As part of our endorsement process at The Urbanist, we ask candidates to complete a standard questionnaire to better understand and evaluate their positions on housing, land use, transportation, and other important issues. We then share this information with our readers to help inform their own voting decisions.
This year we are considering 19 candidates running for Seattle City Council positions 8 and 9, Seattle Mayor, and Port of Seattle Commission positions 1 and 4. We are publishing the questionnaires in full this week, concluding with our official primary election endorsements in mid-July.
The following questionnaire was submitted by Mike McGinn, running for Seattle Mayor.
Do you consider yourself an urbanist? Why/Why not?
Yes, amongst other labels including environmentalist, neighborhood advocate, and progressive. As a Sierra Club volunteer leader, and as Greenwood Community Council President I worked to support walking, biking, transit, parks, and housing in mixed use neighborhoods to improve the environment, our economy, social equity and quality of life. That work led me to form a non-profit, Great City, to build and demonstrate support for these goals. That work continued in the Mayor’s office and beyond, and informs my platform moving forward.
I was also committed to an inclusive vision of the city, in which low income workers, communities of color, immigrants and refugees, young people, indeed everyone, had a say in the future. Accordingly, I have been both pro-housing and pro-neighborhood engagement. I don’t believe lasting change can come from the top-down. The best policies and budget decisions (just like the best neighborhoods) come from bottom-up processes in which everyone can participate. If elected I would work to bring everyone to the table to discuss how we ensure sufficient housing, of all types, for the people who want to live here, as well as neighborhoods that respect our diverse communities.
I took a shot at defining urbanism here.
What is your strategy for making housing more affordable both for very low income and middle-class workers?
It is imperative that we plan for growth by building enough housing to address the present shortage and keep up with the influx of newcomers. To accommodate the diversity of needs, we need a wide spectrum of housing – dense transit-accessible housing, missing middle housing (backyard cottages, mother-in-law units, duplexes, and triplexes), congregate housing, subsidized housing for teachers and service workers, senior housing, and so on.
I also believe the city must expand public housing, and should consider taxes on our most successful large corporations, or an income tax if legal, to finance such housing. I do not support continued reliance on regressive taxes.
While I support many of the recommendations in HALA, I do not believe it will be sufficient to address rising rents and rising home prices once all its recommendations are accepted or rejected in the legislative process. If elected I would immediately start a broad based public process to identify how to address housing prices. This will included a discussion of how neighborhoods can accommodate housing growth, and how to accompany growth with appropriate investments.
What strategies would you adopt to address the homelessness crisis?
We need to systematically review existing spending on homelessness for effectiveness while simultaneously scaling our response to the growing magnitude of the problem. The number of people entering homelessness far exceeds the number moving out of homelessness. I believe the public wants to see bold action from elected officials to deal with the issue.
We have the ability and the obligation to fund both short- and long-term solutions. That includes family, low-barrier, and 24-hour shelters. It includes support for well-managed and regulated encampments in the short term. It includes housing policies that provide sufficient low-cost options for rapid re-housing. And it includes expanding options for those struggling with mental health or substance abuse issues. For example, we need citywide expansion of the law enforcement-assisted diversion program that provides treatment in lieu of punishment for drug users.
While dealing with individuals’ immediate needs has to be a priority, we also need to look at the root causes of homelessness as well. Many people have been pushed out of their homes due to a lack of housing affordability. By effectively outlawing mother-in-law units, backyard cottages, and micro-housing, we have guaranteed fewer units and less flexible options.
What is your strategy for equitable development in Seattle?
Equitable development means ensuring growth works for us, not against us. That implicates tax, spending, housing, land use, and transportation decisions. Addressing displacement will take a wide range of policy solutions, including creating more market rate and subsidized housing citywide to reduce pressure on neighborhoods supporting our immigrant communities and communities of color. We also need to look at strategies to improve the financial position of these communities. That means jobs, minority-contracting, priority hire on city contracts, and support for business creation and growth.
I support the city’s Equitable Development Initiative, a set of strategies to advance economic mobility and opportunity, prevent residential, commercial, and cultural displacement, build on local cultural assets, promote transportation mobility and connectivity and develop healthy and safe neighborhoods. If elected I would work to expand this initiative.
I also support requiring new development to fund affordable housing (the “Grand Bargain”) but want to ensure we do not set affordability requirements in a way that discourages missing middle housing. I also believe we could have funded more affordable housing out of downtown commercial and residential development.
What tax policies would you advocate for in Seattle?
The starting point is spending our money wisely. Because our local tax system is regressive, that means unnecessary spending is by definition regressive. We need to take the significant growth in the general fund (25%, $250 million over the last three years) and reprioritize it to our most pressing needs, including homelessness.
To the extent we need more revenue, I support progressive tax and/or fee policies. I support a high-earner’s income tax, was against eliminating (and have supported the reinstatement of) the Employee Hours Tax. When levies come up for renewal that we must renew I will also look at funding packages that include progressive sources.
In particular I believe we need to look at increasing taxes on our large successful corporations, while also reducing the burden on small businesses by increasing the exemption level of the business and occupation tax.
What are your preferred policies to improve access to public transportation?
1. Support policies for reliability and frequency of transit, such as bus only lanes and expansion of “rapid transit” lines (with features as close to Bus Rapid Transit as possible).
2. Support renewal of Seattle’s 2014 ballot measure for transit. I would look for more progressive sources of funding
3. Continue and expand the City’s suite of commute trip reduction programs, and support and work with other entities like Commute Seattle. This would include encouraging more employers to offer Orca passes.
4. Champion rail transit, advocating at the federal and local levels for funding to expand rail as well as to look at local options to accelerate Seattle projects in ST3
How will you balance community input with effective and equitable policy-making?
Community input is a critical component of equitable policy-making. During my administration I focused heavily on instituting communications practices that increased reach into underrepresented residents. Additionally, community input is essential for crafting policy that is community-supported. I learned from hard experience that when policies are are perceived as top-down, they run a much greater risk of being rejected.
Specific neighborhoods also need to understand that they are part of a larger region, and have to play their role in meeting regional needs. For example, multibillion dollar regional investments in light rail should be accompanied by changes to allow more housing near those stations. Planning efforts should include people representing those broader needs, and elected leaders need to have the courage to stand up for those objectives as well.
Seattle’s Vision Zero plan aims to eliminate traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2030. What policies do you support to work towards this goal?
The Road Safety Action Plan we adopted in 2012 stated a goal of zero serious injuries or fatalities and the subsequent Vision Zero plan was built on this work. It identified education, enforcement, engineering and evaluation as the key strategies.
Of these, I believe engineering our roads for safer speeds is the single most important action we can take to reduce collisions. Streets that are designed for higher speeds will encourage fast driving, regardless of the posted speed limit. Simple engineering changes such as road redesigns, narrower lanes, all-way stops, roundabouts, and traffic calming are the cheapest and most effective ways to do this. These engineering changes can also improve quality of life, equity, and the environment.
I also believe we need to implement the safety improvements identified in the Bike Master Plan. These are often controversial, but public safety should be the priority. As Mayor I responded to the demands for safety redesigns on our most dangerous streets and would do so again.
Finally, the speed cameras in school zones have funded numerous improvements and reduced speeding. We started this program, with 100% of the revenues dedicated to Safe Routes to School, and I would continue expanding it.
Do you support the HALA Grand Bargain?
Do you support allowing missing middle housing like rowhouses in existing single-family zones so all neighborhoods contribute to growth?
Do you support increasing progressive taxes (B&O, income or capital gains) to pay for affordable housing?
Do you support construction of the Children and Family Justice Center (“youth jail”)?
Do you support construction of the new North Precinct station?
Do you support inclusion of the Community Package associated with Washington State Convention Center Addition’s street and alleyway vacation public benefits?
Will you push to make municipal broadband a reality in Seattle?
Do you support establishing a municipal bank?
Will you work to ensure the state and its contractors, not the City of Seattle, is responsible for all cost overruns for the Highway 99 waterfront tunnel?
Photo courtesy of Mike McGinn campaign.