany Smiley (which Murray, defying some polls, was winning handily) and then chose not to cast a vote for King County Prosecutor—a dropoff of about 10 percent. In Seattle, King County Elections has counted about 218,000 ballots; yet fewer than 130,000 of those voters bothered choosing a candidate in either of the competitive Seattle Municipal Court races.

Still, those voters who did bother to vote in local races behaved differently than last year’s electorate, choosing more progressive candidates, and by larger margins, than many (including me) predicted. Conventional wisdom before the election was that Manion would face a tough challenge, if not outright Election-Night defeat, from Ferrell, a tough-on-crime former prosecutor who had the backing of local police guilds, suburban mayors, and the Seattle Times.

Manion, though no lefty crusader, supports alternatives to prosecution and incarceration, including the Restorative Community Pathways diversion program for young people accused of first-time felonies; Ferrell called RCP a “look-the-other-way program” that lets kids off without consequences and criticized the entire concept of pre-filing diversion.

The municipal court races offer clearer ideological splits, along with margins that are unlikely to close enough to reverse the outcome after more votes are counted.

Vaddadi, who has to bring a public defender’s perspective to the bench, has accused Eisenberg of being excessively punitive toward some defendants and inflexible in his approach to domestic violence cases. Although Eisenberg has touted his work establishing the Domestic Violence Intervention Program for DV offenders who want to change, he belongs to a faction of the court that leans toward conventional, punishment-based approaches to crime, while Vaddadi represents a sharp left turn.

Shadid, meanwhile, faced what initially looked like a daunting challenge from Rose-Akins, whose primary campaign issue was the incumbent’s management of community court—a therapeutic program that enrolls qualifying misdemeanor defendants in services, including health care and case management, instead of jailing them. The city attorney’s office office battled with Shadid earlier this year when he declined to exclude Davison’s list of about 120 “high utilizers” of the criminal justice system from community court, and Rose-Akins announced her candidacy shortly after Davison won that battle.

At the state level, Democratic Secretary of State Steve Hobbs was narrowly defeating nonpartisan challenger Julie Anderson in a race that is still too close to call.

One wild card this year is the vote to decide whether Seattle will adopt a new election system; as of Tuesday, Seattle voters were almost evenly split on this question, with slightly more saying we should keep our existing system than those saying we should adopt either ranked-choice voting or approval voting. (The ballot measure splits voting reform into two questions, asking voters whether they support changing the system and, in a separate question, whether they prefer ranked-choice voting or approval voting, regardless of how they voted on the first question.)

Seattle could end up rejecting both potential new systems by voting “no” on the first part of the ballot measure, but even if they do, the results for the second half of the question show overwhelming support for ranked-choice voting—the option supported by most local progressive groups, including all of Seattle’s Democratic legislative districts.

King County will release the next batch of ballots around 4:00 tomorrow afternoon.

Ex-Mayor Suggests Redistricting Map is “Retribution” Against “Older, Wealthier, Whiter” Magnolia; Election Reform Campaigns Lack Local Funding

Screen shot of Seattle Redistricting Commission's virtual meeting
Seattle Redistricting Commissioner Greg Nickels (upper row, middle) called splitting Magnolia a form of “retribution” against wealthy, older white people.

1.The Seattle Redistricting Commission officially adopted a new map for Seattle City Council districts Tuesday, though not without some wind-related drama: As commissioner (and former mayor) Greg Nickels was preparing to make his final case against the decision to divide Magnolia across two districts, his power (along with that of more than 10,000 other West Seattle residents) went out and the meeting had to be delayed for several minutes.

Most commissioners agreed two weeks ago on a compromise that will split Magnolia along the ridge that divides west-facing view houses from the city-facing half of the peninsula, which includes some of the city’s densest rental housing. (This probably says more about Seattle than it does about Magnolia). The new map, which is based on a proposal from the grassroots group Redistricting Justice for Seattle, eliminates the need to split Fremont into three council districts while keeping neighborhoods like the Chinatown International District whole.

“Retribution [against] Magnolia because it is an older, wealthier and whiter community—I think that’s not something that the redistricting commission ought to be engaged in. And in a larger sense, as we talk about race and social justice, I think that reconciliation is going to be a much more successful strategy than retribution ” —Redistricting commissioner and former mayor Greg Nickels

Nickels, however, never wavered from his insistence that dividing Magnolia effectively disenfranchised the neighborhood. On Tuesday, Nickels said he considered the map “retribution” by woke commissioners against a “community interest that’s very strong and ought to be acknowledged and respected our plan.”

“Retribution [against] Magnolia because it is an older, wealthier and whiter community—I think that’s not something that the redistricting commission ought to be engaged in,” Nickels said.

“I don’t think that individual commissioners are engaging in that, but I want to make it clear that I think that that’s just an inappropriate social policy for redistricting to take on. And in a larger sense, as we talk about race and social justice, I think that reconciliation is going to be a much more successful strategy than retribution.”

The map passed 4-1, with Nickels voting no.

Pie charts showing that the vast majority of funding for both ranked choice and approval voting came in the form of large contributions.

2. In the runup to Election Day, money continued to pour into the campaigns for both ranked-choice voting (a system that would allow voters to rank local primary election candidates in order of preference) and approval voting (a system that lets voters pick as many candidates as they like). As of late Tuesday afternoon, the two campaigns each had roughly $600,000, with Seattle Approves about $17,000 ahead of Ranked Choice Voting for Seattle.

Most of that money, for both campaigns, comes not from grassroots-level donations from voters but in the form of a few giant checks from advocacy groups (RCV) and wealthy individuals outside the state. Most of Seattle Approves’ money, for example, comes from just two sources: Crypto exchange billionaire (update, maybe not) Sam Bankman-Fried and his company, FTX, and the California-based Center for Election Science, which is funded by the Open Philanthropy Project. More thatn $450,000 of the $614,000 Seattle Approves has reported raising so far came from these two sources.

The ranked-choice voting campaign, meanwhile, has received almost half a million dollars from the local and national branches of FairVote, an RCV advocacy group that’s funded by a number of large philanthropic organizations, including the MacArthur Foundation and the Soros Fund. According to the Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission, almost 98 percent of Ranked Choice For Seattle’s funding came from 27 large contributors, and the campaign had only 141 donations under $700. Just over 98 percent of Seattle Approves’ funding came from 22 large donors, and the campaign received just 75 contributions below $700. At least 86 percent of the RCV campaign’s funding came from outside city limits; for approval voting, that number was 90 percent.

Passing Ranked Choice Voting Requires a “Yes” Vote on Question 1

By George Cheung

The ballots of Seattle voters will pose a very important question: Do we want to change our democracy? To put it simply: Yes. Of course. Unequivocally. American democracy is falling apart. To save it—at least here at home, which would create a domino effect—we have to vote yes on this first question.

Public trust in our government and institutions has never been lower. And it’s no surprise. Just look at the other Washington, mired in January 6th insurrectionist hearings, bipartisan gridlock, and Russian interference. Things aren’t looking good.

Here in our Washington, though, everyday people have an opportunity to make a meaningful difference to improve and strengthen our democracy. The stakes have never been higher. Right now, the winner-take-all system always leads to voter dissatisfaction writ large. How many times have you been excited about a primary candidate only to be completely deflated with your options during the general election?

Ranked-choice voting (RCV) is a simple, effective, and proven alternative. It’s the only viable path forward, and it is the logical next step to our democracy’s evolution. But for Seattle to see the benefits of RCV—which voters and endorsers alike clearly favor—then we must also vote yes on the first question that asks for change. RCV will not happen without both yes votes. It’s silly to vote “yes” on 1B, or RCV, and then prevent it from happening in the first place by saying no to the first half of the question. It’s like saying you want to eat cereal but refuse to use a bowl. If we want RCV, we do in fact want to change our democracy.

Ranked-choice voting is a necessary step in the unsexy but critical work of crash-proofing our democracy.

At the end of the day, RCV is a straightforward voting system that would ensure the Pacific Northwest becomes a stronghold against the rapid crumbling of our nation’s democracy. We can be a bulwark against fascism and eroding social cohesion. And as we’ve done with marriage equality, minimum wage, and marijuana legalization, we can lead the country toward a better path.

Ranked-choice voting delivers accurate voter representation even before a necessary, separate-but-connected movement gets to tackling campaign finance issues. There are critics of RCV who suggest lax campaign finance laws are the real issue. But let’s use a parallel analogy for a second: Reducing the risk of dying while operating a vehicle. When drivers’ deaths were at an all-time high, we passed a whole slate of laws, policies, and standards that made driving safer. It didn’t make sense then, and it doesn’t now, to oppose airbags because you think steering wheels need to look the same, or because you think seat belts got it covered.

This includes, as PubliCola’s editorial board rightfully points out, stronger campaign finance laws. But more importantly, it will require many policy changes. To pull American democracy back from the brink of pseudo-fascist authoritarianism is a daunting task that requires every tool in our toolbox. That starts with the choices we have right now: Voting yes on Question 1 to improve our democracy and voting yes on 1b, RCV.

RCV is a necessary step in the unsexy but critical work of crash-proofing our democracy. We know it’s simple because voters themselves have said so in overwhelming majorities. We know that RCV is effective at preventing democratic manipulation because it delivers the actual will of voters, making elected officials truly representative of the votes cast. We know that RCV is proven thanks to the more than 50 jurisdictions where it has reduced polarization and attack ads, allowing third-party candidates to run competitive races.

RCV makes voters feel heard by making every vote count. In crowded races, much like Seattle’s mayoral elections, candidates who advance to the general election often have as little as 32-34 percent of voter support. RCV allows voters to designate a first, second, and third choice for run-off rounds, ensuring that the candidates who advance actually have a majority of votes behind them—not just a plurality of die-hard, uncompromising supporters. This, in turn, improves voter satisfaction and boosts participation. Time and time again, RCV has led to increased voter turnout! And of course it did: When people know their vote matters, they show up.

This is precisely why RCV has the endorsements of every Democratic Party legislative district in Seattle, the King County Democrats, the League of Women Voters, and nearly 30 more grassroots organizations. These organizations include those who represent workers, communities of color, and advocates from all sorts of backgrounds and issue areas. It’s the same ecosystem of partners who advocated for mail-in ballots, democracy vouchers, and campaign finance laws that voters have overwhelmingly supported over the years. I know, because I’ve been working on these solutions to our weakening democracy since they were simply ideas.

I’m proud of the democracy we’ve built here in Seattle. But the work is far from done. Read the news. Our democracy can be better. And we have a moral obligation to make it better.

Democracy only works if we all agree to it. Protecting our local democracy against the ugly patterns to demolish it nationwide and improving our local voting system, too, only happen if we all agree to it. When you’re filling out your ballot: make sure you vote yes to the first question, yes to improving our democracy, if you want your yes on 1B to go into action.

George Cheung is the Director of More Equitable Democracy and the former Program Director for the Joyce Foundation’s Democracy Program and Co-Chair of the Funders’ Committee for Civic Participation. Cheung was also executive director of the Win/Win Network and founder/executive director of Equal Rights Washington, a statewide LGBTQ advocacy organization.