Tag: Election 2023

They Want to Stay: Tammy Morales and Andrew Lewis on Why They’re Running for Reelection

By Erica C. Barnett

A lot has been written—including here on PubliCola—about the coming mass exodus from the Seattle City Council. Five council members—Lisa Herbold, Kshama Sawant, Alex Pedersen, and Debora Juarez— have either said they will not run for reelection this year or that they will run for a different office. At least four, and probably five, council seats will be filled by new people next year; depending on how things shake out, the most senior council member could have just four years’ experience.

Amid that churn, two freshman council members—Tammy Morales and Andrew Lewis, whose districts encompass southeast Seattle and downtown, respectively—have said want to stay on the job. (Dan Strauss, who represents northwest Seattle, has not announced his intentions yet.)

In conversations with PubliCola, both cited unfinished business, a need for continuity in the legislative branch, and a sense of optimism about the future among their reasons for running again despite a working environment that has been chaotic, toxic, and full of unexpected challenges—including the COVID pandemic, a racial reckoning whose promise is largely unfulfilled, and a mainstream backlash against people experiencing unsheltered homelessness.

“None of us expected the kind of term we had… and it takes a toll,” Morales said. “There were definitely times when I was like, ‘What the hell? This was not what I expected.’ It’s stressful and I don’t begrudge any of my colleagues for wanting to find a different way to give back to the community.”

That said, Morales added, “given that I represent a district that has historically been ignored, I don’t want to lose momentum.”

When Morales ran for her seat four years ago, she focused on issues like preventing economic displacement and ending encampment sweeps. Four years later, she says she’s still focused on those issues, but with a deeper understanding of how the city’s policies promote gentrification and make long-term solutions to Seattle’s housing crisis a complex challenge. “I’m especially interested in seeing through the comprehensive plan”—a planning document that guides housing, parks, jobs, and transportation in Seattle—”and really trying to change the way we manage growth in the city … so we’re not just rubber-stamping a perpetuation of the existing strategy,” Morales said.

“We know that transit corridors have high rates of pollution associated with them, at least the way we have allowed them to be built. Now we’re saying, ‘put a lot of poor people there and let’s use them a as buffer between homeowners and the road.'”

For example, Morales said, one major reason for the housing shortage is the city’s decades-old “urban village” strategy, which concentrates dense housing along busy, polluted arterial roads while locking up most of the city’s residential land for suburban-style single-family houses. Next year, the city will adopt a new comprehensive plan that will guide development for the next 20 years, and some of the options under consideration would concentrate development along “transit corridors”—those same busy, polluted arterials.

Morales wants to work to ensure that doesn’t happen.

“We know that transit corridors have high rates of pollution associated with them,” Morales said, “at least the way we have allowed them to be built,” with buses and cars competing for space along fast-moving arterials like Rainier Ave. S. “Now we’re saying, ‘put a lot of poor people there and let’s use them a as buffer between homeowners and the road.'”

Morales, who has a background in urban planning, emerged as a vocal advocate for pedestrian safety during her term, a time when almost half the fatal crashes in the entire city of Seattle occurred in her district. For decades, the city has failed to meaningfully address traffic violence along most of Rainier Ave. S., with the exception of the gentrified Columbia City neighborhood, where a controversial road-narrowing project successfully calmed a section of the road where crashes were once frequent.

Morales has been critical of the Seattle Department of Transportation’s uninspiring traffic-calming efforts, like lowering the speed limit on arterials by five miles an hour and posting signs encouraging drivers to slow down.

“We need to design roads differently so that people slow down” while also enforcing traffic laws in places where people continue to speed—for example, with automated traffic cameras that result in warnings, then fines, Morales said. “I drive down Rainier and I see people blow past me in the bus lane, the turn lane—that is a problem. But we’re not going to solve it with a public education campaign.”

If she’s reelected, Morales said she plans to focus on building generational wealth for Seattle residents of color through programs like community land trusts, which enable low-income people to buy homes, programs that help potential homebuyers qualify for loans, and a pilot program, which she’s introducing this spring, to give developers incentives to work with small, community-based groups to build 35 small affordable housing project throughout the city.

In addition to securing public funds for public parks, beach restoration, sidewalks, and other “quote-unquote back to basics things,” Morales says her office has “really increased the explicit discussion of racial equity” on the council. “When I first got here and I was talking so much about racial equity, I feel like I got a lot of pats on the head,” she said. “Because of the team that I’ve built and the work [we’ve done[ on behalf of District 2, I think other council member are  talking more about the need to center racial equity and acknowledging the ways that the South End has been left out.”

Lewis, like Morales, said he’s motivated to run again by the desire to complete work that he started in his first term, particularly when it comes to alternatives to police response. For more than two years, the city has been debating whether and how to establish a program that would send unarmed civilian responders to some non-emergency calls, with little progress; last year, Mayor Bruce Harrell agreed to move forward with a small pilot program while his office and the police department continue to analyze 911 call data.

During his confirmation hearing last month, then-interim Police Chief Adrian Diaz estimated that over the next two years, the police department would gain a net total of about 18 officers, assuming the rate at which officers leave the department continues to decline. “We have to have leaders who are willing to soberly acknowledge that even that 982 number may unfortunately be an optimistic one,” Lewis said. “We have a civic consensus that we need more police, but where that conversation never goes is that it may be necessary, but it’s not in and of itself sufficient.”

While Lewis noted that Harrell has been far more willing to work with the council, in general, than his predecessor, Jenny Durkan, the time could eventually come to “call the question” on civilian responders by amending the city charter to create a new department dedicated to certain kinds of non-emergency calls.

“We have this really difficult and intractable public safety challenge that comes down to the fact that—very, very stubbornly—we haven’t been doing the things that we need to do as a modern American city to keep people safe,” Lewis said. “I don’t know what it is about our local politics that holds us back from making similar progress that other cities have,” like Denver and Albuquerque, which both set up alternative response programs in 2020, during nationwide calls to reduce reliance on police for many types of emergencies.

Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller, a moderate Democrat, is “not too dissimilar from the folks who tend to be mayor in the city of Seattle, but … they have a very mature (alternative response) system while we are still screwing around on this,” Lewis said.

“To the extent that things are more collegial now, the council didn’t really change all that much but the mayor did. Maybe that is a clue to where the preponderance of the problem was.”

Lewis currently heads up the council’s homelessness committee, and has advocated for more spending on tiny house villages, in particular, throughout his term. If he gets a second term, he says he’d like to serve on the council’s transportation committee in addition to working on homelessness and police accountability.

“My district has quite a few bridges that need work done,” including the high bridge to Magnolia, Lewis said. “I think bridges are going to be a dominant infrastructure issue over the next decade, because we are going to see more bridge failures.” Part of the problem, he added, is that “there’s been a lot of instability” at the Seattle Department of Transportation, which has had five directors since 2018.

“Despite the fact that we’ve come up with a lot of resources that we’ve directed toward bridges as a council, SDOT hasn’t taken that money and actually done anything to help those bridges. A lot of that money gets reshuffled for other priorities or put on hold.” Urbanists, meanwhile, often understandably advocate for other priorities, like safe bike lanes and pedestrian safety projects, instead of road infrastructure that primarily serves cars. Continue reading “They Want to Stay: Tammy Morales and Andrew Lewis on Why They’re Running for Reelection”

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.

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.”

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.

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.

In Dramatic Turnaround, New City Council Map Splits Magnolia to Keep Other Neighborhoods Whole

New city council district map showing boundaries of Districts 1-7

By Erica C. Barnett

In a dramatic turnaround and victory for organizers with Redistricting Justice for Seattle, the Seattle Redistricting Commission voted 4-1 this week to adopt a map that keeps most of the city’s neighborhoods in cohesive council districts. The new map maintains the existing boundaries between Districts 4 and 6 rather than dividing Fremont among three districts. It also splits Magnolia between Districts 6 and 7 at the ridge that divides west-facing view houses from the city-facing half of the peninsula. The approved map was proposed by commissioner Patience Malaba, executive director of the Housing Development Consortium.

For months, a vocal group of Magnolia residents have argued that “splitting the neighborhood” would dilute their voice in City Hall, particularly on the issue of transportation; the peninsula is connected to the rest of Seattle by three main roads, including the Magnolia Bridge, which is 90 years old and in poor condition. (Note: The preceding sentence has been corrected to say that the bridge is in “poor condition” rather than “structurally unsound.”) Some public commenters who wanted to keep Magnolia in a single district based primarily on this single issue also argued, without apparent irony, that advocates for the more equitable RJS map represented “special interests” or were “prejudiced” against white homeowners like themselves.

“We cannot say ‘pass’ when the shared responsibility of living in a community comes to our neighborhood.”—Redistricting Commissioner EJ Juárez

“If we’re truly in this all together, and we have to be in this together, no neighborhood can be exempt from the realities of governance and democracy,” EJ Juárez, a commissioner who offered his own version of the RJS map that included significant changes in north Seattle’s Districts 4 and 5, said Tuesday. “We cannot say ‘pass’ when the shared responsibility of living in a community comes to our neighborhood.”

Only commissioner Greg Nickels, the former mayor, voted against the new map. Addressing Commissioner Rory O’Sullivan, who proposed a map that would have kept Magnolia in one district while combining part of Fremont into District 7 with neighborhoods south of the Ship Canal, Nickels said he disagreed that there was no other option than to divide Magnolia in two. “That simply, to me, is not acceptable,” Nickels said. “I just don’t see a very good rationale for for the splitting of a community that everyone acknowledges is both historic and a community of interest.”

As we’ve noted, the real dividing line in Magnolia is along the ridge defined roughly by 28th Avenue W, with the business district and wealthy homeowners to the west, and more modest houses, along with some of the city’s densest rental housing, to the east. The western half of the neighborhood consistently votes more conservatively than their neighbors to the east—one reason “keeping Magnolia together” really meant diluting progressive and renter voices by moving them out of District 7, which includes downtown Seattle and Queen Anne.

The commissioners will meet at least two more times, including next Tuesday, October 25, at noon. Among other outstanding issues, they plan to consider alternative dividing lines between District 6 and District 7 through Magnolia. District 6 is currently represented by Councilmember Dan Strauss; District 7, by Councilmember Andrew Lewis. All seven districted council seats will be on the ballot next year.

Anti-Election Reform Campaign Emerges, Next Year’s Election Starts Shaping Up, New SDOT Director Says He’ll Take Vision Zero Down to the Studs

Map of fatal and serious crashes in Seattle from June 2022 SDOT presentation.
Map of fatal and serious crashes in Seattle from June 2022 SDOT presentation.

1. Next year, all seven district-based city council positions will be on the ballot, and several names have already begun to circulate as potential contenders.

In District 1 (West Seattle), Meta (and former Microsoft) attorney Rob Saka, who served on the King County Council redistricting committee, is reportedly considering a bid against incumbent Lisa Herbold if she runs again next year.

Saka told PubliCola he hasn’t decided yet whether he will run, but confirmed he has met with Harrell as well as “fellow daycare and public school parents, early childhood education providers, leaders in the Black community I used to work with when I served on the boards of the Urban League and the Loren Miller Bar Association (civil rights organization of Black lawyers in Washington State), through my work in policing and legal reforms, and with current and former elected leaders throughout the region.

“I have nothing to announce or confirm, and I remain 100% focused on current obligations — from my legal practice in a new role in my ‘day job’ to the Police Chief search, to helping my kids get back to school,” Saka continued. “That said, I am grateful for the initial discussions—and strong encouragement—from so many as I think about potential longer term next steps in my career and public service.”

In District 2, Tammy Morales (who filled Harrell’s council position when he declined to run for reelection in 2019) could see a challenge from community advocate Chukundi Salisbury, who ran for state representative in the 37th District and was defeated by Kirsten Harris-Talley in 2020; Salisbury did not return an email seeking comment.

In District 3 (Central Seattle), represented since 2015 by socialist Kshama Sawant, cannabis entrepreneur and Jackson Place Community Council leader Alex Cooley told PubliCola he’s “strongly considering” a run against Sawant, who he says has “never been interested in so the problems of the district or the city.” Cooley owns the SoDo-based company Solstice, which grows and processes cannabis that’s sold in stores across the region; he said that it’s “kind of a neighborhood joke [in the district] that you will never hear back from Councilmember Sawant.”

“The city has been on a pretty long decline for at least the past five years—really about 10—and I don’t see Councilmember Sawant solving the problems that the city’s dealing with, [and] is actually part of that decline and lack of progress,” Cooley said.

As a business owner in SoDo, Cooley said he’s seen his share of half-implemented solutions to the problem of homelessness, which in industrial areas often means people living in RVs. Seattle has “fits and starts of good ideas” but fails to commit to them, Cooley said. “We  tried to do the experiment of an RV safe lot, which I’m a huge proponent of, but no one managed it, no one ran it, and so it evolved into chaos.”

Cooley said he’ll take the next few months to make a decision before filing for council races starts in January. Including her first citywide race in 2013, Sawant has won three elections by increasingly narrow margins; she narrowly beat back a recall effort last year.

This item has been corrected to reflect the fact that Chukundi Salisbury lives in District 2, not District 3, and updated with comments from Rob Saka.

2. In November, voters will get to decide whether and how to replace the city’s current first-past-the-post primary elections by saying yes to ranked choice voting or approval voting or no to both. Ranked-choice voting gives voters the option to rank candidates in order of preference, while approval voting allows voters to “approve” as many candidates that they like, with the top two candidates moving forward to the general election.

Advocates for both proposals say their system would result in elected officials who better represent the views and interests of voters, by allowing them to choose a whole slate of acceptable candidates instead of betting their entire vote on a single person. Advocates for the status quo say the alternatives are confusing and open the system to new forms of gamemanship.

Now, a group of business owners, organized as Seattle for Election Simplicity, has formed to make the case for the status quo. Campaign filings show the group has raised around $35,000 in contributions, all of it (so far) from people who represent business and banking interests in and around Seattle. Among the contributors are HomeStreet Bank and its CEO, Mark Mason ($5,000 total), Costco co-founder and former CEO Jim Sinegal ($5,000), telecom billionaire and Mariners co-owner John Stanton ($5,000), developer Jon Runstad ($5,000), Space Needle chairman Jeffrey Wright ($5,000), and former Starbucks president Howard Behar ($2,500).

So far, almost half of the contributions to Seattle for Election Simplicity, over $15,000, come from outside Seattle. This actually compares favorably to Seattle Approves, which has obtained 87 percent of its almost $500,000 in contributions from outside city limits. The campaign for ranked-choice voting has only reported one contribution so far.

Spotts said he would start work on Vision Zero by doing a detailed assessment of which “interventions” (a category that might include protected and unprotected bike lanes, bus bulbs, road diets, and pedestrian-first stop lights) are working to reduce casualties and which ones aren’t. “We know we have some corridors that are very vehicular-oriented,” Spotts said.

3. The city council’s transportation committee unanimously recommended approving Mayor Bruce Harrell’s nominee to direct the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) on Tuesday, after a brief volley of questions focusing on issues like pedestrian safety and tree canopy in South Seattle, bridge maintenance, and Seattle’s lack of progress on Vision Zero, a plan to end all traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2030.

Spotts said he would start work on Vision Zero by doing a detailed assessment of which “interventions” (a category that might include protected and unprotected bike lanes, bus bulbs, road diets, and pedestrian-first stop lights) are working to reduce casualties and which ones aren’t. “We know we have some corridors that are very vehicular-oriented,” Spotts said.

Later, after District 2 Councilmember Tammy Morales noted that 56 percent of traffic fatalities happened in Southeast Seattle, Spotts added, “I want to spend some more time out on Rainier. I did do some walking and there are places where there’s a very wide crossing distance to get across unsignalized freeway on-ramps and off-ramps, which is a scary thing to get across.”

The safety problems with areas like Aurora Ave. N and Rainier Ave. S have been well-documented for decades (hell, I’ve been covering them myself since at least 2006), and the solutions that will work to address them are no mystery, either: When the city narrowed a portion of Rainier that runs through now-chichi Columbia City, people stopped driving their cars into businesses and there were fewer traffic collisions, because people could no longer drive at freeway speeds through the neighborhood.

North of Columbia City, where Seattle has continued to do almost nothing to slow traffic or provide opportunities for pedestrian to cross the street safely, the crashes, injuries, and deaths continued. Notably, the city has made almost no major changes to calm traffic along the speed-inducing corridor since approving the “road diet” (after almost a decade of opposition, including from then-council member Harrell) in 2015. Cutesy signs, “empowering” billboards, and slightly lower speed limits won’t cut it; more stoplights, signaled crosswalks, and a narrower travel path for people in cars can and will.